Rutgers professor connects theology and Bruce Springsteen

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A Rutgers University professor presented “The Theologies of Bruce Springsteen” on Thursday in the Pearn Auditorium of Brennan Hall.

Azzan Yadin-Israel, Ph.D., is a professor of Jewish Studies and Classics. During his presentation, Yadin-Israel examined Old Testament themes and reinterpretations of Bible passages in three Springsteen songs: “Thunder Road,” “Adam Raised a Cain” and “Jesus Was an Only Son.”

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RUTGERS PROFESSOR Azzan Yadin-Israel, Ph.D., presented “The Theologies of Bruce Springsteen” Thursday.

For “Thunder Road,” Yadin-Israel analyzed how Springsteen presents the idea of a “this-worldly redemption.” Unlike an “other-worldly redemption,” a “this-worldly redemption” takes place on Earth in the here and now.

“Springsteen draws on the traditional language of theology in a nontraditional way,” Yadin-Israel said.

Yadin-Israel went on to explain how the two characters in the song, Mary and the singer, represent an “other worldly” redemption and a “this-worldly” redemption, respectively.

“It’s a kind of reformulation of traditional ideals about redemption and the Promised Land,” Yadin-Israel said. “And so, we’re in a new key. A key of this world. A key of imminence. A key of the reality of just the affinities of our lives, and our need for grasping this moment and living it as fully as possible as a form of redemption.”

Yadin-Israel went on to discuss Springsteen’s “Adam Raised a Cain.” Yadin-Israel explained how this song expresses how one should not view the stories of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel as discrete narratives. Instead, one must remember that Adam and Eve are Cain and Abel’s parents.

“When we have Cain and his sin, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Yadin-Israel said. “It doesn’t happen with no context. It happens as the result of something that occurred in that family.”

Similar to how “Thunder Road” reinterpreted the idea of redemption, “Adam Raised a Cain” reinterprets the idea of original sin.

“It is sin that is the product of the violence that the fathers inflict on their sons,” Yadin-Israel said. “It is the generational violence. That’s the original sin.”

Yadin-Israel said this idea is expressed in how the song opens with a baptism scene that is immediately juxtaposed with a scene of violence between a father and son.

Yadin-Israel also discussed how the song’s title alludes to the idea of violence between a father and son.

“In English, we do not use an indefinite article when we speak about a person,” Yadin-Israel said. “We don’t say, ‘I had dinner with a Mark.’”

Therefore, by titling the song “Adam Raised a Cain,” Springsteen was alluding to the idea of Adam raising a cane in order to hit his son, Yadin-Israel said.

The final song Yadin-Israel analyzed was “Jesus Was an Only Son.” In this analysis, Yadin-Israel examined how Springsteen focuses on Jesus’ humanity.

“When we think of Jesus as a son, generally that goes to the divine part: the son of God,” Yadin-Israel said. “Here Springsteen is saying, ‘No. I’m actually interested in Jesus, the son of Mary. The human part of his sonship.’”

By doing this, Springsteen shows the impact Jesus’ death had on Mary’s life.

“The narrative of Jesus’ death leads theologically to the Resurrection,” Yadin-Israel said. “Resurrection means that there is no loss that can never be replaced. In other words, Jesus dies but returns. The song says, ‘No. If we read this from Mary’s perspective, Mary did suffer a loss that can never be replaced.’ Her son died, and she was there.”

Yadin-Israel’s theological analysis of Bruce Springsteen’s songs began when he started teaching a first-year seminar on the topic in 2013. In 2016, after spending a few years analyzing and mining Springsteen’s lyrics, Yadin-Israel’s book, “The Grace of God and the Grace of Man: The Theologies of Bruce Springsteen,” was published.

The University’s Weinberg Judaic Studies Institute sponsored Yadin-Israel’s presentation.