Monday, September 18, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac podcast, we head to the mailbag to answer a question about Bob Marley and Christianity.

It is the 18th of September 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Well, if all has gone according to plan, I am back in the United States- I was at SoFi yesterday for the Rams 49ers game- it hopefully wasn’t a terribly embarrassing game, and now I am resting a little bit. Who knows.

I got a question a while back from Drew in St. Louis- he is originally from Madison, Nebraska.

He writes: “I am originally from Madison, Nebraska, which is not home to anybody particularly famous, but I went to high school in nearby Norfolk, home to Johnny Carson and Thurl Ravenscroft, the longtime voice of Tony the Tiger.” Yes! Thurl also sang the Grinch theme song. And there’s something about, maybe, his son who leads worship at a church I used to work at (It was before I was there- my boy Sam can help me out with this one).

 Ok- Drew asked about the story of Bob Marley converting to Christianity. I was unfamiliar with it- and sometimes “death bed conversion stories” are told with scant research (for some time, the story of Charles Darwin’s conversion became a favorite only to be ). So- I went to some Marley biographies and found it told in two of them: Catch a Fire by Timothy White and Bob Marley by Steven Davis. A few stories from newspapers covering his funeral also mentioned his recent involvement with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

His mother had been involved in a Pentecostal church before Bob was born and, throughout his life, urged him to go to church. He came to Rastafarianism as a blend of anti-colonialism, black identity, and reverence for the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, who also went by the name Ras Stafari. Preachers from the 1930s in Jamaica preached that Selassie was the one prophesied about in the Old Testament as a kind of Christ figure. It is outside the periphery of many definitions of Christian Orthodoxy but was an offshoot from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church- which has been a church long proud of its non-European roots- a kind of Christianity from Africa for Africans.

 There was a healthy blend of Old Testament prophecy used by the group, with a kind of “what if we, these outcasts peripheral to Christianity, are tied to the lost tribes of Israel?” This was not uncommon among fringe groups in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In the 70s, his wife and children were baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but there was pressure- perhaps explicit- for Bob to be the face of Rastafarianism. The archbishop of the Ethiopian church recalled “"He had a desire to be baptized long ago, but there were people close to him who controlled him and who were aligned to a different aspect of Rastafari. But he came to church regularly.”

With the death of Selassie in 1975, Marley’s explicit endorsement of that tradition wained. He was baptized by the archbishop in a hotel in New York with his wife and children present. He took the baptismal name Berhane Selassie, meaning “Light of the Trinity.”

For a contemporary witness, the Guardian UK reported on his funeral- it noted:  

“The day of the funeral began with an hour-long service for family and close friends at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity on Maxfield Avenue, presided over by His Eminence Abuna Yesehaq, the church's archbishop in the western hemisphere, who had baptized Marley in New York the previous November.

A little while after the scheduled hour of 11 o'clock, the service began with an Anglican hymn, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," accompanied by the drummers of the United Africa Band.”

Was “such and such a celebrity a Christian”? It is not uncommon. Christians like finding out that men and women with creative and prophetic voices are fueled by the same self-giving love that motivates us in Jesus. Marley’s music, see Redemption song for one such track that mirrors the Christian experience. And Dean MacNeil wrote “The Bible and Bob Marley,” in which he identified some 137 biblical references from across his catalog.  

I’ll admit- Reggae has never been my thing, but I do dig the cover of Redemption song by Johnny Cash in his last years. Drew, I am interested in the story of Christianity in the Caribbean and will hopefully be drawn back to that story soon. As for you and your questions- send them to me at


The last word for today is from Hebrews 11.

24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of September 2023, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man still wondering how he can work steel drums into his liturgy- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who, since starting on this show, has listened to “Song for Dennis Brown” by the Mountain Goats on repeat- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.

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