Bob Dylan And Jonah

By Larry Fyffe

Part 1

Christian organizations, especially big ones loaded down with Kafka-like bureaucracies, tell their members that they need faith in Jesus to perform seemingly impossible tasks like returning to an Edenic Paradise:

If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed
Ye shall say unto the mountain
"Remove hence to yonder place"
And it shall remove
(Matthew 17: 20)

The song lyrics below say it’s faith in yourself that you need and which enables you to move others onward, as a flock of sheep, to achieve greater heights:

Gentlemen, he said
I don't need your organizations
i've shined your shoes
I've moved your mountains, and marked your cards
But Eden is burning; either get ready for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards
(Bob Dylan: Changing Of The Guards)

Woe unto the goat who uses not God-given talent:

Take therefore the talent from him
And give it unto him which hath ten talents
(Matthew 24: 28)

So inform the song lyrics quoted beneath:

I'm first among equals
Second to none
The last of the best
You can bury the rest
(Bob Dylan: False Prophet)

Satire is not without standing in the Holy Bible.

The following Hebrew prophet – Jonah – is sceptical; can’t believe God wants one to love an enemy,  but everywhere Jonah goes, and mentions how silly this is, the pagans convert.

Finally, after being stuck in a large fish or whale for a bit of time, Jonah preaches to those he considers the worst of the worst; all he says to them is that they’ll be turned over.

And wouldn’t you know it, they too convert.

Explains God:

And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city
Wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons
That cannot discern between their right hand, and their left hand
(Jonah 4: 11)

In the sombre song lyrics below, could be said that Johanna replaces Jonah:

He writes everything's been returned that was owed
On the back of fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes
The harmonicas play the skeleton keys, and the rain
And these visions of Johanna are all that remain
(Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)

Funnier is the following mixed-up song in which Arab could be taken as biblical prophet Jonah; he’s moved ahead in space and time:

Well, the last I heard of Arab
He was stuck on a whale
That was married to the deputy sheriff of the jail
(Bob Dylan: 115th Dream)

Part 2

The Holy Bible says of elitist King Jeroboam II of Northern Israel who prospers through war and trade, but, alas, worships the Golden Calf; the poor get poorer, and the rich get richer:

He restored the coast of Israel ....
According to the word of the Lord God of Israel
Which He spake by the hand of his servant Jonah
The son of Amittai, the prophet
Which was of Gath-Hepher
(II Kings14: 25)

Later comes the satirical ‘Big Fish” story about the Hebrew prophet Jonah from Northern Israel. The story  is taken by some Christian theologians, to be not a reference to the Babylonian Captivity of the Hebrews, but instead to a foretelling of Christ’s descent into Hell for a few days before He’s ascends to Heaven – perhaps to suffer further for the sins of all mankind:

Now that He ascended
What is it but that He descended first
Into the lower parts of the earth
(Ephesians 4:9)

Missing the point that Christ is simply laid in a tomb before it’s claimed Jesus be resurrected.

The Jonah fish story focuses on how easy it is to convince people to follow a false god; Jonah, due to his inherent human nature, has no intention of loving his enemies, thrown up on dry land be he or not by the fish.

The satire not lost in the following song lyrics; the narrator thereof dons the cloak of narrow-minded Jonah who sits in the shade, and awaits the destruction of his enemies – which in this case does not happen:

Let's go for a walk in the garden
So far and so wide
We can sit in the shade by the fountain-side
(Bob Dylan: False Prophet)

God, on the other hand, forgives those who sincerely turn away from false idols:

And God saw their works
That they turned from their evil way
And God repented of the evil
That He had said He would do unto them
And He did it not
(Jonah 3:10)

According to the song lyrics below, history has a way of repeating itself; Jonah’s back, and he’s still angry:

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting
Well, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it
They say lose your inhibition, follow your own ambition
They talk about a life of brotherly love
Show me someone who knows how to live it
There's a slow train coming up around the bend
(Bob Dylan: Slow Train)


  1. ie, an interpretation of the meaning of Nineveh, capital of ancient Assyria, is ‘place of the fish’

  2. *skeptical

    **that is, ‘talent’, bibical money thought by uneducated goats to be a gifted skill

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