Bob Dylan And The Sign Of The Cross Parts I and II

by Larry Fyffe

Part I

From the Gnostic point-of-view of  the Cosmos, both big and small, the material part thereof is a world of darkness ~ either through ignorance, or, worse still, through the presence of evil.

Earth is no paradise for sure; Doctor Death carries his sword.

Furthermore, only a few people are able to ignite some of the spiritual light that lies within the material darkness.

But for the most part, darkness remains.

As indicated in the following song lyrics.:

The evening sun is sinking low
The woods are dark, the town is too
(Bob Dylan: Tell Old Bill)

Though the poet mother’s be a believer in Christian Gnosticism, the poem quoted beneath declines to follow the dark path:

Rather, the modernist writer is influenced by the Romantic Transcendentalists, albeit only to a degree:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
(Robert Frost: Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening)

One big problem, according to some forms of Gnosticism anyway, is that the authorities of structured politics and religion are determined to impose particular views across the board as to what the means of escape is from the dark material world.

On the other hand, the Gnostic view is that the door is locked to most, but individual self-enlightenment is considered to be the key to freedom.

Demonstrated in the song lyrics below by the narrator thereof in reference to Jesus on the cross.

If thought a ‘King’ Jesus be a threat to the Roman Empire:

And Pilate wrote a title
And put it on the cross
And the writing was
"Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews"
(John 19:19)

Nevertheless, it’s the Judeans who bear the brunt thereafter; they are the ones labelled by most Christians as the murderers of Jesus Christ.

The lyrics below, performed as a burlesque of a long-drawn-out Christian gospel tune that tells everybody that Jesus loves them:

Yes, but I know in my head
That we're all so misled
And it's that old sign on the cross
That worries me
(Bob Dylan: Sign On The Cross)

Being from a Jewish background, Robert Zimmerman’s well aware of the false accusation spread by adherents of Christianity throughout history.

Paradise lost, the gates of Eden closed: 
But I was lost on the land
As I heard that front door slam
And that old sign on the cross
Worries me
(Bob Dylan: Sign On The Cross)

A masterful satire; a masterpiece beyond compare.

Bob Dylan And The Sign On The Cross (Part ll)

In the biblical verse below, Jesus is called the “Lamb of God”, a Jewish Passeover meal, so to speak:

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him
And saith, "Behold the Lamb of God
Which taketh away the sin of the world"
(John 1: 28)

So referred to in the following gospel song

Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world
Has a wondrous attraction for me
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary
(Elvis Presley: The Old Rugged Cross ~ Bernard)

For the narrator in the song below, the cross is not a wonder but a worry:

Oh when I hold my head so high
As I see my old friends go by
And it's still that sign on the cross 
That worries me
(Bob Dylan: Sign On The Cross)

No wonder ~ Christian apostle Paul blames the death of Jesus on the Jews:

Who both killed the Lord Jesus
And their own prophets
And have presecuted us
And they please not God
And are contrary to all men
(I Thessalonians 2:15)

However, Governor Pilate condemns Christ to death because He’s considered a threat to the political authority of the Roman Empire.

No mention is made of how the Governor knows that Jesus has supposedly been anointed the “King of the Judeans”.

Franz Kafka told’im, maybe:

And Pilate wrote a title

And put it on the cross

And the writing was

"Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews"
(John  19:19)

The narrator in the Dylan song howls to his Paulinist friends that it was not he, or his people, who put Jesus Christ out to death.

In short, before they die, what his friends need the mostest is a little Blake-light “gnosis”:

And I just would like to tell you one time
If I don't see you again
That the thing is
That the sign on the cross
Is the thing that you need the most
(Bob Dylan: Sign On The Cross)

The meaning of the song easily thus construed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *