About Man and God and Law: The Spiritual Wisdom of Bob Dylan

Morgan James. May 2022. 258p. ISBN 9781631956881. pap. $21.95. MUSIC
Bob Dylan’s use of religious imagery and concepts in his lyrics is well known, and his life and work have been examined from a spiritual perspective many times throughout his career. Arnoff, a scholar of midrash scriptural interpretation, digs deeper on Dylan than most, moving from ancient Rome through the 1500s to today, building a broader, historical context for modern and spiritual musical expression. He believes that most of the characters in Dylan’s songs—and Dylan himself—are seeking some form of salvation. Arnoff also explores the artists who inspired Dylan, as well as many of those he then influenced, through a similar lens. Arnoff is clearly a Dylan fan, and his approach is both intriguing and personal. He posits that Dylan going electric finally manifested “rock’s capacity to carry spiritual wisdom at the scale at which it was needed,” implying that rock music needed spirituality. Arnoff’s style of first-person writing is conversational, yet with a detailed analysis that is always interesting and clearly expressed, if often a bit overwrought.
VERDICT A deep and distinctive dive into the spirituality of a truly great artist.
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