“Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be putting me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me coming you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killing done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61””
– Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, from the album Highway 61 Revisted, 1965.
Long before his fully fledged conversion to Born Again Christianity in the late 1970’s, When he released the full on Christian themed albums Slow Train Coming (1979) and Saved (1980), Bob Dylan was already referencing The Bible.
On Highway 61 Revisited from 1965’s landmark album of the same name, he begins the song by referencing the story of Isaac and Abraham. In the story of Isaac and Abraham, God commands Abraham to kill one of his son, Isaac, in order to prove his devotion to him:
“Some time later, God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am”, he replied.
Then God said, “Take your only son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region
of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you””.
– Genesis 22.
Adding significance to the use of the story in Highway 61 Revisited, Abram, the original name of the Biblical Abraham, is the name of Dylan’s own father. The use of the Abraham and Isaac story could also be used as a protest symbol against the Vietnam War. It is probably no coincidence that the President at the time of the American Civil War was Abraham Lincoln. Therefore, Bob Dylan may be making a connection between the Bible story and historical events via his own father in order to make a comment about the Vietnam War. Is Dylan about to be sacrificed as a warning to America not to kill it’s sons by sending them to war in the same way Abraham Lincoln did in the American Civil War?
Highway 61 is the road which runs through Bob Dylan’s home town down to the Mississippi delta and the same road that he wanders down in One Too Many Mornings. The route passed near to the birthplaces and homes of influential musicians such as Muddy Waters, Son House, Charlie Patton and Elvis Presley and had already been the subject of Roosevelt Sykes’s 1932 song Highway 61 Blues. It is also the road where Bessie Smith died after sustained serious injuries in a car accident. But most significantly in terms of music history and relating to the first verse’s religious imagery, it is the road where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil, at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49. So therefore, through the song’s Biblical reference, is this God telling Dylan’s father that he has to kill his son at the same place that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil?