Bob Dylan And The Cowboy Jesus

by Larry Fyffe

A theme expressed in the song lyrics of Bob Dylan, given no one can escape from the certainty of death, at least an individual, or even a group of people, as in the movie ‘The Magnificient Seven’, can escape from a life of slavery.

It’s a theme drawn from songs of old as in the lyrics below:

Oppressed so hard they could not stand
Let my people go
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt's land
Tell old Pharoah
To let my people go
(Paul Robeson: Go Down Moses ~ traditional)

The theme which in turn is taken from the Holy Bible:

And afterward Moses and Aaron went in
And told the Pharaoh
Thus saith the Lord God of Israel
"Let my people go
That they may hold a feast unto in the wilderness"
(Exodus 5:I)

A theme repeated in pre-American Civil War America in a spiritual sung by black slaves who escape to Canada:

No more auction block for me
No more, no more
No more auction block for me
Many thousands gone
(No More Auction Block~traditional)

The theme, along with the tune adapted somewhat from the song above, repeated in the Civil Rights era of America; there be the ‘rhyme twist’ ~ ‘me’/’me’; ~’sea’/’free’/’see’:

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
How many years must some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
And how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?
(Peter, Paul, and Mary: Blowing In The Wind ~ Bob Dylan)

The claimed ‘murder most foul’ of Christ on the cross is twisted too by some biblical interpreters – Jesus escapes.

Says He:

Greater love hath no man than this
That a man lay down his life for a friend
(Book Of St. John 15:13)

Apparently a Libyan takes the place of Jesus, and unbeknownst to Roman guards, does just that – he gives up his life for a friend:

And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian
Who passed by, coming out of the country
The father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear His cross
(Book Of St. Mark 15: 21)

What supposedly happens is that Jesus and the Cyrenian change identities, a conspiracy theory that’s hard to resist by any writer of ‘noir’ tales:

There is nothing you can do or say To make me think I’m wrong Well I’m going off to Libya There’s a guy I gotta see He’s been living there three years now In an oill refinery (Bob Dylan: Got My Mind Made Up)

(Editor’s note, the video below is the only one I can find for this song, but it doesn’t appear to work in all countries – if you can find an alternative please write in below and I’ll add it)

The idea has been floated before – below, Jesus, ‘the drifter’, gets away!:

"Oh, stop that cursed jury"
Cried the attendant to the nurse
"The trial was bad enough
But this is ten times worse"
Just then a bolt of lightning
Struck the courthouse out of shape
And while everybody knelt to pray
The drifter did escape
(Bob Dylan:The Drifter's Escape)

Indeed, it’s all there in the Holy Bible – Christ is not dead after He’s supposedly crucified; He appears to Mary Magdalene as alive as you or me:

Jesus saith unto her, "Why weepest thou; whom seekest thou?"
She supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him
"Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him
And I will take Him away"
Jesus saith unto her, "Mary"; she turned herself, and saith unto Him
"Rabboni", which is to say, "Master"
(Book of St. John 20: 15, 16)

A conspiracy theory that is kept alive in the following song lyrics:

As I walked out in the mystic garden
On a hot summer day, on a hot summer lawn
"Excuse me, ma'am, I beg your pardon
There's no one here, the gardener's gone"
(Bob Dylan: Ain't Talking)

It’s a story that won’t die, and is repeated somewhat differently – given a cowboy western flavour – in the song lyrics below:

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)

Twisted around is another tale of a cowboy’s escape:

The next day was hanging day, the sky was overcast and black
Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back
And Rosemary on the gallows, she didn't even blink
The hanging judge was sober, he hadn't had a drink
The only person on the scene missing was the Jack Of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

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  1. Fits with the Islamic view of the crucifixion:

    That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
    Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;-
    -— Qur’an, surah 4 (An-Nisa) ayat 157–158

  2. Larry yes “The Drifter did Escape”. Which is the Lifeforce feeling listning to Dylan songs not shying away from themes of Death as well. Hence the Cowboy.

  3. Larry what an amazing observation,”Oh, Stop that cursed jury”/ cried the attendant to the nurse/”The trial was bad enough but this is Ten times worse”. Such was the fate of those aquitted of their crimes against both Emmett Till and Hattie Carroll, and as Dylan says,”And the all white jury agreed”. Once again Duality,Ghosts and Mirrors.

  4. A country dance was being held in the garden
    I felt a bump, and heard an “Oh, I beg your pardeon”
    (Frank Sinatra: Polka Dots And Moonbeams ~ Burke/Van Heussen)

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