Thursday, September 20, 2012
Bob Dylan’s Tempest
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
LOS ANGELES, CA (ANS) -- In 1978, Bob Dylan made a well-publicized conversion to Christianity and produced three strongly Christian albums, “Slow Train Coming”, “Saved” and “Shot of Love”. When a fourth overtly faith-based album failed to materialize in 1983, a rumor was circulated that Dylan had “renounced” his faith.
In 2010-11 Bradford wrote a book called, “Out of the Dark Woods - Dylan, Depression and Faith”, showing that Dylan was, in fact, still communicating his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr. Bradford provided hundreds of examples of faith and Scripture references from Dylan's interviews, lyrics and concert set-lists from 1983 to the present day.
This month, at the age of 71, Bob Dylan, released his 35th studio album, entitled “Tempest”. The album and the accompanying interview with “Rolling Stone” magazine fully confirmed Dr. Bradford's findings.
Duquesne Whistle: “I can hear a sweet voice gently calling, must be the mother of our Lord ...” Dylan has taken to referring to Jesus as “our Lord” rather than simply as “the Lord”.
Soon After Midnight: “I'm searching for phrases to sing your praises, I need to tell someone ...”
Despite his age Dylan, continues to play 100+ shows a year. Could he still be communicating his faith? Bradford's book “Dylan, Depression And Faith - The Messages Behind The Music Of Bob Dylan”, provides clear evidence that he is, evidence that Tempest’s Christian content reinforces.
Narrow Way: “It's a long and narrow way, if I can't work up to you, you'll surely have to work down to me someday”... “Look down angel, from the skies, help my weary soul to rise”... “I heard a voice at the dusk of day, saying 'Be gentle, brother, be gentle and pray ...”
Pay in Blood: “I've sworn to uphold the laws of God, you can put me out in front of a firing squad ... Man can't live by bread alone, I pay in blood, but not my own ...”
“Dylan is communicating the fact that it is Christ’s blood that pays for the sins of the world, not the blood of any mortal man,” says Dr. Bradford.
Scarlet Town: “I'm staying up late, I'm making amends, while the smile of heaven descends...”
Bradford adds, “This song describes the futility of life spent apart from God. Dylan, however, knows God’s favor and expresses that grace with poetic beauty.”
Tin Angel: “He renounced his faith, he denied his Lord ...”
Tempest: “He read the book of Revelation ...”
Dr. Bradford says that once again one of Dylan’s favorite books of the Bible gets a mention, as also featured in “Cross The Green Mountain” (“Tell Tale Signs”).
Roll on John: “I pray the Lord my soul to keep”
Dylan was ferociously criticized by John Lennon in the song “Serve Yourself” (Lennon’s response to Dylan’s conversion and his song “Gotta Serve Somebody” – “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord...”).
“In ‘Roll on John’, Dylan turns the other cheek in a compassionate tribute, while maintaining spiritual integrity in regard to Lennon’s life, likening him to a ‘slave’ who ‘won’t be far from wrong’”, says Bradford.
In his interview with Rolling Stone magazine about his new album, Dylan said: “I wanted to make something more religious. I just didn't have enough [religious songs]. Intentionally, specifically religious songs is what I wanted to do. That takes a lot more concentration to pull that off 10 times with the same thread than it does with a record like I ended up with.”
While he may not have had “enough” faith-based songs, Dylan most definitely had some, as “Pay in Blood’ and ‘Narrow Way’ show. Dylan is also presenting his lyrics with his unique sense of humor.
Dr. Bradford cites an example from Tempest's “Pay in Blood” – “You've got the same eyes your mother does. If only you could prove who your father was...” The meaning? In Dr. Bradford's interpretation – “the virgin birth”.
Dr. Bradford’s research found that Dylan made extensive indirect references to the Bible, and particularly the Song of Songs and to the Book of Revelation. This use of allegory began after the singer was given an ultimatum by Colombia Records that prohibited his publication of further explicitly religious material. Dylan’s subsequent album, tellingly entitled “Infidels”, began a journey into Christian allegory in the footsteps of authors such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, allowing Dylan to express his faith less directly via song-parables and the creative re-working of Scripture into his lyrics.
Because serious Christian review of Dylan's lyrics ceased at the end of his so-called 'Christian period' in 1981, the Scripture-based lyrical content went largely unnoticed until Dr. Bradford’s work was published last year.
The author, a UK based medical doctor, also found evidence of depressive symptoms on the aptly titled album, “Time Out of Mind”. Dr. Bradford believes this to be responsible for the seven year creative gap in Dylan's writing of original material between 1990 and 1997.
Dr. Bradford is no stranger to controversy. In 2009-10, he wrote a book called, “The Jesus Discovery” in which he used established Roman history to unearth the identity of Joseph, Jesus' adoptive father, thereby establishing Jesus' standing in Judean society. The book also applied principles from the Jewish Oral Law, in operation during Jesus’ life, to show that the Doctors of the Law whom Jesus so impressed in the Temple at age 12 would have been under a legal obligation to bring the child prodigy from Nazareth into formal rabbinic scholarship – the same route followed by the young Saul of Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul.
Dr. Bradford has presented the evidence for Dylan's faith with excellent results in evangelistic settings in Europe and New Zealand. Non-Christian fans of Bob Dylan may be more likely to attend an event featuring a noted “Dylanologist”, and so hear the Gospel message that many of his songs contain, than they would perhaps to attend a normal Church service.
If your church, especially in the UK, would be interested in hosting an outreach event with Dr. Bradford, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His books may be found at www.templehouse-publishing.com and on www.Amazon.com.
Note: Dan Wooding appeared in the A&E documentary called “Biography - Bob Dylan: The American Troubadour” talking about Dylan’s Christian faith. The program is available at: http://www.newvideo.com/ae/bob-dylan-the-american-troubadour/
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