Bob Dylan And Mary Magdalene 

by Larry Fyffe

The names of the two main characters in “Victory” tempts one to give the story a Christian interpretation – Heyst rhymes with Christ; Lena is a shortened form of Magdelena. But the ending of Joseph Conrad’s sorrowful tale is too Hamlet-like to make such an interpretation stand up to scrutiny.

In songs by Bob Dylan, Mary Magdalene’s name, in one form or another, pops up. According to interpretations given by a number of biblical scholar, she’s a prostitute who’s been reformed by Jesus.   Which begs the question – How is she treated in Bob Dylan’s lyrics when they’re analyzed from a Christian point of view?

Well, let’s examine the following song:

Hot chili peppers in the blistering sun
Dust on my face, and my cape
Me and Magdalena on the run
I think this time we shall escape
(Bob Dylan: Romance In Durango ~ Dylan/Levy)

The story therein be akin to the one about the substitution of Simon the Libyan on the cross. According to the song lyrics above, Jesus evades sure death on the cross, a sentence handed down because one of His followers assaulted a guard.

According to the Holy Bible, this is not how things are supposed to happen:

And Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joses
Beheld where He was laid
And when the sabbath was past
Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of James and Salome
Had brought sweet spices that they might come and anoint Him
(Luke 15: 47; 16: 1)

So in Dylan’s song, the God of Thunder, disguised as Captain James Kirk, arrives on the scene; He intends to correct the course of biblical history; things start to go bad for the escaped Jesus:

Was that the thunder that I heard
My head is vibrating, I feel a sharp pain
Come sit by me,  don't say a word
Oh, can it be that I am slain?
(Romance in Durango)

Not only is the Jesus figure hit by a hail of bullets, Mary Magdalene’s demons return – the former whore gives James Kirk a wink; he flips open his Communicator, and says, “Beam me and my new sweetheart up, Scotty!” God’s so angry at His son that He causes the history train that’s carrying the New Covenant to slip off the rails!

In another song, Dylan tells a similar tale of Mary Magdalene’s duplicity. Scarlet Town represents the Jerusalem of old; sweet William is Jesus. As in the Bible, Mistress Magdalene visits Christ in the sepulchre where He’s preparing to ascend to Heaven:

Scarlet Town in the month of May
Sweet William on his deathbed lay
Mistress Mary, by the side of the bed
Kissin' his face, heapin' prayers on his head
(Bob Dylan: Scarlet Town)

In the Bible, Jesus tells Mary to spread His Word, but it’s clear by what says to her in the song that she’s planning to get out of town – perhaps going to Turkey or even France:

"You got legs that can drive men mad
A lot of things we didn't do that I wish we had
In Scarlet Town the sky is clear
You'll wish to God that you stayed right here"
(Bob Dylan: Scarlet Town)

Below, another song by Dylan that indicates the character of the narrator who’s obviously Jesus. Bob (aka Sam Spade) takes on the role of a ‘film noir’ detective who finds out that Jesus thinks all women are whores, and  that they ought to confess it; Christ’s a bit concerned that Mistress Mary might blackmail Him. Should it come to light that He’s made use of her services, His reputation will be in ruins (the Holy Bible claims that she “had been healed of evil spirits” by  Christ).

Jesus confesses to the detective what he does before Mary gets out of Jerusalem:

Queen Mary, she's my friend
Yes, I believe I'll go see her again
Nobody has to guess
That Baby can't be blessed
Till she finally sees that she's like all the rest
With her fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls
(Bob Dylan: Just Like A Woman)

Jesus says He visits the  prostitute (‘Baby’ and ‘Queen’ are His pet names for Mary Magdalene), and tells her if she promises to keep her mouth shut, He’ll bless her:

Yes, I believe it's time for us to quit
And when we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don't let on that you knew me when
I was hungry, and it was your world
(Bob Dylan: Just Like A Woman)

The detective, you see, has been investigating Mary’s murder; it takes Spade 48 hours, and Christ ends up getting crucified. Seems Mary should not have laughed at Him.


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