Hebrew Gnosticism In Bob Dylan’s Song Lyrics

 

By Larry Fyffe

Allegorical and analogical Hebrew Gnosticism, with its emphasis on the power of words, has roots in the Book of Proverbs of the Old Testament.

According to Gnosticism, from an Unknowable God of Light emanates fragmented pairs of lesser spirits outward into the Void: akin to the Roman/Greek God of the Sun – Apollo, and his twin sister, the Goddess of the Moon – Diana.

And akin to the White Goddess of poet Robert Graves. Chokmah, the Lady of Wisdom, decides to venture forth on her own without her male companion.

In the insuing chaos, the material world is created by a singular male God, Yaldabaoth. Into the dark Earth, the Lady of Wisdom manages to infuse a spark of her divine spirit before being returned to the heavens by her male counterpart, Yehoshua – meaning Salvation.

The Lady of Wisdom, now back in balance with her ‘bridegroom’, attempts to impart knowledge to the human souls trapped in their material bodies down on Earth; thereby assisting them to return to the spiritual realm:

Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee
Love her, and she shall keep thee
Wisdom is the principle thing
And with all thy getting get understanding
Exalt her, and she shall promote thee to honour
When thou dost embrace her
(Book Of Proverbs 4: 6-8)

The Gnostic warning in regards to the disruption of the male-female binary is not lost on Bob Dylan:

Our Father would not like the way that you act
And you must realize the danger
Oh, sister, am I not a brother to you
And one deserving of affection?
And our purpose not the same on this earth
To follow his direction
(Bob Dylan: Oh Sister)

By taking steps to set the spark aflame within themselves (left behind by the redeemed Lady of Wisdom), earth-bound women can gain knowledge:

She openth her mouth with wisdom
And in her tongue is kindness
She looketh well to the ways of her household
And eateth not the bread of idleness
Her children arise up, and call her blessed
Her husband also, and he praiseth her
(Book Of Proverbs 31: 26-28)

So sings Dylan, albeit somewhat ironically:

I been sitting down studying the art of love
I think it will fit me like a glove
I want a real good woman to do just what I say
Everyone got to wonder what’s the matter with the
cruel world today
(Bob Dylan: Thunder On The Mountain)

The Old Testament presents an allegory with Chokmah as the symbol for a worthy bride:

Wisdom has builded her house
She hath hewn out her seven pillars
She hath killed her beasts
She hath mingled her wine
She hath also furnished her table
She hath sent forth her maidens
She crieth upon the highest places of the city
(Book Of Proverbs 9: 1-3)

As later condensed in Christian canon, the seven pillars pounded into the earth by the Lady of Wisdom – contrasted with their bad side – are:

Humility as opposed to Pride
Kindness as opposed to Envy
Temperance as opposed to Gluttony
Chastity as opposed to Lust
Patience as opposed to Anger
Diligence as opposed to Sloth
Charity as opposed to Greed

Literaure professor Christopher Ricks considers these seven pillars to be dominant themes in the song lyrics of Bob Dylan.

An example, illustrating Pride:

And the locusts sang; well, it give me a chill
Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody
And the locusts sang with a high whinin’ trill
Yeah, the locusts sang, and they was singing for me
Singing for me; well, singing for me
(Bob Dylan: Day Of The Locusts)

To be sure, few women have been able to climb to the top of Chokmah’s stairways and thereby fully balanced Gnostic knowledge:

Don’t know what I can say about Claudette
That won’t come back to haunt me
Finally had to give her up
‘Bout the time she began to want me
But I know God has mercy on them
Who are slandered and humiliated
I’d a-done anything for that woman
If she didn’t make me feel so obligated
(Bob Dylan: The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar)

What else is on the site

1: Over 450 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

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