“Twelve Gates to the City” is a classic gospel number by the Reverend Gary Davis which Bob Dylan recently sang (in Toronto on July 15th, with guest musicians Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and and Jim James of My Morning Jacket). On YouTube you might just find someone’s amateur recording of that performance, and no doubt a version or two from the inestimable Rev. Davis himself (also purchasable here). But, in advance of a brief reflection of my own on the song, here’s a different version, a live one from the very charming singer Eilen Jewell and her band.
(Their recording of that is available with other great gospel numbers on an album titled The Sacred Shakers,a side project of Eilen Jewell and various musical compatriots.)
The song “Twelve Gates to the City” was inspired by chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation, where John’s vision of the New Jerusalem is described.
It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.
The walls of the city are said to be made of jasper, and the city itself is described as “pure gold, like clear glass.” As it happens, Bob Dylan once wrote a song of his own presumably inspired by the same passage of scripture, titled “City of Gold” (never officially released by him, but recorded by the Dixie Hummingbirds and featured on the soundtrack album for Dylan’s blockbuster movie, Masked & Anonymous).
Now, the length and width of the New Jerusalem are each specified in Revelation as being “12,000 stadia,” a measurement which in modern terms is equal to 1380 miles. That’s a heckuva big city. In fact, when you think about it, that is a city big enough for billions of people to live in. Naturally, the population density would be affected by zoning regulations, building codes and the like; on these, however, John the Revelator is unforthcoming. [Read more →]