Bob Dylan And The Greatest Story Ever Told


by Larry Fyffe

Beneath the window of many Bob Dylan’s song lyrics lies a biblical story – more often than not concerning Jesus Christ:

Well, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Yes, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Well, you must tell me, baby
How your head feels under somethin’ like that
Under your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
(Bob Dylan: Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat)

Using anachronisms, the singer/songwriter presents an image of the mocking of Jesus Christ by Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea – the pill-box hat, a Gnostic code-word for the ‘crown of thorns’ twisted upon Christ’s head:

And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns
And put it on his head
And they put him in a purple robe
And said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’
(John 19: 2,3)

“Well, you must tell me, baby” is a reference, by Dylan-disguised-as-Pontius, to:

And this shall be a sign unto you
Ye shall find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes
Lying in a manger
(Lukes 2:12).

Pilate, through Dylan, makes more fun of ‘baby Jesus’ by picturing Him lying on a mattress in a manger, drinking a bottle of wine while wearing the new crown of thorns:

Well, you look so pretty in it
Honey, can I jump on it sometime?
Yes, I just wanna see
If it’s that expensive kind
You know it balances on your head
Just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine
Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
(Bob Dylan: Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat)

According to the original Bible story, referenced by Dylan in the lyrics of another song – “Any day now, any day now/I shall be released”, – Jesus weighs his answer to Pontius rather carefully:

Then saith Pilate unto him
“Speakest thou not unto me?
Knowest thou not that I have the power
to crucify thee
And the power to release thee?”
Jesus answered: “Thou couldest have
no power at all against me
Except it were given thee from above”
(John 19: 10,11)

Thenceforth, goes the story, Pontius has a change of heart, it’s not hard anymore; instead, the ‘sun’ rises. Pilate’s reconsidered reply, Dylan renders in the style of Freudian surrealism:

Well, if you wanna see the sunrise
Honey, I know where
We’ll go out and see it sometime
We’ll both sit there and stare
Me with my belt wrapped around my head
And you just sittin’ there
In your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
(Bob Dylan: Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat)

“Honey” be an allusion by Dylan (the perfect image of a Prefect with belt no longer buckled around his waist) to the following biblical passage:

For the lips of a strange woman drop as
an honeycomb
And her mouth is smoother than oil
(Proverbs 5:3)

Dylan’s somewhat revised version of the biblical story continues – Mary Magdalene drops by her boyfriend’s place known as ‘The Sepulchre’, and, thinks at first that Pontius, whom she does not know, and who is wearing a crown of thorns, is Christ’s gardener (apparently, she’s aware that Jesus calls His gardener “the tree doctor”). Mary knows something is up, and she asks him where Jesus is:

Well, I asked the doctor if I could see you
“It’s bad for your health ” he said
Yes, I disobeyed his orders, I came to see you
But I found him there instead
You know, I don’t mind you cheatin’ on me
But I sure wish he’d take that off his head
Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
(Bob Dylan: Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat)

In the biblical version of the story, Mary Magdalene is positive that something’s amiss. She doesn’t recognize that it’s Jesus Himself standing there in the sepulchre to whom she is speaking. It’s a good guess, however, that she’s knows that the ‘gardener’ (Jesus) is dressed in drag – there are linen clothes and a napkin lying on the floor:

Jesus saith unto her,
“Woman, why weepest thou?
Whom seekest thou?
She, supposing him to be the gardener
Saith unto him
“Sir, if thou have borne him hence
Tell me where thou hast laid him
And I will take him away
(John 20:15)

In Dylan’s version, Mary’s has a little more information on what’s going on – she’s been spying on her boyfiend:

Well, I see you got a new boyfriend
You know that I never seen him before
Well, I saw him makin’ love to you
You forgot to close the garage door
You might think he loves you for your money
But I know what he really loves you for
It’s your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
(Bob Dylan: Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat)

To make a long opera short, Mary Magdalene’s really upset, and, after the fat lady sings, she runs off the stage holding hands with Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter.

What else is on the site

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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


  1. PS – I wrote the above article a bit too quickly, but it’s meant to be a low burlesque in regards to listeners who find a depiction of Jesus in nearly every one of Dylan’s song.

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