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Last week it was announced that Bob Dylan had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, because he had minted new forms of expression for the Great American Songbook.
I am old enough to remember Dylan hailed as a prophet of the alternative society, and reports of some bitter rows in Portsmouth folk clubs when he went electric. But then I got to reflecting that the same sort of journey, from suspicion and “what does he know?” put-downs to laurels in maturity or in retrospect, happened to writers of books in the Bible.
In the division between major prophets and minor prophets the major prophetic books are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel (and Lamentations ). The beginning of the book of Jeremiah details his call and commission, which took place before he was born, and provokes a response of fear because of his youth. God replies, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you”, and “I have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land – kings, princes, priests and people”. In other words, even though you are young, only a boy and even though everyone will be against you, I will be with you because what you have to say matters.
Jeremiah lived through a time when everything got worse, when he was regarded as a pessimistic moaning miseryguts. But history showed him to be right. He bought a piece of land as a hope for the future, prophesied a new covenant and a new relationship, and defined the principle by which all exiles should live in chapter 29, verse 7 “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, that in its welfare you will find your welfare”.
When I think of Dylan as a Nobel Laureate I find myself thinking of Jeremiah, and when I think of Jeremiah I take comfort in current political uncertainties.