Sunday, March 27, 2016

An Easter Reflection: Gardens in the Bible and Dylan

"I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses... and he walks with me." -- Austin Miles

From the beginning, gardens are featured in the Bible. The second version of the creation story (Genesis 2) begins with an account of the making of Adam and Eve and placing them in a garden in the east called Eden. The story of the off-limits tree with its forbidden fruit is as familiar as the story of the Exodus, the Ten Commandments and the Resurrection. Whatever one believes about these things, they are part of our cultural history. 

Biblical imagery features prominently in the lyrics of many Dylan songs, one of them being "Gates of Eden" from his album Bringing It All Back Home. The poetic prose dances with vibrant imagery, forceful and enigmatic. Much of it appears indecipherable, yet leaves a haunted frightening feeling that is a mixture of hope and fear. 


The Eden story ends with this statement: "After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life." (Genesis 3:24) What is this cherubim with a flaming sword? Where is this place that has been perpetually guarded? Is it literal and geographical or something else? In many places the Bible is a book of mysteries.


In the self-same chapter, where God has pronounced judgment on the man and the woman, He also gives a basis for hope. Their offspring will one day crush the head (the power) of the serpent with a heel. In a world where everything's broken, we need a basis for hope. The events of "Holy Week"... from Palm Sunday to Good Friday (history's darkest day) to Resurrection Sunday show how this prophetic statement played out regarding the head of the serpent being crushed by the heel of Adam and Eve's offspring.

It was Thursday of that week that Jesus, after sharing a final supper with his disciples, retreated to a garden called Gethsemane. The word gethsemane is derived from two Hebrew words: gat, which means "a place for pressing oil (or wine)" and shemanim, which means "oils." During Jesus' time, heavy stone slabs were lowered onto olives that had already been crushed in an olive crusher. He knew what was coming, and understood that he would soon be the one who is crushed "in the winepress of God's wrath."


San Francisco, 1979 (photo credit: Bill Pagel)
This is the garden that is featured in the first verse of Bob Dylan's song "In the Garden." In the garden, the authorities came to take Jesus away. Hours earlier he had washed his disciples' feet, even the feet of Judas who betrayed him. Hours later the religious leaders brought him to Pontius Pilate, with a mob incited to cry out for his blood. 

After he was crucified his friends laid him in an unmarked donated tomb. There must have been a garden there, too, for on that first "Easter Sunday" when Mary brought Peter and John to the empty tomb, Mary had a brief encounter with the risen Jesus, but didn't recognize him. She thought he was the gardener. (Full story of that morning here.)

Dylan followers know that over the course of more than half a century Dylan has had many creative periods that have been placed into categories. Folk, rock, Nashville, Never Ending Tour, among others. The three albums in his "Gospel" period began with his critically acclaimed Slow Train Coming. This song here appeared on his second of this trilogy titled Saved. The third, Shot of Love, did not receive the same love as the first, but I would suggest it has some really superb songs on it. 

Dylan first performed "In the Garden" in San Francisco in 1979. Through April 2002 he performed it 329 times in concert, suggesting that it is still meaningful to him.


In the Garden

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
Did they know He was the Son of God, did they know that He was Lord?
Did they hear when He told Peter, “Peter, put up your sword”?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?

When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
Nicodemus came at night so he wouldn’t be seen by men
Saying, “Master, tell me why a man must be born again”
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?

When He healed the blind and crippled, did they see?
When He healed the blind and crippled, did they see?
When He said, “Pick up your bed and walk, why must you criticize?
Same thing My Father do, I can do likewise”
When He healed the blind and crippled, did they see?
When He healed the blind and crippled, did they see?

Did they speak out against Him, did they dare?
Did they speak out against Him, did they dare?
The multitude wanted to make Him king, put a crown upon His head
Why did He slip away to a quiet place instead?
Did they speak out against Him, did they dare?
Did they speak out against Him, did they dare?

When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
He said, “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth”
Did they know right then and there what the power was worth?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?

Copyright © 1980 by Special Rider Music

* In May, the Red Mug Coffeehouse Chicago artist Damiel Botkin will have an art show featuring his Dylan-inspired art. One of his paintings is based on lyrics from Gates of Eden. 

2 comments:

FlutingAway said...

Great article on Easter...good read and very interesting...Thank you Karin Michels www.flutingaway.com

Bruce said...


Amen.