In the music of Bob Marley, a deep connection to Judaism (Benjamin Ivry, May 19, 2021, The Forward)
As a Rastafarian, an adherent of an Abrahamic religion and social movement that developed in Jamaica during the 1930s, Marley was a student of the second book of the Torah, among other Jewish sacred writings. His 1977 song “Exodus” demonstrated as much, voicing the hope that Rastafarians, downtrodden socially and economically in Jamaica, would be led to freedom, as Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.
Marley’s uplifting words, “Open your eyes and look within/ Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?/ We know where we’re going/We know where we’re from/We’re leaving Babylon/ We’re going to our Father’s land” stirred audiences to empathize with a quest for a new spiritual homeland.
“Exodus” was written at a particularly fraught moment of Marley’s life, after he had survived an assassination attempt in Jamaica in 1976.
An earlier song, “Iron Lion Zion,” again referred to the biblical Promised Land in the context of Rastafarian belief that their restored homeland of liberation and salvation would be Ethiopia.
Marley’s “Redemption Song,” written circa 1979, refers to being sold into bondage: “But my hand was made strong/ By the hand of the Almighty” which is seen as a direct allusion to Genesis 49:24: “…the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.”
His musical transmutations of Jewish history followed charismatically in the footsteps of other Rastafarian-inspired musicians such as Count Ossie, a Jamaican drummer and bandleader; or Desmond Dekker’s 1969 hit “Poor me Israelites,” later retitled simply “Israelites” to refer to the Rastafarian Movement’s links to the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
Bemoaning family separations caused by poverty, Dekker’s song advised Jamaican Rastafarians not to accept social marginalization as an excuse for taking to a life of crime.
In the same year, The Melodians, a Jamaican group, sang a Rastafarian version of Psalm 137 under the title “Rivers of Babylon, a cover version of which by the Euro-Caribbean group Boney M became an international hit in 1978: “By the rivers of Babylon/ Where we sat down/ And there we wept/ When we remember Zion/ For the wicked carry us away captivity.”
So Marley’s creativity was part of an overarching cultural, social and spiritual identification between Rastafarianism, Reggae music and Judaism.