Bob Dylan: Searching For Jesus


By Larry Fyffe

Following is a biblical reference to ‘Joanna’, a likely source for Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Joanna”. Given the tendency of the singer/songwriter to transgender his characters, Joanna is a good candidate as a substitute for Jesus (See, for example – David Wier: Visions Of Johanna):

And the twelve were with him
And certain women, which had been heeled
Of evil spirits and infirmities
Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went
seven devils
And Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herold’s stewart
And Susanna, and many others
Which ministered unto him their substance
(Luke 8: 1,2,3)

The lines above suggest that Christ has many lovers. But where does all this put Louise, the entangled lover in Dylan’s song, who’s actually there in the loft, and not merely a vision? Untold the answer be …. that is, until now.

As noted previously, poet William Blake presents a personalized Gnosticist outlook – ventures in his mind back to the time when there be only four basic elements: water, fire, earth, and air. Corresponding emanations from the Monad, in Blake’s works, are Thamas (akin to God the Father), representing Power; Luvah (akin to the Son of God), representating Emotion; Urthona (akin to the Holy Ghost), representing the Imagination; and Urizen (akin to Satan), representing Reason, the ‘Spirit of the Enlightenment’:

I seized the beauteous Luvah
Thou art faded like a flower
And like a lily is thy wife
Vala withered by winds ….
Then thou didst keep with strong Urthona
The living gates of heaven
(William Blake: Luvah)

Blake’s poetry reveals influences from the Gnostic writings of Emanuel Swedenborg; ‘Lovisa’ (‘Lova’, for short) is a Swedified form of ‘Louise’. Blake links Jesus to ‘Luvah’; Bob Dylan, a reader of Blake’s poetry, employs ‘Louise’ in “Visions Of Johanna:

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re
tryin’ to be so quiet
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our
best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind

Johanna may not be near, but the connection to Blake is clear:

Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
(Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)

Blake speaks of the danger of losing sight of the figurative Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:

Father, father! Where are you going?
O do not walk so fast
Speak, father, speak to your little boy
Or else I shall be lost
(William Blake: The Little Boy Lost)

In ‘Visions Of Johanna’, it is Louise (wise like Sophia of the Gnostics), and not Satan, who has the last word:

The peddler now speaks to the countess
Who’s pretending to care for him
Sayin’ “Name me someone that’s not a parasite
And I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”
But like Louise always says
“You can’t can’t look at much, can ya man?”
As she, herself, prepares for him
(Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)

Existentially speaking – it’s all just a handful of rain:

Just a box of rain
Wind and water
Believe it if you need it
If you don’t just pass it on
Sun and shower, wind and rain
In and out the window
Like a moth to a flame
(Grateful Dead: Box Of Rain/by Lesh and Hunter)

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  1. ‘Sophia’, the ‘bride’ of Christ, be a Gnostic symbol for maintaining a balanced wisdom by taking into account the nature of the physical world; ‘sophists’ look to rational explanatons rather than divine ones.

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