“The Mercy Seat” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds / Johnny Cash


The title track from Cave’s amazing 1988 album “The Mercy Seat.”  The term “mercy seat” does have religious connotations, for which I’ll consult Wikipedia for a more literate translation than I could ever muster:

According to the Bible, the cover or mercy seat (Hebrew: כפורת, Kapporet ; “atonement piece”) was an object which rested upon the Ark of the Covenant, and was connected with the rituals of the Day of Atonement; the term also appears in later Jewish sources, and twice in the New Testament, from where it has significance in Christian Theology.

The English phrase mercy seat is not a literal translation of the Hebrew term kapporeth, which appears in its place in the Masoretic text, nor of the Greek term hilasterion, which takes the same place in the Septuagint but instead is the translation by William Tyndale influenced by the German term Gnadenstuhl, from the same narrative position in the Luther Bible; Gnadenstuhl literally means seat of grace, in the sense of location of grace.

Despite this meaning, the song is sung from the perspective of an inmate on death row who is facing imminent execution in what I imagine is an electric chair.  Cave’s version is unremitting in its intensity.  However, Cash’s quieter, but still fierce cover from 2000 is damn good.  Both versions will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

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