Mark Twain and Bob Dylan

By Larry Fyffe

The satirical essays that Mark Twin writes in regard to the Judeo-Christian Bible influence song lyrics of Bob Dylan.  Twain makes note of God’s all-too-human flaws – not unlike the Demiurge conjured up by the Gnostics – God’s selfish and vindictive; jealous with mood swings that often leads to anger. Sometimes He’s just downright nasty to his earthly creations as demonstrated in the way He sets them up for a Fall. Not only that, He’s still not satisfied and goes after them in the Great Beyond:

In time, the Deity perceived that death was a mistake ….
It allowed the dead person himself to escape from all
further persecution in the blessed refuge of the grave
This was not satisfactory. A way must be conceived to
pursue the dead beyond the tomb

(Mark Twain: Letters From Earth)

Even beyond the grave,  Heaven or Hell, it’s a-gonna be.

The Almighty Deity starts out by kicking Adam and his partner out of earthly Paradise for their eating of the tree of good and evil:

Well, I spied a girl and before she could leave
“Let’s go and play Adam and Eve”
I took her by the hand and my heart was thumpin’
When she said, “Hey man, you crazy or somethin’
You see what happened first time they started”

(Bob Dylan: Talking World War III Blues)

The story comes from the Holy Bible:

And the Lord said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us
To know good and evil ….
So he drove out the man
And he placed at the east of the garden of Eden
Cherubims and a flaming sword which turned every way
To keep the way of the tree of life

(Genesis 3: 22, 24)

After being that unkind, God reveals that He still has a bit of a mean streak left in Him:

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No”, Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want, Abe
But the next time you see me comin’, you better run”

(Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited)

The story above Dylan also takes from the Bible:

And he said, “Take now thy son, thy only son Isaac
Whom thou lovest, and get him into the land of Moriah
And offer him there for a burnt offering
Upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of”

(Genesis 22: 2)

This time God intervenes and saves Isaac, but  when needed He’s not always around:
The passageway was narrow
There was blackness in the air …..
When the Reaper’s task had ended
Sixteen hundred had gone to rest
The good, the bad, the rich, the poor

The loveliest and the best

(Bob Dylan:Tempest)

It’s a spin of the roulette wheel, and where it’s going to stop no earthling knows:
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness ….
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice
Saying …”Why hast thou forsaken me?”

(Matthew 27: 45, 46)

Covering an ironically and ambiguously worded song by Kris Kristofferson, who studied the poetry of mystic William Blake, Bob Dylan sings about a ‘Son of Man’ who is killed (as are Gandhi and King, Jr.) while God, as Almighty as He is supposed to be, just looks down – notwithstanding that some claim Jesus said He’s the Son of God while others claim that indeed He is.

In any event, nothing is delivered:

Likewise also the chief priests, mocking him
With the scribes and elders, said
“He saved others; himself he cannot save
If he be the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross
And we will believe him
He trusted in God; let him deliver him now
For he said,  ‘I am the Son of God’ “

(Matthew 27: 41, 42, 43)

But Jesus never says that He is the Son Of God:

The only Son of God Almighty
The holy one called Jesus Christ
He healed the lame and fed the hungry
And for his love they took his life away
On the road to glory where the story never ends
Just the holy Son of Man we’ll never understand

My God, they killed him

(Bob Dylan: They Killed Him – original by Kristofferson)

Neither Mark Twain nor Bob Dylan accept the dogma of orthodox religion. Simply put – because no matter what saith the Holy Bible, the story never ends:

The Second World War it came and it went
We forgave the Germans and then we were friends
Though they murdered six million, in the ovens they fried
The Germans now too have God on their side

(Bob Dylan: With God On Our Side)

What else is on the site

1: 500 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews

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2 Responses to Mark Twain and Bob Dylan

  1. jzsnake says:

    I don’t understand your 1st Dylan reference. To me it has nothing to do with God at all and all to do with how screwed up people are and how we screwed it up the 1st go round and what makes you think we will do better the next time.

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    Well Adam and Eve fail to follow God’s direction while in Eden and so things get screwed up, ie, God kicks them out.

    Many listeners to the song would know the story, Adam and Eve being characters from the Book of Genesis.

    So I agree with most of what you say, but not with the part about having nothing to do with God.

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