August 1, 2005

by Andrew Silow-Carroll
Van Morrison, Mr. Foxman on line two

Does Irish folk rocker Van Morrison cross into Mel Gibson territory on his new album, with a song about a Jesus-like character who complains that “my own people… soldld me out” for “a few shekels more”?

The NJ Jewish News this week (sorry, no link) asks if Morrison had interpreted the Gospels in a way that would raise the hackles of Jewish groups involved in interfaith dialogue.

Morrison’s song, “They Sold Me Out,” appears on Magic Time, his latest CD for Geffen Records. The first-person lyrics of the song contain several allusions to the last moments of Jesus, including the lines,

For the few shekels more, they didn’t even think twice / For a few shekels more, another minute in the spotlight / My own people did it to me just, ‘cos they could / They sold me out.”

NJ participants in interfaith dialogue had few objections to the lyrics, which many reviewers have interpreted as a criticism of the record industry. “To think positively, I expect that this piece does not imply that all Jews sell people out, but only that Jesus’ companions did so to him,” David Bossman, director of the Sister Rose Thering Endowment for Jewish Studies at Seton Hall University, told NJJN reporter Robert Wiener. “The implication isn’t against Jews but rather it’s about the disappointment a person [today] feels in a betrayal by those closest to him (‘my own people’).”

Still, Bossman said it is “reasonable for people to feel that Van Morrison shouldn’t have used that image, since it conjures up the old charge that ‘all Jews’ rejected Jesus.” A proper reading of the ospels, said Bossman, suggests that Jesus’ betrayal was not a collective act, but a personal act by Judas.

Harriet Sepinwall, of the College of St. Elizabeth, also suggested that the “my own people” lyric raises yellow flags, but that in the proper context — a protest song about slavery, for example — the words might lose their troubling connotations.

For his part, Morrison has described the song as a lament over the plight of the artist in society. “I don’t really have anything against the music business,” he told USA Today. “I’m independent, right? To me, it’s an archetypical story. It’s not just about me. It’s probably happened to everyone who’s tried to be an artist.

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