John Darnielle, The Mountain Goats
John Darnielle, The Mountain Goats

Each song title on The Mountain Goats’ 2009 album, The Life of the World to Come is named after a Bible verse – usually with a tangential or obscure connection to the song lyrics. The album kicks off with “1 Samuel 15:23”, before moving onto “Psalms 40:2”, “Genesis 3:23” (mp3 here) and so on. A bonus disk even delves into 1 Enoch – a text considered scriptural by early Christians but later falling from canonical grace – with a song titled “Enoch 18:14”. Just in case you weren’t familiar with them, The Mountain Goats are a folk-indie outfit formed in 1991, and were originally John Darnielle’s one-man band. And they’re not CCM.

In an April 2011 article (“What These Cryptic Symbols Mean’: Quotation, Allusion, and John Darnielle’s Biblical Interpretation”, Biblical Interpretation 19.2: 109-128), A.K.M. Adam discusses how the Mountain Goats employ the Bible as “an all-too-human expression of how the world is (and will be), even when the appearances suggest otherwise”.

Some of John Darnielle's earlier work with my cuzzie
Some of John Darnielle's earlier work with my cuzzie

Most excitingly, Adam comments on their song, “Deuteronomy 2:10”, named after a biblical verse which refers to some biblical Giants called Emim. The Bible doesn’t say too much about the Emim except, rather mysteriously yet poignantly, that they had formerly dwelt in Moab.

[Deuteronomy 2:10] reflects on the absoluteness of mortality by focusing on three species of extinct animals (the Tasmanian tiger, the dodo, and the golden toad); in three quiet verses, Darnielle gently drives home the finality of extinction, the loneliness of being the last of one’s kind, whether of vanquished species or a childless family. The song’s title, “Deuteronomy 2:10,” associates these creatures – and the singer – with the Emim, who formerly lived in Ar [a city in Moab], ‘a people great and many, and as tall as the Anakim’…. Deuteronomy 2:10 stands well apart from its biblical precedent…

Indeed, Giants, when they appear in stories, are almost always the remnant of a former age, strangely out of place in the world of humans and belonging properly to either a bygone era or mythical faraway place.

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