Bob Dylan And Rastafarianism (Part II): “I And I”

You can read part one of this review of Dylan and Rastafarianism here


Bob Dylan And Rastafarianism (Part II): “I And I”.  By Larry Fyffe

The spiritual beliefs and reggae-syle music of Bob Marley have an influence on the works of Bob Dylan. The Rastas of Jamaica consider the Church followers of the religion known as Christianity to be infidels. To them, the Judeo-Christian God is actually a Demiurge, a flawed spirit.

White-skinned biblical interpreters, they of the race who brought slavery and colonialism to the black peoples of the world, corrupt the Word of the Lord. Even unto the real name of the Lord which is ‘Jah’:

Sing unto God, sing praises to his name
Extol him that rideth the upon the heavens
By his name Jah, and rejoice before him
(Psalm 68: 4)

Saith the Rastas, little mention is made by white Christian bible-thumpers of Moses (who leads the Hebrews out of Egypt from slavery) being partnered with a non-Hebrew woman, a ‘stranger’ from Abyssinia.

Not so quiet are Moses’ siblings:

And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses ….
For he had married an Ethiopian woman
(I Numbers 12:1)

Nor seldom is it mentioned much that King Solomon, an envoy of the Hebrew God, ‘loved many strange women’ – including an Ethiopian who, according to the Holy Bible, exchanges psalms with King Solomon of Canaan:

The king hath brought me into his chambers
We will be glad and rejoice in thee
We will remember thy love more than wine
The upright love thee
I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem
(Solomon’s Song 1: 4,5)

She could well be the Queen of Sheba:

And King Solomon gave unto the Queen Of Sheba
all her desire
Whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon
gave her of his royal bounty
So she turned and went to her own country, she
and her servants
(I Kings 10:13)

So it’s not at all surprising that Rastas believe that Jesus Christ, a descendant of Solomon, is a black-skinned Messiah. Also, that Jesus reincarnates in the figure of Haile Selassie – the Emperor of Ethiopia comes equipped with a ‘promised land’ for Africans who have been taken to America in chains.

A religious motto of the mystic Rastas is ‘I and I’ which means that Jah’s holy spirit of love lies within each of His chosen people, and unites them into One. Eventually, Jah will also gather together the infidels, including white bald-headed ones who use bad words like ‘hell’-o.

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, who’s full of irony pellets when he thinks spiritual matters are getting a bit overly optimistic, dumps a truckload on top of the Rastafarian city of dreamers:

Been so long since a strange woman
has slept in my bed
Look how sweet she sleeps, how free
must be her dreams
In another lifetime she must have owned
the world, or been faithfully wed
To some righteous king who wrote psalms
beside moonlit streams
(Bob Dylan: I And I)

In the Old Testament ‘strange’ means not of the Hebrew faith. The strange woman in the song lyrics above be akin to the Gnostic Lady of Wisdom; Coleridge’s Abyssinian maid who in Kubla Kann on her dulcimer played; and, last but not least, King Solomon’s black lover from Ethiopia.

And then comes the swirling dust of the Dylanesque twister – in the Tweedle Dee -Tweedle Dum world of organized two-faced Christian hypocrisy, whether black-coloured or white-coloured, the sad-eyed lady is down on her luck – her deck of cards is missing an ace and a one-eyed jack:

In creation where one’s nature neither honours nor forgives
I and I
One says to the other, no man sees my face and lives
(Bob Dylan: I And I)

In short, most of Earth’s creatures under the control of the Demiurge keep the good part of themselves to themselves – Jah’s holy spirit within is kept hidden away:

When a cop pulled him over to the side
of the road
Just like the time before and the time
before that
In Paterson that’s just the way things go
If you’re black you might as well not show
up on the street
(Bob Dylan: Hurricane)

Below is the list of main articles on “I and I” and Rastafarianism elsewhere on this site…

I and I: God finds out Dylan thinks He maybe isn’t almighty after all.

I and I: Bob Dylan: an alternative vision

The stranger in Bob Dylan’s “I and I”

Bob Dylan and Rastafarianism

Bob Dylan and the Bible: an Index.

What else is on the site

1: Over 490 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 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 produced 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 our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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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8 Responses to Bob Dylan And Rastafarianism (Part II): “I And I”

  1. Larry Fyffe says:


  2. Larry Fyffe says:


  3. Bob Higgin says:

    This is a nice supplement to Part One and there are some interesting nuggets.

  4. In all of your articles Gnosticism pops up, one way or another, as if Gnosticism is Dylan’s world view. But it is not. Dylan’s favorite is John , the Apostle of Light, and as I explained earlier, if there is any person who is more opposed to Gnosticism, it is John the Apostle. So bringing up Gnosticism over and over again just makes no sense.

  5. Larry Fyffe says:

    The exact opposite is the case.

    John put the focus on the figurative rather than the literal interpretation of the Word of God, on the ‘light’ of knowledge; not on the ‘dark’ limitations of the flesh. His outlook be Gnostic.

  6. Larry Fyffe says:

    Whether the three writers of biblical scripture – the ‘Johns’ – be one and the same person is up for debate. But ‘Revelations’ is very figurative in style, that’s for sure.

  7. Larry Fyffe says:

    Matters are not all that clear – not all Gnostics hold the material existence is inherently ‘evil’ while many Christians believe ‘original sin’ has got a grip on everybody.

    So when Dylan is on his knightly journey to gain knowledge from a tree, the name of his favourite apostle or colour interests me far less than what words he chooses to use when he steps on the fork in the middle of some dark woods filled with snow.

  8. Larry Fyffe says:

    So Kees it makes no sense at all that ‘Roll On John’ is positively, absolutely, assuredly, without doubt about the biblical apostle (as you declare)rather than a tribute to John Lennon, who was killed by a fundamentalist madman because the Beatle sarcastically had said that the Fab Four was more popular than Jesus.

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