Lady Gaga’s “Judas” is more than a pop anthem to loving the wrong guy: It’s also the perfect excuse to examine infamous Catholic schoolgirl Lady Gaga’s religiosity and the way she appropriates, inverts, and reworks Biblical allusions and images. Here’s a serious, line-by-line analysis of the liturgical references in “Judas from Luke 7:38 to John 13:27.” They don’t call her “Godga” for nothing …
“I’ll wash his feet with my hair if he needs”
A reference to Luke 7:38, in which Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. In John 11:2 (and 12:3), she anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume and then wipes them with her hair. In some Christian traditions, Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are the same person; in other traditions, they are distinct persons. Either way, though, Gaga’s take is slightly off: Hair is for wiping or drying feet, not for washing.
“Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain“
Perhaps a reference to Isaiah 59:3-5, which, in the King James translation, admonishes those whose “ … hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness. None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity. They hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.“ A dragon egg, you say? Like the one Lady Gaga came to the Grammys in?
“Even after three times, he betrays me”
Is Gaga perhaps conflating betrayal with denial? Judas Iscariot is certainly the disciple identified as the one who betrays Jesus, but the “even after three times” is more likely an allusion to Peter, who denies Jesus three times.
“I’ll bring him down, bring him down, down”
“Bring” and “down” co-occur only a few times in the Bible, while “brought” and “down” co-occur far more frequently. “I will bring … down” is usually something God says in the Bible, and it’s generally in the context of severe punishment (Hosea, Ezekiel, Jeremiah). In addition to subverting the typical liturgical tense of bring/brought, Gaga is employing phraseology more associated with God than any other figure in the Bible. Consider this part of a dialogue with the fan-generated moniker “Godga.”
“A king with no crown”
In Matthew 27:29, the soldiers who tortured and crucified Jesus put a crown of thorns on his head. “They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (NRSV)
“I’m just a holy fool”
Believe it or not, this phrase does not exist in any English translation of Hebrew or Christian Bible.
“I couldn’t love a man so purely”
Proverbs 22:11 says that “Those who love a pure heart and are gracious in speech will have the king as a friend” (NRSV). Think of this as an if/then statement: If you have a pure heart, then you will have the king as a friend. Consider the contrapositive: If the king is not your friend, then you do not have a pure heart. The chorus tells us that Gaga wants to “bring down” the “king,” indicating that he is not her friend, and thus we cannot be surprised by the fact that she cannot love purely, i.e., love a pure heart.
“Even darkness forgave his crooked way”
Darkness and crookedness are strongly and strictly associated with deviance, evil, pre- or anti-godliness, and sometimes Satan, the devil, or demons. Forgiveness, however, is generally the purview of God (Daniel 9:9) and Jesus (Acts 5:31). Again, we see an inversion of the typical structure.
“I’ve learned love is like a brick”
There are no brick metaphors in the Bible: All Biblical bricks are literal bricks! But as anyone who has ever attended even a vaguely Christian wedding knows, 1 Corinthians 13:1-9 provides an entire list of things love is: patient, kind, etc. Elsewhere, love is “as high as the heavens” (Psalm 57:10) and “like a morning cloud” (Hosea 6:4) — light, airy, upward, ephemeral. Pretty much the opposite of a brick.
“you can / build a house or sink a dead body”
Despite the lack of brick imagery, house-building is a consistent theme across both the Old and New Testaments, but it’s particularly prominent in the story of King David — who here might represent David Bowie, the sort of Ur-text for androgyny, bodysuits, and captivating rock theatricality. One needn’t be a biblical scholar, though, to be sure that “way” and “body” just do not rhyme.
“In the most Biblical sense / I am beyond repentance”
Ironically, the Bible says no one is beyond repentance, and the synoptic gospels in particular single out repentant sinners as more joyous to God than the already righteous (Luke 15:7).
“Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind”
Prostitution is explicitly frowned upon in the Bible, but there’s also a legacy of noble or repentant prostitutes, and it’s not limited to Mary Magdalene: Rahab helps Joshua conquer Jericho by letting his soldiers hide on her roof. (In exchange, Joshua spares her and her family.) Vomiting aside, sex work does not inherently preclude one’s residency in the kingdom of God.
“Judas, kiss me if offenced / or wear an ear condom next time”
Here again Gaga has positioned herself as Jesus, the entity on the receiving end of a kiss from Judas. “Is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” (Luke 22:48), Jesus asks Judas. Indeed: Judas’s kiss was a signal to the gathered mob that they should arrest Jesus. In the ensuing melee, someone cuts off a slave’s ear, which Jesus then heals with his touch.
“Jesus is my virtue / And Judas is the demon I cling to”
Judas is not portrayed as a demon, though Luke 22:3 and John 13:27 identify Satan as acting through Judas. Casting out and “rebuking” demons is a key part of Jesus’ early ministry, but general demons cling to their hosts and not the other way around. It’s yet another inversion of narrative, one that fits perfectly in the premise of the song in general: an anthem in allegiance to one of the most maligned loathed figures in history.
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