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Chapter 18 - Judaism: Saturnine Melancholy and Dylan’s Jewish Gnosis

from Part III - Cultural Contexts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 April 2021

Sean Latham
Affiliation:
University of Tulsa
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Summary

Many have written about Bob Dylan’s complex relationship to his Jewish upbringing. The scope and magnitude of the knowledge of Judaism that Dylan received as a child in Hibbing is debatable, but what is incontestable is that his lifelong quest for matters of the spirit was inspired by the priestly distinction between transgression and devotion, the prophetic demand for social justice, and the rabbinic propensity to resist systematic totalization in favor of interrogating issues incessantly – to answer a question with another question as a way of understanding multiple perspectives. One can safely assume that Jewish religious traditions informed Dylan’s advocacy for the downtrodden and his restless search for integrity in a world of guile – searching for a gem, as he sings in “Dirge,” “in this age of fiberglass” – was shaped, in part, by these dimensions of the Jewish tradition. Even the occasional refusal to undertake his mission – “It’s never been my duty to remake the world at large / Nor is it my intention to sound the battle charge” from “Wedding Song” – is reminiscent of the prophets who reluctantly accepted their calling.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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