September 14, 2006

by Reb Yudel
Bob Dylan on the Bible

There's an ongoing debate between certain Jewish and Christian Dylanologists. I've long been of the opinion for Bob, the music was the primary "church of his choice" and that his born-again phase was as much the exception to his day-to-day religious center as his Yom Kippur shul attendance. On the other side, are those who point to his regular performance of Jesus-centric songs -- both his own and others -- as proof that Dylan remains an orthodox Christian.

Well, if Dylan's recent Biblical "Theme Time Radio Hour" show is any guide, it looks like I'm right.

After a variety of songs about the Bible -- which to Dylan includes both the Old and New Testament -- but before giving a capsule description of Elijah's role in the Passover seder -- Dylan turns over the microphone to steel guitarist Kevin Mo, who opines as follows:

When I look at the Bible, and they say, this is the book about God's word, I don't think God is that confusing.

Why would God write such a confusing book?

I think it's written by men, trying their best to interpret the word of God. Everything is the word of God, because we're all the product of God.

I think God has showed up in many, many books, God has shown up in songs, God has shown up in a lot of places, so I think that the Bible gets too much credit for being the only word of God.

Doesn't sound very orthodox to me. In fact, it sounds very much like what Dylan said way back in the beginning:
You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You'll find God in the church of your choice
You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital

And though it's only my opinion
I may be right or wrong
You'll find them both
In the Grand Canyon
At sundown


I actually would agree with most of what you say, though I wouldn't necessarily say it the same way. I also think that Dylan has been relatively consistent with his basic belief in God, at least in what you can pick up in his songwriting. I also would agree that he's no "orthodox Christian." To me, that would imply being a member of an established church. I think his Jewishness is clearly an indispensable part of his faith, and that's not very orthodox either -- though I don't think he's completely unique in that. As for Mr. Mo: Of-course it was him speaking, not Dylan, and I don't think he was speaking for Dylan anymore than Jimmy Kimmel does in his guest spots. Nevertheless, although Mo phrases his statement provocatively -- about the Bible not being the only word of God -- when you get down to it a lot of believers would have to agree with him. God also speaks to us through the beauty and power of nature. I think God speaks to us in art which reaches the level of the sublime. (The perfection of Frank Sinatra's "In The Wee Small Hours" album helped my belief in God -- and I'm not being at all facetious.) And I guess we all know Dylan's quote about hearing it "in the songs" rather than hearing it in any particular preacher.

The danger in Mo's statement, as-is, is that it might imply to some that since God speaks to us in a variety of ways, therefore we can just believe whatever voice that tells us what we prefer to hear. I don't know that that's what he really means -- and I also doubt Dylan would endorse that. He said in the Biograph interview in 1985 that "that lie about everybody having their own truth inside of them has done a lot of damage and made people crazy." I tend to think he still goes by that. He also said in that interview that "I do know that God hates a proud look." That's in Proverbs, 6:16-17. In other words, it's in the Bible. A book that was definitely written by men, as Mo said. And it can be confusing at times. But although it's not the only way God may speak to us, I'd say it is the only lengthy written format that we can rely on. It exists for a reason. Part of it is maybe to keep us from becoming too proud of our own inner brilliance and goodness.   

Posted by: RWB aka Sean at September 14, 2006 4:35 PM

Thank you for bringing the errors in my article linking to your blog to my attention.


Posted by: le at September 15, 2006 7:50 PM

Much of what you say is true. Bob Dylan is not an orthodox Christian. Never has been. In 1979, the year of his conversion, Dylan waved off "traditional" religion saying:

"Religion is represive to a certain degree. Religion is another form of bondage which man invents to get himself to God. But that's why Christ came. Christ didn't preach religion. He preached the Truth, the Way, and the Life. He said He'd come to give life and life more abundantly. He talked about life, not necessarily religion." (7 Dec. 1979 KMEX Radio)

Thus, if "religion" means a set of empty, traditional rituals, Dylan has never been a "religious" man. But that is what makes him such a profound believer in Scripture. Instead of looking to men or traditions for spiritual guidance, he looks only to Scripture. Bob Dylan has said repeatedly from 1979 to the present that he believes that all Scripture is true. Of course, he's indicated that Scripture isn't the only source of truth. The old American songs, Dylan said, are his "lexicon" and "prayer book". To Dylan, Scripture is the definition of truth by which all other "truths" must be judged. Dylan made this belief clear in 1985 in the context of his song writing:

"I'll tell you one thing, if you're talking just on a scriptural type of thing, there's no way I could write anything that would be scripturally incorrect. I mean, I'm not going to put forth ideas that aren't scripturally true." (March 1985 Interview with Bill Flanagan)

Because Bob Dylan is a close student of scripture, he knows that it is possible (and beneficial) to be Jewish and Christian at the same time. (Rom. 2:10, 2:29) Too bad most folks don't read Scripture as the standard of truth. That's probably a big reason why Bob Dylan is such a mystery to so many.

Posted by: Ben at March 31, 2007 9:19 AM

The lyrics blew me away, made me cry deep. Thanks to whoever posted these lyrics, never knew this heavy song. I'm not jewish and im 52 years old.

Posted by: John at May 9, 2010 2:19 PM
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