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The Boss is on course for theology

22 November 2013

By Simon Jones


FAMOUS for singing that "All the redemption I can offer is beneath this dirty hood", the rock star Bruce Springsteen (right) is the subject of a new theology course at one of the oldest universities in the United States.

"Bruce Springsteen's Theology", offered by Rutgers University in New Brunswick, is a new part of the school's Jewish studies programme. It will "focus on Springsteen's reinterpretation of biblical motifs, the possibility of redemption by earthly means (women, cars, music), and his interweaving of secular and sacred elements", the course literature states.

Professor Azzan Yadin-Israel, who usually teaches courses on early rabbinic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Plato, has been turning his attention to the religious language in the back catalogue of the man known as "the Boss".

Professor Yadin-Israel has been an admirer of Springsteen's work since his schooldays. He was inspired to create the course after researching an article on the theological approaches of Israeli bands. Listening to Springsteen, he found recurring themes of redemption and a yearning for the Promised Land.

"Jesus was an only Son", for example, is a song that Professor Yadin-Israel cites as explicitly exploring biblical themes with a contemporary interpretation. He told The Huffington Post that the song was about the Passion narrative, specifically Christ's sacrifice. "Springsteen refocuses the song in an interesting way, shifting the focus away from Jesus as the son of God, and looking at Jesus as the son of Mary," he said. "She isn't part of the redemptive narrative - she's a grieving mother."

Springsteen grew up in an RC household, but Professor Yadin-Israel argues for his inclusion in Jewish studies because of the prevalence of Old Testament motifs in the music. "Springsteen refers more often to the stories of the Old Testament than the New Testament.

"On a literary level, [he] often recasts biblical figures and stories into the American landscape. The narrator of 'Adam raised a Cain' describes his strained relationship with his father through the prism of the biblical story of the first father and son; apocalyptic storms accompany a boy's tortured transition into manhood in 'The Promised Land'; and the first responders of 9/11 rise up to 'some place higher' in the flames, much as Elijah the prophet ascended in a chariot of fire ('Into the Fire')."

Fans hoping to take the course may be disappointed: the 20 places have already been taken. But because of the attention the seminars have received, Professor Yadin-Israel says that he will probably write a book setting out his observations.

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