Dylan, Cohen And The Music Of The Akedah1 by James A Diamond (Jerusalem Post: Dec 29, 2014) is a sophisticated, thoughtful, and insightful essay on Bob Dylan’s and Leonard Cohen’s employment of the binding of Isaac in “Highway 61 Revisited” and “The Story of Isaac,” respectively, with special consideration given to the significance of Jewish musical tradition. An excerpt follows:
Cohen’s treatment of Abraham, like Dylan’s, is tinged with both reverence and revulsion. Abraham’s relationship with his son starkly contrasts with those “over 30” in Cohen’s own time, who fail to measure up to the tragic nobility of their biblical predecessor.
The present child sacrificers are “schemers” not driven by a “vision.”
Misguided or not, Abraham sets out sincerely to accomplish something much larger than himself, to pursue a vision that leaves a sacred legacy. A scheme on the other hand colloquially conveys a sense of deviousness and of immoral plotting to exploit others for one’s own benefit. Playing on the midrash that Abraham’s trial is prompted by Satan, one can judge Abraham’s test to have been invoked either negatively by a “demon” or positively by a “God,” but his temptation to murder at least reflects a relationship with the Transcendent, with something beyond his own existence. The parents of Cohen’s Vietnam era have no such excuse, no temptation other than their own cruel self-interest.
The essay available at The Jerusalem Post focuses on the work of Dylan and Cohen and can be profitably read as an independent article. A lengthier version of this article, with substantially more Talmudic and scholarly reflection on Jewish musicology appears in the journal Milin Havivi under the title, “The Torah as Song and the Rabbinic Sage as Troubadour” (pp 95-111). For readers, like myself, who lack a background in Jewish thought, this portion is likely to be heavy-going but rewarding. That issue can be downloaded via this link: Download Milin Havivin Volume 7 – 2013-2014