Bob Dylan On Faith (Part 1)

By Larry Fyffe

As the aphorism goes, there be none so zealous than a new convert. Paul Robert Thomas
converts from Christianity to Judaism; then asserts that he’s “perplexed” why the singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, who’s from a Judaic background, advances the tenets of Christianity so much in his song lyrics.

Thomas mocks the singer/songwriter; he includes these remarks:

“Bob Dylan no more wrote ‘Pressing On’ or ‘Saving Grace’ than Roger McGuinn wrote ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. McGuinn ripped off ‘Ecclesiastes’ just as Dylan got most of his stuff from St. Paul. Dylan was just passing on what he had been soaking up in California for four months. It’s a wonder that someone didn’t claim St. Paul’s royalties.”
(Paul Robert Thomas: Every Grain Of Sand ~ Part III).

Words from the Old Testament:

To everything there is a season
And a to every purpose under the heaven
A time to be born, and a time to die
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted
A time to kill, and a time to heel
A time to break down, and a time to build up
A time to weep and a time to laugh
(Ecclesiastes 3: 1,2)

Paul Thomas falls on his prized crusader sword that he brandishes; no matter what his quote says, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds didn’t write ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’; Pete Seeger does:

To everything, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
(Pete Seeger: Turn, Turn, Turn)

Bob Dyan does borrow some stuff from Seeger; he stirs it in with the song lyrics below while admitting he took the melody from elsewhere:

I walked down the hallway
And I heard the door slam
Turn, turn, turn again
I walked down the courthouse stairs
And I did not understand
Turn, turn, turn to the wind, and the rain
(Bob Dylan: Percy's Song)

He snatches a bit from the Bard too:

But when I came to man's estate
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain
'Gainst knaves and thieves, men shut their gate
For the rain it raineth every day
(William Shakespeare: Feste's Song, Twelfth Night, Act V, sc.i)

Nor is it correct to say, as Thomas claims, that ‘Every Grain Of Sand’ has no connection to poet William Blake:

To see the world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour
(William Blake: Auguries Of Innocence)

There be both pieces of Blake and of the Bard in the following verse:

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer's dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face
(Bob Dylan: Every Grain Of Sand)

The very two songs by Dylan that  Thomas mentions above actually poke a little fun at the writings of St, Paul from which are derived the Christian twin doctrines of ‘original sin’ and ‘salvation by faith’:

First in reference to original sin; Eve leads poor Adam astray, and now everybody is stuck with the temptation to do evil things:

Shake the dust off of your feet, don't look back
Nothing now can hold you down, nothing that you lack
Temptation's not an easy thing, Adam given the devil reign
Because he sinned I got no choice, it run in my vein
(Bob Dylan: Pressing On)

And the Christian cauldron holds the final decision on who’s saved and who’s not. A pinch of irony flavouring gets thrown in the pot below:

The wicked know no peace and you just can't fake it
There's just one road, and it leads to Calvary
It's gets discouraging at times, but I know I'll make it
By the saving grace that's over me
(Bob Dylan: Saving Grace)

No doubt about it.

Besides in many of his songs, along with references from the New Testament, Bob Dylan takes more lines from the Old Testament than you can shake a candelabrum at.

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