Sometimes it feels like Bob Dylan says: "I practice a faith that's long been abandoned, ain't no altars on this long and lonesome road"

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Bob Dylan's "Not Dark Yet" - an analysis by Kees de Graaf - Part 1

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Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” – an analysis by Kees de Graaf- Part 1.

Dr A.T. Bradford published a book in 2011 called: “Out of the Dark Woods – Dylan, Depression and Faith – (The Messages behind the Music of Bob Dylan)”. In this book Dr. Bradford stated that in the 1990ties- due to traumatic private circumstances- Dylan suffered from a severe reactive depression which was said to be responsible for the title of his next album of original songs “Time Out of Mind”. According to Dr. Bradford, “Time Out Of (my) Mind” summed up Dylan’s mental condition at the time and that all songs on the album show symptoms of moderate- severe reactive depression. On the face of it – and certainly for the song “Not Dark Yet”- this thought seems a very plausible thesis.

However, we feel that there are some compelling arguments against this thesis from Dr. Bradford. Take e.g. a song like “Make You Feel My Love” on the same album. “Make You Feel My Love” is a song full of tender love, comfort and compassion and hardly shows any symptoms of depression. And what to think of the album closing track “Highlands”? True, there is enough material in this song which may be classified as “depressive”. But look how the song ends: “The sun – “Sun“ may also be understood as “Son” in the sense of the “Son(of God)- is beginning to shine on me, but it's not like the sun that used to be”. The album closing song “Highlands" is not at all pessimistic and dark, on the contrary, in the end the windows get wide open for the Light to shine in!

The idea to classify “Not Dark Yet” as a pitch dark and depressive song, is fed by the thought- defended by the vast majority of Dylanologists - that this song is a one layered song dealing with mortality and suffering but only on a human level. And more specifically: suffering because of lost (romantic) love while the death bells already toll.

This idea is strengthened by the fact that there is an earlier outtake of “Not Dark Yet” (released on “Fragments” – The Bootleg Series volume 17 - which-from the third line of verse 2 - has quite different lyrics. E.g. a line in this first outtake like “Her lips were so tender, her skin was so soft” prompts you into the direction of the idea that this song is mainly about lost (romantic )love. Not only lyrically the song evolved but also musically. Musically the song evolved from an upbeat tempo of the first outtake to into a slow civil war balled – a death march- which ended up on the album. However, as we have seen so often in Dylan’s oeuvre, - “for all those who have eyes and for all those who have ears” - his songs are multi-layered. Apparently Dylan was not satisfied with the lyrics of the first outtake and subsequently took suffering and mortality to a more universal level.

Therefore, apart from the human suffering, there is another and deeper layer in the song which expresses divine suffering. And as we will see, this divine suffering must be the suffering of Christ. As we will also find out in the specific lyrics of the song, sometimes human suffering is meant and sometimes divine suffering or both. And of course, the suffering of Christ has both elements of suffering- the human and divine - blended into one. As far as human suffering is concerned, it will appear that the book of Job is of importance. Job’s suffering foreshadows some of the suffering of Christ. We conclude that if we take all these things into account we are far removed here from Dr. Bradford’s idea of a reactive depression.

The poet may have had good reasons to combine human suffering and divine suffering into one song. Romans 8:17 says that if we are to share in the glory of Christ, we must also share in His suffering. In this respect it is not without significance that “Not Dark Yet” was used as a sound track for Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ”.

It is true, “Not Dark Yet“ portrays an immense suffering and amidst darkness, it looks as if the poet has come to the end of his trail and there seems to be no hope left. On this album, for the light to appear at the end of the tunnel, we have to wait till the final stanza of the closing song “Highlands”- which in itself is a metaphor for “Heaven”- and then the quest to find peace- expressed also later on in the album in the song “Trying to get to heaven”- will finally come to rest. But here - in this song -all focus is on mortality and suffering.

One other thing is not without significance. During the “Time out of Mind” recording sessions, Dylan first wrote and recorded the song “Marching to the City”. This song was abandoned and later released on “Tell Tale Signs” (The Bootleg Series Volume 8). A few lines from “Marching to the City” ended up on “Not Dark Yet” and on “Till I fell in love with You”. One could argue that “Marching to the City” was a first draft for “Not Dark Yet” and for “Till I fell in Love with You”. Comparing the context of some lines from “Marching to the City” with how they ended up on “Not Dark Yet” may help us to understand what was on the poet’s mind when he first wrote those lines.
Let us see how we can piece all these things together in the specific lyrics of the song.

2. Analysis.
Verse 1.
When it says that “Shadows are falling” our attention is immediately drawn to the garden of Getsemane, the place where Jesus and his disciples stayed during the evening of his arrest. It is also the place where the suffering of Christ is growing in intensity (Matt. 26:36-46, Marc. 14:32-42 and Luke 22:39-46). We see a suffering in the darkness of the garden of Getsemane which will culminate the next day, the day of His crucifixion, during which we get to the point where - as Dylan calls it elsewhere -there was “Darkness at the break of noon” ( with reference to Matt.27:45, Marc.15:33 and Luke 23:44).

“Shadows are falling” is a sign that total darkness is approaching and at the same time that “It is not dark yet”. When it says: “I’ve been here all day” the poet may intend to give us a retrospection overviewing the whole life of Christ. His whole life can be characterized as a “day”(c.f. the “Day of the Lord” which is a standard expression) during which shadows are constantly falling and getting longer and thus a life in which suffering is a constant factor, a suffering which gets worse and worse as we draw near the end. More and more Jesus becomes what Dylan elsewhere calls “A Man of constant Sorrow”.

As “Shadows are falling” ,for Him, Jesus, “it’s too hot to sleep”. However, it’s too hot to sleep” must be seen here in contrast with the sleepy attitude of His disciples. In Luke 22:45 we read: “When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow”(NIV). Whereas his disciples, overwhelmed by sorrow, found some refuge in sleep, for Jesus there was no escape. He felt the increasing heat of Divine Judgement which made it impossible for Him to find a moment of rest. “Too hot to sleep” looks like an understatement because in Luke 22:44 we read: “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground”.(NIV). Sweating blood is called “hermatohidrosis” and may occur when individuals are suffering from extreme levels of stress.

“Time is running away” indicates that there is nothing Jesus can do - and wants to do for that matter- to stop time and to stop the sequence of events that now unfolds and which will irreversibly lead to the uttermost suffering on the Cross.
“Feel like my soul has turned into steel” reflects Matt. 26:38 (NLT): “He (Jesus) told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death”. His soul, always so full of compassion (Matt.14:14),has now become unfeeling and impenetrable. Grief has made His soul hard as steel and – as the poet calls it elsewhere in his song "Mississippi" “cold as the clay”. Jesus is now metaphorically “twenty miles out of town” and “Cold irons bound”.

When it says: “I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal” for the first time, the focus shifts from (divine) suffering of Jesus to human suffering. At first glance the word “sun” in “I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal” makes you think of the “sun” as celestial body. However, the word “sun” might very well be a homophone here. If you take the word “sun” here literally- in the sense of a celestial body -this does not make any sense, because the “sun” cannot heal scars, on the contrary, exposure to sunlight makes scars worse and more painful. Therefore, when the word “sun” is used here, we have to understand “Son”, in the sense of the “Son of God”, Jesus. We see the same phenomenon elsewhere in the album ‘s closing song “Highlands“ where it says: “The sun – “Sun“ is then to be understood as “Son”, Jesus- is beginning to shine on me, but it's not like the sun (the celestial body) that used to be”.

We conclude that “I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal” refers to human suffering and might refer to the apostle Paul who mentions these scars in Galatians 6:17 (NLT):“From now on, don’t let anyone trouble me with these things. For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus”. Elsewhere (2 Corinthians 12:7,8) Paul refers to these scars as “a thorn in the flesh” which Jesus – the Son - did not heal and did not take away from him, not even after intense prayer.

“There’s not even room enough to be anywhere” looks like some contradiction in terminus because if one exists , there is always (enough) room “to be anywhere”. This phrase is reminiscent of a line in Dylan’s “Things have changed":I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can” because “to get away from yourself” is equally impossible.

“There’s not even room enough to be anywhere” is basically the same as what Jesus says of Himself in Matt. 8:20 (NLT):”But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head”. It means that when Jesus appeared in the flesh and revealed Himself as the Son of God, he entered a hostile world where He was not welcome at all. He entered the world as a place where there is a resting place for all creatures except for Him “there is no place to turn, no place at all”, for Him “There’s not even room enough to be anywhere”.

Each of the four stanzas of the song ends with the refrain: “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there”. It is as if the poet intends to make it clear that although it is not entirely dark yet, we will certainly get to the point where it will be entirely dark.

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there” summarises the whole process of ever intensifying suffering from Jesus Christ. It was already dark in the garden of Getsemane . Being in great anguish, His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44). In the garden he felt the immense suffering that was coming. But it was “not dark yet” because dark as it may be in the Garden of Getsemane, yet there was some heavenly aid available .

We read of this heavenly aid in Luke 22:43: “Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him” (NLT). It would be quite different the next day, the day of His crucifixion. The next day it would be like Leonard Cohen wrote in his song “You Want it Darker”:Vilified, crucified, In the human frame, a million candles burning, for the help that never came”. At noon that day, the darkness would be complete, the utter darkness was finally “getting there”: “At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock” (Mat. 27:45 NLT). But this time, there is no heavenly aid available because at the pinnacle of darkness we read:“At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”. (Mat. 27:46 NLT). The utter darkness and pain is reached when man is forsaken by God. It never happened to any creature here on earth, no matter how dark human suffering may be. It only happened to the Son of God of God, in His substitutionary suffering. Only for Him darkness was “getting there” so that the light could shine again upon humanity.
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Bob Dylan's "My Own Version of You" - an analysis- Part 4 (Final Part).


In the next verse beginning with “I can see the history of the whole human race
It’s all right there – it’s carved into your face", God seems to be the subject. We see things here from God’s perspective and these words can therefore best be interpreted as a divine summarization and appreciation of the end result of the- fruitless- efforts from the antagonist to “bring someone to life” and by doing so “make his own version” of God.

The history of the human race is marked by these continuous efforts. “It’s carved into your face” may be an allusion to the Second Commandment: ”You shall not make for yourself a carved image” (Ex. 20:4 NKJV). Throughout history mankind has defied this Commandment and has kept on trying to carve an own version of God. This hideous self-carved image, which is visible in the face of the antagonist, is exactly the opposite of how God meant it to be when He created Man in His own image (Gen1:26).

There was a moment in the history of the human race when God was on the brink of giving up on mankind. Because of the wickedness of man.(Gen.6:5) God repented that He had made mankind. It grieved God at his heart and He was about to destroy mankind (Gen. 6:6,7) and it was as if God asked Himself: “Should I break it all down”? But He did not because Noah found grace in His eyes (Gen 6:8). There was also a time when it was as if God wondered: “Should I fall on my knees“ to save mankind?. He actually did fall on his knees this when Jesus fell on his face in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt.26:39) – “crawling down the avenue” of Getsemane as Dylan calls it in his song “Make you feel my love”- Jesus praying in great anguish and begging His Father: “let this cup pass from me”. It was a time of great darkness on the Cross (Mat.27:45) and when forsaken by God and men, Jesus could have desperately wondered: “Is there light at the end of the tunnel - can you tell me please”.

What now follows may be seen as a sort of reproach from God -Jesus- to the antagonist. The antagonist tries to make his own version of God and of history. It is now as if Jesus says to the antagonist: “For me there was light at the end of the tunnel when I was resurrected from the dead, when I went from suffering to glory, enabling me to set many free and bring them from human bondage and slavery to freedom. But what about you? Look what happens when you, the antagonist is at the steering wheel. “Stand over there by the Cypress tree” and I will show you two examples from history which will show that your way of handling things has produced nothing but slavery”.

The first example of “slavery” takes us to the Mediterranean where the “Cypress tree” grows, it takes us way back to the Trojan War, to “Where the Trojan women and children were sold into slavery”. "The Trojan Women” is a reference to a tragedy by the Greek playwright Euripides, produced in 415 BC during the Peloponnesian War. Wikipedia says that “it is often considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter and subjugation of its populace by the Athenians earlier that year”.

Now this example of the“Trojan women and children sold into slavery” from Greek history seems to be taken at random but we feel that this is not the case. Dylan writes about the ancient history of Greece and Rome as a sort of model for what happens in our modern times. Apart from “The Trojan women” the words “Long ago before the First Crusade” (1096-1099) and “Way back before England or America were made” also seem to make this connection. This whole idea had already been on Dylan’s mind for at least three decades. Consider what Dylan said in an interview with Paul Zollo in 1991: “A college professor told me that if you read about Greece in the history books, you’ll know all about America. Nothing that happens will puzzle you ever again. You read the history of Ancient Greece and when the Romans came in, and nothing will ever bother you about America again. You’ll see what America". In other words: The Enlightenment, the abolishment of slavery, the industrial and sexual revolution did not make America free, human bondage and slavery in all sorts of ways is still out there in our modern society.

The second example of human bondage and slavery takes us right into hell: ”Step right into the burning hell”. It is called the place “where some of the best known enemies of mankind dwell”. Now it looks as if the following words “Mister Freud with his dreams and Mister Marx with his axe” picture Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx as being inhabitants of hell. This idea seems obvious because both Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx are known as uncompromising atheists. In his book “The Future of an Illusion” Freud describes belief in God as a collective neurosis and called this phenomenon a “longing for a father”.

It is interesting what The Rev. Gianbattista Mondin, S.X. wrote about Karl Marx in an article called “The Atheism of Karl Marx” (taken from: ”L'Osservatore Romano” Weekly Edition in English 20 April 1978, page 12): “Marx is an atheist because of his passion for man. What he wishes to safeguard with atheism is the greatness of man. With atheism he intends to exclude that there is any superior being, greater than man. It is in view of man's greatness that he considers it necessary to destroy religion, because in his judgment the latter is the opium, the drug, the substitute which prevents man from becoming aware of his dignity”. There is similarity between the worldview of Marx proclaiming the superiority of man above God, and Victor Frankenstein, who in his own way, by creating a monster, attempted to be like God and even outdo God.

However, no matter how compelling the picture of Freud and Marx as hell dwellers may be here, yet this is not exactly what the words say. The words do not explicitly state that Freud and Marx are in hell. It seems that this idea is deliberately left unsaid. When you consider that it does not belong to the authority of mortal human beings to condemn anybody to hell- no matter how much you may abhor somebody’s views and walk of life- then you may understand the hesitation in the words of the poet to be too explicit about the whereabouts of Freud and Marx.

But there may be an additional reason to think in another direction. The attributes of hell are usually metaphorically described as fire and brimstone but that is not the case here. This is because this “raw hide lash” in “See the raw hide lash rip the skin off their backs” alludes to an attribute that can be used by a slave-driver. Here it seems as if the subject of slavery still is on the poet’s mind. Slave- drivers may use a “raw hide lash” to punish slaves for either refusing to work or for attempting to escape. Slavery was born the moment man freed himself from God and enslaved himself to Satan.

Slavery was there in ancient times when “ Trojan women and children were sold into slavery”. Slavery is still there in our modern times. Marx promised the proletariat a political state free of religion but this freedom ended up in death and destruction and the utmost slavery for many millions of people in the Gulag. Freud may be debunked here because he defied God in the most intricate of God’s creation: the human mind. The human mind which was made according to God’s own image. Freud played with fire in his attempt to explain the human mind through science rather than through divinity. Here it seems as if the ideas of Freud and Marx to get rid of God and to “make their own version” of God, have come back to haunt them. The same ”raw hide lash” which enslaved their followers and “ripped the skin off their backs” now lashes down on the backs of Freud and Marx.

“You got the right spirit - you can feel it you can hear it- you got what they call the immortal spirit, you can feel it all night you can feel it in the morn, creeps into your body the day you are born” echoes the Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850). In “Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows” (from The Prelude, Book 1) William Wordsworth writes:
“Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
in one society”.
The word “Spirit” rhymes with “you can feel it, you can hear it” and is borrowed from Dylan’s own song “Solid Rock” from the album “Saved” (1981): “It's the ways of the flesh to war against the Spirit, Twenty-four hours a day, you can feel it and you can hear it”. However, whereas in “Solid Rock” there is dualism between the human existence – “the ways of the flesh” and the “Spirit”, this is not the case when you read Wordsworth. “The immortal spirit” suggests that the human spirit or soul is pre-existent and “creeps into your body the day you are born”. For Wordsworth believed that upon being born, human beings move from a perfect ideal realm into an imperfect, vulnerable and sometimes even hostile world. In poems such as the ”Ode: “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” (1804) Wordsworth writes:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”.

In this song, the idea behind “You got the right spirit” and “you got what they call the immortal spirit” can only thrive in a non-dualistic concept. In this non-dualistic concept the Spirit is not at war against “the ways of the flesh”, the human existence, but is in unity with it. And it is within this unity that the antagonist operates. The antagonist (falsely) claims exclusive ownership of “the immortal spirit " and this ownership is emphasized by the “You” in “You got the right spirit”. Whereas in the dualistic (Biblical) concept the Spirit is a divine gift from heaven, in the non-dualistic concept the spirit is “owned” by the antagonist and “creeps into your body the day you are born”, with all devastating consequences as a result of this. However, no matter the claim of the antagonist that he has the “immortal spirit”, yet the ability “to bring someone to life” is exclusively the territory of the Holy Spirit.

The following lines “One strike of lightning is all that I need, and a blast of electricity that runs at top speed” are once again inspired by Shelly’s novel “Frankenstein”. Victor Frankenstein at the age of 15, witnesses an electrical storm that arouses his interest in electricity and possible applications for its use. In the novel it is assumed that Victor uses this knowledge of electricity to create his monster.

Within the song the creative attempts from the antagonist “to bring someone to life” now reach a climax. Using electricity as a substitute for the spirit represents an ultimate attempt to “jump start his creation to life”, and this is the best he can come up with. Previous attempts like “getting blood from a cactus and making gunpowder from ice” seemed a rather plastic attempt to create life. Here he gets as close as he can be in reaching his goal because he seems to realize that not only he needs some invisible power like an“ immortal spirit”, but also some dramatic instant action like a“strike of lightning” and “a blast of electricity” to “jump start his creation to life”.

In this ultimate attempt he tries to imitate God who creates everything instantly, as in a flash, just at the command of His word, like we said earlier: “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast”(Psalm 33:9 NKJV). God does all dramatic, decisive, and life changing acts in the twinkling of an eye, as in a flash of lightning. This will also be the case when He (Jesus) will return to the earth on the clouds: “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt. 24:27 NKJV). Likewise, upon His return, Jesus will not only “bring someone to life”, but He will bring all to life and he will do this in the twinkling of an eye, like it says in 1 Corinthians 15:52 (NKJV): ).”In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed”.

We already saw that “What would Julius Caesar do?” is a -rough and rowdy- parody of “what would Jesus do?”. Likewise “Show me your ribs - I’ll stick in the knife” is  no less a dark parody of God’s initial creation. The poet Milton uses parody in “Paradise Lost” in which Satan mocks God’s creation and Christian rituals.

Consider the gracious and gentle way in which God created Eve: “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man". (Gen. 2:21,22 NJKV)and compare this with the cruel – rough and rowdy – ways of the antagonist: “Show me your ribs - I’ll stick in the knife”.

"I’m gonna jump start my creation to life” sounds triumphant and determined but cannot conceal the futility of this attempt simply because when e.g. you try to jumpstart the engine of your car, you need the help of another car to jumpstart your engine. The antagonist has a problem. To achieve his goal he needs the help of somebody else and he does not have the (divine) tools at his disposal to jumpstart his creation to life.

For the last time we hear “I want to bring someone to life” but now the antagonist seems to realize that “to bring someone to life”, he needs to be in command of time and space so that he can “turn back the years”. Only God is in command of time, just like it says in 2 Peter 3:8 “Do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”(NJKV).

Just like for the devil,It is clear that the antagonist is running out of time. He cannot reach perfection. The desire to be able “turn back the years” is only wishful thinking. Wishful thinking, just like it says in Dylan’s song “Shelter from the Storm”:If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born”. Wishful thinking, even if you “do it with laughter – do it with tears”. As a last resort the antagonist turns to the two extremities of human emotion: laughter and tears, but in vain. His laughter is no more than what he wrote in his song "What Good am I?":“laughter in the face of what sorrow brings”! It was Shakespeare’s who wrote in his play “Julius Caesar”: “If You Have Tears, Prepare To Shed Them Now". 

The end of the story is that the antagonist now"hits the wall" harder than ever before and in a "rough and rowdy way" at that. For the antagonist and "for all those that sail with him" we may draw the same conclusion as Dylan once did in his song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll": “Now is the time for your tears”.

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Bob Dylan's "My Own Version of You" - an analysis- Part 3


In this article we continue our probe into this enigmatic masterpiece.

“I’m gonna make you play the piano like Leon Russell, like Liberace - like St. John the Apostle, play every number that I can play”
are mysterious words and make our following analysis very speculative. When you consult the Wikipedia pages of Liberace (1919 -1987) and Leon Russell ( 1942 – 2016), it says of Liberace: "Liberace recreates—if that is the word—each composition in his own image. When it is too difficult, he simplifies it. When it is too simple, he complicates it." They referred to his as "sloppy technique" that included "slackness of rhythms, wrong tempos, distorted phrasing, an excess of prettification and sentimentality, a failure to stick to what the composer has written”. It looks as if with these words the poet makes a thought association between Liberace and the antagonist. Liberace makes “an own version” of the original musical material and the antagonist tries to do the same and creates his own version of man which turns out to be a caricature of how God intended man to be.

Wikipedia says of Leon Russel: “One of Russell's titles and signature nicknames is: Master of Space and Time”. Here the poet seems to make another thought association but now between Russel and St. John the Apostle. Of course, in case of St. John the Apostle the words “play the piano” should not be taken literally – there were no pianos at the time St. John the Apostle lived in the first century. St. John the Apostle playing the piano is some sort of a metaphor for the way in which the apostle composed the book “The Revelation to St. John”, also called “The Apocalypse” .St. John received these revelations from Jesus (Rev.1:1) and the Holy Spirit ordered John to write down these revelations in a book (Rev.1:10,11). St. John composed this book in such way that -just like for Leon Russel -one could say that in the composition of the Revelation St. John showed that he was a “Master of Space and Time”. The apocalyptic visions written down in Revelations do not show a linear chronological order but rather the apocalyptic visions written down are cyclical, skilfully growing in intensity and masterfully culminating in the presentation of the New Jerusalem, the City of Gold (Rev. 21,22) and at the same time restoring the tree of life from Gen. 3 :22 in its original position (Rev.22:2), going back and forth in time and space.

When it says “I’ll see you baby on Judgement Day, after midnight if you still want to meet” it looks as if all of a sudden the poet introduces Jesus speaking. On “Judgement Day” Jesus will come back on the clouds not only to “gather his jewels” (Dylan’s rewritten version of “Gonna change my way of thinking”) but also to judge the living and the dead (2 Tim. 4:1).

However, the setting of Judegement Day is that of the gospel of Matthew chapter 25. First,( Matt. 25:1-13) we have the parable of the Ten Virgins. The return of Jesus on “Judgement Day” is metaphorically represented there by a wedding party. However the bridegroom’s arrival was delayed (25:5) and the virgins fell asleep but then “at midnight” the bridegroom arrived. In my analysis of Dylan’s song “Soon after midnight”- elsewhere on this website we wrote: “The idea that Christ will return at midnight – as bridegroom to meet his bride, the church, - is wide-spread within the Christian tradition and is based on Matt. 25:6 where it says: ‘At midnight they were roused by the shout, 'Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!'(NLT).

Now when it says here “If you still want to meet” this seems in contradiction with the parable where the five foolish virgins demanded access to the wedding party saying: “Lord, Lord, open the door for us”( 25:11 NIV) but they were refused. So in the parable it looked as if they were anxious to meet the bridegroom (Jesus). However, “If you still want to meet” seems to suggest that the virgins are indeed willing “to meet” the bridegroom as long as it is fun, as long as it is a wedding party. Meeting him as Judge on “Judgement Day” is another matter and the words “If you still want to meet” suggest that the virgins are no longer so enthusiastic for such an encounter.

“I’ll be at the Black Horse Tavern on Armageddon Street” continues the idea that we are still on “Judgement Day” and although words like “Black Horse” and “Armageddon” are taken from the Revelations of St. John, we still are very much in the setting of Matthew 25. From Matt. 25:31 and onwards, on"Judgement Day", Jesus holds a court session during which he separates the gathered nations, “he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mat.25:32). The idea here of the poet might be that on “Judgement Day” the Judge Jesus holds session at the “Black Horse Tavern”. Now the name “Black Horse” refers to the third apocalyptical seal opened In Rev. 6:5 where it says: “When the Lamb (Jesus) broke the third seal, I heard the third living being say: “Come”, I looked up and saw a black horse and its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand”(NLT). This third seal is said to represent worldwide famine.

Now there are quite a lot of restaurants in the USA and elsewhere in the world named “The Blackhorse Tavern”. There is injustice and a kind of cynicism in this image when you consider the contrast between the extravagant menu cards of these Black Horse Taverns and famines which afflict millions of people on the earth in the end-times. This same contrast between extravagance on the one hand and famine on the other can be found in this third seal (Rev.6:5,6). This injustice is a case worthy of judging on “Judgement Day”.
This court session is “On Armageddon Street” and “Armageddon” is a reference to Rev. 16:16: “And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew Armageddon”(NKJV). Armageddon stands for the place where the final battle between the kings of the earth will take place on “that great day of God Almighty" (Rev. 16:14) which is the same day as “Judgement Day”.

Two doors down not that far to walk” suggests that you can’t miss Jesus on Judgement Day, in fact not a soul will escape his attention, regardless “if you still want to meet” or not. Every knee shall bow (Phil 2:10). “I’ll hear your footsteps - you won’t have to knock” expresses that He knows exactly who you are. “He sees your deeds and knows your needs even before you ask” (Dylan’s ‘When He returns’- with reference to Mat. 6:8). As long as you are among the living you can “knock” on His door and Jesus will answer you (Luke 11:9) but on “Judgement Day” this will all be different. Then it is too late for redemption, knocking on His door will no longer help you: “you won’t have to knock”, you will be refused just like the five foolish virgins (Mat. 25:12,13).

The next refrain “I’ll bring someone to life” resumes the thread of the song. The antagonist says he wants to “balance the scales”. This may be an interesting thought association from the poet because in the previous verse, the rider on the “Black Horse” pictured in Revelation 6:5, has a “pair of scales” in his hand. Here the antagonist claims that by bringing someone to life he can be like God and on equal footing with God and therefore “balance the scales” with God.

Although Victor Frankenstein does not give a detailed description of how he created his monster and therefore quite rightly may say: “I’m not gonna get involved in any insignificant details” yet the words “I’m not gonna get involved in any insignificant details” can be read as the limit of human impudence and pride. In God’s creation there are no insignificant details. Take for e.g. the complexity of the creation of the human eye. Every detail has its function and if the smallest of details misses out, it cannot function properly.

The following words: “You can bring it to St. Peter - you can bring it to Jerome, you can move it on over - bring it all the way home, bring it to the corner where the children play, you can bring it to me on a silver tray” are at first glance mysterious and dark. This is because the “it” is not further identified. Obviously the apostle Peter is meant here, who was one of the most ardent disciples of Jesus Christ. The first thing that comes to your mind when we read “You can bring it to Jerome”, is a reference to song from Bo Diddley called “Bring It To Jerome”.

Most commentators feel that “you can bring it to me on a silver tray” is an allusion to the beheading of John the Baptist whose head was presented on a platter to the mother of Herodias.(Mark 6:25,28 Mat. 14:8,10). Although the Scriptures do not explicitly state that it was “a sliver tray” on which the head of John the Baptist was presented but just “a platter”, the allusion fits well. It is not difficult to make a thought association between this gruesome picture of John the Baptist’ head presented on a tray and the equally gruesome picture of the antagonist collecting “Limbs and livers and brains and hearts”. However, it still does not give us a definitive clue why “St. Peter” and “Jerome” and “the corner where the children play” are introduced here in the first place.

The answer might be in the conclusion that follows: “Do it with decency and common sense”. Remember that the antagonist for all intents and purposes wants to do things “for the benefit of all mankind”; he pretends to have high moral standards, no matter how repugnant his life making actions can and must be viewed upon. He claims to produce a very decent end product which is acceptable for all circles of life. It is acceptable not only for Saints like “St. Peter” and “St. Jerome” but the end product is so exquisite that you can even “move it on over - and bring it all the way home“ and present it to your young children, to “the corner where the children play”.

The claim from the antagonist “I’ll bring someone to life - spare no expense, do it with decency and common sense” is yet another false claim. The ability to “bring someone to life “ and in the process “spare no expense” and at the same time “do it with decency and common sense” are properties which can only be attributed to God. When He brought Adam to life He righteously concluded that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). To save mankind He spared no expense- not even his Son- and everything He does, He does in the right order and in the right time and therefore with “decency and common sense”, in the most emphatic way.

To be or not to be” is a quote from Shakespeare (“Hamlet" Act 3, Scene 1).Within the song these words have a deeper- divine - layer. Therefore, when it says: “Can you tell me what it means to be or not to be”  make only sense if they come from the mouth of God.From the mouth of the antagonist these words make no sense. “To be or not to be” expresses the existential duality between God and His creation. It was the Hindu philosopher Shankara (788-822) who denied existential duality between God and (His) creation and called this “a-dvaita”.

However, the Bible makes it clear that there is such an existential duality. As far as this existential question is concerned, it looks as if the poet had the Biblical Book of Job in his mind where God rhetorically asks Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (Job 38:4 NIV), see also Isaiah 40:12-31).Within this concept of thinking, God is the Only One who can truly say that He always “is”, the Only One who knows “what it means to be or not to be”; e.g. Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (KJV).

But unlike for God, the days of a creature like Job are numbered. Job challenged God by raising the “be or not to be” question but God replied: “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2 KJV). He who has no knowledge is a fool (Proverbs 13:16). This is basically the same as if God had said to Job: “You won’t get away with fooling me”. Now God goes on to say to Job: “Now brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall inform me” (Job 38:3 BSB). It is as if God rebukingly says to Job: “Answer this question:, “you won’t get away with fooling me, can you tell me what it means to be or not to be?”. Job however, retraces his steps and repents (Job 42:3) and admits that he was indeed a fool (Job 42:3) by raising this question in the first place.

“Can you help me walk that moonlight mile” is an obvious reference to a 1971 song from the Rolling Stones called “Moonlight Mile”. It is true, Job may be able to walk that moonlight mile but that is not enough and when God asks him “Where does the light come from, and where does darkness go? Can you take each to its home? Do you know how to get there?”. (Job 38:19,20 NLT) Job fails to give the answer. When forced to, a man may walk a mile but to have the power to walk two miles in such a situation, is divine grace, just like Jesus says in Matthew 5:41 (ESV) : “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles”.

Can you give me the blessings of your smile” is a rhetorical question and may be read as a reproach to the antagonist. A blessing means God’s favour and protection. The blessing of God’s smile is a metaphor for His kind and undeserved benevolence which He bestows on people. The antagonist and no mortal human being for that matter, can bestow such a blessing upon others.

For the sixth time we hear the refrain “I want to bring someone to life” and this time the antagonist is determined to go the utmost and says “use all my powers” and he may think that when he does it secretly in “the dark and the wee small hours”- “wee” meaning “very early”- he may succeed. This contrasts with God, who does not do anything in the dark. His first act of creation was “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3 NLT) and He does not live in the darkness but in a "flickering Light" ("Where Teardrops Fall"). God does all of His following creative actions in the Light but we have to bear in mind that at the same time this Light  in which God dwells, is unapprochable to man ((1Tim 6:16).

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Bob Dylan's "My Own Version of You" - an analysis- Part 2


In this second part of our analysis we continue  where we left off writing last time.
“I get blood from a cactus - make gunpowder from ice”.
The reference “make gunpowder from ice” comes from “Gulliver’s travels” by Jonathan Swift. Again, there is a “Frankenstein” connection here. In chapter 2 we see Victor discovering the works of various alchemists and these alchemists trigger him to study science and alchemy. It cannot be denied that there is some sort of quasi reality in these words because “To get blood from a cactus” refers to carmine, a red dye made from insects that live on cacti and “gunpowder from ice” refers to ice packs which contain ammonium nitrate, a component that can be used to make gun powder.

In the novel Victor Frankenstein succeeds in bringing someone to life from dead body parts but that is only fiction. The reality is that no living creature is able to make real living blood out of existing dead material. Blood represents life in the Bible and a self-proclaimed creator cannot bring someone to life.

An additional problem for a self-proclaimed creator is, that he cannot make real blood or real gunpowder ”out of nothing. “Creatio ex nihilo” is a bridge too far for any creature and this capability is only reserved for God, no matter how much a man may brag and say: “I don’t gamble with cards and I don’t shoot no dice”. Quite a number of scientific discoveries are invented accidentally, by chance, like e.g. Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin in 1928.

However, this antagonist uses these words to express his commitment to his goal. He does not take any chances and does not accept anything less than perfection. But here it is not hard to detect that behind his determination there is bragging hiding, because the only one who can say: “I don’t gamble with cards and I don’t shoot no dice” is God because He does not need to take chances. He is the only one who can truly say of Himself: “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast”(Psalm 33:9 NKJV).

“Can you look in my face with your sightless eye” is a rhetorical question and reminds us of the sightless eye of the Buddha image. Eyes are considered as the windows upon the soul, and in chapter 5 Victor Frankenstein describes the monster's eyes as "watery eyes, that seemed almost the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set” Apart from this these words may express divine mockery for such a sightless and lifeless idol. Sightless eyes point to introspection and the inability to look someone in the eye. By definition idols are dead and cannot truly communicate.

The words “Can you cross your heart and hope to die”, is a standard expression of which the Free Dictionary says that it is an “attest to the truth of something” and “it is generally accompanied by hand gestures such as crossing one's hands over one's breast and then pointing the right hand skyward (a variant is cross my heart and point to God). Today most often uttered by children, it was first recorded in 1908”. The expression may be used here, to emphasize that there is sincerity in the attempt to “create an own version”(of God), no matter how gruesome the outcome is.

”I’ll bring someone to life - someone for real, someone who feels the way that I feel” shows the deeply rooted human longing for alliance and solidarity with all those who share the same worldview, who feel the way that you feel. The reverse side of this medal is the equally deeply rooted human inclination to reject and detest all those who are different and do not have the same feeling you have. Xenophobia has its roots in these feelings. This phenomenon appears in chapter 5 of “Frankenstein”. The monster created by Victor Frankenstein is "Formed into a hideous and gigantic creature". The result of this is that the monster is confronted by rejection and fear both from his creator and society. The idea that a creature would be able “to bring someone to life, someone for real” is in fact a false idea, and that this idea is false is proven by the result of this action. The only intended and acceptable result of such an action always is the production of: “someone who feels the way that I feel”. Man’s quest to surpass his creator: ”I’ll bring someone to life - someone for real, someone who feels the way that I feel” continues but without any tangible result. Obviously, looking into the mirror and facing the reality of man, is the hardest thing to do.

“I study Sanskrit and Arabic to improve my mind” again “Frankenstein”- chapter 6- where it says: "Resolved to pursue no inglorious career, he turned his eyes toward the East, as affording scope for his spirit of enterprise. The Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit languages engaged his attention, and I was easily induced to enter on the same studies”. Now Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language and Arabic is spoken in North Africa and the Middle East. “Good intentions can be evil” Dylan wrote earlier and that is exactly the case here. Now it has always been kind of a mystery why people- like Victor Frankenstein- can produce such noble work- like e.g. studying science and languages like Sanskrit and Arabic- and do things “for the benefit of mankind” and at the same time do evil things and produce a hideous monster like Victor Frankenstein did. It proves that there is divine restraint in evil and that invariably a person is not for one hundred percent evil but and that good characteristics coexist with evil characteristics. However, If these evil characteristics are not tackled, these evil characteristics become dominant and lead to ultimate disaster. We see this dualism in Victor Frankenstein and also in the human existence.

Others on the internet have pointed out that “I want to do things for the benefit of mankind” may at the same time be a humorous reference to Dylan’s having won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. Alfred Nobel stated in his will that the remainder of his estate should be used to bestow "prizes to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind”.

“I say to the willow tree - don’t weep for me” reminds us of Desdemona’s lamenting ‘Willow Song’ in Shakespeare’s “Othello” (Act IV, scene 3). A reference to a Weeping Willow can be found in the song ‘Big River’, written by Johnny Cash in 1958, and performed by Dylan in 1969. In the song, the singer teaches the Weeping Willow how to cry.

It is clear from “Frankenstein” that Mary Shelly believes in the healing power of Nature. In chapter 9 she describes Nature as having winds that "whispered in soothing accents," just like a loving and caring mother who tells Victor to "weep no more”. Overwhelmed by all that he has been through, Victor throws himself to the ground and weeps bitterly. “I say to the willow tree - don’t weep for me”, makes it clear that the antagonist rejects and despises all sympathy which may be seen as a sign of weakness. However, it is divine wisdom when a man is able to distract knowledge from tradition and history and from “all things that used to be”. But this self-proclaimed creator defies and damns such knowledge and wisdom, proclaiming that he can do much better than his Creator and says: “the hell with all things that used to be”.

Although you may ignore all ethical warning signs never to act like God, nevertheless all human efforts to “bring someone to life” are confronted with limitations, Sooner or later you reach a point where you cannot proceed and your efforts stall and you have to admit that you “get into trouble”, and that you reach a point with “ no place to turn, no place at all”. When you “get into trouble” you can do two things, you either surrender to your Creator and give up, or you stubbornly continue and “hit the wall”. The wall was hit in a song called “Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street” which Dylan covered on his album “Down in the Groove”: “Warning signs are flashing everywhere, but we pay no heed, instead of slowing down the pace, we keep picking up speed, disasters getting closer every time we meet, going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street”.
Though “stopped dead in his tracks” – as Dylan wrote in “Long and Wasted Years” -and faced with the reality of having “no place to turn, no place at all” , yet man does not give up and desperately tries to find a way out of trouble.

Having nothing to go by the antagonist tries to find some sort of anchorage by saying “I pick a number between one and two”. Whereas earlier in the song -when it came down to exact science - the antagonist was not willing to take chances and said: “I don’t gamble with cards and I don’t shoot no dice” but here there is an inconsistency and he seems to do the opposite and “picks” a number between one and two. Mathematicians say that mathematically there is an infinite number of numbers between one and two. There is some sort of a parody of God in these words. Fallen man relies on chance and wishes to believe e.g. that the universe came into existence by mere chance, rather than accepting that there is a (divine) cause, whereas scientifically- when you consider the fine-tuning of the universe- it is virtually impossible that the universe came into existence without any cause and by mere chance.

When it says that narrator “picks” a number at random this contrasts with God, who does not “pick” a number but determines a number. There is numeric symmetry in all of his works. This does not mean that there is not a divine number “between one and two” which God has determined to be His special symmetrical number. There is. That divine symmetrical number happens to be a number between one and two. That divine number “between one and two”” is Φ = 1.618(phi).
The Renaissance Artists called this number 1.618 “The Divine Proportion or “The Golden Ratio”. The Golden Ratio (phi = φ) is often called: “The Most Beautiful Number In The Universe”.
The reason why this number φ =1.618 is so extraordinary is because it can be found almost everywhere. It can e.g. be found in the dimensions of the human body, in geometry, in plants, in the DNA of organisms, in the solar system, in art and architecture etc.. "The Divine Proportion”1.618 can be found in a lot of places in the Bible as well. There is e.g. this “Divine Proportion” in the Bible in the name of God, the so-called Tetragrammaton JHWH, but also in the divine instructions for the dimensions to be applied in the construction of the Ark of Noah in Genesis 6:15 and the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus 25:10.

There is a connection between “I pick a number between one and two” and “I ask myself what would Julius Caesar do” because it was Julius Caesar, who prior to crossing the Rubicon in 49 BC,said these famous words “alea iacta est”(“the die is cast”). Both the antagonist and Julius Caesar rely on chance to reach their point of no return.

There is another intended association from the poet here. Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ have the same initials J.C. There are those “WWJD” bracelets and bumper stickers that stand for “what would Jesus do”. No doubt, asking the question “what would Julius Caesar do” is a satanic parody of “what would Jesus do”. The question here is: which side are you on? Do you rely on Jesus Christ who – in contrast with the antagonist here - succeeded in “bringing someone to life” or do you -like the antagonist here- rely on the methods of Julius Caesar, who used brutal earthly power to bring his own imperial empire to life? Do you rely on J.C. ,the Son of God, or on the pseudo god J.C. Julius Caesar who claimed that he directly descended from the gods of Rome, from Aenas and Venus?

“I’ll bring someone to life - in more ways than one” shows the determination of the antagonist to compete with God and even to do better than God. God made Adam in His Own Image, and in His Own Likeness (Gen.1:26). However, God made Eve by taking a rib from Adam and made that into a woman(Gen.2:22). So one could say that God brought “somebody to life in more ways than one” .

Apart from that, he resurrected Jesus from the dead. The antagonist claims he can do the same. Although this is true, it is not the crux of the matter here. The crux of the matter is: “God SAID”. All of God's creative works in Genesis 1 are introduced by “And God said”. It is the power of God’s voice, his Word, that brings everything, including man, to life. All through the song the antagonist has to rely on “doing” things to bring someone to life but never was he able – and he never will be for that matter- to command someone to life, simply by the command of his voice. Only God can say of Himself: “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast”(Psalm 33:9 NKJV).

When it says: “Don’t matter how long it takes - it’ll be done when it’s done” these words show the determination of the narrator against all odds and he asks to bear with him even when it would take billions of years to reach his goal. Fallen man is inclined to believe that life will emerge if only there is time enough. He is ready to believe that there is this one chance in many trillions of years that life will emerge “out of nothing”, in spite of the fact that there is no logic reason behind such a thought. “It’ll be done when it’s done” looks like an open door. At the same time these words show the false premise of the antagonist. As we already outlined, “doing things” will bring him nowhere because he lacks the vocal power -the spoken command-which is essential to bring things to life.

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Bob Dylan's "My Own Version of You" - an analysis- Part 1

Bob Dylan’s “My Own Version of You” an analysis by Kees de Graaf-
1. Introduction.
There cannot be any doubt that we deal with yet another Dylan classic here. As time passes by and we draw nearer to the end of his impressive career as a poet, musician, songwriter and painter, his work seems to become more and more intricated.
A key point is that the “You” and the “My” in “My Own Version of You” are not identified. Objectively seen, the “You” may be virtually anybody or anything. This gives rise to a lot&

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Johannes Spronk en Handelingen 15.


Johannes Spronk en Handelingen 15.

De grote vraag in Handelingen 15 – en ook in de Galatenbrief – is of alleen de genade van Jezus voldoende om gered te worden of de genade van Jezus en nog iets. Die vraag werd ineens weer actueel toen ik deze zomer door het Schothorster park fietste en ik bij een rustplaats een evangelist tegen kwam, die zich voorstelde als Johannes Spronk. U ziet hem hiernaast afgebeeld met zijn nieuwe banner.

Johannes maakt op zaterdag morgen vanaf die plek mensen bekend met het evangelie. Hij spreekt voorbijgangers aan en probeert tot een gesprek te komen. Laat ik beginnen mijn waardering en bewondering daarvoor uit te spreken. Johannes steekt hier veel energie en tijd in en hij doet dat met een gedrevenheid die haast paulinisch te noemen is.

Johannes had op een whiteboard de Tien Geboden uitgeschreven en we raakten daardoor meteen in een pittig debat over de betekenis van de wet en- met name het vierde gebod- ook voor vandaag. Later hebben we het gesprek uitgebreid via Whatsapp voortgezet. Dat is gemakkelijk want dan kunnen we alles nog eens rustig teruglezen en overdenken. In het vervolg zal ik daaruit citeren. Ik hoop daarmee recht te doen aan het standpunt van Johannes.
Al snel bleek tijdens ons debat dat Johannes de “feesten van JeHoVa”
-zoals hij ze noemt- uit het O.T nog steeds onderhoudt. Daar hoort o.a. ook de Sabbat, op zaterdag, bij (Lev.23:3).
Om misverstanden te voorkomen, zeg ik er maar meteen bij dat ik er vast van overtuigd ben dat het N.T. ons leert dat als Joden zich tot Christus bekeren, zij gewoon de wet van Mozes kunnen blijven onderhouden, mits ze uiteraard voor hun redding steunen op de genade van Jezus en niet op het onderhouden van de wet van Mozes. Dat was toen zo, en dat is nog zo.

Maar Johannes en ik, wij zijn geen Joden maar wij behoren tot de heiden christenen. Zijn wij ook verplicht om de wet na te leven, inclusief de viering van de O.T feesten waaronder bijv. sabbat op zaterdag? Mijn stelling is dat we daartoe niet verplicht zijn. Ik zal proberen dat vanuit het Handelingen 15 aan te tonen.

De verschillende betekenissen van het woord "wet".
Maar als het over “de wet” gaat moet her eerst duidelijk zijn wat we precies bedoelen met dat Griekse woord “ ho nomos” “de wet”. Dat woord heeft een aantal verschillende betekenissen en dat kan voor veel misverstand zorgen, zoals ook in mijn gesprek met Johannes gebleken is. Want waar heb je het over als je zegt “de wet”? We noemen een aantal betekenissen van “de wet”:

a. Het lerend onderwijs van God in het algemeen (de Thora).
b. De Mozaïsche wetgeving, ook wel “Mozes” genoemd of het “Sinai tisch Verbond”, in de dogmatiek aangeduid als de “ceremoniële wet”.
c. Het geheel van geschriften dat christenen het “Oude Testament” noemen en dat joden “Wet en Profeten” of “Wet en Profeten en Geschriften noemen (de Tenach).
d. De Tien Geboden.

In mijn weblog artikel met als titel :"Zijn de Tien Geboden nog steeds geldig?" heb ik geprobeerd uit te leggen dat De Tien Geboden, als samenvatting van de morele wil van God, altijd geldig blijven, voor zowel Joden als heidenen. Sterker nog: de geldigheid en betekenis van de Tien Woorden wordt door Jezus in de Bergrede niet alleen gehandhaafd maar zelfs geïntensiveerd en zo naar zijn diepere betekenis gebracht. Maar in dat artikel hebben we ook gesteld dat de Mozaïsche wetgeving, de “ceremoniële wet” voor heiden christenen is afgeschaft. De argumentatie daarvoor ga ik nu niet herhalen.
M.i. gaat het in Handelingen 15 dan ook over de vraag of die Mozaïsche wetgeving, die “ceremoniële” wetgeving voor heiden- christenen nageleefd moet worden of niet.
Laten we vervolgens eens nader gaan kijken waar het in Handelingen 15 o.i. over gaat. Vervolgens zal ik het standpunt weergeven van Johannes Spronk en daar kritische notities bij plaatsen.

De probleemstelling:
Vers 1: “Er kwamen enkele leerlingen uit Judea, die betoogden dat de broeders zich moesten laten besnijden, overeenkomstig het door Mozes overgeleverde gebruik, omdat ze anders niet konden worden gered”.
In vers 5 wordt dit nader gespecificeerd:
“Enkele gelovigen die tot de partij van de farizeeën behoorden, gaven echter te verstaan dat ook de niet-Joodse gelovigen dienden te worden besneden en opdracht moesten krijgen zich aan de wet van Mozes te houden”.
De gemeente in Antiochië bestond uit heiden christenen. De gelovige farizeeën in Jeruzalem vonden het voor de redding van deze heiden christenen noodzakelijk dat ze niet alleen besneden moesten worden maar dat ze ook de wet van Mozes moesten onderhouden. Onder de wet van Mozes hebben we m.i. hier de “ceremoniële” wet te verstaan. Denk daarbij aan de reinigings en spijs wetten, de offers, de feestkalender enz.… dus deze heiden christenen moesten de hele joodse levenswijze overnemen en als jood gaan leven.

Het antwoord van de apostelen komt hier op neer: Neen, de heiden christenen zijn niet verplicht de wet van Mozes te onderhouden. Dit wordt als volgt gemotiveerd:
a. De reiniging vindt innerlijk plaats zowel bij joodse als bij heiden christenen. Vers 9 zegt: “Hij heeft geen enkel onderscheid gemaakt tussen ons en hen, want Hij heeft hun hart door het geloof gereinigd”. Door die innerlijke reiniging zijn de uiterlijke reinigingsvoorschriften volgens de wet van Mozes komen te vervallen voor deze heiden christenen.
b. Vers 10: “Waarom wilt u God dan trotseren door op de schouders van deze leerlingen een juk te leggen dat onze voorouders noch wijzelf konden dragen?”. Van Bruggen: “De vroomheid van het volk Israël is door de eeuwen heen zo teleurstellend geweest dat er geen reden is om het juk van de wet op te leggen aan de nieuwe medegelovigen. Israëls God gaf de wet en geeft nu de Messias. Zijn naam blijft beslissend. Het volk Israël heeft echter bewezen dat het de wet niet kan dragen en volbrengen. Wie de Messias van God aanvaardt, hoeft daarom geen jood (meer) te worden”.
c. Vers 11: “Nee, we geloven dat we door de genade van de Heer Jezus gered worden, op dezelfde wijze als zij”. Alleen de genade is bepalend voor de redding voor zowel Joden als heidenen. Het onderhouden van de wet van Mozes voegt daar niets aan toe.

N.a.v. het bovenstaande komen de apostelen tot de volgende overwegingen:
Vers 19: “dat we de mensen uit de heidense volken die zich tot God bekeren geen al te zware lasten moeten opleggen”. In de besluittekst van vers 28 wordt dit verwoord als: “In overeenstemming met de heilige Geest hebben wij namelijk besloten u geen andere verplichtingen op te leggen dan wat strikt noodzakelijk is”.

De besluiten van de apostelen in Handelingen 15.
Dit “strikt noodzakelijke” leidt dan tot de volgende besluiten waarin de heiden christenen in de gemeente van Antiochië schriftelijk wordt opgedragen zich te onthouden van: “vlees dat bij de afgodendienst is gebruikt, van bloed, van vlees waar nog bloed in zit, en van ontucht” (Vers 29, zie ook vers 20).

Gaat het om een compromis of om principiële afwijzing van het heidendom?   
Nu komen deze bepalingen – hoewel anders geformuleerd- ook voor in de wet van Mozes.“Ontucht”, hoererij, zou dan verwijzen naar Leviticus 18 waar seksueel contact (huwelijk) tussen personen van een bepaalde graad van verwantschap verboden wordt; “wat verstikt is bloed bevat” naar Leviticus 17, waar het nuttigen van bloed en vlees met bloed verboden wordt.Gaat het in deze bepalingen nu om een soort van minimum aan joodse wetsbetrachting uit de Thora om samenleven tussen joden christenen en heiden christenen in de gemeente van Antiochië mogelijk te maken? Dan zou er sprake zijn van een soort van compromis.
Of gaat het hier om een principiële afwijzing van het heidendom? In dat laatste geval is er geen sprake van een compromis en ook niet van een minimum van joodse wetsbetrachting waaraan heiden christenen zich zouden moeten houden. Bij oppervlakkige lezing lijkt de compromis gedachte zich op te dringen. Men verwijst daarbij ook naar vers 21 die de voorstanders van de compromis gedachte als volgt uitleggen: er zijn overal joden met wie men moet kunnen samenleven. Maar toch zijn er zwaarwegende bezwaren tegen deze compromis exegese in te brengen.

Bezwaren tegen de compromis gedachte.
Ten eerste dienen we ons te realiseren dat de bezwaren niet uit de gemeente van Antiochië zelf komen. De bezwaren komen vanuit “enkele leerlingen uit Judea” (vers 1) en van “Enkele gelovigen die tot de partij van de farizeeën (uit Jeruzalem) behoorden” (vers 5). In Antiochië zelf speelde kennelijk dit conflict niet en waarom zou er dan ter wille van de lieve vrede een soort van compromis moeten worden gesloten?
Ten tweede doet de compromis gedachte geen recht aan de Griekse tekst van vers 20. Er staat letterlijk: “de bezoedelingen” van de afgoden". Een dergelijk meervoud geeft in het Grieks de verschillende zaken aan waardoor men zich met afgoden bezoedelt. Het lidwoord “de” geeft aan dat er nu een opsomming volgt. Dus het onderwerp is “de bezoedelingen van de afgoden” en die bezoedelingen bestaan uit:
1. "De hoererij", namelijk die met de dienst aan de afgoden verbonden is.
2. “Het verstikte”, vlees waar nog bloed in zit.
3. “Het bloed”, een omschrijving van bloednuttiging bij diezelfde afgoden dienst.

Het gaat hier m.i. om de afwijzing van de afgodische eredienst in zijn geheel. In de heiden wereld van die tijd werd de sacrale tempel prostitutie gecombineerd met het nuttigen van bloed, gedronken of in het vlees. Zo hoorde bijv. het eten van rauw vlees in die tijd bij de extatische verering van Dionysus, de god van de ongebonden natuurkracht. Zo probeerde men zich, door het drinken van bloed, op magische wijze de levenskrachten rechtstreeks eigen te maken. Paulus blijft in zijn brieven zinspelen op de besluiten die in Handelingen 15 worden genomen. Hij blijft waarschuwen tegen “de hoererij” (1Thes.4:2,3) en tegen deelname aan de heidense offer rituelen waarbij gewijd vlees aan de demonen werd geofferd. (1Kor 10:18-22, zie ook 1 Kor 8:1-11). Concluderend kunnen we stellen dat de opdracht om je te onthouden van de afgodendienst blijvend is en daarom vandaag nog steeds actueel is. Denk bijv. aan de afgod de Mammom.

Hoe legt Johannes Spronk Handelingen 15 uit?
Johannes schrijft: “Handelingen 15 kan niet gebruikt worden om te zeggen dat de wet niet meer van toepassing is voor gelovigen uit de heidenen, want de centrale vraag vindt je in vers 1. Daar moet je in context bij blijven. We hebben nu dus te maken met geredde mensen buiten de wet van Mozes om. Maar ze krijgen een opdracht mee van geboden uit de Wet als eerste prioriteit. Ik zeg eerste prioriteit omdat vervolgens de sjabbat genoemd wordt om Mozes te horen”.

Er zit een tegenstrijdigheid in de benadering van Johannes. Enerzijds geeft hij toe dat we hier te maken hebben met “geredde mensen buiten de Wet van Mozes om” en dat klopt ook, maar anderzijds krijgen ze- hoewel ze dus al "gered" zijn, opdracht (sommige) geboden uit de wet van Mozes toch te onderhouden maar dan als “Als eerste prioriteit”. De vraag -waarop ik van Johannes geen antwoord heb gekregen- is: waar lees ik van die “eerste prioriteit” in Handelingen 15? Er staats niet over een eerste prioriteit in de brief die heiden gelovigen in Antiochië krijgen. Als dat waar was dan had het besluit (van vers 20 en 28,29) ongeveer zo kunnen luiden: “wij hebben besloten dat u zich als eerste prioriteit dient te onthouden van offervlees dat dat bij de afgodendienst is gebruikt, van bloed, van vlees waar nog bloed in zit, en van ontucht. De rest van de geboden heeft geen prioriteit en volgt later. Op de sabbat (vers 21) wordt u immers in de synagoge verder onderwezen in de wet van Mozes”. Maar dat staat er niet. Het gaat niet “om een eerste prioriteit” maar om “geen andere verplichtingen dan wat strikt noodzakelijk is” (vers 28). Geen andere verplichtingen betekent dat behalve deze verplichtingen, de wet van Mozes buiten werking wordt gesteld voor de heiden christenen.

Wat betekent vers 21?
Als Johannes de “sjabbat” noemt dan betrekt hij vers 21 erbij als argument voor zijn stelling. Laten we daarom eerst wat nader naar vers 21 kijken. Dit vers luidt:
“In elke stad wordt de wet van Mozes immers al sinds mensenheugenis verkondigd en op iedere sabbat in de synagogen voorgelezen”. De vraag is of dit vers bedoeld is voor de heiden christenen in Antiochië om hen alsnog op te dragen zich aan de wet van Mozes te houden of is dit vers bedoeld voor de bezwaarde Judeeërs en farizeeën van vers 1 en 5?. Als het vers voor de heiden christenen in Antiochië bedoeld zou zijn dan is de vraag waarom dit niet vermeld wordt in de brief die deze christenen ontvangen? Deze heiden christenen in Antiochië komen n.l. helemaal niet in de synagoge en horen de wet van Mozes dus nooit. Waarom zouden ze dan op de wet van Mozes die in de synagoge op sabbat gelezen wordt, gewezen moeten worden?

Vers 21 spreekt heiden christenen aan en niet joden christenen,
Er is dus alle reden om aan te nemen dat vers 21 een groep aanspreekt die wel in de synagoge komt en daar al sinds mensenheugenis de wet van Mozes hoort voorlezen. En die groep, dat zijn de bezwaarde Judeeërs en farizeeërs van vers 1 en5, gelovige joden dus. Zij kwamen en komen nog steeds in de synagoge en dat blijft zo. Vers 21 dient dan ook ter geruststelling van deze groep. Zij meenden voor de wet van Mozes te moeten opkomen en ze krijgen hier te horen dat het gezag van Mozes op geen enkele wijze wordt geschaad door het genomen besluit. Het wordt gehandhaafd in de synagoge en waar Israel samenkomt. Dat gebeurt “sinds oude tijden" en in “elke stad”. Dat zal niet veranderen door dit besluit.

De besluiten van Handelingen 15 worden in Handelingen 21 bevestigd.
Dat dit niet zal veranderen blijkt ook verderop in Handelingen 21:21-26. In 21:21 wordt Paulus ervan beschuldigd dat hij “ontrouw” zou zijn aan Mozes en zou beweren dat joodse kinderen niet meer besneden hoeven te worden en dat men de wet, de voorschriften, van Mozes niet meer hoeft te houden. Paulus toont vervolgens aan dat hij als joodse christen nog steeds doet wat de wet (van Mozes) hem voorschrijft (21:24). Tegelijkertijd zien we daar dat de heiden christenen hiervan uitgezonderd worden. Want dan volgt 21:25 “Doch van de heidenen, die geloven, hebben wij geschreven en goed gevonden, dat zij niets dergelijks zouden onderhouden, dan dat zij zich wachten van hetgeen den afgoden geofferd is, en van bloed, en van het verstikte, en van hoererij”(SV).
Het apostelen besluit van Hoofdstuk 15 wordt hier in Handelingen 21 herhaald en bekrachtigd! Ook hier is de conclusie duidelijk: de heiden christenen zijn niet verplicht om de (ceremoniële) wet van Mozes te onderhouden die Paulus als joodse gelovige wel onderhoudt.

Mag je wel spreken van de"ceremoniele wet" in Handelingen 15?
Johannes heeft moeite met dat woordje “ceremoniële” dat ik gebruik. Hij schrijft: “Er wordt (in Handelingen 15) met geen woord gerept over ceremoniële wet. Dat legt jij in!”. Op zich heeft Johannes gelijk. De woorden “ceremoniële wet” komen niet voor in Handelingen 15. Maar ook al komen die woorden “ceremoniële wet” niet voor in Handelingen 15, inhoudelijk gaat het daar wel over de “ceremoniële wet”. Het gaat daar over de vraag of heiden christenen als Joden moeten gaan leven. Die woorden “ceremoniële wet” moeten we hier wel gebruiken om deze te onderscheiden van die andere wet. Die andere wet dat zijn de Tien Geboden.

De Tien geboden staan in Handelingen 15 niet ter discussie en gelden en overal en altijd!
Die Tien Geboden, als samenvatting van God morele wil, door Gods vinger gegrift in stenen platen, blijven als Zijn grondwet eeuwig van kracht voor alle mensen, voor zowel Joden als heidenen. De Tien Geboden zijn en blijven universeel van kracht. In het standpunt van Johannes doet zich een hardnekkig misverstand voor. Op de vraag welke plek de wet heeft voor zowel Jood als Griek antwoord Johannes: “Dat is een en hetzelfde. Hij Jezus heeft de wet niet afgeschaft en dat zal ook niet gebeuren zolang hemel en aarde er zijn. De feesten van JHVH zijn profetisch en hebben vervullingen gezien en zullen vervullingen zien” Johannes maakt dus geen onderscheid tussen de “ceremoniële” wet van Mozes die is als onderdeel van het oude Verbond afgeschaft (zie Hebreeën 8:8-13) en de wet vervat in de Tien Geboden, die universeel van kracht blijft, ook voor heiden christenen. Als Jezus het in Matt. 5:18 er over heeft dat elke jota en tittel van de Wet van kracht blijft, dan heeft Hij het over de Tien Geboden die Hij in het vervolg van de Bergrede nader intensiveert en inhoudelijk verdiept en niet over de ceremoniële wet, de Joodse leefwijze.

Wet is wet bij Johannes Spronk.
Wet is voor Johannes wet en beide “soorten” wet blijven voor hem geldig, ook voor heiden christenen. Dat lijkt logisch en consistent. Hoewel... logisch en consistent? Als je de wet handhaaft, moet je dan ook de sancties die bij die wet horen niet handhaven? Numeri 15:35 bepaalt dat een op sabbat hout sprokkelende man gedood moet worden. Geldt deze sanctie vandaag nog? Toen ik Johannes daarop wees, stemde hij daar eerst in toe maar later krabbelde hij toch wat terug. Je zou dan vandaag niet ver meer verwijderd zijn van een soort van christelijke Sjaria.
Dus wanneer ik stel dat heiden christenen in Antiochië de wet niet meer hoeven te onderhouden, dan schijnt Johannes daarmee te suggereren dat ik daarmee de Tien Geboden ook over boord kieper en verwijt hij mij ongehoorzaamheid. En terecht als dat ook zo is. Dan schrijft hij zoiets als: "Als jij denkt dat iedere dag sjabbat is, ben je praktisch iedere dag ongehoorzaam aan het gebod van JeHoVaH”. Gooi ik daarmee de Tien Geboden over boord, of passen we daarmee de Tien Geboden op analoge wijze toe, net zoals Jezus de Tien Geboden intensiveerde in de Bergrede?

Gaat het in Handelingen 15 niet om "eigen geboden van de farizeeën"?  
Nog een laatste argument van Johannes. Hij schrijft: “Als je meeneemt dat de farizeeën eigen geboden als last oplegden (zie weer Handelingen 15 en brief aan de Galaten) dan ga je begrijpen dat wanneer het over de wet gaat in het nieuwe testament je steeds moet afvragen hebben we het hier over Mozes of hebben we het over geboden van mensen”. Johannes schijnt hier een punt te hebben, want Jezus zegt in Marcus 7: 8: “De geboden van God geeft u op, maar aan tradities van mensen houdt u vast”. Nergens blijkt uit Handelingen 15 dat het daar om “eigen geboden” van de Farizeeën zou gaan. Integendeel, het gaat de  gaat de Farizeeën hier om de besnijdenis en het onderhouden van de wet van Mozes. Als het om eigen geboden van de Farizeeën  zou gaan dan zou dit ongetwijfeld verwoord zijn in het apostelen besluit en zou de blijvende geldigheid van de wet van Mozes bevestigd worden. Maar dat gebeurt juist niet.

Is er nu een probleem?
Hebben we nu een probleem wanneer heiden christenen als Johannes Spronk de O.T. feesten zoals de Sjabbat, het Wekenfeest, het Loofhuttenfeest etc. vandaag nog steeds vieren? Veel symboliek
in die feesten wijst naar Christus en is door Hem vervuld. Van de overdenking daarvan kunnen we veel leren (zie Art. 25 NGB). Dus in die zin kan het vieren van deze feesten ons dichter bij Christus brengen en ons geloofsleven verrijken. Toch voelen we aarzeling. Het voelt alsof we dan de heilsklok terug draaien. Je keert daarmee in zekere zin achter de vervulling van die feesten in Christus terug.

Handelingen 15 en 21 leert ons duidelijk dat de ceremoniële wet, inclusief deze feesten, niet langer een onderdeel is van de apostolische prediking aan de heidenen. Dus is de onderhouding ervan voor heiden christenen als wij niet noodzakelijk is en al zeker mogen we deze feesten niet aan anderen opleggen. Dat laatste doet Johannes wel als hij mij ronduit ongehoorzaam noemt aan Gods geboden wanneer ik Sabbat niet op dezelfde wijze vier zoals hij dat doet. Het gevaar is levensgroot dat er zo een nieuw juk aan anderen wordt opgelegd dat de vrije genade van Jezus zo maar in de weg kan gaan zitten.

Levert het blijven onderhouden van de “ceremoniële” wet van Mozes gevaren op?
Dat gevaar lijkt ons niet ondenkbaar wanneer Johannes schrijft: “Vergeet niet dat ik eigenlijk mijn hele leven de zondag onderhield en ook sprak van joodse feesten. Het is voor mij een weg van bekering geweest met pijn, spot en verlies. Maar Hij is het waard. Hij gaf alles voor mij. En vervolging is wat ons beloofd wordt als we Hem volgen. Ik had ook voor het comfort kunnen kiezen en in het kerkelijk systeem met menselijke geboden kunnen blijven. Maar wie houd je dan voor de gek?. Wie geef ik dan een klap in het gezicht?”.
Het is natuurlijk verschrikkelijk dat Johannes dit overkomen is. Echter, wanneer je deze persoonlijke noot op je laat inwerken dan krijg je de indruk dat de pijn, de spot en het verlies die Johannes te verduren krijgt voor het onderhouden van de “ceremoniële” wet op hetzelfde niveau staat als de vervolging, smaad en hoon die Christenen te wachten staat als ze Jezus volgen. En welk gevaar dreigt er dan? Dit gevaar: dat jouw persoonlijke opvattingen de maatstaf worden waarmee je anderen beoordeelt en je dat verkondigt als “noodzakelijk” voor het volgen van Jezus. Misschien zonder dat je het in de gaten hebt, verdringen jouw persoonlijke opvattingen dan zo maar het “door genade alleen” van Handelingen 15:11. Door mensen bedachte gedragcodes hebben altijd de neiging in zich de kern van het evangelie te verdringen. Dat gevaar zag Paulus in Handelingen 15. Dat gevaar zag Paulus ook in de gemeente van de Galaten. En hij verzette er zich fel tegen in de brief die hij aan de Galaten schreef want hij besefte heel goed dat als hij daar aan zou toegeven, dit op termijn het einde van de kerk zou betekenen.

Hoe belangrijk is de kerkgeschiedenis?
Johannes heeft aangegeven alleen bekend te zijn met de belijdenis van Nicea en dat hij de overige klassieke belijdenisgeschriften inhoudelijk niet kent. M.i.wreekt zich dat. Als je de geschiedenis niet kent en geen kennis neemt van wat de heiligen uit de kerk van alle eeuwen en tijden geleerd hebben uit de schriften, dan heb je de neiging om het wiel opnieuw te moeten gaan uitvinden. Aan dat gevaar is Johannes Spronk m.i. niet ontkomen. Als je, zoals Johannes doet, geen onderscheid maakt tussen de Tien Geboden en de ceremoniële wet, dan loop je vast.
Johannes verwijt mij Marcus 7: 8: “De geboden van God geeft u op, maar aan tradities van mensen houdt u vast”. Helaas moet ik deze bal terug kaatsen. De geboden van God, de Tien geboden, geven we niet op. Integendeel, de Tien geboden zijn door de radicale verdieping en toepassing van Jezus actueler dan ooit. Maar de ceremoniële wet geven we wel op. Vanaf Handelingen 15 behoort de verplichting om de ceremoniële wet van Mozes na te leven voor heiden christenen tot de tradities van mensen. En dan moet ik eerlijk stellen: Als Johannes mij wil verplichten de ceremoniële wet te onderhouden, dan houdt hij vast aan menselijke tradities. Dan doet hij juist wat hij wil vermijden.
Op 20 Oktober 2022 zullen we Handelingen 15 verder bespreken in onze Bijbelstudie club. Bij deze nodigen wij Johannes van harte uit om met ons hierover verder van gedachten te wisselen. Hartelijk welkom op 20 Oktober om 10 uur in de Lichtkring!.


Bob Dylan's "False Prophet" - an analysis by Kees de Graaf - Part 4.


In this final episode we deal with the verses 7,8,9 and 10.
Verse 7.
You don’t know me darlin’ - you never would guess
I’m nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest
I ain’t no false prophet - I just said what I said
I’m here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head.
The False Prophet seems to be aware of the fact that his “ghostly appearance” scares off people and might give them that creepy haunted feeling that something is wrong. Terrified they were, the disciples of Jesus when they were in a boat on the sea of Galilea and Jesus passed by walking on the water and they thought he was a ghost (Marc 6:50). Intuitively the False Prophet feels that his ghostly appearance may impede his victim’s surrender to him and therefore he attempts to reassure his victims by pretending that he has no evil intentions and that they have nothing to fear. He tries to reassure his victim by addressing her as “darling” and it is as if you hear the echo of Dylan’s “Man of Peace” where Dylan says of Satan: “He’ll puts both his arms around you, you can feel the tender touch of the beast”. “What are you looking at - there’s nothing to see” of verse 5 sounded like a reproach but here the False Prophet intends to take away any suspicion in a gentle way.
We already dealt with the possible meaning of “I ain’t no false prophet - I just said what I said” in the introductory remarks made in Part 1 of the analysis of this song.
“Vengeance” means a punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offence. Both the False Prophet and God use the word “vengeance” However, when the False Prophet uses the word “vengeance” in “I’m here to bring ‘vengeance’ on somebody’s head” his intentions are quite different from God’s intentions when God uses the word “vengeance”. When God says “Mine is the vengeance” (Romans 12:19 quoting Deut. 32:35) God’s intention is to do justice to those who have been wronged. From God’s side “vengeance” is an act of love and justice, to set things right. From the side of the False Prophet “vengeance” is an act of just pure evil. The False Prophet is out to bring vengeance “on somebody’s head”; for the False Prophet it is quite indifferent who the person targeted is, it might be anybody; he couldn’t care less as long as he can ruin and inflict damage on a person. We find a classic example of this “vengeance” in 2 Chron. 18:18-22. A spirit – a daemon- stepped forward in the heavenly council and said that he was ready to bring vengeance on King Ahab’s head saying “I will entice him”. He indeed succeeded in enticing Ahab to wage war against Ramoth-Gilead and we see that - because of this vengeance- Ahab was killed in the following battle against Ramoth-Gilead (2 Chron. 18:34).
Verse 8.
Put out your hand - there’s nothin’ to hold
Open your mouth - I’ll stuff it with gold
Oh you poor Devil - look up if you will
The City of God is there on the hill
The primordial sin of man in the Garden of Eden was that man wanted to be like God and be independent from God. “Putting out one’s hand” is just the opposite and a token of dependence from and surrender to God and that is a humble attitude which the False Prophet very much loathes. The False Prophet knows that anyone who puts out his or her hand to God in prayer for heavenly aid, will be heard. But such prayers are sometimes not answered immediately and the full realization of God’s promises lies in the future. This requires patience and perseverance in faith from the side of the believer. The False Prophet targets his fiery darts on the weak spot of the believers and that is their patience and perseverance. Therefore, he constantly puts their patience and perseverance to the test by trying to make them believe that “there is nothing to hold” as if he says to them: “you may put out your hand to God and trust him, but his promises are empty and vain and he leaves you empty handed, but I can give you everything you want right now”. These are the scoffers who say “there is nothing to hold”. These are the same scoffers, who, inspired by the False Prophet, will come and say: “Where is the promise of his coming?”(2 Pet. 3:4 RSV).
When the False Prophet goes on to say: “Open your mouth - I’ll stuff it with gold” the False Prophet claims that he – unlike God -can give you instant inner peace and wealth. It is the sort of “instant inner peace” Dylan denounces in his song “When you gonna wake up”: ”Spiritual advisors and gurus to guide you every move, instant inner piece and every step you take has got to be approved”.
When it says: “Open your mouth - I’ll stuff it with gold” this reminds us of Crassus, the wealthy Roman, who had his mouth stuffed with molten gold by the Parthians, after losing a battle in 53BC.
It also reminds us of a quote from the British Labour Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan, who shortly after the Second World War, said: “I stuffed their mouths with gold” after allowing British doctors to continue seeing private patients- and allowing these doctors to make a lot of extra money out of it – on top of the money they made on accepting NHS patients.
Something comparable happened in the 1990s when U.S. hospitals, began buying primary care physicians and their practices by “stuffing their mouths with gold.” To incite doctors to become their employees hospitals initially paid them exorbitant salaries—essentially bribes.
When it says “Open your mouth - I’ll stuff it with gold” the poet may allude to the so-called prosperity gospel which is widespread especially in the USA. The adage of the prosperity gospel is the religious belief that “financial blessing and physical wealth well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one material wealth”(Wikipedia). It is as if the False Prophet says: “Don’t put out your hand to God, because if you do so, there is nothing to hold, only vague future promises, there is nothing tangible to hold which you can enjoy right now. But if you follow me and “open your mouth, I’ll stuff it with gold”. Gold teeth is usually a sign of extravagant luxury and that is what this prosperity preacher, this False Prophet, promises to give instantly to all those who follow his instructions.
When it says “Oh you poor Devil - look up if you will, the City of God is there on the hill”, the False prophet speaks condescendingly to the believers as if they are to be pitied: “Oh you poor Devil”. It is as if the False Prophet says: “It is true, God promises you a City of Gold (Rev.21:8) but you have to look up for it, you do not have it right now, it is there on the hill and beyond reach and who says that you will ever reach this City,”. ”On the hill” may also allude to the hill of Calvary. The City of God is the New Jerusalem which will come down from heaven (Rev. 21:2) but it is on Mount Sion where also the hill of Calvary is. Calvary – the hill where Jesus was crucified - also smacks of suffering and it is as if the False Prophet wants to make it clear that if you follow God you will suffer and if you follow the False Prophet, you will get rich instantly.
Verse 9.
Hello stranger - Hello and goodbye
You rule the land but so do I
You lusty old mule - you got a poisoned brain
I’m gonna marry you to a ball and chain
Although it may make the analysis of this song a little less coherent, yet we feel that there is reason enough to believe that -only in this verse- there is a change of perspective. A change of perspective, because it seems that here the False Prophet is not the speaker – as in the previous verses and the following verse - but the addressee. It is God - or more precisely Jesus- who now addresses the False Prophet.
Before we go deeper into this, we should note that the words “Hello stranger” echo a song from the Stanley Brothers called “How Far To Little Rock” where it says: “Hello, stranger, (Why, hello there, stranger), Ah, could you tell me how far it is to Little Rock?(Well no sir I couldn't, buddy, but they's a devil of a big'n down here in Pap's old field”. The words “Hello stranger” also echo a song from The Carter Family called “Hello Stranger”. The song has the line “I’m prison bound, I’m longing to be free”, a line which happens to breathe the same atmosphere of imprisonment, the same sphere of imprisonment as the “ball and chain” in “I’m gonna marry you to a ball and chain”.
There seems to be a certain symmetry in two song titles. In verse two we had the song “Hello Mary Lou” and here in verse nine we have the song “Hello stranger”. The “goodbye” here echoes the “goodbye” from “Hello, Mary Lou, Goodbye, heart”.
Above we said that there may be a change of perspective in this verse and now the False Prophet is the addressee and is addressed by Jesus as “Stranger”. In John 10 Jesus tells us that He is the good shepherd, the sheep recognize His voice and follow Him. But his opponent who cares nothing for the sheep is addressed as a “Stranger”. John 10:5 says: “And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers “ (KJV).
In Mat. 7:15 Jesus says: “Beware of the false prophets”. Mat. 7:22,23 Jesus says of these false prophets: “On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and do mighty works in your name?’ and then I will declare to them, ‘I NEVER KNEW YOU; depart from me, you evildoers’ (RSV). Jesus does not know these false prophets, they are strangers to Him. “Depart from me” may mean as much as “goodbye”.
When God – or Jesus- says to the False Prophet: “You rule the land but so do I” this does not mean that God and the False Prophet are equals and that they equally share their power to rule the land. Since the victory of Jesus on the cross the devil is defeated and therefore Jesus says in John 12: 31: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out”(NKJV). It is true, some power – and that may be nasty- is left to the False Prophet – alias the devil-. His rule consists of prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour (1 Peter 5:8) but his power is limited and can only go as far as God allows him to go. Jesus is in command, therefore, “But so do I” means that in reality all power and authority in heaven and on earth is given to Jesus (Mat. 28:1). In his famous 2004 CBS interview Dylan alludes to this this by cryptically referring to Jesus as “the Commander in Chief in this world and in a world we can’t see”.
The words “You lusty old mule” may be almost literally quoted from Homer’s “Iliads”. A translation of this poem can be found in The English Works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury, Volume 10-11: “The Iliads and Odysses of Homer”, where in LIB. XXIII “The funeral games for Patroclu”s, on Page 281 -line 655-670- it says:
“A prize for him that won at fist and ball, a mule of six years old, and hard to rule.As for the vanquished, be assigned to him a lesser prize, which was a silver cup, that crooked and wryed was about the brim. Achilles then amongst the Greeks stood up. Atrides, and you Argives all, said he, let two men fight for these at fist and ball; the lusty mule shall for the victor be, the cup for him that in the night shall fall. This said, Epeius, a huge man stood up, and that had at this kind of fight great skill, and seized the mule, and said, as for the cup, let any one against me rise that will ,the mule is mine; at this game I am best”.
The first thing that strikes us is, that there is an exquisite word pun here. The Iliads speaks of a “ball” in “a prize for him that won at fist and ball”. In the next line “I’m gonna marry you to a ball and chain” another sort of “ball” is introduced. Not a “ball”used in a game, but another sort of heavy metal “ball”, a ball used in combination with a chain to restrain and detain a prisoner.
Apart from this pun, one may wonder why the False Prophet is addressed here as “You lusty old mule”?. Now the dictionary describes a mule as “the offspring of a donkey and a horse (strictly, a male donkey and a female horse), typically sterile and used as a beast of burden”. It is true, mules are less stubborn and more intelligent than donkeys, yet they still can be very stubborn. This can also be said of the False Prophet -alias Satan of old-. They say that “Pride goes before a fall” and it was this stubborn “mulish” pride that led to the downfall of Satan. Now the False Prophet is characterized here as a “lusty” old mule. Where true love is lacking, only carnal “lust” remains. The False Prophet entices you to believe that sex outside a love relationship may be called love, but the truth is that such a love is only lust. Apart from “lusty” the False Prophet is also characterized as an “old” lusty mule, not strange when you consider that Rev. 20:2 calls the serpent, the devil, an “ancient” or old serpent. An additional reason why we feel that the False Prophet is the object in this verse and not the subject is the line “you got a poisoned brain”. “Poison” reminds us of a serpent; the old serpent of Rev. 12:9 who is Satan- alias the False Prophet. The False Prophet is said to have a “poisoned brain”. This means that his mind is fully occupied by poisonous and evil schemes, he is the embodiment of all evil. John 8: 44 calls him the murderer from the beginning. “You got a poisoned brain” also reminds us of the garden of Eden when the devil disguised as a serpent, injected Eve and Adam from his own poisoned brain with his poison and he did so by questioning the integrity of God in a very deceptive way. (Gen.3:1).
There is irony in the words “I’m gonna marry you to a ball and chain”. Literally and figuratively. To understand this we must first realize that there has been a continuous quest in Dylan’s oeuvre to get free from earthly lust and to achieve the perfect and pure love of matrimony. On the Latter Day – when the final whistle (or trumpet) is blown- “lust” will be finally defeated and a pure and perfect matrimony will be consummated . Then it will be just like he said in his song “Duquesne Whistle”: “Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing, blowing like my woman’s on board”. An earthly matrimony is a foreshadowing of the eternal matrimony between Christ as the bridegroom and the church as the bride (cf. Eph.5:31-33). On the Latter Day and lasting into all eternity, there will be a marriage between Christ and all of his followers, just like it says in Rev. 19:7 “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”(NKJV). The “Lamb” in this verse stands for Christ and “his wife” stands for the church.
Now in “I’m gonna marry you to a ball and chain” there is also a marriage, but it is a marriage “to a ball and chain” and that is the irony, or to be more specific the “iron-y”. The False Prophet will be married to irons into all eternity, or to put it in Dylan’s own words, the False Prophet is “Cold irons bound”. In the final verse we hear the False Prophet boast: ”I’m nobody’s bride”. That is how the False Prophet will end up. In the third verse we heard the False Prophet say: “I go where only the lonely can go“ but he will not only go there but he will also stay there. A marriage “to a ball and chain” is not a marriage to look forward to. Christ’s marriage to the church and the False Prophet’s marriage to “a ball and chain” cannot be more contrasted!.
The “chain” echoes Revelation 20:1,2: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain in his hand. He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years” (NLT).
Verse 10.
You know darlin’ the kind of life that I live
When your smile meets my smile - something’s got to give
I ain’t no false prophet - I’m nobody’s bride
Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died.
The quasi familiar words from the False Prophet “You know darlin’ the kind of life that I live” are meant to inspire confidence. These words seem to echo the doctrines of another False Prophet – in this case a self-proclaimed false Prophetess called Jezebel- referred to in Rev. 2:19-29. This False Prophetess is said to know the ‘depths of Satan’. To fully know and understand “The kind of live that I live” may be the same as to know the ‘depths of Satan’, just like Jezebel once knew the depths of Satan. Jesus condemns and exposes this False Prophetess Jezebel and admonishes the church of Thyatira not to follow Jezebel into the depths of Satan; not to follow her into the life she lives: “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden”( Rev. 2:24 NKJV).
The words “when your smile meets my smile” suggest that an evil pact with the devil is fabricated. “When your smile meets my smile” may be seen as some sort of a token of a tacit agreement. Magical power is given to such an agreement, because when this happens, when these two smiles meet, the inevitable result is that “something’s got to give”. “Something’s got to give” means that that tension is building up and that whatever is supporting everything is going to break under the pressure. “Something’s got to give” also means that ‘the current situation cannot remain unchanged for much any longer; one side or the other has got to yield’. (Farlex Dictionary of Idioms). This is exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden when man yielded to the devil and fell into sin (Genesis 3).
The “something” in “Something’s got to give” was that Adam and Eve gave up their innocence, it was the day “when innocence died” (Dylan’s Ring them Bells). Losing their innocence meant that, when they opened up their eyes, they knew that they were naked (Gen 3:7). “Something’s got to give” also implies that something else broke down there in the Garden of Eden. This turned out to be a turning point in the history of mankind, because when the LORD God concluded: “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen.3:22),this meant that man not only lost his innocence, but now also knew of good and evil, and from then on has been able to experience what “the kind of life” the False Prophet lives involves, albeit with devastating result. ”The kind of life” turned out to be an evil life, but man cannot unring the bell and undo what has been done.
For the third and last time the False Prophet says: “I ain’t no false prophet” but this time it may be different. This time, on the album version – but not in the official lyrics on Bob Dylan’s website for that matter- the words “ I ain’t no false prophet” are followed by an emphatic “No”. A third negation makes a statement affirmative again and therefore from here on, it looks as if the False Prophet speaks the truth. There is truth in the proud statement from the False Prophet when he says: “I’m nobody’s bride”. This is not because the False Prophet loves the truth, on the contrary, he is a liar from the very beginning. To be somebody’s bride means that there must also be a groom. It means that there is matrimony. The metaphor used in the Bible is that of a matrimony between the groom Christ and his bride the church (Eph.5:25-27). It is a matrimony which will be extended into all eternity. The metaphor of a happy matrimony is used to symbolise the eternal love and protection from the groom (Christ, the Lamb) for his bride and the eternal devotion to the groom from the side of the bride (the church). Revelation 19:7-9 also uses this metaphor and says: “Let us be glad and rejoice ,and let us give honour to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear”(NLT). The False Prophet cannot and does not want to be part of this eternal wedding feast. It would be the last thing he would ever wish. To him this wedding party it is an abomination. In fact, it is the reason why he says: “I’m nobody’s bride”. The False Prophet – alias Satan- represents the fallen Babylon which is condemned in Rev. 18:23: “The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The happy voices of brides and grooms will never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the greatest in the world, and you deceived the nations with your sorceries” (NLT). For so long in history, the False Prophet had been the head of business men who drank his wine and of ploughmen who dug his earth, but this will all come to a halt when suddenly, at the Latter Day, the eternal wedding between the groom and the bride starts. At that Day the False Prophet will be left empty handed in an existence where the happy voice of a bride and a groom will never be heard again and in which the words “I’m nobody’s bride” will be fulfilled.
“Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died” wraps it all up. Again the book “Awakening Osiris” A New Translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead- written by Normandi Ellis (Phanes Press)- is almost literally quoted. In chapter 8 called “Triumph over Darkness" 2nd paragraph we find:
"the ways of making indeed are wondrous, the child born of its mother, the sun rolling into sky, the song rising from the lips, the world springing from the word of god. The essence of life is brilliant, dazzling. I cannot explain such miracles, yet I embody them daily. Though I cannot remember my birth and shall forget my death, I live in the midst of wonder."
To make sense of “Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died” we must plunge into Greek Mythology. In Greek Mythology the LETHE was the underworld river of oblivion and its goddess. The river LETHE flowed around the cave of Hypnos and through the underworld (the Hades). All those who drank from it experienced complete forgetfulness. LETHE was the name of the Greek god of forgetfulness and oblivion and the personification thereof. The shades of the dead drank from its waters to completely forget all about their mortal earthly troubles and woes.
This symbol can also be found in the last section of Plato’s Republic, where souls are required to drink from the River of Forgetfulness before they are able to return to their earthly life. Others connected this idea to the doctrine of reincarnation where one continuously reappears in a new format of life with a clean slate. In Virgil’s Aeneid we find that drinking these waters is said to “quench man’s troubles [with] the deep draught of oblivion”.
First we should examine the meaning in Classical Greek of the word “lethe”.We find that “lethe” literally means "oblivion", "forgetfulness", or "concealment". It is related to the Greek word for "truth", which is “alētheia” which through the privative prefix “a” ( alpha) literally means "un-forgetfulness" or "un-concealment". This is not without importance. Jesus calls Himself the “alētheia”, the “ἀλήθεια” – the truth – in John 14:6.
Now Jesus Christ is the antitype of the False Prophet- alias Satan. He does quite the opposite of what the False Prophet does. In our imagination we see the False Prophet plunging himself into the waters of the LETHE and drinking from its waters, and then claiming that he has reached a status in which he can say: “Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died”. The False Prophet pretends to be able to reach a status of permanent oblivion, a status where the memory of his wickedness is erased and where he cannot be held accountable for his evil deeds, a status in which his conscience has been seared up and a status in which justice will never be done. But he is wrong. Now Jesus follows a quite opposite route. In a certain way, He remembers every little detail of what we have done, of the kind of live we have lived. He does not erase the film of our lives. He puts our life – and our sins – under a magnifying glass and confronts us with the memory of our sins. However, He does so not to condemn us but to reconcile us. His soteriological working order is that of confrontation followed by justification and reconciliation. A reconciliation, so that the prayer of the thief on the cross: “Jesus remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 RSV) was well grounded and therefore answered by Jesus.
However, in another sort of way, there is also a divine non remembrance. Once our sins are reconciled, the memory of sins are gone. In Micah 7: 19 it says: “You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” and Hebrews 8:12 “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” (NLT).
It is true, as long as we are in our mortal existence, it is sometimes better to have a forgetful heart, just like Dylan wrote in his song “Forgetful Heart”: “Forgetful heart, lost your power of recall, every little detail, you don't remember at all”. A forgetful heart is necessary to soften the pain we suffer under the sun: “Without you it's so hard to live, can't take much more”.
The False Prophet says: “Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died” but God already knew us and remembered us, even before we were born, like it says in Psalm 139:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all my days were written in Your book and ordained for me before one of them came to be”(BSB).


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