The Baptism of Bob Marley


AbunaYesehaqMany Rastafari are very serious about their religion, but the success of Marley and Reggae music has also resulted in an island economy with a vested interested in preserving and building upon the Marley image. That image took an abrupt turn when Marley, diagnosed with cancer, eventually asked to be baptized a Christian.

It happened in New York City, where Marley was undergoing treatment for cancer. His wife, Rita, and the Marley children had been baptized into the Ethiopian Church several years earlier. Selassie himself reportedly sent Orthodox Bishop Abuna Yesehaq to Jamaica in hopes of drawing the Rastafari away from Selassie-worship and into the fold of Ethiopian Orthodoxy. One writer put it this way:

“The Archbishop, interviewed by Barbara Blake Hannah for Gleaner’s Sunday Magazine (November 25 1984), told how Bob Marley had come to his church for some time. When he had expressed a desire to be baptised, people close to him who controlled him and who were aligned to a different aspect of Rast-afari prevented him from going ahead.

The website says that Bob remained outside the church for several years after Rita and the children converted in 1972. Bob was under the spiritual guidance of the archbishop but was baptised just a year before his death, after 3 aborted attempts to convert in Kingston. He backed out each time, says the Archbishop, after being threatened by other rastas. Marley was finally baptised in the Ethiopian Church in New York where resentments were less inflamed. The Archbishop christened him Berhane Selassie—’light of the Trinity’.
Rita Marley

Yesehaq told Barbara Blake Hannah: ‘I remember once while I was conducting the Mass, I looked at Bob and tears were streaming down his face. Many people think he was baptised because he knew he was dying, but that is not so … he did it when there was no longer any pressure on him, and when he was baptized, he hugged his family and wept. They all wept together for about an hour.’

Yesehaq is adamant Bob’s conversion was genuine. It is clear that Marley denounced the belief of Selassie as God at his conversion and baptism into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and accepted their Christian belief system, otherwise his funeral would never have taken place in the church.”

What is obvious from all of this is that Bob Marley was being torn in many different directions. His mother and grandparents had been Christians, his wife and children were now Orthodox and the pull of those two currents proved stronger than the objections of Rastafari and business interests, neither of whom wanted the Marley “narrative” to change.
Bob Marley’s Gideon Bible. Courtesy of the Bob Marley Foundation
Several things we know for sure. Bob Marley knew what the Gospel was, having been raised in a Christian home. Even as a Rastafarian, he had a reputation for reading his dog-eared King James Bible for hours on end, even on the bus as his music group toured. And finally, we can know for sure that we can’t know for sure, at least not in this life. The thief on the cross believed on the last day of his life. In the accompanying article by Mike Rimmer, we read of Marley’s final days and hours.

We are not fond of smarmy preachers who try to preach the reprobate into heaven at their funerals. We are, therefore, decidedly disinclined to offer any opinion beyond every Christ-ian’s hope for the salvation of the lost. At worst, it was syncretism, as evidenced by the fact that his wife Rita placed a small ganga bud in his coffin, which admittedly, is more her statement than his. But he was also buried with his Gibson guitar, and his Bible, opened to the Twenty-third Psalm.