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 "Ain't Talking" -The Old Testament revisited - an analysis-PART 4

Bob Dylan’s “Ain’t Talking”- The Old Testament revisited- an analysis by Kees de Graaf - Part 4..

“Ain't talkin', just walkin' hand me down my walking cane, heart burning, still yearning,
got to get you out of my miserable brain”.
“Hand me down me walking cane” is taken from a traditional song written presumably by James A. Bland in 1880. The first lines read: “Oh, hand me down my walking cane. Oh, hand me down my walking cane,  hand me down my walking cane, Lord, I'm leaving on the midnight train, cause all my sins are taken away”.
“Hand me down my
walking cane” evokes the image of Dylan’s “Blood in my eyes” video. The image is drawn of a stern man, dressed in black, hat on and walking up a bridge, an umbrella in hand, in the same posture as when he would have a walking cane in his hand. As earlier said, in this song Dylan connects our Modern Times with the ancient times of the Old Testament. In your imagination you see some wild-eyed, out of time, grim faced Puritan, on a pilgrimage striding through the Old  Testamentary roads, passing through the cities of the plague, and on his way to avenge his father’s death.
“Got to get you out of my miserable brain”, the “you” may either refer to the man-slayer who was responsible for his father’s death and whose death he is now going to avenge, or to “the gal he left behind” about whom he talks about later in the song.

“All my loyal and much-loved companions, they approve of me and share my code,
I practice a faith that's been long abandoned, ain't no altars on this long and lonesome road”
. Initially, these lines have been inspired by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC-AD 17/18). Ovid’s - Tristia, Book 1, Section 3, Line 65 – has "loyal and much loved companions, bonded in brotherhood”; Ovid’s - Black Sea Letters, Book 3, Part 2, Line 38 has - "who approve, and share, your code""; and Ovid’s- Tristia, Book 5, Section 7, Lines 63-64  has- "I practice terms long abandoned".
I read   somewhere that the narrator might think he possesses a secret arcane numerical formula, a Da Vinci code, or something like that. A code only his “loyal and much-loved companions” will approve and understand. But I don’t think that this is the case here. Nor do I believe that there is a suggestion in the song that he would be some kind of an extremist cult leader. Dylan never wanted to be a member, a leader or spokesman of whatever church or organization.
These lines are reminiscent of what Dylan once wrote in the song “Mississippi”: I’ve got nothing but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me”. His “loyal and much-loved companions” may be those who set out with him on the same spiritual journey. This spiritual journey is part of the deal he once made with God (or Jesus). In part 1 of our analysis of Dylan’s "When the deal goes down", we referred to the 60 minutes CBS television interview Bob Dylan gave in 2004. In this interview Dylan is asked why after so many years he still out there on stage, performing all of his songs on tour. After emphasizing that he doesn’t take any of it for granted, Dylan gives the following reply: ‘’It goes back to that destiny thing. I mean, I made a bargain with it, you know, long time ago. And I’m holding up my end’’. On the question what his bargain was Dylan answers: ‘‘to get where I am now”. And asked whom he made that bargain with he answers: “With the Chief Commander, in this earth and in a world we can’t see”. His “loyal and much-loved companions” may be those who accept and approve of this deal with God. The “code” in Dylan’s work is a set of basic principles which govern Dylan’s work and which constitute the deeper layers in his songs. This code can only be deciphered by those who have found out what this set of principles is that governs Dylan’s work. In my opinion the overriding basic concept in Dylan’s work is his role as watchman on the watchtower, to warn the world that Judgment Day, the Kingdom of God is coming and for that reason a lifelong quest for personal salvation and a lifelong struggle against all evil powers is indispensable. That does not mean that Dylan has the ultimate answer to all questions. Michael Gilmour quite correctly wrote that: “For Dylan, the ineffable is always just out of reach, and our attempts to grasp it are necessarily partial and incomplete. Yes, the answers we seek often blow about in the wind”.
I practice a faith that's been long abandoned”. I read somewhere that Dylan attacks here a certain type of religious mentality which inevitably leads to intolerance and extreme violence and which thinks it has the ‘secret codes’ to tell us how to live. I don’t think that this is what Dylan had in mind. We have to remember that in this song Dylan tries to connect and reconcile our Modern Times with his own roots: the principles of the Old Testament. What Dylan may have had in mind is what the prophet Elijah once experienced. We read of this in I Kings 19. In I Kings 19:10 Elijah says to God: “the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away”. Elijah felt that he was the only one left in this world  still practicing his faith in Jaweh, the whole nation of Israel had long abandoned this faith and they now tried to kill him, the last survivor on this long and lonesome road. All altars were torn down and Elijah had to run for his life and fled into the mountains. It may be the reason why the poet says:” ain't no altars on this long and lonesome road”. There is also a connection with our Modern Times.  In the sleeve of the album “World Gone Wrong” Dylan makes our Modern Times synonymous with the New Dark Ages. Dark Ages in which the name and true knowledge of God is more and more obliterated and erased and where there is nothing left to hang on to: no altars on this long and lonesome road”, or as Dylan also wrote in the sleeve of the album “World Gone Wrong: “technology to wipe out truth is now available, not everybody can afford it but it’s available. When the cost comes down look out!”  

Ain't talking, just walking, my mule is sick, my horse is blind, heart burning, still yearning,
Thinking about that gal I left behind”
His sick mule and his blind horse are not only expressions of the miserable state he is in, but are at the same time an indication that he is getting close to the end of his lonely pilgrimage. Soon he will have to abandon both his mule and horse and then he will have to go bare foot. “Thinking about the gal I left behind” is borrowed from an old traditional song. The “gal” may be the person of whom he earlier in the song said: “Try to get you out of my miserable brain”. For a long time, there has been some kind of ambivalence in Dylan’s work between, ‘the girl, ’the woman’ on one hand, and his spiritual status on the other. He is torn between the girl, the woman, representing temptation’s angry flame to give in to the demands of the flesh, and his spiritual journey which points him into an opposite direction. This has been quite a dominant feature in the body of Dylan’s works and is apparent in many Dylan songs e.g. “Marching to the City”, where he is walking on a spiritual road which ends in the City of Gold, in heaven, but where at the same time the opposing, counterpart voice “once I had a pretty girl, but she’s done me wrong” keeps on bothering tempting and distracting him.

In our next and final article we wrap this thing up. Please feel free to respond.....

Bob Dylan's "Ain't Talking" -The Old Testament revisited - an analysis-PART 3

Bob Dylan’s “Ain’t Talking”- The Old Testament revisited- an analysis by Kees de Graaf - Part 3.

In this part we continue our analysis of this masterpiece.

“The whole world is filled with speculation; the whole wide world which people say is round. They will tear your mind away from contemplation; they will jump on your misfortune when you're down”. Some parts of this verse seem directly taken from Paul’s letter to Timothy. I Timothy 1:4-7 says: “nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions”.
“The whole world is filled with speculation the whole wide world which people say is round”
seems to express a somewhat ambiguous, reserved and skeptical attitude towards science and philosophy. We find this more often in Dylan’s work. In the song “High Water” Dylan says: “You can’t open up your mind boys to every conceivable point of view,  they got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five, Judge says to the High Sheriff, “I want him dead or alive”.  Obviously this “Judge” must be God. It sounds as if God is very angry with Charles Darwin, as if Darwin is some kind of a criminal, a wanted man, to be captured dead or alive. The poet seems to suggest that Darwinism must be at the root of God’s anger, maybe not because of the theory of Darwinism in itself, but because of the fact that Darwinism caused so many people to abandon their faith in God. Another example of skepticism towards science, we find in “License to kill”:” Man has invented his doom, first step was touching the moon”.
The poet makes an ironical remark when he says:” the whole wide world which people say is round”.  He whimsically suggests that it is in some sort of a way “speculation” when people say that the world is round and not flat. He may say this for two reasons. Not that he does have any doubt whether the world is in fact round, he doesn’t. The first reason may be that the narrator is on a pilgrimage through the ancient times of the Old Testament. That was a time when people did not know that the world is round. The Bible teaches that the earth is basically a sphere in shape; that there are pillars which undergird the world and which we conclude to be the crystalline rock corresponding to what we commonly call the mantle .It looks as if he steps, so to say, back from Modern Times into this ancient world of the Old Testamentary period, in a world where people thought the world was flat and to say that the world is round, was at that time just mere speculation.
The second reason is that he wants an end to all this unbridled speculation. You just can’t go on indefinitely opening up your mind to every conceivable point of view. Continuous, never ending speculation will never bring you certainty and peace but it “will tear your mind away from contemplation”. Dylan was inspired by Ovid’s Tristia, Book 5, Section 7, Line 66 - "tear my mind from the contemplation of my woes" Speculation is the mother of doubt but contemplation, the continuous attention of the mind to a subject, will lead you to God, as Milton once said: “In contemplation of created things, by steps we may ascend to God”. Once you have given up contemplation in favor of speculation,” they will jump on your misfortune when you're down”. The narrator wants to make it clear that there are evil powers working in this world- “the devil is in the alley”-. These powers do their utmost to make you lose yourself in endless speculation; these powers hate contemplation so they do their best to tear you away from contemplation into speculation. Once they have succeeded “they will jump on your misfortune when you're down”. Dylan was here inspired by Ovid’s Tristia 5.8.3-5 who has: “Why jump / on misfortunes that you may well suffer yourself? / I’m down”. In the Bible we read of that in the book of Job. Job was hit hard by the hand of God. When Job thought he had lost everything he found out that he could always lose a little more. Job’s friends blamed Job himself for his utter misery. In their eyes Job must have done some very evil things to end up in a state like this. But later on in the book, it appeared that the conclusions of Job’s friends were highly speculative. It is true, those so-called friends – who looked Job squarely in the eye - succeeded in tearing Job’s mind away from contemplation, into speculation as to why all those bad things happened to him. In Job 30:14 we hear Job saying “They come at me from all directions, they jump on me when I’m down”. (New Living Translation 2007).

“Ain't talking, just walking, eating hog-eyed grease in hog-eyed town, heart burning – still yearning, someday you'll be glad to have me around”.
 There seems to be a traditional 19th century Bluegrass song called “Hog Eyed Man”. In 1996, a group called the Pope's Arkansas Mountaineers released a variation of "Hog Eyed Man" called "Hog-Eye". There can be no doubt that Dylan was inspired by this song because this song includes the literal line “hog-eye town” and also what was eaten at the table: “hog-eye grease”. An excerpt of the lyrics runs as follows:“I went down to hog-eye town, Dey sot me down to table;  I et so much dat hog-eye grease, till the grease run out my nabel”.
Although the image – eating hog-eyed grease - is not Biblical and should rather be placed in a modern Mexican cantina, it is clear that within the context of the song, the Old Testamentary road on which the poet is walking, the eating of “hog-eyed grease”, a humble pie made of swine, is a very unclean activity and strictly forbidden by the law of Moses. The swine (Leviticus 11:7) because it ‘parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and does not chew the cud’ is an unclean animal and should therefore not be eaten. When you are “Walking through the cities of the plague” you may come close to many dead bodies; according to the law of Moses this may make a man unclean, the more so when you are not only walking through a “hog-eyed town” but you are actually sitting down at the welcome table “eating hog-eyed grease”, it multiplies your uncleanliness to its maximum. But “someday”, Jesus now speaking through the mouth of the poet says: “you’ll be glad to have me around” to explain to you that it will not stay that way because one day “there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him”(Mark 7:15).  Jesus abolishes the ritual laws of Moses and declares all food, even “hog-eyed grease” as clean food which may be eaten. Let us be glad that we have Him around.

“They will crush you with wealth and power, every waking moment you could crack”. The poet tried to love his neighbor and do good to others but had to confess: “Things ain’t going well”. He has to deal with opposing powers, evil powers, which have access to the human heart – in the human heart an evil spirit can dwell”. These powers try to “tear him away from contemplation” into a world full of speculation. These powers also try to tear him away from the correct ethical path: “eating hog-eyed grease in hog-eyed town”. But the Evil Powers have more strings to their bow. If all these things don’t bring down the poet, the next thing they try to do is “crush you with wealth and power”. A good example of this is King Salomon. We read in I Kings 10:23 “Thus King Salomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his mind”. King Salomon was so strong in “contemplation”, he wrote all those beautiful Proverbs and nobody could ever tear him away from contemplation. Yet in the end, wealth and power crushed him, because his riches allowed him to have many foreign women. He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, we read that “his wives turned away his heart after other gods” (I Kings 11:4.). In this respect it is very meaningful what Jesus would later on say: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). Therefore, it is essential that you keep your eyes wide open because there is always the danger that “every waking moment you could crack”, you have to be on the alert constantly, because if your opponent, the Evil One, catches you sleeping, he’ll slaughter you where you lie. When Dylan wrote: “every waking moment you could crack” he might have had in mind Matthew 26:40, 41 “Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” Every waking moment the disciples could crack, and indeed they did.
“I'll make the most of one last extra hour, I'll avenge my father's death then I'll step back
Dylan was inspired here by Ovid’s - Tristia, Book 1, Section 3, Line 68 – which says: "let me make the most of one last extra hour". I read an analysis of this section of the song which suggests that the “one last extra hour” refers to one of Jesus’s last hours in the Garden of Getsemane where, while His disciples slept He prayed: ”Avenge my father’s death when I step back”, reversing the curse brought on by humanities’ “father” Adam. Jesus would then “step back” in time to redeem all humanity from sins past and bringing back spiritual life. True as the latter may be, I don’t think that this interpretation makes good sense. First of all, in the Gospel we do not find Jesus saying the words: I'll avenge my father's death then I'll step back” and secondly, Jesus did not come to avenge Adam’s death. On the contrary, he came to atone Adam’s sins, and through Adam for the sins of all mankind.
I think that Dylan was inspired here by Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. One can say that Hamlet is a revenge tragedy led by a protagonist who is incapable of committing the act of avenge. It is Hamlet’s inability and delay to avenge the murder of his father that ultimately leads to the deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia, Gertrude, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. To focus attention to Hamlet’s inability to take action, Shakespeare portrays a number of other characters, like Fortinbras and Laertes, who are capable of taking resolute avenge as may be expected of them. In comparison to these characters, Hamlet’s revenge is half-baked. When at last he decides to take action, he delays any action until the very end of the play. In Elizabethan revenge tragedies this is not so unusual. What makes Hamlet into an outstanding piece of writing is the way in which Shakespeare uses the delay to portray Hamlet’s emotional and psychological complexity. In “Ain’t talking” we find the same complexity. The will to love his neighbor and do good to others is present but there are evil forces at work to delay and prevent him from doing all these good things. Dylan uses this delay in the song too when he says: “I'll make the most of one last extra hour”. The avenge is postponed until the very last hour of his life.
How do we piece all these things together? First of all we have to remember that the poet, expelled from the mystic Garden of Eden, is still walking on the Old Testamentary road.  To our modern eyes, to avenge the death of one’s father may seem weird, harsh and wrong. But it wasn’t like that in the days of the Old Testament. The “Avenger of blood” was part of the judicial system. The Avenger is the nearest relative of a murdered person. It was his right and his duty to slay the murderer, if he found the murderer outside a city of refuge. To safeguard this law against possible abuse Moses appointed six cities of refuge (Exodus 21:13; Numbers 35:13; Deuteronomy 19:1, 9). This arrangement applied only to cases where the death was not premeditated. The case had to be investigated by the authorities of the city, and the willful murderer was on no account to be spared. He was regarded as an impure and polluted person, and was delivered up to the avenger of blood (Deuteronomy 19:11-13). If the offence was merely manslaughter, then the fugitive must remain within the city till the death of the high priest (Numbers 35:25).
We conclude that, when the poet, walking on the Old Testamentary road, says: “I'll make the most of one last extra hour, I'll avenge my father's death then I'll step back”, it is as if he says the following: “ Although avenging my father’s death is lawful and something which I see as my duty to do, yet I feel resistance to do it, I keep on delaying it but in my final hour, I will make the most of that hour by doing what I have to do, and when I have done that I’ll step back. My duty is fulfilled. I’ll step back also means that no personal revenge or hatred is involved, I just let the law take its course”. 
In the 4th and final part of our analysis we will deal with the remaining verses of the song and we will come to some sort of a conclusion. By any means, let me know how you feel about this article, please feel free to respond.



Bob Dylan's "Ain't Talking" -The Old Testament revisited - an analysis- PART 2

Bob Dylan’s “Ain’t Talking”- The Old Testament revisited- an analysis by Kees de Graaf - Part 2.

In Part one of our analysis of “Ain’t Talking” we saw that man fell into sin, he sold his soul to the devil and dragged all mankind and the whole of creation into a terrible downfall. All of this caused man to be driven away from the mystic Garden of Eden, to wander about in a weary world of woe. For the first time evil gained access to the human heart: In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell”, and although God did not entirely pull back his Spirit from man: “I'm trying to love my neighbor and do good unto others”, man is still “trying”,  the intention to love and to do good is still there, but at the same time man has to confess that he has lost the capacity to fulfill this commandment: “things ain't going well” , is an understatement. The reality is that through his infidelity man was thrown back on himself. He opened up his mind to the Evil one. It became true what Dylan wrote of man in “Jokerman”: “The law of the jungle and the sea were your teachers”. It also became true what Paul wrote in Romans 3:9-18 that outside the gates of Eden all men became under the power of sin: “None is righteous, no, not one, no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive, their feet are swift to shed blood, in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they do not know”. Outside the gates  of Eden, out in the wilderness and left to himself on his lonely pilgrimage, the poet finds out that he too is subject to these destructive powers when he says: “Ain't talkin', just walkin', I'll burn that bridge before you can cross”. He expresses the depravity of the human condition as he once grieved about in “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight” where he accused himself of ‘burning every bridge I crossed’ instead of doing some good in the world. There is something tragic in the expression “I'll burn that bridge before you can cross”. If you burn every bridge you cross, eventually you'll be running from the fires you set, and you are stuck on the other side!. It just shows how deeply man has fallen. Man begrudges his neighbor everything. Man is so proud that he is rather stuck on the other side than allowing his neighbor free passage. Just like Dylan wrote in “Cold Irons Bound”: “The walls of pride are high and wide, can’t see over to the other side”.
However, in the context of the song – the Old Testamentary road, on which the poet had been walking for so long, is relived – there is another way to look at these verses. At first glance, seen through our modern eyes, these lines: burn a bridge before you can cross’, ‘no mercy for you once you’ve lost’, I’ll slaughter them where they lie’, I’ll avenge my father’s death’, seem harsh and inhumane, ancient and modern battle-cries from the mouth of a cruel warrior where the only law is the law of the jungle, the expression of the same moral attitude and atmosphere you may find in Dylan’s anti-war songs ‘Masters of War’ and 'With God on Our Side'. Here, in this song, in the landscape of the Old Testament there is a huge difference. Ever since man fell into sin and was expelled from the Garden of Eden, God set out a plan for salvation. We read of this in Genesis 3:15: “I (God) will put enmity between you (the serpent, the devil) and the woman and between your seed and her seed, he (the serpent, the devil) shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel”.  God built a new road of salvation and redemption, created a history through which the chosen people of Israel would in the end bring forward the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The devil did everything he could to prevent the realization of this plan. He applied brutal force in his attempts to stir up all nations to wage war against Israel, with only one purpose: to eliminate and wipe out the nation of Israel so that the Messiah would not be born and the road to salvation blocked. God had no other alternative left but to wage a war against these nations of his own, so that He could stick to his plans for peace and salvation, not only for Israel but also for the whole wide world. This was the only war in history of which one can truly say that God is on the side of Israel, on the side that’s winning. As I outlined in my analysis of 'With God on Our Side' , one could also say that after the victory of Jesus the Messiah, after His Resurrection and Ascension and the subsequent descent of the Holy Spirit no violence, let alone an aggressive war, is justified to spread the gospel. Zechariah 4: 6 says that the realization of the Kingdom will come: ‘not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Hosts’.
But here in the early days of the Old Testament the setting is different. It is either kill or get killed. That’s why the poet says:  “Heart burnin', still yearnin,' there’ll be no mercy for you once you've lost”. As if he says: “I cannot show you any mercy, otherwise I will get killed myself” Deuteronomy 7:16 confirms this when it says: “And you shall destroy all the peoples that the LORD, your God will give over to you, your eye shall not pity them; neither shall you serve their Gods, for that would be a snare to you”. Deuteronomy 7:2: “When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy”.

Now I'm all worn down by weeping, my eyes are filled with tears, my lips are dry,
If I catch my opponents ever sleeping, I’ll just slaughter them where they lie”.
This verse is very reminiscent of King David who was on the run for his opponent King Saul. We read of this in I Samuel 26. Saul’s continuous persecution of David brought David to bitter tears, despair and lamentation. We read of this in the Psalms, e.g. Psalm 18:6: “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears”. In I Samuel 26 we read that David went to Saul’s army by night, and he found Saul fast asleep in his encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and his army all around him. Abishai, David’s assistant, suggested to slaughter Saul where he lay, saying to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hand; now therefore, please let me strike him with the spear to the ground with one stroke, and I will not strike him the second time.” (I Samuel 26:8). Now there is a difference here. The poet says “I’ll slaughter them where they lie” (Plural). He actually meant: “slaughter him where he (Saul) lies”, but for rhyming purposes with “dry” Dylan wrote in the plural: “slaughter them where they lie”. The poet now puts himself in the place of David’s assistant Abishai and says:”I’ll just slaughter them where they lie”. What strikes us now, as we read on in I Samuel 26 is the fact that David strongly rejects Abishai’s suggestion to slaughter King Saul:  But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. “The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.” So David took the spear and the jug of water from beside Saul’s head, and they went away, but no one saw or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a sound sleep from the LORD had fallen on them”. The fact that the poet now speaks through the mouth of Abishai and says: :”I’ll just slaughter them where they lie” and not  through the mouth of David who rejects this slaughtering,  may be an illustration to his earlier saying: “I'm trying to love my neighbor and do good unto others, but oh, mother, things ain't going well”. As a private person you should love and protect your neighbor, as a private person you do not have the right to kill your neighbor and take the law into your own hands. But the poet has to confess that at this point “things ain’t going well”, he is full of wrath, a thing which he has to deplore when he compares his feelings with the law of God. At the same time he seems to hint that any act of personal revenge is can never be morally justified, unless such an act is not personal and explicitly sanctioned from heaven.

“Ain't talkin', just walkin,' through the world mysterious and vague, heart burnin', still yearnin', walking through the cities of the plague”. The narrator continues his journey through the Old-Testamentary landscape and now passes through the kingdom of King David, in a world mysterious and vague. Elsewhere in the Bible this period is called “the shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17). King David is the foreshadow and in some sort of a way the image of the great King Jesus Christ, but at the time this was by no means clear. In an ongoing journey, through the light of the New Testament we learned to understand what it all meant but here at the time of the great kings of Israel it all appears to be so mysterious and vague and sometimes even spooky. The narrator walks ‘through the cities of the plague”. This may refer to what it says in II Samuel 24. King David had sinned greatly against the LORD by giving orders to number the people of Israel. The LORD punished him for that by sending a three days’ pestilence in the land. (II Samuel 24: 15). From the city of Dan in the North to Beer-sheba in the South, seventy thousand people died because of the plague. The poet now walks through these cities while this plague is still going on; this aggravates the mysterious, uncanny and spooky atmosphere.

 Will be continued in Part 3 of our analysis Please feel free to respond.






Bob Dylan's "Ain't Talking" -The Old Testament revisited - an analysis PART 1

Dylan's Album Modern Times

Bob Dylan’s “Ain’t Talking”- The Old Testament revisited- an analysis by Kees de Graaf - Part 1.


Bob Dylan wrote “Ain’t Talking” for the 2006 album “Modern Times”. Some of the songs on this album prove that Dylan has entered a new phase in his artistic development.  A phase of which Dylan said he had to go through. These songs had to come out. This phase can best be described as “The Old Testament Revisited”. This is particularly apparent from lines which intend to send out a message with a high degree of physical violence, a violence which is so common in the Old Testament. Dylan wants to connect the Old Testament with the New, with the “Modern Times”, he wants to show that although ‘the times they are a changing’, the battle is in essence still the same, only the weaponry has changed. In Modern Times it is, as Dylan wrote elsewhere,  ‘a spiritual warfare flesh and blood breaking down’, but if  Modern Times more and more slide back into the Dark Ages, and more and more people start to ‘wonder what’s the matter with this cruel world today’, the old physical weaponry of the Old Testament comes back into use. This may sound a little ‘mysterious and vague’ but we hope to clarify this in the analysis of the verses of the song.
In some sort of a way “Ain’t Talking” is reminiscent of “"Highlands", the final song of the album “Time out of Mind”.  In both songs a lone pilgrim is on his way to his destination. In "Highlands" however, the pilgrim more or less reaches his destination –“I’m already there in my mind” – “Highlands” concludes, but in “Ain’t Talking” no specific destination is defined, the narrator zooms out and slowly disappears, “in the last outback, at the world's end”. At the same time it does not mean – like Chris Gregory in his analysis of this song claims – that the narrator has lost all hope of redemption. On the contrary, no matter how dark and desolate a landscape is portrayed in the song, there are indeed “no altars on this long and lonesome road”, yet the poet throws himself in the merciful hands of God: “who says I can’t get heavenly aid”, he snarls at all those who think he has lost all rays of hope. Let’s have a closer look at the verses to see how this is worked out.

As I walked out tonight in the mystic garden, the wounded flowers were dangling from the vines”. We have good reason to believe that when the narrator says in the first verse “the mystic garden” he has the Garden of Eden in mind which is described in the book of Genesis. The scene is reminiscent of what we read in Genesis 3:8, 9: When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. 9Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”(New Living Translation)
“The cool evening breezes were blowing”, that’s why the poet says: I walked out ‘tonight’ in the mystic garden.  The garden is a ‘mystic’ garden. The garden, the scene baffles human understanding, it is obscure and mysterious, and you have to make a strong effort to unravel this scene. It was Hooker who said: “God has revealed a way, mystical and supernatural”. “The wounded flowers were dangling from the vines”. This scene took place shortly after Adam and Eve fell into sin by eating of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:3). By falling into sin, man dragged down all mankind in his fall. Man did exactly what Dylan described in “”Workingman’s Blues #2”: “I'll drag ‘em all down to hell and I'll stand ‘em at the wall I'll sell ‘em to their enemies”. In this case the enemy is the devil and man sold his soul to the devil. But not only that, the whole of creation was cursed. That is why Genesis 3:17 says:”And to the man he said, "Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it”. The ground is cursed. This curse caused the flowers to be wounded, wounded to such an extent that the flowers broke loose from the vines and were now dangling from the vines on to the ground. It is true, from now on man will harvest what the earth brings forth, but “It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains” (Genesis 3:18), or like Psalm 78:47 says: “He destroyed their grapevines with hail and shattered their sycamore-figs with sleet”. However, through Jesus’s restoring power the wounded flowers and branches are restored to their original position on the vine, like Jesus says in John 15:4: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me”.
I was passing by yon cool and crystal fountain, someone hit me from behind”. That clear crystal fountain is the river that flowed out of the Garden of Eden to water the garden (Genesis 2:10). Also this river will one day be restored to its original crystal clear quality as we read in Revelation 22:1: “Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb”. Here in the Garden of Eden the narrator passes that cool and clear crystal fountain. In fact he is driven away from the Garden and the crystal fountain because of the fact that he is hit by someone: “someone hit me from behind”. That ‘someone’ is God. God hit him from behind.  Again Genesis 3: 8, 9:When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. 9Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Although man hid among the trees, man was called to account for his eating of the forbidden fruit. God hit him hard with His judgment: “Where are you” – “You wounded me with your words”. Man was not allowed to see God’s face. “No man sees my face and lives” Dylan wrote in “I and I” quoting from Exodus 33: 20: But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” Because he is not allowed to see God’s face, he was hit from behind. He was hit in the same way as once Jacob was  hit by the hand of God – his hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with God (Genesis 32:25).

“Ain't talkin', just walkin', through this weary world of woe, Heart burnin', still yearnin',
No one on earth would ever know”
The chorus lines …Ain’t talkin, just walkin’… and ….Heart burnin’/ still yearnin’… are taken from the Stanley Brothers’ bluegrass gospel song “Highway Of Regret”. Driven away from the mystic Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24), man indeed enters the untrodden path of the Highway of Regret and remorse. From now on man has to walk that lonesome valley: so lonely that “no one on earth would ever know” God’s judgment is relentless:  “Ain’t talking”, no time for idle conversation, excuses won’t help: “there‘ll be no mercy for you once you have lost”. Expelled from the Garden of Eden, man has to keep on walking – “just walking”, no more talking, all communication lines cut - and has to deal with the ‘thorns and thistles’ the earth brings forth and ‘in the sweat of his face, he shall eat bread’ (Genesis 3:18,19). Such a world is indeed a “weary world of woe”.  But yet there is hope for man. There is a promise from God that in the end – if man keeps on walking through the fires of time- the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent. (Genesis 3:15). “Heart burnin', still yearnin'”, redemption is promised, the Spirit of the Lord is not entirely withdrawn from man, his heart still burns, still longs and reaches out to the future day of salvation, it keeps him going: “just walking”.

“They say prayer has the power to heal, so pray from the mother” James 5:15 says that ‘the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up”. Prayer has indeed a healing power. Why does the poet say: “so pray from the mother”? Some hear the lyrics as: “So pray for me mother”, but that does not make much difference. The poet requests a sort of mediator to pray for him. 1 Timothy 2:5 calls Jesus Christ the only mediator between God and man. The Roman Catholic Church however, sees Mother Mary, Mary the Virgin, the mother of Christ, as mediator between man and Christ. ”Pray from the mother” could then mean: “pray for me to Mother Mary, that she may plead my case to Jesus”. However, somehow I have a feeling that this is not what the poet intends to say. It does not fit in the Old Testamentary atmosphere of the song. More likely is the interpretation which says that the lyrics read: “pray for mother”.  Somewhere I read that Jewish tradition ordains that whenever the Torah is read we are granted a special and uniquely opportune moment to invoke blessing for those in need of divine intervention. From time immemorial it has therefore been the custom to recite a "Mi Sheberach" (prayer for the sick) on behalf of people who are ill.  During the Torah reading, a special "Mi Sheberach" blessing is said. The blessing begins with a prayer for the mother's health.
“In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell”. King Saul was once terrorized by an evil spirit from the Lord (I Samuel 16:14). Jesus had to fight a lot of evil spirits when he was on earth. Jesus says in Mark 9:29 that an evil spirit can only be driven out by prayer. Although in every human heart an evil spirit may dwell, the healing power of prayer is so strong that an evil spirit is no match for a faithful prayer. 
“I'm trying to love my neighbor and do good unto others, but oh, mother, things ain't going well”. “To love my neighbor and do good to others” is obviously taken from the teachings of Jesus who talks in Matthew 22:36-40 about the greatest commandment in the law of God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets”. This commandment refers back to the Torah. The poet is honest about himself. He tries to love his neighbor and do good to others but he finds out that he fails. When he looks in the mirror of the law of God, in the broken mirror of innocence, he finds out that he is in a desperate state; he is in need of redemption. He needs the guidance and the Spirit from above to keep him going.
Will be continued……. Please feel free to respond.



Bob Dylan' s "Gonna change my Way of Thinking":Buddha's jewels or Jesus's? - an analysis by Kees de

In 2003 Bob Dylan rewrote the lyrics of the ‘’Slow Train Coming” track ‘Gonna change my way of thinking’ and recorded the alternate version together with Mavis Staples, for the album “Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. In 2011 Dylan  performed the rewritten version 40 times in concert and opened no less than 21 shows with this rewritten song. Most of these performances were done with so much passion, conviction and commitment in Dylan’s voice, that it is worthwhile finding out what the reason might be for this new outbreak of mild evangelism. We’ll have a go at it.

When compared to the ‘Slow Train Coming’ version the song was cast in a completely new arrangement, both lyrically and musically. One may say that the rewritten version of the song has lost much of the pugnacity and fighting spirit, the original version had plenty of. In the original version, written in 1979 shortly after Dylan’s controversial conversion to Christianity and amidst all opposition which his conversion triggered off among the majority of his fans and in the media, Dylan was ready to make an antithetical and unequivocal statement about his newly found Christian faith. In the song he quoted Jesus from the Bible saying: “He, who is not for Me, is against me”. When Dylan rewrote the song in 2003, about 23 years later, the development of his faith had gone through various new phases and he gained some new insights. Although the apocalyptic conceit remained, his faith and annex his world view had in some sort of a way become much more lenient and compliant and less combatant. In the alternate version he shows much more vulnerability and amidst the darkness of his earthly existence he ultimately finds comfort, and consolation in the experience and friendship of God. Let us now see how this works out in the song.

The first verse is basically the same as in the original version: “Gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules, gonna put my best foot forward, stop being influenced by fools”. I wouldn’t be surprised if in this line Dylan was inspired by what the Bible says in Romans 12: 2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. The meaning is clear. His conversion to Jesus completely changed his way of thinking and he adopted a new set of Biblical rules of which ‘love’ is the most important as it says in Romans 13:9, 10: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, love does no wrong to a neighbor; love is the fulfilling of the law”.Stop being influenced by fools”. The word “fools” sounds harsh in the new setting, but then again in those days (1978-1981) it was common language he  quite often used in his songs: “Fools making laws” (No time to think), “That trainload of fools” (Senor), “Fools they make a mock of sin” (In the summertime), “Fools glorifying themselves” (Slow Train), “Nothing more than fools” (Lenny Bruce).

“I'm sitting' at the welcome table, I'm so hungry I could eat a horse”.  ”Sitting at the welcome table” may be inspired by an African-American spiritual which says: “I’m gonna sit at the welcome table. I gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days, Hallelujah! All God’s children gonna sit together…one of these days.” This song refers to the metaphoric image of a large wedding party – the wedding party of the Lamb - which will be organized in Heaven, in hereafter. This eternal wedding feast, where all God’s children will be welcomed at the welcome tables, is described in Revelation 19:7-9. Revelation 19:9 says: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb”. The poet longs with all his heart and soul to be present at that party, he hungers for that sweet day, when he will stand and sit beside his King. It is the reason why he says: “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.” This expression is a so-called idiomatic hyperbolic. It means that you are very hungry.  I suppose the word ‘horse’ originally ended up in this expression because the animal is well known, large, and seldom eaten. When you eat a horse you have huge quantities of food available to satisfy your appetite. Also, hungry and horse are alliterative-- that is a common characteristic of set phrases. To sum this up: the word ‘hungry’ should be understood here in a figurative sense and expresses the deep longing and hunger of the poet to be in the presence of God.  Having a meal together – at the welcome tables - is in the Bible the deepest expression of love, friendship, alliance and companionship with Jesus.(Revelation 3:20).

I'm gonna revitalize my thinking, I'm gonna let the law take its course”. The prospect of sitting at the welcome tables one day, gives new life and vigor to the poet’s way of thinking. Before we may understand What Dylan means when he next says “I’m gonna let the law takes it course” we first need to discuss what the ‘golden rule’ means. We’ll do that below.

“Jesus is calling, He's coming back to gather up his jewels” In Mark 13:27 we read: “And then He (Jesus) will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heaven’. These are – like Dylan wrote in “Ring them Bells”- ‘the chosen few who will judge the many when the game is through’. However, the poet talks about his ‘jewels’ which will be gathered by Jesus when He returns. Dylan may use this word ‘jewels’ here in opposition to Buddhism. “The Three Jewels” are the three pillars that Buddhists take refuge in, and look forward for guidance, in the process known as ‘taking refuge’. (The ‘Three Jewels’ are: 1. Buddha – The Enlightened or Awakened One- 2. “The Dharma” –the teachings of Buddha. 3. “The Sangha” – the community of those who have attained enlightenment).
It looks like as if the poet says: “Buddhists may take refuge in their ‘Three jewels’ but I believe in and I chose Jesus who will come back to gather his jewels”. Jesus’s jewels are his elect as described in Mark 13:27- see quotation above. He motivates his choice for Jesus by saying: we‘re living by the golden rule, whoever got the gold rules”. The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity basically says that ‘one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself’. We find this Golden Rule in the modern concept of human rights and in a wide range of world cultures and in all the major religions. Within the context of this song Dylan no doubt refers to the Christian Golden Rule which we find in the Sermon of the Mount (Matthew 7: 12) where Jesus says “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets”. We’re in the heart here of the Christian faith as Jesus says in Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus talks about the greatest commandment in the law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets”. It is this commandment, this Golden Rule, the poet lives by and adheres to. It is the reason why he says: I'm gonna let the law takes its course”. If you love the Lord and your neighbor like yourself, you let the law take its ultimate course. You fulfill the law; you do the very thing the law was given for in the first place.
When Dylan goes on to say that whoever got the gold rules” he makes a distinctive twist on the religious/moral definition of the Golden Rule. In business and politics there is an alternative definition of the Golden Rule which reads “He who has the gold makes the rules”. It means that the party who has the greater resources (usually the most money) has the greater power (is the boss).When Dylan now says whoever got the gold rules” he makes another twist on it and now applies this to Jesus. “Jesus is coming to gather his jewels”, his jewelry, his precious stones, his gold. It is Jesus’s gold and therefore because he has got all the gold he is the only one who is entitled to rule:whoever got the gold rules”  “All power is given to Him in heaven and on earth”.

“The sun is shining, ain't but one train on this track, I'm stepping out of the dark woods, I'm jumping on the monkey's back”
. “The sun is shining” may mean that the poet now has a bright future ahead of him. In some other cases (e.g. “I still got the scars that the sun or “Son” did not heal – in “Not Dark Yet”- or “A ruckus in the alley and the sun or “Son” will be here soon” – “Thunder on the mountains”) you may also read “Son” instead of “sun” but in this case I would think it a bit farfetched to read it like that. “Ain’t but one train on this track”, everything moves into the same direction, there is only one possible solution to reach your destination. Nobody can stop this train – which may be a slow train coming- but which is nevertheless bound for glory. “All rails leading to the west” Dylan wrote in an alternate version of “Ain’t talking”.
We earlier wrote that Rd. A.T. Bradford recently published a book called: “Out of the Dark Woods – Dylan, Depression and Faith – (The Messages behind the Music of Bob Dylan.)”.  In 1986 Dylan had married his gospel back-up singer, Carolyn Dennis. She filed for divorce in 1990. According to Dr Bradford, the emotional trauma caused by the divorce triggered off in Dylan a severe reactive depression. In this book Dr Bradford says that the “monkey” referred to in this song is the monkey of reactive depression; the dark woods” of which were responsible for his releasing only one original album between 1990 and 2001. If it is right what Dr Bradford says, then I think that the “dark woods” may represent the reactive depression Dr Bradford refers to. “I'm jumping on the monkey's back”, however, may mean that the poet has recovered from his depression and now tries to get on with his life. And he does so by jumping on a monkey’s back. Thanks to Mark Turnbull for bringing to my attention that "I'm jumping on the monkey's back" is a switcch on the old addiction methaphor "a monkey on my back". Maybe Bob wants to make it clear that the depression is no longer in control of his life, he was able to get on with his life, the monkey is no longer on his back, he himself is now on the monkey's back. He has overcome his addictions and depressions. 

“I'm all dressed up, I'm going to the county dance, every day you got to pray for guidance,
every day you got to give yourself a chance”
. Dylan once wrote in “Things have changed”: I’m well dressed, waiting on the last train” followed by Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose, any minute now I’m expecting all hell to break loose”. When the apocalyptic fires are about to break loose, the poet  more or less cleanses himself, and dresses up, ready to be welcomed at the eternal welcome tables, the party that is to come and the country dance that is to follow. In anticipation of this you have to fulfill your duty on earth, you have to walk the line, and to meet every day’s challenge,  you need to pray for guidance from above to remain on track.  You should not give up: tomorrow will be another day with new chances and challenges which you have to face. The poet concludes that: “Storms are on the ocean, storms on the mountain too, Oh Lord, you know I have no friend like you” Wherever the poet goes he is in for stormy weather, his life goes through deep valleys of pain and agony but he doesn’t mind the pain and the driving rain because he knows that the Lord is his only friend and He will lead him through the darkest hour of any circumstance. This is a song of great comfort and consolation. Please feel free to respond to this article.


Is Bob Dylan's 'Make You feel my Love' just an 'ordinary' love song?

Is Bob Dylan’s “Make you feel my love” just an ‘ordinary’ love song?  - by Kees de Graaf.

 ‘Make you feel my love’ was recorded in 1997 for the album ‘Time out of Mind’. Ever since that time the song has been covered many times by a lot of artists, e.g. Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Adele, etc. Apart from that, the song is performed in all sorts of Talent Shows all over the world. The result of all this is, that the song is now well known to the public at large. We have reason enough to believe that the vast majority of the general public feels that ‘Make you feel my love’ is just an “ordinary’’ love song about romantic feelings between two persons and in which you should not search for any deeper spiritual meaning.
For quite some years after the release of the song in 1997 I had been thinking too that the song, no matter how beautifully composed, is indeed nothing more than just an ‘ordinary’ love song. Love songs, of which thousands and thousands have been composed over the years. In Pop culture “love”, in all sorts of forms and variations, has been the main theme for many decades. The bulk of these love songs remain ‘down to earth’, in the style of “Love, love me do, you know I love you, I’ll always be true, so please love me do”.

Although Dylan himself wrote about romantic love in a down to earth manner in “I threw it all away”: “Love is all there is, it makes the world go ‘round, love and only love, it can’t be denied. No matter what you think about it, you just won’t be able do without it” it is at the same time true that Dylan nowadays hardly ever writes material which is not capable of multiple interpretation.

During Dylan’s 2004 CBS 60 Minutes interview, the late Ed Bradley quoted from Chronicles where Dylan wrote about the impact of his lyrics: “For sure my lyrics have struck nerves that have never been struck before subsequently Bradley asked Dylan: “How do you feel when you listen to or perform all those songs today?” Dylan replied: “They (that is the songs) change their meanings over periods of time. They change their meanings for different situations that a person is in and they hold up because they are so wide, there so many levels in them”.
When we apply Dylan’s statement to “Make you feel my love” you may be in a situation where for you this is just a beautiful but yet ‘ordinary’ love song, that’s all you hear in it. For somebody else it may be a very suitable wedding song to confirm mutual commitment to eternal love in matrimony- love till death do us part.
As said, I always thought that “Make you feel my love” was no more than just an ‘ordinary’ love song, until a couple of years ago I found out that the song may also be interpreted in a spiritual way. Before we delve deeper into this, let’s put our finger on what this song is not: a sign that Bob Dylan suffered from a reactive depression. Dr A.T. Bradford recently published a book called: “Out of the Dark Woods – Dylan, Depression and Faith – (The Messages behind the Music of Bob Dylan.)”.  In 1986 Dylan had married his gospel back-up singer, Carolyn Dennis. She filed for divorce in 1990. According to Dr Bradford, a British family doctor and government health Commissioner, the emotional trauma caused by the divorce triggered off in Dylan a severe reactive depression. This depression was responsible for the choice of the title of his next album -of original material- “Time Out Of Mind.” “Time Out Of (my) Mind” summed up the state of Dylan’s mental condition at the time. Bradford says that all songs on the album – “Make you feel my love” obviously also included - show symptoms of moderate-severe reactive depression. Compelling as Dr Bradford’s arguments may be that indeed Dylan suffered from a reactive depression, and that there are a lot of traces of these symptoms also in the lyrics of ”Time out of Mind”, I do not see any traces of these symptoms in the song “Make you feel my love”. On the contrary, in the song the poet goes to great length to reassure and convince the ‘you’ in the song of his enduring love, friendship and commitment through the darkest hour of any circumstance. A person suffering from a reactive depression would not be capable of this. The song says that no matter how hard the rain blows in your face, even when there is no one there to dry your tears, no matter how hard the storms are raging on the rolling see and on the highway of regret, the poet is always there to offer you a warm embrace, and to hold you for a million years, to go to the end of the earth for you, to make you feel his love. It is a song of great comfort, not at all a song that shows the symptoms of depression by the composer.

A couple of years ago I found out that “Make you feel my love” may also be interpreted in a different, spiritual way. There is some rich Biblical imagery in the song to support this interpretation.In this interpretation the “I” in the song is Jesus. Jesus speaks through the mouth of Dylan. Jesus had spoken before through the mouth of Dylan in the Stanley Brother’s bluegrass spiritual “I am the man Thomas”, a song which he performed 59 times in concert at the beginning of this century.  There is of course a difference. The “I” in “I am the man Thomas” cannot be anybody else but Jesus. In “Make you feel my love” the “I” could very well be Jesus but not necessarily.
Let us take a look at some of the Biblical imagery in this song: We read:” nothing that I wouldn’t do, go to the ends of the earth for you, to make you feel my love”.  ‘The ends of the earth’ is an expression which is often used in the Bible. In the Psalms for a start, the expression is used 15 times. Most of the time the expression ‘the ends of the earth’ refers to the unlimited power of God which reaches to ‘the ends of the earth’. He makes his love and power felt everywhere, in every out of the way corner, in every nook and cranny of this earth. Everywhere people are summoned to recognize His splendour and majesty. The good news of Jesus spread to the ends of the earth (Romans 10:18). The apostles are sent out to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19) to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is nothing Jesus wouldn’t do, He really goes to ‘the ends of the earth’’ for us, to bring us the good message and to make us feel His love. When the task of the disciples will have been accomplished Jesus will return, like Dylan has sung in a lot of show openers this year: ‘Jesus is coming back, coming back to gather his jewels’. (By the way, Dylan uses the word ‘’jewels” in opposition to the three jewels of Buddhism). We read the expression ‘ends of the earth’ also in Mark 13:27: “And then He (Jesus) will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heaven’. “Ring them bells where the four winds blow’’, Dylan earlier wrote.

We find another element of rich biblical imagery when we read: ‘I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue, I’d go crawling down the avenue, Oh there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to make you feel my love’. Jesus was tempted by the devil and had fasted for forty days and nights and afterwards he was very hungry (Matthew 4:2). He’d go hungry for us. But even more significant is the expression I’d go crawling down the avenue”, because this is exactly  what Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39) where we read that he fell on his face and prayed in great anguish, crawling down the avenue and begging his Father: ‘let this cup pass from me’. Indeed, there is nothing Jesus wouldn’t do, to make you feel His love.
Once you have learned to understand this song in this way, it is a beautiful expression of love and commitment from Jesus for all his followers. Jesus ‘got nothing but affection for all those who sail with Him’. When there is no one there to dry your tears, “He will wipe away every tear from your eyes” (Revelation 21:4), He takes you in his arms and offers you a warm embrace and He will hold you for a million years, He will never ever let you go. You can rest assured, He will never do you wrong. No matter how full of turmoil the times may be, “the winds of change are blowing wild and free”, the best is still to come when He returns: “You ain’t see nothing like me yet”.
My conclusion is that a spiritual interpretation of this song is as valid as any other interpretation and that in view of the Biblical imagery that is used in the song, an interpretation whereby Jesus speaks through the mouth of Dylan, has solid ground in the lyrics of the song. If you are willing to respond to this article, please press ‘reacties’ below.

Bob Dylan's "With God on our Side" - an analysis

Bob Dylan’s   “With God on our side” –an analysis by Kees de Graaf.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said: "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right". This statement says it all.

This well-known protest song was written somewhere in 1962/ 1963 and recorded for the album “The Times they are a-Changin’ “. The melody of the song is identical to “The Patriot Game”, a song written by Dominic Behan, the melody is borrowed from a traditional Irish folk song. The song was written in strenuous days, in the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October-November 1962, which led the world to the brink of nuclear disaster. This nuclear threat still looms large in the background of this song.
”God’s own country “is a name which a lot of Americans liked to give their country. In the face of this high- pitched pretention that the nation is indeed “God’s own country”, this song is an attempt to confront the American nation with its own bloody history. Once a nation is convinced that it has a special chosen position in the eyes of God, almost any political or military action to expand and consolidate this high position is in the end justified and sanctified with an appeal to the will of God. ”If God is for us, who is against us?” the Bible says in Romans 8:31. “I’m gonna do whatever circumstances require” Dylan wrote in “Honest with me”. This Machiavellian inspired line was and is used as a shibboleth to justify any political or military action, in disregard of the basic human rights of other nations and people and in disregard and disrespect also of the biblical principles of justice and love for your neighbor. Any moral scruples, those who are involved in this kind of war may have, are in the end waved aside and silenced by the overruling principle: ‘we have to do it because God is on our side’.  Dylan shows us, in the first seven stanzas of this song, the horrible consequences of such a narrow minded world view. In ‘Cat’s in the well’ Dylan wrote: “grief is showing its face, the world’s being slaughtered and it’s such a bloody disgrace”.  That is exactly the picture Dylan confronts us with as he walks through the short American (military) history. In the final two stanzas Dylan draws some sort of a conclusion. He then does some deep thinking on the relation between the will of God – destiny – and our own personal, individual, responsibility. We’ll’ deal with that later in this article. Let us first deal with the first seven stanzas. The picture Dylan shows us is crystal clear, so we do not need to dwell on details.

In the first two stanzas the poet starts with the very beginning of the American nation. ”Oh my name it is nothing, my age it means less, the country I come from is called the Midwest” is a somewhat ironic statement from the poet. These words sound like mock modesty and are in contrast with what the average Midwesterner stands for and is proud of.  In the very beginning of the American nation it was the very Midwest region which took the initiative and from there on the early pioneers from the Midwest spread and expanded westwards. At the beginning there was no organized social structure or coherence and everybody had to stand up for his own rights, it was really the” survival of the fittest” and even today Midwesterners are still proud of their pioneering spirit which guided them through those rough times. The poet “is taught and brought up there, the laws to abide, and the land that I live in has God on his side”, which means that he is a typical product of the American soil of the 20th century. The poet was taught and brought up in a society where law and order were predominant. There were a lot of hard working, law abiding, orthodox Christians and obviously there was nothing wrong with that. At the same time, among those law abiding people, there was a strong undercurrent of nationalistic feelings which easily led to conformity and to the idea that the Americans are a chosen nation and that “the land that they lived in had always God on its side”. There was a strong sense that no matter what happened, they Americans were always ready to stand up for their country and to fight and to do whatever circumstances required; with only one goal: to defend American material or immaterial interests, not only in their own country but all over the world. The consequences of this ideology were disastrous as the following verses show us. Let us a take a look at the history books:

“Oh the history books tell it, they tell it so well. The cavalries charged, the Indians fell, the Cavalries charged, the Indian died”. It was well recorded in the history books. This is again an ironic statement. The history books show us a rose-coloured picture of the facts when the history books say that the Indians “fell”. It looks as if this were some kind of a heroic fight where unfortunately soldiers have “to fall” for their country. The fact is that the Indians were slaughtered. When the poet repeats the same words “The cavalries charged” but then adds: “”the Indians died”, this is really an understatement, which was presumably inserted for the sake of making it rhyme with “side”. He meant to say that the Indians were butchered, slaughtered and murdered. In the year 1500, just after the arrival of Columbus, there were said to be 12 million Indians in America, in the year 1900 there were only 237.000 left. The Indians were wiped out in one of the greatest genocides of all times, although it is also true that many of them died because of foreign diseases like smallpox, a disease which the Europeans imported from Europe. “Oh the country was young, with God on its side” ironically suggests that as a nation you have an excuse to commit a crime when you are still a young nation, like it says in Psalm 25:7: “Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions”.  Two things are stated here as an excuse to kill the Indians: 1. We were young. 2. If the first excuse does not convince you, you have to remember that God was on our side. 

“Oh the Spanish-American War had its day”. The Spanish-American War of 1898 was a war between America and Spain about the independence of Cuba and other islands in the Caribbean area. Officially troops were sent to Cuba to stop brutal killings by the Spaniards but the real reason for the war has been an attempt ‘to create a new imperial empire’, the U.S. gained control over Cuba and colonial control over Puerto Rico. Number of casualties: more than 4000 in battle and 5000 through disease.
“And the civil war too, was soon laid away” The Civil War (1861-1865) was a war in the United States of America. Officially the goal of the war was to have slavery abolished in the 20 rebelling Southern States of America.  In reality however, economic motives triggered off this bloody Civil War. Number of casualties on both sides: between 618.000 and 970.000. Both the Spanish-American war and the Civil war were officially fought for idealistic reasons, but when you take a closer look, these idealistic motives were only a pretext to start these wars. The Civil war soon laid away, collectively forgotten, but what remained are “the names of the heroes, I’s made to memorize, with guns in their hands and God on their side”. It reminds us of those old war photographs in black and white, but most of the time in a brownish color.  On those old pictures you see these so-called heroes, proudly stand with guns in their hands. The Civil War was a brother war. It is hard to imagine that the ’enemy’, the 20 Southern States called ‘The Confederacy’, could equally show you the same pictures of their heroes, also with guns in their hands and also thinking that God was on their side. It reminds us  of another anti- war song Dylan wrote in 1963: “John Brown” where it says: “But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close, and I saw that his face was just like mine”.  “It was the brother you never had” Dylan wrote elsewhere.

“Oh the First World War, boys, it closed out its fate. The reason for fighting, I never got straight.  But I learned to accept it, accept it with pride, for you don’t count the dead, when God’s on your side” On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne was shot dead in Sarajevo. This event caused a chain reaction in which more and more countries became involved, within weeks the major powers were at war; via their colonies, the conflict soon spread around the world. The First World War was a fact. Total death toll of the First World War: about 37.5 million people. Although the poet could not really figure out why this war was fought in the first place - this war was called the bloodiest ever – he learned to accept it with pride. Nationalistic pride obliterates both your sense of reality and compassion with the result that you do not count the dead, God is after all on your side isn’t He?

“When the Second World War came to an end, we forgave the Germans and we were friends. Though they murdered six million, in the ovens they fried, the Germans now too have God on their side”. The poet shows us the shocking image of the holocaust. Six millions Jews were murdered and burnt in the ovens of the Nazi regime. The total death toll of the Second World War is estimated between 62 and 78 million people. After the war these staggering figures did not prevent the Allied Forces from drawing the Germans into their camp. After the war Germany had become a democratic republic and joined the Allied Forces, in particular the U.S., in their fight against Stalin’s communism. Ironically, the poet says that the Germans were forgiven and that they became friends. This was obviously only for political reasons. First the Americans fought against the Germans, with God on their side. Now the Americans fought with the Germans in the Cold War against Communism also with God on their side. It is as if the poet ironically says: ’God is always on the side of America, and any nation who joins America may be assured that God is on their side too, no matter what crimes such a nation may have committed in the past’. Just like Dylan said in “Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues”: “Now we all agree with Hitler’s views, although he killed six million Jews, it don’t matter too much that he was a Fascist, at least you can’t say he was a Communist! That’s to say like if you got a cold you take a shot of malaria”
 It is also reminiscent of what President George W. Bush once said in 2001 in the fight against terror: “You’re either with us or against us”. As if he said: “If you are with us, God is also on your side”.

“I’ve learned to hate Russians all through my whole life. If another war starts, It’s them we must fight, to hate them and fear them, to run and to hide and accept it all bravely, with God on my side”. This verse is somewhat rendered out of date by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent ending of the Cold War. The poet grew up during the so-called McCarthy era, when thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or having at least sympathy for communism. These Americans became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning by the authorities. In those years of witch hunt against communism, paranoia and hatred against Russia and its communism was continuously pumped into the American society, as Dylan shows in his song “John Birch Paranoid Blues”:” I wus lookin’ high an’ low for them Reds everywhere, I wus lookin’ in the sink and underneath the chair, I looked way up my chimney hole I even looked deep down inside my toilet bowl
They got away . . .”

“But now we got weapons of the chemical dust. If fire them we’re forced to, then fire them we must. One push of the button, and a shot the world wide, and you never ask questions when God’s on your side”. In this verse the narrator confronts us with the unthinkable, the total destruction of all human civilization through a nuclear war. As said, this song was written around the time of the Cuban Missile crisis, which took the world to the brink of nuclear destruction. Although some people call the ‘balance of terror’ between America and Russia a blessing in disguise, this balance of nuclear power is also a very delicate one. If conflicts escalate, one push of the button is enough to set the world ablaze, not to think of what may happen if nuclear weapons get in the hands of terrorists. But also in the most unthinkable scenario, you never ask questions, when you are sure that God is on your side. 

“Through many dark hour, I’ve been thinking about this, that Jesus Christ was betrayed by a kiss. But I can’t think for you, you’ll have to decide, whether Judas Iscariot had God on his side”.  The poet has now gone through the whole of the American military history and comes to a conclusion. All the things he was taught ever since he was a schoolboy pass through his mind’s eye: The ‘war’ against the Indians, The Spanish-American War, the Civil War, the First and the Second World War, the Cold War and the nuclear threat. When he sees all those people killed, all the casualties pass by, the misery and upheaval which all those wars have  caused, then it is getting dark, ‘It is getting dark, too dark to see’ The poet starts to knock on heaven’s door for an answer. Amidst all darkness the poet starts to think on a higher level. What is it all good for? And who is behind all this? If there is a God, who is responsible and why doesn’t God stop this? He tries to find the answer in the Bible. He finds that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, the Son of God, by a kiss (Luke 22:48). How could God ever have allowed that a kiss, which is a token of love and friendship, would be turned into a device of betrayal of His own Son? It gets complicated when it is at the same time clear from the Scriptures that Jesus had to be “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) Acts 1:16 says about Judas: “the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus”. All that happened to Jesus and all that Judas did was in accordance with God’s plan. Is Judas able to get away with it? Could he have said: “I can’t be blamed for this, I did it in accordance with God’s plan, I have God on my side, you can’t blame me at all!? It reminds us of a song Dylan wrote in those same days: “Who killed Davey Moore”. It proves that Dylan at the time was very preoccupied with the question of human responsibility and destiny, the will of God. When in this song “Who killed Davey Moore” everybody denies responsibility for death of boxer Davey Moore it says: Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill’ It was destiny, it was God’s will”.
The Bible makes it also clear that in spite of the fact God has foreknowledge of all that happens on earth and that everything goes according to his plan and will, the personal human responsibility to do what is right, remains. Judas and every other human being is personally responsible for the ethical decisions that he or she takes. That is why Dylan says: “But I can’t think for you, you’ll have to decide”. It is as if Dylan says: “Each individual will have to draw a personal conclusion that although what Judas did was according to God’s foreknowledge and plan, Judas is nevertheless and at the same time personally responsible for the bad choices he made and the bad things he did”. The masters of war that build all the guns, that build the death planes, that build the big bombs, they can no longer hide behind their walls and desks, but they will  have to come out and they will be held personally responsible for all they did. Blessed as the American nation is, this blessing on itself never sanctions unethical and immoral motives to wage a war. No matter how blessed America as a nation may be, the slogan ‘God is on our side’ is a slogan no nation can ever take for granted.

“So now as I’m leaving, I’m weary as Hell, the confusion I’m feeling ain’t no tongue can tell. The words fill my head, and fall to the floor, if God’s on our side; He’ll stop the next war”. The problem – the problem of God’s predestination and foreknowledge - is still hard to tackle for the poet. A man is trapped in the fires of time and space. Man misses an extra dimension God has. The divine dimension to understand that two things which seem contradictory are at the same time both true. The concept that although everything that happens on this earth is 100% in accordance with His plan and His will,  man nevertheless remains  100% moral responsible and accountable for his actions and the decisions he makes, either good or bad. When he looks around this world and he sees all the evil things that happen, he feels terribly confused; it wears him down beyond words. The words fill my head, and fall to the floor, there is a moment when you think you know the answer to all the problems you face, but the next moment however, when you are confronted with the harsh reality in this world, you find out that it does not work; your words fall to the floor. But the poet concludes that there is one thing that will always remain true: God is a God of peace; He does not want war between people. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). The poet does not say that a defensive war is by definition always wrong, such a war may sometimes be forced upon a nation and may therefore be inevitable, a government has the duty to protect its citizens against aggression (Romans 13: 1-7), but he does say that God is on the side of the peacemakers. And if you are a peacemaker as a nation, you will be careful not to wage war for wrong, unethical and immoral motives. If that is your attitude, if that is the moral basis on which you stand as a nation, God will not only stop the next war, He will prevent it from starting in the first place.
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What does Bob Dylan really believe?

What does Bob Dylan really believe? –by Kees de Graaf

Ever since Dylan was converted to Christianity in 1979, there has been a lot of controversy among fans – believers and non- believers- focusing on the question whether Dylan in some sort of a way has adhered to his decision to become a follower of Jesus Christ, or that he has abandoned this faith a long time ago. For those who feel that he has abandoned his faith in Jesus, one may ask the question if there is enough evidence that proves that he has in fact given up his faith in Jesus. A clear statement that he has in fact given up his faith would be very helpful for them. A statement which could run like: There was a time, a brief period, a couple of years, when I thought I believed in God and in Jesus, a time when I believed that the Bible was right, but not anymore. I was confused at the time but later on I realized that it was all just a hoax. Forget the whole thing; there is no God and there is no heaven, the only thing I now believe in is myself and in the spirit of creativity”. But the fact is that such an unequivocal statement does not exist. Those who believe that Dylan has given up on Jesus were forced to take resort to all sorts of ‘circumstantial’ evidence to proof that they are right or to make it at least credible that Dylan’s faith in Jesus is passé. We mention some of these arguments:

 1. It is true that during his so-called Christian period (1979-1981) Dylan often talked about Jesus and the Bible, not only in his songs but also during raps on stage and in interviews, but in later years he is elusive about his faith in Jesus and hardly ever explicitly speaks about Jesus or the Bible, not in his songs, not on stage or in the press.

 2. Dylan denounced Christianity and returned to some sort of Judaism; he attended the Bar Mitzvah ceremonials of his children; he frequented (s) synagogues, in 2007 he went to Chabad- Lubavitch for Yom Kippur, where he got an aliyah to the Torah. (an ‘aliyah’’ is an “ascent” and represents the immigration of Jews to Israel and Chabad- Lubavitch is a philosophy, a movement, and an organization. It is considered to be the most dynamic force in Jewish life today).

3. Dylan no longer believes in Jesus or in the Bible as the word of God, but he finds solace in the religiosity and philosophy of the music and the songs. This is apparent from an interview that Dylan gave in 1996 for the magazine Newsweek. Novelist David Gates asked Dylan what he believed. Dylan replied, “I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don’t find it anywhere else. Songs like ‘Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain’ or ‘I Saw the Light’—that’s my religion. I don’t adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I’ve learned more from the songs than I’ve learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.”
“Those old songs are my lexicon and prayer book,"
Bob Dylan said in 1997, after the release of his album "Time Out of Mind" which was his first album of original material in seven years. Dylan said "All my beliefs come out of those old songs, literally, anything from `Let Me Rest on that Peaceful Mountain' to `Keep on the Sunny Side.' You can find all my philosophy in those old songs. I believe in a God of time and space, but if people ask me about that, my impulse is to point them back toward those songs. I believe in Hank Williams singing `I Saw the Light.' I've seen the light, too”. Also somewhere in 1997, Dylan gave another interview about American roots music-like the songs of Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, some of these songs were on his set lists. "That's my religion," he said. "I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists .I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity."

What may be the counter- arguments of all those who believe that Bob Dylan has not denounced his faith in Jesus and is as committed to Jesus as ever before?:

1.There was indeed a time (1979-1981) when Dylan was very overt about Jesus. However, If Dylan would have continued to spread the good news of the gospel in the same way like he did in the years 1979-1981 his influence would have been minimized. His message in the years 1979-1980 was so unequivocally uncompromising that it alienated a large percentage of his fans. If he had continued in the same way- also by performing only his Christian repertoire-, he would not only have lost his worldwide influence as a secular artist but at the same time his sphere of influence would have been reduced to a small gospel scene only. Although Dylan later on said that what he did in 1979 and 1980 was something he had to do, those gospel songs had to come out, in 1981 however, Dylan started again to incorporate songs from his pre-born  albums into his shows and from then on also his songwriting took a new turn. The new lyrics became less and less overtly Christian and more and more all kinds of universal and secular elements were introduced in his lyrics. The message was more and more hidden and fellow believers had to learn to read the same old message of the gospel between the lines. From then on it also meant that his new songs could be interpreted in various ways, not always necessarily only in a Christian way; the new lyrics were open for debate. The debate about the interpretation of his new lyrics between believers and non-believers began, and has continued up to this very day. As the internet progressed in the nineties, a worldwide forum was created where this discussion has been going on.
The fact is that Jesus, in some sort of a way, did the same thing. There was a time when Jesus- just like Dylan did in his own way and on his own level in 1979 and 1980- spread the message of the Kingdom of God overtly and openly, but when Jesus met with a lot of hostility and resistance (Matthew 13:13-15) he started to use parables to spread the message. A parable is a comparison, a similitude; specifically, a short fictitious narrative of something which might really occur in life or nature, by means of which a moral lesson is drawn. What did that mean?
Firstly, a secret is hidden in the parable (Matthew 13: 10). Secondly, it takes effort to find the message which is hidden in the parable, you have to study, you have to ask to find the solution (Matthew 13:36) and thirdly, although the public at large does not come to grasp the message hidden in the parable, the parable in itself, as a story, is palatable for the public at large. The parable of ‘the prodigal son’, (Luke 15:11-32) is an example of this. As a story, this parable is fascinating on itself.
The road which Dylan has been following in his song writing process is comparable with what Jesus did. It may also have to do with the bargain, the deal, which Dylan said he made with God. For more information on this subject, we refer to my analysis of "When the deal goes down"- Part 1     

2. Christianity does not exclude Judaism; in fact the historical roots of Christianity are in Judaism. If someone converts from Judaism to Christianity, he or she is not forced to denounce his or her Jewish roots. One may say that converts expand and enrich their view and experience of God. And that is something which happened to Bob Dylan. In the Bible we read that when the Apostles spread the good news of Jesus all over the world, the first place in any town they visited on their mission tours was always the Jewish synagogue. The apostles never asked the Jews to give up their Jewish lifestyle but they only begged them to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, which was promised in the Torah and by the Prophets. Somewhere on a forum I read: "Dylan is in some ways an ultimate Christian. Why? Because he started as a Jew! Like Mary; Like Jesus. As Christ says, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." (King James, Matthew 5:17). The events of the New Testament are not merely a sequel to the Old, they are intimately related."

3. If somebody would say: “I find the religiosity and philosophy in the Book of Common Prayer. I don’t find it anywhere else. If we would like to know what such a person believes, the only thing we have to do is to take a look and see what’s in that Book of Common Prayer and what it refers to. When Dylan says: ““I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don’t find it anywhere else” and “Those old songs are my lexicon and prayer book," we just have to take a close look at those songs to find out what Dylan actually believes. Let us make and effort.
Chris Gregory in his commentary on the songs of ‘Modern Times’ has also made an effort and writes about the bluegrass spiritual: “Hallelujah I’m ready to go”: “his concert performances in the late 90s and early 2000s of bluegrass spirituals by the Stanley Brothers and others can be seen as affirmations, not of the religion they proselytize as such but of Dylan’s ‘faith’ in the songs themselves. …Hallelujah!… he sings, in the Stanley Brothers song he’s covered most of all …I’m ready to go!…”. This statement of Chris Gregory hardly seems to make any sense, to say the least of it.  Does Gregory want to suggest that with ‘I’m ready to go’ Dylan intends to express that he is ready to abandon the traditional faith? If that were true it would be only wishful thinking on Gregory’s part and I’m sorry to put it that way, but this would be sheer nonsense. If it is not the message expressed in the lyrics of the song the poet has faith it, what else is there left in this song to have faith in? Take away the message of the song and there is nothing left in the song to believe in. The message of the song is crystal clear: The poet is ready to go (to God) because ‘he let his Savior (Jesus) in, and he saved his soul from sin’ and he is ready to go because ‘he is a wonderful Savior to know, I fell down on my knees and he answered all my pleas’. The message of the song is: Jesus is a wonderful Savior, he saved my soul from sin and because of that I’m ready to meet God. That is what the poet believes.(‘One sweet day, I’ll stand beside my King’) Apart from that, I’m a little surprised to read that according to Chris Gregory  this is the Stanley Brother’s song Dylan’s covered the most. ‘Hallelujah I’m ready to go’ was covered 38 times. But ‘I am the man Thomas’, however, was covered 59 times. In this song Dylan introduces Jesus in the “I” form. This song about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is even more overtly Christian than “Hallelujah I’m ready to go”, and touches upon the very center of the Christian faith.

The message which the bluegrass gospel songs deliver is basically the same in most of the songs of that kind. This message is that we are all sinners by nature. But we have a wonderful Savior, who loves us and has paid for our sins. If we go to Him, he takes away the burden of sin and fills our hearts with great joy. This is also the case in the bluegrass gospel songs Dylan says he believes in, and of which Dylan says that in these songs he finds his religiosity and philosophy and that these songs are his lexicon and prayer book. For instance, Dylan mentions Hank Williams’s “I saw the Light”. What does this song say:
I wandered so aimless , life filled with sin.

I wouldn't let my dear Savior in.

Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night.

Praise The Lord, I saw the Light”.

We conclude that the bluegrass gospel songs Dylan refers to, focus on the very heart of the Gospel. The center and the heart of the Gospel is, that there his redemption for man through the Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore it seems obvious to me that when Dylan says that he finds his religiosity and philosophy in these songs and these songs are his prayer book and lexicon, he wants to make it clear – in his typically Dylanesque, somewhat elaborate and elusive way- that he is still committed to Jesus as his personal Savior. This is just an inseparable part of the deal, the bargain he said he made with God a long time ago. It is true, Dylan is a stand- alone Christian. No generation, no church, no denomination, organization, political or social movement can claim Dylan as spokesman. On the other hand, there seems to be a growing consensus, also among non-religious scholars and historians – as you may for instance read in Professor Sean Willentz’ latest book ‘Bob Dylan in America’ – that Dylan, in his own way, adheres to the basic principles of Christianity.  

Furthermore, I’d like to draw attention to something else Dylan said in the 1997 interview we referred to above. Dylan says: “I believe in a God of time and space. Again, this is a very Dylanesque statement. No matter how enigmatic  this statement may look at first glance – in the same way as Dylan calls Jesus the ‘The Commander in Chief ‘Dylan  in his 2004 CBS interview – it nevertheless gives us an important clue to understanding Dylan’s conception of God. “I believe in a God of time and space is just another way of saying that Dylan believes in a personal God. God entered our time and space when He incarnated in his Son Jesus Christ. God became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. The eternal becomes temporal. What Dylan may have had in mind with this statement could not be better formulated than John Allister did in 1999, when he wrote an article about God, Space and Time. We quote:  
“All of that (that God is a God of time and space) doesn't make God any less real than us. In fact, if anything, it means that he is more real than we are. We have a beginning as people and, at least in this world, an end as well. God doesn't. We are constrained by time. He isn't. When God revealed his name in the Old Testament, he said he was "I am". Apparently the Hebrew for that means "I am, always have been and will continue to be". God is the one true constant, going beyond the universe. What is amazing then is that in Jesus there is someone who is God and yet is confined within space and time. People could literally see and touch God. It is not amazing that God could do this - after all, he is omnipotent. Rather what is amazing is that he loves us so much that the eternal Second Person of the Godhead became confined within space and time for us”.
It looks as if, when in this interview Dylan said: “I believe in a God of time and space” Dylan somehow must have realized in the back of his mind that this was quite an enigmatic statement. That may be the reason why he impulsively tries to clarify and simply this statement by saying,” but if people ask me about that, my impulse is to point them back toward those songs. I believe in Hank Williams singing `I Saw the Light.' I've seen the light, too”. This is as if Dylan said: “If you want to know what I mean when I say that I believe in a God of time and space, take a look at these songs. These songs point to the Light, these songs point to Jesus, my Savior, he is the One who entered time and space for me”.
Finally, to wrap this up the following: Chris Gregory in his analysis of Dylan’s ‘Ain’t  Talking’ writes: “A number of commentators (particularly on Christian or ‘faith-based’ culture-commentary websites and blogs) have referred to the plethora of Biblical allusions on Modern Times as ‘proving’ Dylan’s continual ‘faith in Jesus’. But this is surely just wish-fulfillment on their part”. Through this article I hope to have shown that my personal conviction, that Dylan is still committed to Jesus is no wishful thinking on my part but may have some solid grounds in the facts. To deny this may equally be qualified as wishful thinking. There is something to choose, or it may be like Dylan once said: It's either one or the other or neither of the two”.  Please press ‘reacties’ below if you are willing to respond to this article.


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