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Editor's note: The great American singer/songwriter/poet Bob Dylan turns 70 today. In observance of that occasion, here's an excerpt from the new book, The Gospel According to Bob Dylan: The Old, Old Story for Modern Times (Westminster John Knox), by Michael J. Gilmour. Learn more about the book and Gilmour at the end of this excerpt.

"Who is this character anyway?"
—Sam Shepard (referring to Bob Dylan)

"Who is this man?"
Matt. 8:27; Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25 (referring to Jesus)

"Who do people say that I am? … Who do you say that I am?"
—Jesus (Mark 8:27, 29)

I taped a photocopied picture of Bob Dylan to my office door during the time I spent thinking about and writing this book. It is my favorite picture of the singer, taken likely in the fall of 1975. He is standing in a cemetery by a large crucifix, in the Catholic grotto in Lowell, Massachusetts. Jack Kerouac's grave is in this cemetery, so the motley crew touring with Dylan at the time stopped by the Beat writer's hometown to pay their respects. There are other photographs of this visit to the Lowell cemetery showing Dylan and poet Allen Ginsberg sitting cross-legged at Kerouac's grave.

The picture on my office door shows Dylan standing in front of the tall statue, his feathered hat just inches below Christ's nailed feet. He carries a large tree branch as a walking stick while the camera looks up into his face, capturing both the singer's stoic expression and the Messiah's agony all at once. The picture has symbolic potential that illustrates challenges facing those interested in Bob Dylan's relationship to religion.

For one thing, though Christ is in the picture, Dylan is the focal ...

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May 2011

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