Exhuming Bob 13 Fit 5: Bob As Messiah

October 19, 2008


Exhuming Bob 13

Fit 5:

Bob As Messiah


R.E. Prindle


Are you that Man Of Constant Sorrow

Of whom the authors write-

Grief comes with every morrow

And wretchedness at night?



     Source of quotes:  Scott Marshall, Bob Dylan’s Unshakeable Monotheism- downloaded from Jewseek.com dsc09906but no longer available.  The site is no longer functioning.  Roughly the same material can be found in Scott M. Marshall with Marion Ford, Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey Of Bob Dylan, Relevant Media, 2004.  No longer in print new copies may still be obtained for under three dollars at Alibris.com for any who are interested.


     In the dead of winter in 1961 Bob Dylan, ne Bobby Zimmerman, left Minnesota to try his chances in New York City.  At this point he must have realized that his better chances lay with Folk Music than Rock n’ Roll.  Indeed, upon his arrival in New York he realized that Tin Pan Alley had the recording world sewn up except for the ‘race’ musics of Country And Western and R&B, and the Alley was already fairly tight with R&B.  He quickly and astutely realized that whatever he intended to do would find no home on the Great White Way.

     While Bob traveled light as far as material possessions went he brought a lot of psychological and religious baggage with him.  The kind of stuff you can’t leave in a locker at the bus station.  As his whole career has been an unfolding of this religious impulse it would behoove us to examine it somewhat closely.

     Bob received intense religious indoctrination in his youth until the time he left home in the Summer of 1959.  This religious education was of an intense Orthodox Jewish kind.  He recieved this from his family, both parents were deeply religious in the Orthodox mode, although the Hibbing syngogue was more often without a Rabbi of any kind than not.  Perhaps of premier importance was his Bar Mitzvah indoctrination in 1954 from a Lubavitcher Orthodox Rabbi direct from Brooklyn.  That combined with four years of extended stays at the Zionist summer camp, Camp Herzl in Webster, Wisconsin.

     In speaking to Paul Vitello of the Kansas City Times after announcing his call to Jesus/God, Bob told him:

I believe in the Bible, literally.  Everything in it, I believe, was written by the hand of God.

     That is the statement of a religious fundamentalist and one without much sense or discernment.  If Bob doesn’t know the the ‘hand of God’ has written nothing then he can be written off as a rational human being.  Bob in the same interview went further:

     Everything that’s happening in the news today is prophesied in the scriptures.  It’s all in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelations.

     For myself, I begin to run when I hear some Christian fundamentalist bring up the Book of Revelations.  It has the same effect on me as anti-Semite has for the Jew.

     We can assume therefore that upon his arrival in New York in 1961 Bob was a card carrying Biblical devotee.  This religious baggage for the time being took a back seat to Bob’s psychological baggage but was absorbed into it.   Hence the Biblical sounding ranting of Like A Rolling Stone.

     At the same time as with most young people Bob was in rebellion against his upbringing.  That is to say he was trying to find his own place in life while reconciling his upbringing to the emerging realities presented to him by life.  As his line from his song My Back Pages would seem to indicate:  I become my own enemy when I begin to preach. he realized that his religious beliefs would alienate any listeners and abort the possibility of establishing his career and reaching them later.

     Indeed, the sixties, and expecially the New york fold crowd was intensely anti-religious.  It was about this time that Bob read a headline on a Time Magazine cover asking the rhetorical quesiton:  ‘Is God dead?’  Bob was extremely offended by it dating the decline of Western Civilization from that headline.

     From 1961 to 1966 then Bob wrote mainly of his psychological problems and frustrations.  His dream life, which is to say, subconscious, received a lot of attention during this period as well as later in his career.

     It was precisely the speaking from his subconscious to the subconscious of his audience that drew this specific type of person to him.

     Phil Ochs, a contemporary Folkie of Dylan, recognized what he was doing in stirring up deeply held resentment and thought he was brewing trouble for himself.  However Dylan, while hating, did not necessarily stir up emotions that would lead to violent actions.  Instead his hate was characterized by self-pity and resentment that would be satisfied by showing people how wrong people were in their judgement of him.  Thus he would accentuate his God as a god of judgement.  He left the actual judgemental punishment of them up to his god.  Thus those of us in his audience who linked up were also characterized by self-pity and resentment but not violent.

     For instance, in a 1983 interview with Martin keller he was quoted:

     My so-called Jewish roots are in Egypt.  They went down there with Joseph, and they came back out with Moses- you know, the guy that killed the Egyptian, married an Ethiopian girl, and brought the Law down from the mountain.  The same Moses whose staff turned into a serpent.  The same person who killed 3,000 Hebrews for getting down, stripping off their clothes, and dancing around a golden calf.  These are my roots. (My italics.)  Jacob had four wives and thirteen children, who fathered thirteen chiidren, who fathered an entire people.  These are my roots, too.  Gideon with a small army, defeating an army of thousands.  Deborah, the prophetess; Esther the Queen, and many Canaanite women, Reuben slipping into his father’s bed when his father wasn’t home. These are my roots. 

     Delilah tempting Samson, killing him softly with her song.  The mighty King David was an outlaw before he was king, you know.  He had to hide in caves and get his meals at back doors.  The wonderful King Saul had a warrant out on him- a ‘no knock’ search warrant.  They wanted to cut his head off.  John the Baptist could tell you more about it.  [That’s a joke in this standup routine, Son.]  Roots, man- we’re talking Jewish roots, you want to know more?  Check up on Elijah the prophet.  He could make rain.  Isaiah the prophet, even Jeremiah, see if their brethren didn’t want to bust their brains for telling it right like it is.  Yeah, these are my roots, I suppose.

     Now, those are extremely violent, murderous roots but they form the staples of Bob’s conscious and unconscious minds.  The selected examples,  all from the Old Testament, are revealing in the Freudian sense.  Vengeance dominates.

     Nor are these ‘Jewish’ roots in any exlusive sense.  These actors were Hebrews and not Jews.  I know all this bullroar from Christian (Methodist) services.  I was repelled at once and rejected this crap when I escaped the stultifying influence of my childhood.  This crap is unworthy stuffing for human minds. 

     This mean spirit is felt throughout the whole of Bob’s corpus from 1961 to 1966, more especially in that most puerile of all his songs:  Masters Of War.

     Significantly Bob mentions nothing about Jesus or the New Testament; his roots are all Old Testament.  This raises the question of whether his embracing of Jesus in 1979 was calculated or not.  There is in fact little differentiation  between his conception of jesus and the Jewish Yahweh.  Indeed the idiot church I attended as a youth seemed to accentuate the Old Testament Yahweh over the New Testament Jesus.  I have a much stronger conception of Yahwey over Jesus so one might say I share ‘Jewish roots’ as much as Bob does.  I am as much a dual citizen as Bob is except more American/Ancient Hebrew rather than Israeli/American.

     As of 1964 Bob Dylan wasn’t really going anywhere.  True, his manager Albert Grossman was busy promoting his songs to others whose recordings then inflated Bob’s reputation but that didn’t necessarily translate into big sales for his own albums.

     Then in 1964 Bob had a stroke of luck, the Beatles came to America.  There had been a massive promotion along the lines- The Beatles Are Coming, The Beatles Are Coming.  No one had ever heard of them but when they appeared on Ed Sullivan everyone was tuned in to see what the fuss was about.  After it was over, other than the screaming girls in the audience, that, I might add, was a new phenomenon, few of us still knew what the fuss was about.

     Nevertheless it seemed that from that point on the Beatles were on the news nearly every night.  This was unprecedented attention for a mere ‘pimple’ music pop group which is all the Beatles were at that time.

     Why the Beatles received this attention has never been clear to me.  However these were four goi musicians although their manager Brian Epstein was Jewish.  In the inter-cultural competition a Jewish super-star was now required.  After all the first of the superstars Elvis Presley was an all-American hillbilly.  Fabian the last before the Beatles was Italian.  These four English kids then came up and so a Jewish kid was required to keep up the Jewish image.  The only real alternative was Bob Dylan although few or any of us knew, or even suspected he was Jewish.  Bob had sure worked hard to keep that a secret.  Even his girlfriend Suze Rotolo was slow to find out.

     Bob then was given the big media buildup also being on the news frequently, also being given the star treatment in the big national magazines.  While the Beatles handled their fame with chipper aplomb Bob approached it with negative depression.  But, it worked just as well.  The pressure was enormous, plus Albert Grossman was pushing him too hard, working the kid to death.  Literally according to Bob.

     Whether there really was a motorcycle accident or Bob had a nervous breakdown from contemplating the next killer tour his manager had arranged may never be known for sure.  After completing Blonde On Blonde that filled out his core oeuvre Bob went into seclusion for a period.

     He put this seclusion to good use.  Although his premier creative period was over, his golden age so to speak, he succeeded in a magnificent Silver Age.  He and the members of his backup band, later known simply as The Band, created a huge and significant body of work.  Dozens of songs, some of them really good while most of them were good.  It was here that Bob perfected the technique of clothing his religious thoughts in Amerian indigenous Folk forms.  This ability was exhibited on his next LP, John Wesley Harding, that was released not that long after Blonde On Blonde.

     In one of this period’s songs, You Ain’t Going Nowhere, Bob had this to say:  ‘Find ourself a tree with roots.’  Thus the cover of the Harding album showed Bob standing next to a tree with roots dressed in Jesse James era Western foul weather gear.  Now, Bob had also sung:  ‘I may look like Robert Ford, but I feel just like Jesse James.’  This guy looked like the Minnesota Northfield raid while the tree with roots reprsented his Jewish affiliation.

     Now Bob was on track for his Jewish liaison and subsequent demonstration of his Jewish Lubavitcher roots.  Those who follow Bob’s religious odyssey, and there have been several books written on this topic, all call attention to the close relation of Biblical topics to his lyrics from 1961 to the present.  If you have the backgound and take both a broad and narrow approach to looking for them you will find that they abound.  The method becomes second nature for Bob so that he may not ever be aware of many of the references himself until they’re pointed out to him; or he may be conscious of them all.

     What is clear is that Bob views his career as a religious calling; that is to say a messianic mission to bring the word of God to as many people as he can.  In May 1980 he told interviewer Karen Hughes:

     He was disarmingly honest with Hughes about his sense of God’s call:  “I guess He’s always been calling me.  Of course, how would I have ever known that, that it was Jesus calling me….

     So now we have the anomaly of God calling to a Jew through Jesus.  While both Christians and Jews who now view Jesus as a Western and not a Jewish figure had trouble accepting the fact that a Jew could accept Jesus and remain a Jew nothing is more reasonable.  That Bob, a Jew living in a Christian country, could amalgamate Judaism and Jesus wasn’t even all that odd.

     Jesus himself was a Jew while the early Christians were all Jews who accepted every Jewish rite including circumcision and the dietary laws.  It was only when Saint Paul separated Christianity from these Judaic laws that Christianity succeeded.

     As Marshall’s interviewees point out, the New Testament is a Jewish novel in which 25 out 27 books were written by Jews. John and Revelations being the exceptions.  Even as Bob embraced Jesus, the Jews for Jesus, based in San Francisco, who themselves did not convert to Christianity were active.  Just as the Jews persecuted the early Jewish Christians even to death so they put the screws to Jews For Jesus and have at least destroyed their effectiveness.

     Thus in 1983 the Lubavitchers re-entered Bob’s life when as they thought they attempted ot reconvert him.  As Bob had never left the faith, he has said in effect, I am a Jew of the Jews, I suppose he played along until they were satisfied then went along his way as a Jewish Christian.  Makes perfect sense to me, I don’t have a problem with the manner in which Bob expresses his religiosity. 

     I have a problem in that he expresses it at all.  I find it incredible in this this day and age of scientific reallty that anyone can make the statement that the Bible is the actual word of Yahweh or any other god. 

     Goodness gracious, Bob, shape up before it’s too late.  We’re almost down to that last grain of sand.  The lights are beginning to dim.  It is getting dark.






13 Responses to “Exhuming Bob 13 Fit 5: Bob As Messiah”

  1. Craig Kent Says:

    Yikes!!! What a load of rubbish! I can’t believe I wasted five minutes of my life to read the whole thing. Quit studying Bob and contemplate your own navel instead. And, for God’s sake, quit calling it the Book of Revelations. There was only ONE revelation and that is revealed in the first verse of the book, i.e., “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”

  2. reprindle Says:

    Well, Craig, the best five minutes you’ve ever wasted. Was there any specific thing that you can point out that is so far off base as to merit this explosion.

    I mean Revelations is perhaps an egregious error but even my old minister in church used to call to call it Revelations, so I don’t feel too bad. I do have to confess that I don’t waste five minutes of my time reading Revelations but then that’s a matter of taste.

    Anyway thanks for taking another five minutes out of your life to express yourself. I’m flattered.

  3. ray Says:

    While your poking of holes in Bob’s religious world view is interesting, I am interested in your ideology and where you are coming from. What are your theories on the meaning of life or how we got here? How do you define Hebrew and Jew? Do you believe in anything in the transcendent realm?

  4. reprindle Says:


    I posted this yesterday. I suppose that this is where I am now.


    I’m not really poking holes in Bob’s religious views so much as trying to understand what he does believe. Obviously he believes that the Bible is the literal word of god. Such a view is ridiculous to my mind.

    I recently got a copy of the video Rolling Thunder and the Jesus Years that cover the vears 1975-81 that is fairly interesting. In it A.J. Weberman posits that Bob was a heroin addict who hit bottom about 1979 and sought refuge in Jesus.

    I don’t know how correct Weberman is about the addition but as Bob’s father told him: A son can be so defiled that his parents will reject him but God can lead him back to righteousness again.

    I do think Bob hit bottom with his divorce i.e. felt completely defiled and then either with or without the addiction sought redemption through Jesus-God.

    The video is long and slightly tedious but not without merit.

  5. jan sevastakis Says:

    Like most of Dylan’s songs the Bible was never meant to be taken literally.It’s written in a totally symbolic way.Until man gets over his own profound need to take everything in through the intellect,we will never evolve on to the strength of our own true spirit.Without a strong spirit no man can move mountains,or people,or stocks on wall street.That’s just the way it is,what’s on the inside shows up on the outside.Bob’s a spiritual writer.I don’t care if he’s a Christian,a Jew,a Buddhist or a tree hugger,he writes with spirit.——Always has.jan

  6. ray Says:

    I read your other article. So, you don’t believe in an actual God(atheist)? Seems like you want an appropriately made-up god for the purpose of helping mankind to aspire towards perfection. How am I doing? Or are you an agnostic who sees a possible value in superstition(as correctly defined)for the general well-being of the masses???

  7. reprindle Says:

    Pretty good. No, I personally do not feel the need of a god but as is evident most people do. A supernatural deity is a mere projection of human psychological needs so God is a made up hope or dream of a specific people and, actually, time period.

    Remember it was said of old that if horses had gods they would look like horses. So the old gods look like more primitive men. A god based on reason, knowledge and science will look and act differently.

    I don’t consider myself an athiest, agnostic or any other religious term. I don’t need a god. But as a god seems to be needed to hold before the peoples eyes as a goal to be achieved then it’s obvious that a suitable exemplar needs to be created.

    Thus a Tarzanic figure seems reasonable. The content infused into the figure will determine the shape of the people.

    It’s time for the next stage of evolution which is what the comparison between Zeus and Shamash was.

  8. ray Says:

    You seen like a good doubting Thomas type. If God ever did appear to you, you would be a good messenger cuz you have no ulterior motive and you are not looking for Him.

  9. reprindle Says:

    Thanks, Ray. Those are kind thoughts. I don’t think the world’s going to get that much better but let’s hope it doesn’t get as bad as it could. Anyway stay at your oar; you sound alright.

  10. ray Says:

    For some strange reason your kind words have touched me more than any in recent memory. Thanks, R.E. I think we have ended up in a similar stratus, but from opposite ends(maybe not, you said something about being a “Methodist” in your past). I was raised Christian, became agnostic, then born-again, became a Christian apologist, which led to an honest heresy, and finally a heretic without apology. It is said that man was created in God’s image, so it is only right that we should return the favor(I think this is an original thought- I hope I didn’t accidentally steal it from you). I think the great mystery of the atonement/rapture happens somewhere in the middle…If you want to correspond, I’m at raymctell@hotmail.com. Shalom.

  11. ray Says:

    I wrote the above thinking he was a harmless, mildly-amusing atheist intellectual: one with whom I could easily converse. After reading more of his writings, I was shocked to learn the depths to which his delusional mind has oftentimes sunk. I now repudiate him and all that he stands for. Read his words at your own peril, and with a large shaker of salt readily at hand. To call him the Antichrist or Satan Incarnate would be too kind. His ego would swell as big as his flabby brain already has. More likely, he is the reincarnation of Herod the Great: being punished for past sins by being placed in the body of an irrelevant blogger such as Prindle the Puny. He would say that I am the deluded one, having been raised by the same Negroes and Jews he slavishly decries. We’ll just have to wait and see about that… and whether the Baal he serves can light a fire under his pimpled-pocked white ass when the bitter gales of winter blow his way.

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