Bob Dylan As Jeremiah


by Larry Fyffe

The prophet Jeremiah, with metaphors abounding, warns that the God of the Hebrews is sending the Babylonian army from the north to destroy Jerusalem (Zion) because so many inhabitants of Judah practise idolatry.

Best it seems if you’re going to bring bad news, it’s best not to bring any:

And they let down Jeremiah with cords
And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire
So Jeremiah sunk in the mire
(Jeremiah 38:6)

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan presents a secularized version of the cistern story; he turns it into a nursery rhyme:

The cat's in the well, and grief is showing its face
The world's being slaughtered, and it's such a bloody disgrace
(Bob Dylan: Cat's In The Well)

Jeremiah of the Holy Bible broadcasts God’s warning, but few listen:

A voice was heard in Ramah
Lamentation, and bitter weeping
Rachel weeping for her children
(Jeremiah 31:15)

A message that’s repeated in the New Testament – Matthew 2:18.

Below, Bob Dylan takes on the persona of prophet Jeremiah, and envisions an America that’s full of idol-worshippers:

Jeremiah preached repentance
To those who would turn from hell
But the critics all gave him such bad reviews
Put him down at the bottom of the well
He kept on talking anyway
(Bob Dylan: Yonder Comes Sin)

Akin to Judah of yore, America is depicted as the Whore of Babylon, she who’s described in The Revelation of the New Testament:

How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a 
cloud of His anger
And cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel
And remembered not his footstool in the day of His anger
(Jeremiah 2:1)

Nevertheless, Jeremiah preaches that God promises a new covenant, renewed hope and a strengthened heart for all Hebrews in the future; the figurative female whore Judah will become faithful to the male Hebrew God. The Christianity of the New Testament simply revises the tale with Jesus as groom.

A story that’s repeated in the song lyrics below albeit ironically, and double-edged – with a nod to Frederick Nietzsche:

Covenant woman got a contract with the Lord
Way up yonder, great will be her reward
Covenant woman, shining like a morning star
I know that I can trust you to stay where you are
(Bob Dylan: Covenant Woman)

Even on a gospel-like record album, Dylan can’t resist messing around with biblical themes.

Below, the singer/songwriter shoots his mouth off like Jeremiah, but transforms Judah into Claudette:

The world's coming to an end
The wiseman standing around like furniture
What can I say about Claudette? ...
She could be in the mountains or the prairies
Or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aires
(Bob Dylan: The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar)

A disguised reference the lyrics above be to an unfaithful wife:

Claudette, pretty little pet Claudette
Never make me fret
The greatest little girl that I've ever met
(Roy Orbison: Claudette)

Indeed, the prophet Jeremiah concludes by depicting the Almighty Himself as rather unfair:

Because of the mountain of Zion
Which is desolate
The foxes walk upon it
Thou, O Lord, remainest for ever
Thy throne from generation to generation
Wherefore dost Thou forget us for ever
And forsake us so long time?
Turn us unto Thee, O Lord
And we shall be turned
Renew our days as of old
But Thou hast utterly rejected us
Thou art very wroth against us
(The Lamentations Of Jeremiah 5:18-22)

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