The Unspoken Conversion The Deeply Profound Christian Faith of Bob Marley

Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945, in the Nine Mile village located in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica. His father, Norval Marley, was a white Englishman who passed away when Bob was just 10 years old. 

The Unspoken Conversion The Deeply Profound Christian Faith of Bob Marley

His mother, Cedella Booker, was a Black woman of Afro-Jamaican heritage. In her book "Bob Marley, My Son," Marley's mother recalls how she became religious prior to Bob's conception. She joined the Shiloh Apostolic Church in Kingston, a Pentecostal church, where she sang in the choir.

The baptism of the renowned reggae musician and symbol of the Rastafarian movement into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is a real event, but largely an unknown one. 

Although his official biographies acknowledge its occurrence, they provide very limited information. The 2012 documentary "Marley" does not even mention it. Unless one happens to come across this information through online sources, such as through a Twitter post by an Ethiopian Orthodox friend or reading this article, this story may remain unheard of.

Christian Influence on Marley

Marley was heavily influenced by his Christian upbringing, particularly through music. As quoted in "Chanting Down Babylon" by Roger Steffens, Cedella said that Marley would frequently sing hymns and popular songs with her around the house.

The Unspoken Conversion The Deeply Profound Christian Faith of Bob Marley

Marley started recording music in 1963 with The Teenagers, who later changed their name to The Wailers. Much of his early music, including an early version of the popular song "One Love," shows his deep connection to the Bible. In "The Bible and Bob Marley," Dean MacNeil found 137 distinct biblical references, mainly from Psalms and Proverbs, in Marley's music from his time with Island Records.


Although Marley never lost his passion for the Bible, by late 1966 he started to delve into the Rastafarian perspective of "Jah," the Bible, and history. Rastafarianism, often oversimplified in popular culture as just dreadlocks and marijuana, rejected colonialism and oppression (known as "Babylon") and instead celebrated African heritage and history (referred to as "Zion"). The core of the Rastafarian faith was the belief that Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, was God in human form and the second coming of Jesus.

The Unspoken Conversion The Deeply Profound Christian Faith of Bob Marley

MacNeil states that biblical references and imagery are prevalent in Marley's music, starting from his first published song at 17 years old, "Judge Not" (based on Matthew 7:1/Luke 6:37), to "Redemption Song," the final track on his last album before his death from cancer at 36 years old. Marley included lyrics such as "How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look? / Some say it’s just a part of it, we’ve got to fulfill the book," referencing Matthew 23:37/Luke 13:34. He even said that the name of his group, The Wailers, was inspired by the "weeping and wailing" mentioned in the Bible, likely referencing Jeremiah 9:10, which mourns the Babylonian conquest of Judah. Marley was known to read the King James Version daily.

In February of that year, Marley tied the knot with Rita Anderson, who was a Christian but converted to Rastafarianism in April after Selassie's visit to Jamaica. Marley eventually followed in her footsteps and joined the Twelve Tribes of Israel, known as the most Bible-based and Christian-influenced sect of Rastafari, according to Dean MacNeil. In June 1968, Marley recorded his first song influenced by Rastafarianism, "Selassie is the Chapel," followed by "Jah is Mighty" in 1970.

Additional details about the baptism of Bob Marley were revealed in a 1988 biography by Stephen Davis. According to the book, the ceremony took place at the Wellington Hotel in midtown Manhattan and was performed by Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq, a leader of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church sent to minister to Jamaicans. It was noted that Marley's wife Rita, who was tearful, and their children were also in attendance during the baptism.

The Unspoken Conversion The Deeply Profound Christian Faith of Bob Marley

Marley's decade of fame as a Rastafarian is well documented. However, in 1980, three years after his initial cancer diagnosis and just months before his death, Marley began another, less well-known journey. According to Timothy White's biography "Catch a Fire," Marley returned to Sloan-Kettering in New York after trips to Miami and Mexico. On November 4, 1980, while in New York, he was baptized. Rita had Bob baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, taking the name Berhane Selassie, which means "Light of the Trinity." Thus, he became a Christian Rasta.

Marley's funeral was a Christian tribute, showcasing his departure from the Rastafarian beliefs and his acceptance into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The funeral was documented in great detail by The Guardian and can also be seen in online videos. Although some elements of Rastafarianism were incorporated, the event was primarily focused on Christian rituals and hymns, celebrating Marley's life and work in a way that honored both his beliefs and his legacy.

Bob was truly a devout and faithful child of God, regardless of how others viewed him. Despite being surrounded by people who controlled him and held different beliefs within the Rastafarian faith, Bob had a long-standing desire to be baptized. He regularly attended church services, and there was one instance where he was seen crying during a Mass service.

During his tours in Los Angeles, New York, and England, Bob preached the Orthodox faith and many people joined the church due to his influence. Some may believe that he was baptized only because he knew he was dying, but that is not the case. Bob was baptized when he was no longer under any pressure and after he was baptized, he hugged his family and all of them cried together for about half an hour.

There is some debate over the authenticity of Marley's conversion. Timothy White suggests that the idea came from Rita, and that Marley still remained a Rasta at heart. Stephen Davis acknowledges that Marley may have been drawn to the ancient authority and mystique of the Ethiopian Church, but also wonders if the baptism was motivated by his fear of death or a desire to please his mother who had long been trying to bring him back to Christianity. However, the accounts of those close to Marley and his conversion provide insight into the situation. In the book "So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley," Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq, who baptized Marley, reflects on the event.

In a conversation, Archbishop Yesehaq emphasizes the similarities between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. 

He also mentions that Marley shed tears for 30 minutes after his baptism, which he sees as tears of remorse. It is also mentioned that Marley's wife, Rita, and their children were baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in 1973, seven years before Marley. According to Davis in "The First Rasta," Marley had been secretly supporting the Orthodox Church in Jamaica for many years and financing the construction of its church on Maxfield Avenue.

The testimony of those close to Marley adds to the authenticity of his conversion. Liq Kahnat Misale, another Ethiopian missionary who lived in Marley's house for four years, confirms that Marley was a true believer in the Orthodox faith and that his children would attend church and serve as deacons. 

In her book No Woman, No Cry, Marley's wife Rita writes that Marley himself arranged for his baptism on November 4, 1980, after she had encouraged him to do so for years. She adds that he was crying and that the whole family was crying during the ceremony.

Judy Mowatt, who was a close friend of Rita and a former backup singer for the Wailers, recounts a touching moment in her book. She claims that when Bob was on his deathbed and in unbearable pain, he stretched out his hand and cried out, "Jesus take me." This was reported to her by Rita over the phone.

Judy Mowatt, a friend of Rita and former backup singer for the Wailers, recalls a phone call she received from Rita while Bob was on his deathbed. 

According to Rita, Bob was in immense pain and reached out his hand, crying out, "Jesus take me."

Marley's conversion to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is a fact, but it is a story that has been largely untold. 

Despite being acknowledged in official biographies, the details are scant and the 2012 documentary, Marley, makes no mention of it. The reason for this lack of attention may be because of the assumption that it was not a genuine conversion, seen as one of those typical "deathbed conversion" stories. 

However, it is more likely that it never gained much attention because it was so true and could potentially tarnish Marley's legacy, as seen by some friends and fans.

Marley's baptism was not a rejection of his beliefs, but rather an affirmation of his core values and his quest for truth and justice. He did not pass away as a Christian Rasta, but rather a Rasta who embraced Christianity. 

It's time to spread the word about Marley's conversion and to appreciate his music for what it truly was - a prelude to the gospel that nourished his soul and the souls of others.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post