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.
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