Jesus Christ was a Man
Guthrie’s most radical, creative appropriation of the New Testament can be seen in his particularly subversive version of the lyrics to “Jesus Christ,” displayed here. Drawing on Christ’s denunciation of wealth inequality, Guthrie envisions a time of anti-capitalist revolution “when the patience of the poor ones breaks away.” The repetition of “laid Jesus Christ in his grave” emphasizes the cyclical violence perpetuated by corrupt bankers, ministers, “cops,” deputies, “killergoons,” “paid liars,” landlords, and hired soldiers. This vision was inspired by “the sidewalks of New York,” a city that, as Guthrie writes elsewhere, has “got the best of the least for the most, and the most of the best for the least.”

“Jesus Christ”
Typed lyrics, 1943 (first written 1940)

My Peace I Give unto You, 1952
Watercolor, pen and ink, and crayon


Steve Earle: Although not drawn to traditional forms of organized religion, Woody immersed himself in the study of all facets of spirituality. The universal themes of caring for one another, the hope for a better future, and love as the most important guiding force are reflected in Woody’s own works. In one of his notebooks he even painted the words, “God Is Love.”

Woody Guthrie: Well, I guess you know that, uh, there has been similar incidents of that kind take place where a man come down through the country takin’ it from the rich and givin’ it to the poor. Usually, that’s a pretty interesting subject. I’m not a very smart feller, but I know that sounds awful good to everybody where I come from and I’ve got another song here that I wanna sing because it’s about a man I suppose was more popular than anybody in his own day and time, and I think he was called an outlaw. Might unpopular to be called a Christian in the days that this man was livin’. The name of this one is “They Laid Jesus Christ in his Grave”.