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In A Voice from on High: The Prophetic Oracles of Bob Dylan, author, Phil Mason takes his readers on a fascinating theological journey into the thought world of one of the most significant songwriters of our time. Moving beyond the old debate of whether or not Dylan is still a believer, Phil Mason presents the case that after Dylan stepped back from his intensely evangelistic period [1979-1981], he was fuelled by the prophetic imagination to begin exploring a new dimension of his spirituality; that of hearing and articulating the ‘Voice from on High’ in a number of his songs. Phil identifies 32 songs penned by Dylan between 1981 and 2012 where he speaks the word of God in the first person but couches it in everyday language so that it could easily be missed except by those who, in Jesus’ words, have “ears to hear.” (Matthew 13:9)
Phil Mason builds a compelling case by contextualizing Dylan’s songs against the backdrop of both Old and New Testament theology, in particular the genre of the prophetic oracle. His conclusion is that Dylan is a deep theological thinker with a passion for the mystical dimension of hearing the living voice of God and re-telling the ancient gospel story in language that will speak to the hearts of those who are seekers of the truth. Dylan’s personal passion for truth shines through each of the songs explored in this ground-breaking book.
This is compelling reading for all who value Dylan’s art and who seek a deeper understanding of his poetry and his theological worldview.
One thing is for sure, after reading Dylan through the lens of such rich biblical theology; you will never listen to Dylan the same way again!
The prophetic tradition of ancient Israel refuses to be silenced or consigned to the past. It is always surging to contemporaneity, seeking out and evoking new mouths and new witnesses. Phil Mason has helped us greatly to see such contemporaneity by his close attention to Bob Dylan and his work. Mason makes clear that Dylan not only lives a fiercely contemporary life but lives much of it via engagement with these ancient poets. This is a suggestive read that invites us to more courageous contemporaneity.
Professor Walter Brueggemann
Columbia Theological Seminary
The poetic and the prophetic are closely related. The man who Johnny Cash called, “a hell of a poet,” is the man Phil Mason correctly recognizes as possessing a distinct prophetic gift. Of course, Bob Dylan has always resisted being called a prophet, but Dylan can’t help himself—like Jeremiah the Word is shut up in his bones like fire, and it’s going to come out one way or another. In A Voice from on High, Phil Mason explores in depth the vast landscape of Dylan’s work, alerting us to the prophetic insight tucked into the poetic language. I am so glad this book has been written!
Pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri
Author of Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God
An enormous effort by Phil Mason; a dive into the theological deep end, clearly a labor of love, and a tome that’s destined to add significant weight to the Dylan bookshelves. The heart and soul of these pages reflect a steadfast conviction that the Word of God through the Jewish prophets—including Jesus—has left its distinct imprint on Bob Dylan, ultimately leaving behind a huge gift of timeless songs to a tired and torn world.
Scott M. Marshall, author of Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life