I am proud to have contributed a chapter to the new book Dylan at Play. Published by Cambridge Scholars Press, Dylan at Play offers a range of fresh approaches to Dylan's work from an eclectic group of scholars. My chapter looks at Dylan's vision of covenant and salvation through the lens of good buddies Saint Augustine, Max Weber, Blind Willie McTell and a variety of Jewish sages of Late Antiquity.
Dylan at Play is available for purchase from the publisher here and at Amazon and all the rest.
Here is a sneak peak:
"Walking," in the words of "Ain't Talkin'," "through streets that are dead," Bob Dylan has been probing themes of covenant and salvation for five decades. His work embodies a prophetic voice anticipated more than a century ago by German sociologist Max Weber. Weber taught that the covenantal systems of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam function within the tension of two competing energies. On one side of his scale of religion rests charismatic or prophetic sensibilities. At the opposite end lies rationality, an urge for systematizing and regulating religious charisma. According to Weber, the most enduring societies manage to balance the
tension inherent between spirit and structure. But when the flow between charisma and rationality slows or ceases, religious structures erode, and
oppression ranging from everyday meaninglessness to authoritarianism and systemic religious violence emerges. Yet Weber also suggested the possibility of religious figures and movements that might emerge to salvage the "soul" trapped in fossilized covenants:
No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the
end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or
there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals… (Weber 124)
The cluster of songs explored here show how Bob Dylan navigates and reanimates static inherited covenants while interpreting both collective and personal religious, political, and romantic history to construct new ones. In a world of "Ain't Talkin'” – where there "ain't no altars on this long and lonesome road" – Dylan models Weber's "great rebirth of old ideas and ideals" with prophetic art that refreshes and reimagines ancient covenants in a modern creative idiom.