Dean MacNeil, “Bob Marley,” in Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, vol. 17, ed. Dale C. Allison, Jr. et. al. (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter), forthcoming.
Marley assumed the persona of biblical wisdom teacher as early as November 1966, when he recorded “Freedom Time.” In it, he echoes the sentiment of biblical sages (e.g. Ps 34:11; Prov 4:1, 8:32) by addressing his audience as “children.” He would continue to do so in songs like “Wisdom” (1970), “Jah Live” (1975), and “We and Dem” (1980). Marley’s wisdom stems from his experience and engagement with Scripture. He does not merely quote Scripture in his lyrics, he actively interprets it, as can be seen in the way he adapts the passages he selects.
Dean MacNeil, “Rastafari and Bob Marley,” in Exploring Rastafari Livity, ed. Darren J. N. Middleton (New York and London: Routledge), forthcoming.
During his time recording and touring for Island Records from 1972–80, Bob Marley became an international music superstar, the “King of Reggae,” and Rastafari’s global messenger. An examination of the transitional period from 1966–70 sheds light on Marley’s progression toward Rasta emissary. Three songs in particular foreshadow his later work while preserving early artistic elements that would remain constants throughout his career, including the influence of the Bible and theme of redemption. In “Freedom Time” (1966), Marley has already assumed the role of wisdom teacher, bringing a message of redemption to his “children.” In his recording of Thomas A. Dorsey’s “The Lord Will Make A Way” (1968), Marley honors the influence of gospel music on reggae and identifies with the song’s message of trust in God. In “Man to Man” (1970), Marley is the consummate wisdom teacher of broad appeal, countering bleak circumstances with a hopeful message inspired by Paul (Romans 8:31). These early songs provide insight to Marley’s realization of Rasta and are indicative of an artist who is true to himself and his mission.