Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is an artist Americans thought they understood. But the iconic cultural figure is being re-evaluated by critics not just as a singer, but as a religious figure.

And one of the most important catalysts in this re-evaluation is “Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life,” an explosive book from author Scott Marshall.

Marshall shows Dylan’s faith was central to his art and explores the singer’s spiritual odyssey in a comprehensive and exhaustive account that no one interested in Bob Dylan, American musical history or modern American Christianity can ignore. And the national media is certainly not ignoring it.

Aaron Carnes at the left-leaning media outlet Salon is among those looking to the book for insight.  Though many fans know about Dylan’s “born-Christian phase,” Carnes cites Marshall in observing how Dylan “referenced Bible verses 89 times from 1961 through 1978, the period before his public embrace of Jesus.”

“If there’s anything that people have commonly misunderstood about Dylan it’s that he’s not a dispenser of knowledge, he’s a seeker of truth,” writes Carnes in Salon. “To understand Dylan is to truly appreciate the ongoing complexity that is his relationship to God,” he says later in the article. “We shouldn’t simply see this as a period where he suddenly, briefly, ‘went Christian.’ Dylan’s spiritual quest is constant, as is his willingness to scrap his identity and start all over again – an artist who ‘don’t look back.'”

This is a theme Scott Marshall repeatedly emphasizes throughout his book.

Bob Dylan’s Christianity and relationship with God was not simply a “phase” that ended at some point. Instead, Marshall argues Dylan never renounced his faith in Jesus, despite what some public sources have said. This is indicated by Dylan’s recent release of new editions of some of his most well-known gospel songs, including “Slow Train Coming.”

Dylan’s spiritual journey was also deeply informed by his Jewish heritage, which he never viewed as incompatible with his faith in Messiah.

Some Jews are deeply uncomfortable with Dylan’s gospel songs, regarding them as a betrayal of his Jewish heritage.

“For Jews, Dylan’s conversion to Christianity is discomforting because of what we might recognize about it,” writes Armin Rosen in the Jewish publication Tablet. “Ambivalence towards Jewish identity can sometimes take the form of intense attraction to whatever is the most opposite to Judaism within a given context.”

Yet “Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life” shows that choosing a Jewish identity or faith in Messiah is a false choice.

“Here’s my very simple and direct take on the Dylan spiritual journey as a lifelong Dylan-phile,” says Joseph Farah, founder of WND and author of “The Restitution of All Thigs: Israel, Christians, and the End of the Age.” “Dylan was born Jewish. He was bar mitzvahed. He was intrigued by the Bible throughout his life, and it is evidenced in his lyrics from his earliest days as a singer-songwriter. In or around 1978, he begins a Bible study at an Israel-centric evangelical church in Southern California. He discovers, perhaps for the first time, that Jesus – or Yeshua as He is known in Hebrew – is the Jewish Messiah.

“Does Bob Dylan, as a Jew, need to become a ‘Christian?'” he asked rhetorically. “Or does he just need to follow his Messiah? I would suggest it’s the latter. And I would suggest that’s just what Bob Dylan did. He didn’t have to join the ‘Christian culture.’ He didn’t have to renounce Judaism, because Jesus and all His disciples sure didn’t.”

The recent release of the eight-CD box set “Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Vol. 13/1979-1981,” has sparked renewed attention to Dylan’s “Christian period.” For some Jews, writes Robert Goldblum in The New York Jewish Week, Dylan’s faith in Jesus Christ meant the troubadour had become “Judas in a black leather jacket and a Jewfro.”

The New York Jewish Week is among the publications probing the question of whether or not Dylan’s Jewish heritage and Christian faith represent a contradiction.

And like so many others, it is looking to “Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life” by Scott Marshall for guidance.

The remarkable spiritual journey of an American icon. You’ll never look at American pop culture the same way again – or Christianity! Discover the true story behind one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

Goldblum observes:

[T]he new biography by Scott M. Marshall, “Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life” (BP Books), which argues that the singer-songwriter’s spiritual journey is probably too complicated to classify, that he walks both sides of the Judeo-Christian line and that he perhaps never fully put away the Christian period. It was enough for Christianity Today to headline a recent short review of Marshall’s book, “Bob Dylan: Is He or Isn’t He?” The reader is left to fill in: “still born-again?”

While Dylan’s spirituality is complex, Marshall’s contention he remains faithful to Messiah is even drawing attention in foreign language media, notably the Journal Chrétien.

Lorraine Caballero cites Marshall in a recent Christian Daily article exploring Dylan’s faith and notes the release of the new album is highly significant for those interested in his spirituality.

“Dylan has given his approval for the release of his bootleg album,” she notes. “This move apparently indicates that he still feels the lyrics of those songs and thinks that those records deserve a second chance to be appreciated by his fans.”

Even those who are critics of Dylan’s theological views and their political implications are finding new artistic value in Dylan’s Christian songs.

“Despite being an atheist, I’ve always had a weird fondness for gospel-era Bob, even in his most disappointingly dogmatic moments,” writes Yo Zushi in the far-left British publication New Statesman.

“When in ‘Saving Grace,’ he sings, ‘There’s only one road and it leads to Calvary,’ his voice straining and the organ exploding in ecstatic joy, I almost converted,” said Zushi.

Because people of all political persuasions and religions find meaning in Dylan’s work, the debate over Dylan’s own faith will always arouse passionate interest. Scott Marshall’s “Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life” has thus received a rapturous reception among media critics and widespread coverage including pieces at Newsmax, the Hollywood Reporter and the Houston Chronicle. And readers have given it an average of more than 4 out of 5 stars at Amazon.com.

With the release of a new edition of Dylan’s Christian material, interest will only increase. And as the holidays approach, those interested in Dylan, or simply interested in how faith can affect both an individual and an entire culture, will turn to “Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life” to find answers.

The remarkable spiritual journey of an American icon. You’ll never look at American pop culture the same way again – or Christianity! Discover the true story behind one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

 

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