Bob Dylan: Who Died On The Cross Anyway? (Part III)

Previously in this series

By Larry Fyffe

In a number his song lyrics Bob Dylan mixes ancient Greek/Roman mythologies, and stirs in pieces of the Jewish and Christian religions, wherein featured are great escapes from death, and narrow escapes they are. In “Drifter’s Escape”, the person on trial, who is easily conjectured to be Jesus, is saved from being crucified when a lightning bolt strikes the court house; thrown down by (who else?) Zeus, the Thunder God. In a typical Deconstructive reversal of the standard model, Christ is saved from sacrificing Himself; He is supposed to die for the good of all humankind.

Zeus also pops up in the aforementioned “Jokerman”. Part of the song references the a mythological story about the Thunder God in which he disguises himself as Alcmena’s husband; has sex with her, and out of the union the strongest man in the world, Hercules, is born. Needless to say Hera, Zeus’ wife, is as mad as a hurricane, and sends a couple of poisonous snakes at midnight to bite Hercules, and Alcmena’s other child. Hercules grabs a snake in each fist, and strangles them both. The young Hercules laughs – he’s not going to be sacrificed for someone else’s misdeeds:

You were born with a snake in both of your fists
While a hurricane was blowing
(Bob Dylan: Jokerman)

As he grows up, Hercules is subject to fits of mad rages and consequently kills a number of innocent people due to his strength, and so he decides to sacrifice himself. But he’s rescued from the flames by Hebe, the Goddess of Eternal Youth; she’s the daughter of Zeus and his older sister Hera; Hebe’s associated with spring, and Hercules gets to stay forever young with her on Mount Olympus:

Shedding off one more layer of skin
Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within
Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune
(Bob Dylan: Jokerman)

According to the Holy Bible, Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, has a dream about an idol that’s  broken up into prices by a stone. That stone, according to the Hebrews, represents Jehovah; and Christ, according to Christian authorities; some consider the rock as symbolizing the apostle Peter. In any event, the idol that’s said to represent earthly kings is destroyed:

This image's head was of gold
His breast, and his arms of silver
And his belly, and his theighs of brass
His legs of iron, his feet part of iron, and part of clay
(Daniel 2: 32, 33)

Playing humorously with myths and religion which many Post Modernist-influenced artists are wont to do, in the lyrics below, the above idol gets turned on its head, perhaps indicating like a stern father, Jehovah’s a-gonna crush the human Jesus with stones, and sacrifice Him for claiming He’s God’s son, that He walks on the Sea of Galilee, and calms the stormy weather –  miracles that, of course, only Daddy can do:

Standing on the waters, casting your bread
While the eyes of  the idol with the iron head
Are glowing
(Bob Dylan: Jokerman)

The King also gets angry at three Jewish servants who will not worship the golden idol that he erects to himself; decides to sacrifice them in a fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar witnesses them being rescued from the flames, akin to Hercules, by what he calls an ‘angel’ sent  by Jehovah; the name ‘Jesus’ is not uttered – it’s the Old Testament:

I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire
And they have no hurt
And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God
(Daniel 3: 25)

The singer/songwriter of  “Jokeman”  continues on with the fun – the only thing we’re sure about Bob Dylan is that his name is not Bob Dylan:

A friend to the martyr
A friend to the the woman of shame
You look into the fiery furnace
See the rich man without any name
(Bob Dylan: Jokerman)

Mary Magdalene is oft considered a former prostitute, and tradition has it that Peter is crucified upside down in Rome at his own request.

Meanwhile elsewhere

There are details of some of our more recent articles listed on our home page.  You’ll also find, at the top of the page, and index to some of our series established over the years.

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  1. Hi Larry,

    Your literary skill outshines mine and also your knowledge of Greek Mythology among other things and I do not doubt that Bob is well versed as well and quite likely alludes to myths and things outside of Scripture. That being said; however, I cannot agree with your analysis when it comes to Scripture.

    First and foremost you do not believe and that is fine because we all have free will for choosing what to believe. I only say it because in order to truly understand Scripture fully not just in a historical or literary sense, you need the assistance of the Holy Spirit whom is the advocate that operated in the Old and New Testament as well as before and after. Why? Because he is an equal part of the Godhead that has no beginning or end! Jesus Christ could have escaped the cross easily but he chose it to pay for all sin of all by becoming the once and for all sacrifice, the lamb without blemish died for imperfect man who is a sinner. The righteous for the unrighteous to elevate us above our fallen state and make us perfect in God’s sight! We could not fulfill the law because we are free willed and willful people and will always fall short of the glory of God. This is why when we put our faith in Jesus we are crucified with Him and rise with Him in the sense that we pass from death to eternal life. It is not just about salvation though it is about a living relationship where Jesus yokes with us! Jesus came to bring abundant life to us for us to “live and move and have our being in Him” Acts 17:28 Jesus, like the Holy Spirit is part of the Godhead, with the Father who has no beginning or end. Distinct persons but ONE and completely in one accord. Yes Jesus emptied himself of all his glory to come as a human to complete His desire to save us! In doing so he humbled himself as a slave for us, to lay down his perfection for our imperfection. The King of kings rode a Donkey which is symbolic of lowliness and poverty. However when He returns and He will return he will be coming back in full glory riding a horse with wings that symbolizes Kingship and vast wealth. By the way there will be absolutely no contest as the Battle of Armageddon as many believe in some sort of fierce contention and raging battle. Nope when Jesus Christ returns it will be finished so quickly because he has no rival. Satan who Scripture calls the God of the World is no equal to God. So there are so many things I could write here but I really do not want to get into any sort of debate I only want to state a small portion of what I know and tell you that although I always enjoy your literary prowess and your worldly knowledge I limit it but I do not dismiss it. I think that my perspective is an important one to present even if you do not agree with it; it does not bother me from any scholarly view. So much more I would like to add but time for me is so fleeting these days!

    All the Best to you Larry and Tony and all the Untold Dylan Team of Keen thinkers and writers.


    P.S. Mary Magdala was not a prostitute as far as any evidence shows, and I think it is true that Peter was crucified upside down which from what I have read would have been a quicker end to him than what Jesus endured. Yes Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter as a Rock and earthly head but Jesus is actually the ROCK! He is the chief cornerstone; his believers, are living stones fit together to building which is the true architecture of the church; not made by human hands! , “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…” Psalm 118:22-23 and again in Matthew 21:42 Remember Larry you are more than mind you have a spirit that is meant to know God, to know as you are known.

    “Love never fails. But if there are prophecies, they shall fail; if there are tongues, they shall cease; and if there is knowledge, it shall vanish. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect comes, then that which is imperfect shall pass away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, and I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see as through a glass, dimly, but then, face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know, even as I also am known. So now abide faith, hope, and love, these three. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 8-13

  2. I never said anything about ‘free will’ though I’ll say I don’t believe humans can take off at will and fly like a bird on their own; just saying the author of the lyrics above mixes together mythology and religion without one being held as
    ‘more true’ over and above the other.

    Mary Magdalene is traditionally thought by some readers of the Bible to be a ‘prostitute’ but held to be so because of mistaken identity by others; for the upside down cruxifixon, there is no evidence, the invention of the camera being a long ways off in the future.

    There’s the problem of taking the Bible as literal and consistent rather than metaphorical, ambiguous, and mythological, the New Testament, with its many ‘books’, being written long after the Old, with its many ‘books’; the ‘return’ of the human Jesus taken as a literal happening requires the ‘faith’ of a ‘true believer’, given the number of graveyards that are around.

  3. Larry,
    What a fascinating exposé! Maybe there is more — if so, great. The feeling is that of a ‘chapter’ in a much longer work. Actually, with a proper, in-depth introduction, and more ‘hand-holding’ explication, Parts I-III perhaps could be the basis for an entire book.

    The first reply above seems to imply that you ‘don’t get it’ (“to truly understand Scripture fully not just in a historical or literary sense, you need the assistance of the Holy Spirit”), but seems to use the argument that has been used, and continues to be used, by opportunistic religious fanatics (of all faiths): The truth cannot be ascertained through empirical evidence and is only available to those who profess to have special, personal insight revealed through focused, often guided, meditation (prayer).

    It is not my intention to cast aspersions on the first respondent; indeed, believers are often led (sometimes fooled) into believing things that simply have no evidential truth. We all have personal beliefs and all of us are seeking answers. Too often we gravitate to the easiest, most comfortable, perhaps even the most convincing explanations rather than accepting that there are some things we just cannot know (yet). At this point I am tempted to take this in a different direction but will reference the present time only obliquely: the rise of conspiracy theories to explain natural disasters and political affiliations should be of great concern to us all.

    Bob Dylan has always been one of these ‘seekers’. Through his artistry he has both explored many different religions, as well as humanistic explanations, searching for the answers. My take is that he tends to synthesize these thoughts rather than reject any single one belief and has expressed scepticism at those professing to have special knowledge. Yes, for a couple of years, Dylan seemed to accept a ‘spiritual’ explanation, but his work since that time — less a rejection and more of a synthesis — seems to indict those who profess there is only one path to the truth.

    I am sure that someone with more knowledge and education and who is also a former believer could express this much better than I.


  4. Expressed quite well, I’d say, but I’ll leave the full-length book up to you (lol).

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