Bob Dylan And The Book Of John

By Larry Fyffe

Generally speaking, somewhat related to the tenets of Zoroastrianism, gnostics (both Hebrew and Christian) hold that from the distant Spiritual Monad emanates a flawed Demiurge who creates a physical place, not of black and white, of good and evil, but of darkness that’s inhabited by humans.  For very few humans be capable of climbing the steps leading to the light of complete ‘gnosis’, and union with the Monad.

According to some Christian gnostics, Jesus be a temporary physical manifestation of the absolute and eternal Monad, and so for that reason He’s incapable of being put to death. Needless to say, the orthodox priests of both Judaism and Christianity are shocked and apalled by such beliefs.

John the Apostle differs from the authors of the Books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke of the Holy Bible in that his writings contain a mixture of both orthodox and gnostic beliefs. John claims that he’s a personal associate of Jesus, that his beloved friend raises Lazarus from the dead, and that He sends Mary Magdalene as His special envoy from the sepulchre:

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples
That she had spoken to the Lord
And that He had spoken these things to her
(John  20:18)

Following is another narrative about Jesus that is unique to the Book of John:

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto Him
"Rabbi, we know thou art a teacher come from God
For no man can do these miracles that Thou doest except God be with him"
Jesus answered and said unto him ......
"That which is born of flesh is flesh
And that which is born of the Spirit is spirit"
(John 3,1-6)

Singer/songwriter presents his audience with the story about the legalistic and literalistic Pharisees in one of his double-edged gospel songs – it’s interesting to note that the verse below is omitted from some versions of the song:

Nicodemus came at night so he wouldn't be seen by men
Saying, "Master, tell me why a man must be born again?"
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
(Bob Dylan: In The Garden)

No definitive answer be given in the song lyrics above. Interpreted it can be that the apostle John, and singer Bob Dylan, are saying that Jesus means that phrases like ‘to be born again’, and ‘to rise from the dead’ are to be taken as hyperbolic figures of speech for a new way of thinking, a less strict way of thinking, rather than that they are to be taken literally as Nicodemus initially mocks that they should be. For all we know, when gnostic-influenced Emanuel Swedenborg speaks of ‘correspondences’, he too is referring to ‘figures of speech’.

Paradoxically, the Gospel of John is a favourite source called upon for support by some
literalist-minded evangelistic Christian leaders for spouting fiery anti-Judaic rants:

Then from that day forth they took counsel together
For to put Him to death
Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews
But went thence unto a country near to the wilderness
Into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples
(John 11: 53,54)

Dylan, with a Jewish background, does not let this biblical verse go by without a wry comment; only according to the Gospel of John does Jesus definitively claim that He is ‘the Son of God’ (John 11: 4):

The multitude want to make Him king
Put a crown upon His head
Why did He slip away to a quiet place instead?
Did they speak out against Him, did they dare
Did they speak out against Him, did they dare?
(Bob Dylan: In The Garden)

Nor is Mary Magdalene just one of the followers of Jesus in Bob Dylan’s song lyrics. According to John’s writings, while in the sepulchre by herself Mary at first mistakes Jesus as the gardener:

As I walked out tonight in the mystic garden
On a hot summer day, a hot summer lawn
“Excuse me, ma’am, I beg your pardon
Ain’t no one here, the gardener is gone”
(Bob Dylan: Ain’t Talkin’)

As indicated in the song lyrics above, the singer/songwriter doesn’t allow himself to be pinned down solidly by fundamentalists upon the cross of literalism.

What else is on the site

You’ll find some notes about 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.

The index to all the 590 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 2000 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, please do drop me a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article.  Email Tony@schools.co.uk

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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