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Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet Hardcover – November 24, 2009

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Bob Dylan’s masterful and indelible songs beg for analysis. What is the source of the gravitas of his lyrics? They are loaded with allusions, clues, riddles, and, according to Rogovoy, scripture, the hidden-in-plain-sight heart of Dylan’s transcendent oeuvre. The author of The Essential Klezmer (2000), Rogovoy awoke to the primacy of biblical elements in Dylan’s songs not because he came to them with a deep knowledge of Jewish scripture and commentary, but because he was steeped in Dylan’s lyrics when he began studying Jewish texts as an adult and instantly recognized the bond. Rogovoy pursues that revelation in this fresh and exciting interpretation of Dylan’s entire remarkable songbook, casting light on Dylan’s “prophetic impulse” and brilliant improvisations on the stories of Noah, David, Abraham and Isaac, and the books of the prophets. Rogovoy supports his expert and stirring critique with an anecdotal biography that pinpoints Dylan’s theological and mystical inquiries, including his Christian interlude, and dispels any notion that Dylan ever denied his Jewish heritage, the wellspring of his art and conscience. --Donna Seaman


"Of all the influences resulting in the genius of Bob Dylan's music, far too little attention has been paid to Dylan's Jewish heritage. Seth Rogovoy corrects that deficiency by deftly weaving together his love of Dylanology with his love of Judaism." -- Ed Siegel, " contributor to WBUR-FM and the Boston Globe op-ed page"

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 331 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (November 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416559159
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416559153
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,257,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

SETH ROGOVOY is a writer, award-winning critic, book author, lecturer, teacher, musician, and radio commentator.

Seth's BOB DYLAN: Prophet, Mystic, Poet is a full-length analysis of Bob Dylan's life and work.

Seth has taught a variety of college-level and adult-ed courses on klezmer, Jewish music, and Bob Dylan, about whom he has written extensively.

Seth is the author of THE ESSENTIAL KLEZMER: A Music Lover's Guide to Jewish Roots and Soul Music (Algonquin Books, 2000), the all-time bestselling guide to klezmer music. Since his book was published, Seth has continued to write, teach, and lecture extensively about klezmer. His live, one-man, multimedia program about klezmer, ROCKIN' THE SHTETL, has been presented at universities, JCCs, museums, cultural centers, and synagogues across the U.S. and in England.

Seth is editor-in-chief of BERKSHIRE LIVING, an award-winning regional lifestyle and culture magazine serving the greater Berkshire region of western Massachusetts, southwestern Vermont, eastern New York, and northwestern Connecticut. He is also editor-in-chief of Berkshire Living's spinoff publications, including BBQ: Berkshire Business Quarterly and Berkshire Living Home+Garden.

Seth frequently writes about Jewish music and culture for publications including FORWARD, HADASSAH Magazine, and the BERKSHIRE JEWISH VOICE.

For nearly twenty years, Seth was a rock and jazz critic, primarily for the BERKSHIRE EAGLE, and also for dozens of other newspapers and magazines.

Seth's cultural journalism has appeared in newspapers and magazines including NEWSDAY, the BOSTON PHOENIX, HAARETZ, the WOODSTOCK (N.Y.) TIMES, the BENNINGTON (Vt.) BANNER, EDUTOPIA, GASTRONOMICA, MOMENT, LEAK CD magazine, AUDITION, the BLACK AND WHITE CITY PAPER of Birmingham, Ala., and others.

Seth is also a singer-guitarist and leader of several bands, including the Rolling Rogovoy Revue and Seth Rogovoy and the Grove Street Band. He frequently performs at Bob Dylan tribute concerts throughout the Northeast United States. A graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., where he has taught courses on Dylan and klezmer, Seth lives in Great Barrington, Mass.

Seth's weekly cultural commentary can be heard on WAMC NORTHEAST PUBLIC RADIO NETWORK ( on Fridays between 12:30 and 1 p.m., and he is the official film blogger for the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington.

Seth served two terms as a member of the Board of Selectmen in Pownal, Vt., and is a past president of a food co-op and a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in Williamstown, Mass. Seth was the founder and lay leader of the South Berkshire Minyan, a traditional Jewish prayer group, based at a shtibl in Great Barrington, Mass., from 2003 to 2006.

Customer Reviews

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By L. R. Ziskind on November 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Although a Dylan fan and admirer of his philosophic and poetic lyrics for the last 40 years, there was always a nagging feeling that I didn't quite get something about them. I understood them for their political and social importance, but, for me, that just didn't add up to everything that was really there. Now I know why. With this book, Rogovoy has supplied the key to the missing piece. In reading "Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet" and re-evaluating the lyrics in the context of Dylan's Jewish influences, they become richer and fuller. What was resonant before, now is revealed to have a multi-layered depth that makes them all the more meaningful.

This book isn't just for Dylan fans (and it's a must-read for them), it's for anybody who's ever wondered how the precepts of religion can impact life in a practical and profound way.

Buy the book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Chris Speaks on December 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not only do I enjoy Bob Dylan's music and songwriting but the development of Jewish and Christian traditions is something that I enjoy reading about and studying as a spiritual person. Needless to say, I was quite pleased when I discovered that someone had embarked upon the task of documenting references, either direct or indirect, of Dylan's Jewish heritage and how that heritage has affected his songwriting and life. Unfortunately, Dylan's Jewishness has often been neglected in writings about him. It's generally passed over as a piece of trivia, not as a contributive identity. He is recognized as the singer, the songwriter, the poet, even the prophet - but what about Dylan the Jew? Of course, the book doesn't treat Dylan's religious beliefs directly, but it surely surmises.

Overall, the book was a quick read yet highly informed and thus highly informative. It easily ranks among the best books on Dylan currently available. The author, a longtime follower and researcher of Dylan, tries hard not to repeat too much information available elsewhere while also acknowledging that there are some very basic facts which newcomers - whether to the musician or the literature about him - need to know. Such is inevitable. Where this book excels is in connecting the imagery found in the biblical prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, et. al.) and Dylan's lyrics. Even the staunchest biblicist might not readily be able to see such otherwise apparent parallels, but Rogovoy has done his research. There are moments when the connection cannot be explained any other way than to suggest that Dylan was as intimately familiar with the texts of Jewish tradition as he was with the works or Rimbaud, Brecht, and William Blake.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By I. Transport on November 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
i have read well over 100 books about bob dylan and this book frames his emergence in a manner that none before have accomplished
the links between old testament quotes and passages and lines and thoughts in dylan's output are a revelation
highly recommended for both the casual and the devoted follower
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By MDcares on March 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
i have read many dylan books. this one ranks way up there. the author demonstrates that dylan has relied heavily on the bible for a great deal of his inspiration and he explores the true prophetic nature of dylan's work. it is an exceptional analysis with many brilliant and inspired parts. i absolutely love this book and will probably read it again. it is highly recommended for anyone deeply interested in bob's work. at one point he goes a little too far in suggesting that dylan regreted his deep involvement with christ's teachings but the rest of the book is spectacular. i can't recommend this book enough.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Nina Goss on December 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Seth Rogovoy's book is a valuable new voice in the already crowded field of writing on Dylan and spirituality. He traces an arc through Dylan's career based on the tradition of Jewish prophecy, and he works hard to do justice to several scruples: one scruple acknowledges that Dylan's own beliefs are not accessible, and that this *prophetic* interpretation is not, in fact, a decoding of Dylan's own faith. Another scruple acknowledges that the facts of Dylan's life and career are too many branches from too many roots to be reduced to a single, unifying source. Another scruple is Rogovoy's personal commitment to his argument, which makes the book an affecting narrative of one man's decades-long relation to art that speaks powerfully and constantly to him.
The practical benefit to serious Dylan listeners is Rogovoy's inventory of passages from Jewish scripture throughout Dylan's lyrics. We're familiar with many Biblical phrases in the songs, and Rogovoy opens up that familiarity into discoveries that were new and interesting to me. Most are utterly defensible, some allusions in the book require a generous imagination to hear, but on the whole this inventory is compelling and reflects hard and rational work.
As an overview of Dylan's career, serious and informed fans may find some familiar summary here, but there is enough that's provocative to merit reading the entire thing. And I'm grateful that Rogovoy found the time to rush in a brief and lively coda chapter on Together Through Life.
If you're new to Dylan, and have a strong interest in the spirituality and religious traditions in his work, this book provides a smart and accessible overview to Dylan's career in that context.
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