The Messianic Theology of Bob Marley and His Conversion to Ethiopian Orthodoxy

I just returned from the Caribbean. As I listened to the music Bob Marley and the local reggae music, I tuned in with my theological ear. Certain lyrics stood out to me, for example, this line from Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up” (1973):

We sick an’ tired of-a your ism-skism game –
Dyin’ ‘n’ goin’ to heaven in-a Jesus’ name, Lord.
We know when we understand:
Almighty God is a living man.

So who is this “living man” who is God? Is it Christ or someone else? Hmm.

Bob Marley depicted as Saint George on his final album “Confrontation”

So I read through the lyrics and read up on Rastafari theology and its appropriation of Christian Messianism. Since most people interface Rastafari beliefs via Bob Marley’s music, I’ll examine Rastafari theology through the lens of Bob Marley. And so to begin, we should recognize that Marley experienced three theological periods during his life:

  1. Roman Catholic – from his birth in 1945 till 1966 when he was 21. His father was a white Jamaican captain derived from England. His mother was a Jamaican girl. He was 59. She was 18. His father died of a heart attack at age 70, when Bob was 10 years old. It seems that his mother was a Catholic.
  2. Rastafari – At age 21, Marley married Rita Anderson, a Rastafarian. Marley wholeheartedly adopted the Rastafarian identity and theology. This period lasts from 1966 (age 21) till about 1979.
  3. Ethiopian Orthodox – Marley became less enthusiastic about the Rastafari movement, especially after the death of Haile Selassie in 1975 (more on that below). By 1978 Marley’s music is less political, less militant, and less Rasta. Themes of love begin to dominate the music. Beginning 1979-1980, Marley sought membership within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Haile Selassie. Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq baptized Bob Marley into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, giving him the name Berhane Selassie, on 4 November 1980. Marley died of cancer seven months later on 11 May 1981 and received an Ethiopian Orthodox funeral.

101 Intro to Rastafari Messianic Theological:

  1. Trinitarian. Rastafari are traditionally Trinitarian and worship God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. They tend to depict Jesus as black and reject European depictions of Christ. As we will see below, they also see King Haile Selassie as a reincarnation or avatar of Jesus Christ. Some more advanced Rastafarians hold that God has had four avatars: Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and Haile Selassie.
  2. They read the Old and New Testament. They tend to quote the King James Version.
  3. Ethiopia is Politico-Prophetic. Rastafari read the Bible in a way to see the African nation of Ethiopia as playing a prophetic role in religious action and political justice. This is why the Rasta movement is defined by the colors of the Ethiopian flag.
  4. Ethiopic Messianism. They also believe that King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba had a baby together and that this child established a Davidic-Solomonic Messianic royal dynasty in Ethiopia.
  5. Pan-African. Rastafari theology is a religious Pan-African movement that looked forward to: a) the unification of all African nations; and B) the return of all dispersed Africans back to Africa. Ethiopia will be the instrument of this reunion.
  6. King Haile Selassie as Messiah. Rastafarian name themselves after Ras Tafari Makonnen (Ras means “Duke”), the baptismal name of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Ethiopia. They believe that “Ras Tafari” or “Haile Selassie” is the heir of the Davidic-Solomonic promises and that his celebrated coronation on 2 November 1930 was an apocalyptic and prophetic event signaling redemption for Africa and all dispersed Africans. The movement identified King Haile Selassie as “Messianic” or “the Messiah” or “Jesus reincarnate” or “divine” or “Jah.” King Haile Selassie was named Man of the Year in 1936, thus increasing expectation:
  7. Smoking cannabis was a cultural Jamaican practice. By association it became a defining element of Afro-Caribbean identity and Rastafarian spirituality. Rastafarian identified the “healing leaves” of Revelation 22:2 as cannabis: “and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
  8. Dreadlocks. The growing of dreadlocks is Biblically inspired by the Nazarite vow of Numbers 6: 5–6: “During the entire period of their Nazarite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the LORD is over; they must let their hair grow long.”
  9. Concubinage and Polygamy. Rastafarians hold David and Solomon as their spiritual fathers. Following their example, they allow for polygamy and concubinage. The Rastafarian women (like Bob Marley’s wife Rita) allowed their husbands to sleep with other women as they saw fit. Marital monogamy is not binding because it was not binding for David or Solomon.

Origin of Rastafari Theology

  • Beginning in 1930, Jamaican (Protestant) preachers began to describe the coronation of King Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia as the fulfillment of Revelation (5:2–5; 19:16), Daniel (7:3), and the Book of Psalms (68:31).
  • Jamaicans began to see themselves as supporting the “black king of Ethiopia” and not the “white king of England.” Supporters of Ras Tafari began to be identified as Rastafarians.
  • In 1935, Jamaican preacher Leonard Howell published the tract The Promised Key which explained that Emperor Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari) was the Messiah, that Black people were the chosen people, and they would soon be repatriated to Ethiopia and experience political and economic prosperity. The tract is the founding document of Rastafarian belief and marks the move from seeing Haile Selassie as merely prophetic to “the divine Messiah.”
  • Leonard Howell taught that there are 6 principles to Rastafari theology:
    (1) hatred for the White race;
    (2) the complete superiority of the Black race;
    (3) revenge on Whites for their wickedness;
    (4) the negation, persecution, and humiliation of the government of Jamaica;
    (5) preparation to go back to Africa; and
    (6) acknowledging Emperor Haile Selassie as the Supreme Being and only ruler of Black people
  • Haile Selassie visited Jamaica for the first time in August 1966, with crowds of Rastas assembling to meet him at the airport.
  • The death of Haile Selassie in 1975 lead to alternative conspiracies about a faked death, his resurrection, his second coming, or to his spiritual force being released into the world. However, as no Pan-African change materialized, the Rastafari movement lost momentum. Among black communities, rap replaced Rasta-style reggae as the musical force for revolution and political change. However, Rastafarian imagery and language continues to dominate pro-African movements in the West. The emphasis on Haile Selassie has mostly been exchanged for militant Socialism and the deification of the individual.

Bob Marley as Rastafarian and then as Ethiopian Orthodox:

As stated above, Bob Marley became Rastafarian in 1966 at age 21. Here’s his album cover with the The Wailers from 1965 with no signs of Rastafarian identity, with Bob Marley centered:

With their second album in 1966, they became political and took on a guerrilla revolution identity.

“I Shot the Sheriff” was released in 1973 on their sixth LP Burnin’. The album reached 151 on Billboard 200. The next year in 1974, Eric Clapton covered “I Shot the Sheriff” and it was a number one hit. This lifted Bob Marley and the Wailers into fame as fans desired to buy/listen to the original version. All of Marley’s subsequent albums did well, as he peaked in 1977 with the LP Exodus. By 1980 he was playing Madison Square Garden in NYC.

In 1977, Marley had been diagnosed with a malignant skin cancer on his toe. Doctors suggested full amputation of the toe. Marley kept the toe. On 21 September 1980, he learned that the cancer spread to his brain. He played his last concert on 23 September 1980 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

At this last live concert he sang: “We know when we over-stand: Almighty God is a living man.” It’s not clear if he was merely honoring the original lyrics, or whether he still actually believed that the now-deceased King Haile Sellasie was still God Almighty. Probably the former.

About 40 days after receiving his terminal cancer diagnosis, Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq baptized Bob Marley into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church on 4 November 1980. Afterward he cried for half an hour.

Bob Marley died of brain cancer on 11 May 1981.

Here is a full YouTube video with Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq, the one who baptized Bob Marley into the Orthodox Church. He explicitly states that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is NOT Rastafarian:

  • 2:50 Abuna Yesehaq says that 20,000 Rastafarians were baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but no all remained. From the video, it seems that Abuna Yesehaq did not require the newly baptized to renounced their Rasta beliefs. If so, this is troubling.
  • 3:40 Abuna Yesehaq says that Haile Selassie was a member of Ethiopian Orthodox Church and denied he was divine.
  • 4:20 Haile Selassie sent Abuna Yesehaq to convert Rastas in Jamaica.
  • 5:50 Abuna Yesehaq says dreadlocks are okay
  • 7:05 Abuna Yesehaq says “I baptized Bob Marley”
  • 8:00 Abuna Yesehaq explains three differences with Roman Catholics: papal infallibility, miaphysite nature of Christ, procession of Holy Spirit.
  • 10:40 Abuna Yesehaq explains how Bob Marley wanted to learn and conform to Orthodox practice, especially with regard to concubinage and polygamy.
  • 11:30 Abuna Yesehaq told Bob Marley to be monogamous.
  • 11:46 Abuna Yesehaq explains how Bob Marley cried for half and hour after baptism.
  • 12:30 His wife Rita Marely was baptized with her children in Ethiopian Orthodox Church in 1973.
  • 13:15 Bob Marley assented that Jesus crucified not Selassie is Christ.

It remains unclear whether Bob Marley repudiated his belief that Selassie but this interview seems to indicate that he did so and that he died a faithful member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Question: Do you have any questions about Rastafarian beliefs? Or do you have any more information about the beliefs or conversion of Bob Marley? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Why does Holy Water have salt in it? Elisha, Jesus, and Salted Fish

Why does holy water have salt in it? In the East and the West, salt has always been added to the making of holy water.

Before 1964, the Rituale Romanum includes an exorcism of the water and the adding of exorcized salt to the making of holy water. Here is the pre-1964 exorcism of the water:

O water, creature of God, I exorcise you in the name of God the Father almighty, and in the name of Jesus Christ His Son, our Lord, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. I exorcise you so that you may put to flight all the power of the Enemy, and be able to root out and supplant that Enemy with his apostate angels: through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly implore Thee, in Thy immeasurable kindness and love, to bless + and sanctify + this salt which Thou did create and give over to the use of mankind, so that it may become a source of health for the minds and bodies of all who make use of it, and may rid whatever it touches or sprinkles of all uncleanness and protect it from every assault of evil spirits. Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. R. Amen.

After 1964, the new Rituale Romanum excludes both the exorcism and the salt. (Not a fantastic development in my non-magisterial layman’s opinion.)

Providentially, Summorum Pontificum by Pope Benedict XVI allows all priests to use the pre-1964 formula for making holy water – and many priests quietly do this.

So why salt?

The Levitical priesthood under Moses identifies salt with “covenant”:

“Every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.” (Lev 2:13)

We find it again in Numbers:

All the holy offerings which the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due; it is a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.” (Num 18:19)

And the Davidic Messianic Covenant is a “covenant of salt” (2 Chronicles 13:5).

Since all Catholic liturgical forms come from Israelite liturgical forms, we can expect salt to play an important role in our sacramental life.

Moreover, the waters over which the Spirit hovered in Genesis 1 were salty (Covenant of Creation). The Flood of Noah was salty (Covenant of Noah). The Red Sea was salty (Covenant of Moses).It also refers to the action of Elishah the Prophet:

19 Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” 20 He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it, and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; henceforth neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” 22 So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word which Elisha spoke.

Elisha uses something sterile (salt) to make other things unsterile (women’s wombs). This is polarity miracle. We see the same with Elijah before him. Elijah pours water on a sacrifice and it burns anyway. The effect of a thing is opposite its purpose and creates a miraculous outcome.

Salt placed in the mouth of the Baptized:

The fifth canon of the Third Council of Carthage (AD 397) states that Catechumens should repeatedly consumed holy salt as they prepared for baptism. Saint Augustine refers to himself having been made a “catechumen” at birth (Patristic baby dedication) but not having been baptized:

Even as a boy I had heard of eternal life promised to us through the humility of the Lord our God condescending to our pride, and I was signed with the sign of the cross, and was seasoned with His salt even from the womb of my mother, who greatly trusted in You. Confessions 1, 14.

Prior to Vatican II, the priest placed a touch of holy salt into the mouth of all the newly baptized (including infants).

Priest: N., Receive the salt of wisdom; let it be propitiation for you unto eternal life.

Sponsor/Catechumen: Amen.

Priest: Peace be with you.

Sponsor/Catechumen: And with your spirit.

Priest: Let us pray: O God of our fathers, O God the Author of all truth, vouchsafe, we humbly beseech Thee, to look graciously down upon this Thy servant, N., and as he (she) tastes this first nutriment of salt, allow him (her) no longer to hunger for lack of heavenly food, to the end that he (she) may be always fervent in spirit, rejoicing in hope, always serving Thy name. Lead him (her), O Lord, we beseech Thee, to the laver of the new regeneration, that, together with Thy faithful, he may deserve to attain the everlasting rewards of Thy promises. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here’s a video of one of my children being baptized with the 1962 ritual of baptism. You can see the blessing and administration of holy salt at about 0:50:

This salt is given to whet the catechumens appetite for the Eucharist. It further demonstrates that everyone in the Roman Rite received the Eucharist after baptism – including infants well into the 5th century. Saint Cyprian and Saint Augustine refer matter-of-factly to infants receiving the Eucharist. Christian parents should fight for this Apostolic practice to be returned to the Roman Rite.

Saint Cyprian and Saint Augustine refer matter-of-factly to infants receiving the Eucharist. Christian parents should fight for this Apostolic practice to be returned to the Roman Rite. Click To Tweet

If a Catholic altar is disturbed or desecrated (as this one was desecrated in Ireland), it must be reconsecrated but this time with holy salt to purify and cleanse it from the demonic.

Theology of Salt from the words of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Our Lord Jesus Christ also states: “For every one will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49) Why is this? We are all to be holocaust sacrifices to the Father through Jesus Christ. In the next verse, he states: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another” (Mark 9:50). (Which is why the subtitle of this blog is “Stay salty my friends.”)

Christ says that all will be salted with fire. Every human will experience this salt as we pass through death. It is the judgment of Christ over our lives. Note that this means that Jesus the High Priest will treat everyone person as an animal sacrifice as in the Old Testament. Blood also is salty. Jewish texts also state that the one of the jobs of the Levites was to cast salt everywhere on the ground of the altar area so that the priests would not slip on all the sacrificial blood.

We have two models of salt and final judgment:

  • The first is that of the salt of damnation. Salt is sterile. Lot’s wife “turned back” and turned into a pillar (statue) of salt. She is grouped with the valley of Sodom and Gomorrah (sterile sexual immorality), which now lies condemned beneath the Dead Sea (a salty body of water).
  • The second is that of the salt of salvation. Salt preserves. The fisherman Apostles daily dealt in salt. There was no refrigeration and fish were always transported in salt. Fishermen needed boats, nets, and lots and lots of salt to be successful merchants.
    As Apostles (and their successors) are “fishers of men” it’s not enough to merely catch men. The fish of Jesus must be confirmed in grace and preserved by the “salt of the covenant.” Hence, salt becomes a sign against contagion and corruption. It’s a sign of orthodox preaching, teaching, and sacramental integrity within the Catholic Church.
As Apostles (and their successors) are fishers of men it's not enough to merely catch men. The fish of Jesus must be confirmed in grace and preserved by the salt of the covenant.Hence, salt becomes a sign against contagion and… Click To Tweet

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PS: If you want to discover more about Old Testament rites and their relationship to Catholic liturgy, check out this book: The Crucified Rabbi.

143: Shoveling Incense into the Cathedral’s Botafumeiro (Camino 7)

We were privileged to see the “smoke boat” or Botafumeiro in action today after Mass. The botafumeiro is the world’s largest incense thurible. It hangs from the ceiling of the Cathedral of Saint James and takes about 5 grown men to swing it through the cathedral. It’s quite the sight.

In this podcast I explain the epic botafumeiro. As promised, in the the podcast I include my video footage of the botafumeiro in action.

Godspeed,
Dr Taylor Marshall

142: Tears and Arrival in Santiago! (Camino 6)

My dad and I made it to the Cathedral of Saint James (Santiago) today. I had a flat tire on my bike in the rain, but I finally made it through this final day: “I lift my eyes up to the mountains, from whence my help comes.”

Listen to the mp3 podcast below to the amazing experience of arriving with all the pilgrims on the Camino of Santiago (podcast and photo below):

Buen Camino!
Dr Marshall

141: Monastery at Samos, Spain (Camino 5)

I continue on the Camino of Santiago.

Today we arrived at the historic Benedictine monastery at Samos. I detail the building and lament on the collapse of Christianity in Spain (and especially the collapse of monasticism). Click below to listen:

Dr Taylor Marshall

140: Eucharistic Miracle at O Cebreiro in Spain (Camino 4)

Along the Camino of Saint James in Spain is the sight of a Eucharistic miracle in the church at O Cebreiro.

A poor pilgrim braved a deathly winter snowstorm to come to this church for Mass. The priest made fun of him and a Eucharistic miracle followed. Listen to the podcast below to hear the entire story about the miracle and the chalice:

Video: Did Mary Die BEFORE she was Assumed into Heaven? Yes

Did Mary die and enter a tomb to later be resurrected and assumed into Heaven? Or did God immediately raise up her body into Heaven?

You might be surprised to learn that Catholic iconography, saints, Eastern liturgy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and even Pope Pius XII taught that she first died and then her body was assumed into Heaven. But her “death” was different. Let’s discover the distinction. Here’s a video I produced on the topic:

Click here to begin watching the video: Did Mary Die?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Our Immaculate Mother of the Christ, pray for us,
Dr Taylor Marshall

What is an Apostle? (And How it Relates to all the Boat Scenes in the Bible)

Our Lord Jesus Christ founded a New Israel with Himself as Davidic King and with Twelve Apostles initiating the new Twelve Tribes of Israel. This is the Messianic Kingdom of the Church.

As one who connects the Old Testament features to Catholic dogma (see this book: The Crucified Rabbi), I’ve always been painfully aware that the term “apostle” doesn’t have a slick connection to Old Testament kingdom language.

Pagan “Boat” Sources for the Term Apostle:

In pagan Greek sources (such as in the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus), ἀπόστολος (apostolos) refers to a political or military delegate or messenger. ἀπόστολος also refers to the commander of a naval force.

In fact, στόλος refers to a naval division or to a colony. So an ἀπόστολος is one who travels out to these naval colonies. Sometimes ἀπόστολος is used to refer to a formal naval dispatch or to an export license to/from these colonies.

So when the New Testament authors adopt this Greek term, they are not merely referring to a local rabbi or preacher. They are using a term that referred to diplomats who traveled to the farrest ends of the earth. It’s a global or catholic term.

Pauline Sources for the Term:

The term ἀπόστολος appears only once in the Greet Septuagint (Greek version of Old Testament) at 1 Kings 14:6 where ἀπόστολος is a translation of the Hebrew שָׁלוּחַ (sha-lach). The term appears 79 times in the New Testament – 68 of which are found in the writings of Paul and his disciple Luke.

It seems that originally ἀπόστολος referred to each of the original Twelve Apostles. However, Saint Paul opened the term to include himself, Barnabas (Acts 14:14) and Timothy and Silvanus (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Paul also speaks of false apostles in 2 Corinthians.

In Hebrews, Luke/Paul identify Jesus as “the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb 3:1). In this context, apostleship is associated with the high priesthood. This is our biggest hint into how early Christians understood the term ἀπόστολος. It was missionary and priestly. Just as an ἀπόστολος origianlly referred to naval delegates to colonies, so a high priest bridges over water as a pontifex, a bridge builder between God and man.

According to Paul, apostles surpass the various other offices within the Church of “teachers, evangelists, and prophets” (διδάσκαλος, εὐαγγελιστής, προφήτης). In the mind of Paul, an apostle is more than these three. I would argue, that for Paul an apostle is all three of these at once while also being priestly diplomats for Christ.

Are Apostles Political or Priestly?

At first glance into a Greek dictionary, the term ἀπόστολος seems political or mercantile. It’s a civil title. However, the Christians looked to King Melchizedek and King David as “priest kings” or “liturgical kings” as the prototypes for King Jesus. So the political realm collapses into the priestly liturgical realm. This is why Christ is both establishing a “kingdom” (political) and also building at “temple” (priestly). He is king and pontiff. And so also, his political ministers are both political and cultic. The ἀπόστολος is a naval delegate for foreign colonies throughout the world but he is also a sacrificial priest who offers the Gentiles to God as sacrifice and who offers the Eucharist as sacrifice.

Apostles on a Boat:

One final related topic. I couldn’t help but noticed that in Acts, the vivid scenes of Paul traveling by ship may in fact be intentionally recounted with detail to bolster Paul’s identity as ἀπόστολος. In the Greek mind, the ἀπόστολος is primarily naval and thus Paul is literally fulfilling his role as ἀπόστολος (maybe better so than the Twelve!). Also, the stories of Saint James Zebedee going to and from (posthumously) to Spain by boat ratifies James as a true apostle for Jesus. And let’s not forget all the “Jesus in a boat” scenes from the Gospels!

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139: Embarrassing Fall at the Iron Cross (Camino 3)

Today was the most difficult day on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I fell down (while still clipped into my bike) at the summit below the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) where pilgrims place a stone from home to signify their burdens and sins.

Here is an audio file of me recounting the experience and explaining the Iron Cross tradition:

Here is the Cruz de Ferro surrounded by pebbles placed their by pilgrims over time:

138: The Angry Jousting Pilgrim of 1434 (Camino 2)

Today I tell the story of a pilgrim, a knight, and his rejected love that lead him to 30 days of violent jousting and the breaking of the 300 lances!

We passed through the medieval town of Hospital de Órbigo which was once run and controlled by the Knights Hospitallers to aide Christian pilgrims along the Camino to Santiago, Spain.

Previously in AD 456, invading armies loyal to King Theuderic I (son of King Clovis of the Franks) here fought King Rechiar (Suevic king of Gallaecia – first Germanic Catholic king).

Here’s the story of the Leonese knight Suero de Quinones who was rejected by the woman he loved. She placed him in the “friend zone,” and so he burned out his anger through jousting: