Bob Dylan Takes On The Persona Of Moses: Red River Shore

By Larry Fyffe

According to the Old Testament, Moses flees from Egypt, and marries an Ethiopian by the name of Zipporah, and then returns to Egypt to free the Hebrews from slavery there:

And she bare him a son,  and he gave his name 'Gershom'
For he said, "I have been a stranger in a strange land"
(Exodus 2: 22)

In the song following, taken as a biblical allegory, it’s clear the narrator identifies with Moses:

Well I'm a stranger here in a strange land
But I know this is where I belong
I'll ramble and gamble for the one I love
And the hills will give me a song
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

The Song of Solomon paints a word-picture of God’s love for Israel, and for those who obey Him, in a series of sexual conceits that features a black woman:

Draw me, we will run after thee
The King has bought me into his chambers
We will be glad, and rejoice in thee
We will remember thy love more than wine
Thy upright love of thee
(Song Of Solomon)

Moses’ brother Aaron gets to speak for him:

And said Moses unto the Lord, "I am not eloquent
Neither heretofore nor since Thou hast spoken unto thy servant
But I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue"
(Exodus 4:10)

Bob Dylan, as Moses, has a little fun with that:

Well, I don't know what kind of language he used
Or if they do that kind of thing anymore
Sometime I think nobody ever saw me here at all
Except the girl from the Red River Shore
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

The  language of Old Testament is often figurative, and the “Son of God” therein is not Jesus, but the Promised Land:

And thou shalt shalt say unto unto the Pharaoh
Thus saith the Lord, "Israel is my son, even my first born"
(Exodus 4: 22)

So interpreted, the Red River is the Egyptian/Ethiopian Nile:

And Moses and Aaron did so, as the Lord commanded ....
And all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood
(Exodus 7: 20)

The Pharaoh with the acquiescence of God who’s quite upset with Moses for being  slow to do what He tells him to, gets to treat the Hebrew slaves even worse than before; Zipporah even circumcises their son to stop God from killing her husband right there and then. The Pharaoh finally has enough of God’s wrath after He kills the first born of the Egyptians. Zipporah gets fed up too, and heads back home:

Well, I sat beside her for a while I tried
To make that girl my wife
She gave me her best advice
And said, "Go home and live a good life"
Somehow though I never did get that far
With the girl from the Red River Shore
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

God’s not through with Moses yet. He’s still mad at him, and does not allow Moses to cross the River Jordon into the Promised Land; he dies. However, the Lord’s chosen people are delivered into the Promised Land.

One of the greatest stories ever told – so much so that the singer/songwriter considers the too-slow-Moses allegory worth repeating in another song – only this time, it could be said, his persona crosses the ‘Nile’ of America, into  ‘Egypt’:

Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
You can always come back, but you can't come back all the way
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

Figuratively speaking, Moses saves Israel, God’s first born. The singer/songwriter himself, in his creative imagination, goes back in time, and brings Moses back to life:

Now, I've heard of a guy who lived a long time ago
A man full of sorrow and strife
Whenever someone around him had died, and was dead
He knew how to bring him back to life
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)


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