Friday, January 27th | 5 Shevat 5783

November 2, 2017 3:31 pm

New York Times Celebrates Bob Dylan for Looking ‘Like Jesus’

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avatar by Ira Stoll


Bob Dylan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

What is it with The New York Times and Jews who become Christian?

The top of the front page of the Times arts section features an adulatory article about songs performed by Bob Dylan from 1979 to 1981.

The Times article begins:

Even in 1979, Bob Dylan could cause a commotion. That was the year he released “Slow Train Coming,” the album that announced his embrace of Christianity, soon to be followed by “Saved” in 1980 and “Shot of Love” in 1981: his born-again trilogy. For those three years, the iconoclast, freethinker and reluctant voice of a generation proclaimed faith in salvation by Jesus Christ (despite his Jewish upbringing), with lyrics that drew a line in the sand.

The Times article concludes:

Mr. Keltner said last week that he cherishes an onstage photograph from the tour by the filmmaker Howard Alk, shot from behind his shoulder. “I’m hunched over the drums, and Bob is standing there with his guitar,” he said. “His hair was this perfectly beautiful Afro, or Jewfro maybe. And the way the light is playing on his hair, it looked like he had a combination of a halo and a crown of thorns. For all the world, it looks like Jesus standing there.”

This is the latest in a series of Times articles that display a strangely uniform pattern of enthusiasm about Jews who abandon their faith.

An arts section brief published in the Times last month reported on an auction of documents that included “references to the family’s connections to Aaron Isaacs, a German Jewish immigrant who settled in East Hampton and was widely praised for converting to Christianity.”

In August, again on the front of the arts section, the Times published a long and adoring profile of Alice Goodman, the author of an opera called “Death of Klinghoffer.” “Raised Jewish, she converted to Christianity in 1989 and in 2001 was ordained an Anglican priest in England,” the Times reported.

In April, the Times published an op-ed piece critical of the American Jewish Committee. That article was written by a woman who has described herself as “a Jewish convert to Catholicism.”

In the case of Dylan, it’s not even at all clear that the Times has the larger story right. In a 2005 cover story on Dylan, Moment magazine concluded, “Perhaps the time has come for his Jewish fans to forgive Robert Zimmerman for his brief sojourn away from the faith. Many ardent Jewish Dylan admirers believe that he had to leave Judaism in order to return more fully.”

Seth Rogovoy, the author of a book about Dylan, wrote recently in The Forward, “As quick as Dylan was to adopt the blanket of Christianity in song and onstage, he was equally as quick to drop it.”

Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, which is in Tel Aviv, Israel, has an exhibit about Dylan that opened in May 2016 and will be on display through January 2018. The museum’s website says, “it is difficult to think of a Jewish musician who has had a greater influence on 20th century culture than Bob Dylan.”, a Jewish outreach website, declares of Dylan that “it has become increasingly clear that, not only did he have this very Jewish upbringing, but he never moved quite as far away from his roots as it may appear at first.” That article reports, “He has been spotted at a number of Yom Kippur services in Chabad shuls, has laid tefillin at the Kotel, and has taken part in a number of Chabad telethons.”

The Times article reports none of that. Maybe it’s not relevant to an article about a release of CDs and DVDs from Dylan’s Christian phase. But one wonders why the Times chooses to dwell on that short and long-ago phase, and to cover it so prominently, without providing additional context that would make the story more accurate and bring it up to date.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.


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