Seth Rogov­oy, author of Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mys­tic, Poet, wrote about Bob Dylan’s JudaismJews who write Christ­mas music, and the album itself. He is guest-blog­ging all week for MyJew­ish­Learn­ing and the Jew­ish Book Council.

When I first heard the songs on Bob DylanChrist­mas in the Heart, I thought, not only is this the worst record­ing Bob Dylan has ever made, but it is lit­er­al­ly unlistenable.

Bob Dylan’s worst, after all, is typ­i­cal­ly a lot bet­ter than many people’s best, and as good as even more people’s mediocre efforts. But in its lack of inspi­ra­tion and imag­i­na­tion, and in the poor qual­i­ty of the per­for­mances, espe­cial­ly in Dylan’s hor­ri­ble vocals, this seemed noth­ing more than a tossed-off, mis­guid­ed effort, rank­ing even below such Dylan mis­fires as Self Por­traitKnocked Out Loaded, and Down In The Groove. (What’s that, you say? You nev­er heard of those? Well, there’s a reason.)

Which still leaves the unan­swer­able ques­tion, why? Or, more pre­cise­ly, what does it mean?

I think, short of get­ting inside of Bob Dylan’s head — which, hav­ing stud­ied him long and hard for more decades than I care to admit, is a place I’ve con­clud­ed you don’t want to go — we’ve estab­lished as well as we can why Dylan would want to make a Christ­mas album. It makes per­fect sense in the greater con­text of Dylan’s career as an Amer­i­can musi­cian, and even as a Jew­ish-Amer­i­can musi­cian (see parts 1 – 3 of this series).

As for what it might mean, with the impli­ca­tion being what it might mean regard­ing Dylan’s self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as a Jew or a Chris­t­ian, that’s a much more dif­fi­cult ques­tion to answer. Indeed, it’s impos­si­ble to say.

It’s not my place to com­ment on the mean­ing of Christ­mas in con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­ca, although I’ve had plen­ty of chances to observe it up close and per­son­al being cel­e­brat­ed by a wide cross-sec­tion of peo­ple from all walks of life. And I’ve often had it explained to me by those who do hon­or the hol­i­day in one way or anoth­er that it has lit­tle to no reli­gious sig­nif­i­cance (this is often by way of their invit­ing me to join in the festivities).

As with all of Bob Dylan’s songs, ulti­mate­ly what­ev­er mean­ing” there is in a song is some­thing per­son­al that exists between the singer and the lis­ten­er. It’s not for any writer or crit­ic to decide a song’s ulti­mate mean­ing (I say this as one whose book about the pro­found Jew­ish mean­ings of much of Dylan’s work is on the eve of pub­li­ca­tion). I don’t even think it’s up to Bob Dylan to decide his songs’ ulti­mate mean­ings; if he offered up any inter­pre­ta­tions, they’d be sus­pect, in any case.

As for me, I’ve warmed to Christ­mas in the Heart. Some of the per­for­mances are insin­u­at­ing (I’m hav­ing a hard time get­ting his Do You Hear What I Hear?” out of my head, for bet­ter or worse, and much to the annoy­ance of close friends and Twit­ter fol­low­ers). There’s a cer­tain amount of kitsch val­ue to the record­ings (although not near­ly as much per­son­al­i­ty and humor as was found on last spring’s Togeth­er Through Life). There’s noth­ing real­ly here to offend any­one of any per­sua­sion, oth­er than some of Dylan’s less attrac­tive barks and growls, and some of the choir’s more offen­sive dol­lops of sugar.

Great Dylan it’s not; a great Christ­mas album it’s not. Anoth­er small chap­ter in the inscrutable career of Bob Dylan it is. And for that alone, it’s worth a listen.

Seth Rogov­oy is the author of Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mys­tic, Poet, due from Scrib­n­er on Nov. 24, 2009. Please vis­it Rogovoy’s offi­cial web­site.