Bob Dylan And The Prophets

By Larry Fyffe

With his thorough knowledge of the Holy Bible, the stories of the biblical prophets, who are often strangers in strange lands, are likely spinning around in the back of Bob Dylan’s conscious as well as his unconscious Jungian mind.

Positing these prophet stories, such as those of Moses, Elijah, and Ezekiel, to be templates for Dylan’s narrative song lyrics is therefore not an overreach when plausible links thereto, sometimes obverse ones, can be pointed to.

Rather blatant that the cloak of the faithful young prophet Samuel is donned in the following double-edged song lyrics; his mentor Eli pays no heed to  Samuel’s message of warning:

And he was told these few words
Which opened up his heart
"If you can't bring good news, don't bring any"
(Bob Dylan: The Wicked Messenger)

At other times, the reference to a prophet is more oblique.

For example, Big Jim, in the song below, as the wayward King Solomon who is punished by having  his United Kingdom divided:

Big Jim was no one's fool, he owned the town's only diamond mine
He made his entrance looking so dandy, and so fine
With his body guards, and silver cane, and every hair in place
He took whatever he wanted to, and he laid it all to waste
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary,  And The Jack Of Hearts)

According to the Old Testament, Elijah gets swept up by God in a whirlwind, but is going to be later sent back down to Earth to save wayward Hebrews:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord
And he shall turn the heart of the father to the children
An the heart of the children to their fathers
Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse
(Malachi 4: 5, 6)

So the song lyrics below can be construed; the narrator takes on the role of the  frustrated nemesis of Jezebel – a modern-day Elijah, as it were – who foretells of the coming of the Jewish Messiah:

Well, I went back to see about'er once
Went back to straighten it out
Everybody that I talked to had seen us there
Said they didn't know who I was talking about
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

Another warning beneath from Elijah, black-humoured though it be:

You don't know me, darling
You never would guess
I'm nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest
I ain't no false prophet
I just said what I said
I'm just here to bring vengence on somebody's head
(Bob Dylan: False Prophet)

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