Bob Dylan: Songs of Hope And Fear

By Larry Fyffe 

As previously pointed out, singer/song writer Bob Dylan, who comes from a Jewish background, hits the over-demanding God of the Old Testament with a low burlesque blow:

Well, God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe said, "Man, you must be putin' me on"
God said, "No";  Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You do what you want, Abe, but
The next time you see me comin', you better run"

(Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited) 

Hal Lindsey, an evangelist Christian, claims in ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ that the Old Testament armies of Magog, a land north of Judea and Samaria, are about to attack the united state of Israel for the last time (espousing the biblical linear cosmology of the ‘end-times’), even as he invests the money that he makes from the book in real estate. According to Lindsay, the unfulfilled prophecy contained in the Bible of a coming apocalyptic battle between the forces of good and evil is about to unfold; the Second Coming of Christ is at hand –  yet again: 

And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts
Thou, and many people with thee
All of them riding horses
A great company, and a mighty army

(Ezekiel 38:15) 

There are those who claim that Bob Dylan likewise picks up on the worrisome ‘spirit’ of modern times to exploit an opportunity to gain fame and fortune:

I was going down for the last time
But by His mercy I have been spared
Not by works
But by faith in Him who called
For so long I've been hindered 
For so long I've been stressed

(Bob Dylan: Saved)

In the above lyrics, Bob Dylan takes on the persona of a pew-seated Christian who dons the dogmatic cloak of original sin: individuals are not merely imperfect (a view more akin to the Jewish faith) but  downright evil from the get-go, and can be saved from eternal damnation only by God’s grace (as most literal fundamentalists, following the doctrines of John Calvin, believe). Yikes, you can forget about gaining any indulgence from God for doing good deeds.

In earlier lyrics below, Dylan is more skeptical of God’s concern for mankind – he places Florence Reece’s labour song in a religious setting:

Praise be to Nero's Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody's shouting, "Which side are you on?"

(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

Of Bob Dylan’s actual views on religion, the reader/listener is never quite sure.

The Bible’s ‘Song Of Solomon’ is interpreted by some Christians as the ruler of then united Israel being a good shepherd for others to follow, analogous to the Christ figure. Solomon sojourns to his pastures in Sumaria where he meets his devoted bride; as well, he’s a hard working king who looks after his people when he’s sits on his throne at home in Jerusalem, the capital of Judea:

Tell me, O whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest
Where thou make thy flock to rest at noon
For why should I be a one that runneth aside by the flocks
of thy companions?"

(Song Of Solomon 1:7)

One thing we know for sure about Dylan is that the sound of words working together matter. The singer/songwriter appears to burlesque the Catholic Church, the so-called bride of Christ, in the WH Auden “O Where Are You Going”-like song lyrics below – the high priests of Mother Mary’s Church, seated in Rome, dress in the flowing gowns, and expect a good display of devotion whether from a poor farmer living off the land, or a wealthy king with a palace full of servants:

Said Mary to Matthew
"I'd like to give my child away"
Said Matthew to Mary
"I got a pleasant farm, and I'll take good care of him
There's a diamond spring, and a big oak tree 
And he can climb on every day
A thousand doors couldn't hold me back from you"
Said Mary to Matthew
"You know this may never be 
I'm not going to give my child away for nothing
but an old oak tree
Just then a man wearing women's clothes began to hop
A thousand doors couldn't hold me back from you"

(Elvis Costello: Matthew Met Mary ~ Dylan/Costello) 

Much more serious is the criticism of America-supported Islamists for their attacks on the Bengali Muslims in the Bangladesh war for independence from Pakistan. Poet William Blake’s figurative anaphora that’s based on sound is used by Allen Ginsberg in his beat lyrics about the suffering of fleeing refugees that takes place in the land of the Bengal tiger:

Ring O ye tongues of the world for their woe
Ring out ye voices for love we don't know
Ring out ye bells of electrical pain
Ring in the conscious American brain

(Allen Ginsberg: September On Jessore Road ~ Ginsberg/Dylan)

What else is here?

An index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

There is an alphabetic index to the 550+ Dylan compositions reviewed on the site which you will find it here.  There are also 500+ other articles on different issues relating to Dylan.  The other subject areas are also shown at the top under the picture.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook which mostly relates to Bob Dylan today.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

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.



  1. * …. an old oak tree” (close quote)
    ** (open quote) “A thousand doors….)

  2. And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp
    And in the morning the dew lay round about the host
    (Exodus 16:13)

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