Jezebel The Nun. Bob Dylan’s history as a recurring cycle

By Larry Fyffe

Jezebel of Tyre marries Ahab, the ruler of (North) Israel, Solomon’s former kingdom of Canaan having been split in two – into Israel and Judea. Jezebel is determined to have her people worship nature and agriculture (symbolized by Baal) to the dismay of the followers of Yahweh:

According to the Bible, she and her allies treat the followers of the Hebrew God rather badly:

The children also of Judah and Jerusalem
Have ye sold unto the Grecians
That ye might remove them far from their border

(Joel 3:6)

The prophet Joel warns the inhabitants of the North Country that the true God will punish them if they don’t mend their wicked ways:

Behold, I will rise them out of the place
Whither ye have sold them
And we will return your recompense upon
your own head

(Joel 3:7)

The New Testament Book of Revelation is filled with allegories and symbols in reference to ‘end times’ and the Second Coming. Old Testament-oriented Bob Dylan’s song lyrics lend themselves to an interpretation of history as a recurring cycle of bright and dark times; various groups tick off the clock in a game of ‘king of the hill’.

There’s the poor being downtrodden by the rich:

I was thinkin’ ’bout Alicia Keys, couldn’t keep from crying
When she was born in Hell’s Kitchen, I was living down the line
I was wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be
I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee

(Bob Dylan: Thunder Mountain)

As far as religion goes, whether a follower of cow-headed Isis, or of Jezebel’s Baal, or of the cross-bearing Christian Fathers of St. Herman, the culture of the ‘stranger’ is considered something to be destroyed – ie, the indigenous beliefs of the Inuit.

The Book of Joel again used by Dylan as a template:

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I’ll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman’s, I’ve said my religious vows
I’ve sucked the milk from a thousand cows

(Bob Dylan: Thunder Mountain)

Jezebel, a girl from the North country, ranks right up there with the Whore of Babylon:
The ghost of Belle Starr, she hands down her wits
To Jezebel the nun, she violently knits,
A bald wig for Jack the Ripper, who sits
At the head of the Chamber of Commerce

(Bob Dylan, Tombstone Blues)

Assuming an autobiographical aspect, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan (watched from above by the jealous eye of the Thunder God Zeus) is not beyond taking a humorous look at himself and some aspects of the Jewish religion:

I got the pork chops, she got the pie
She ain’t no angel, and neither am I
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I’ll say this, I don’t give a damn about your dreams

(Bob Dylan: Thunder Mountain)

He loves that country pie.

When it comes right down to it, perhaps Jezebel, the lover of the agricultural northern coastal plains of Israel, be the victim of bad press:

Gonna make a lot of money, gonna go up north
I’ll plant and harvest what the earth brings forth
The hammer’s on the table, the pitchfork’s on the shelf
For the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself

(Bob Dylan: Thunder Mountain)

Dylan brings it all back home to the nature-loving Romantic poets, but many of his song lyrics, as one observes, have double-edged meaning.

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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