Did you learn anything that was new or surprising to you about Marley, or anything along the way that altered the original plan for the book?
I followed the data gathered during my comprehensive study to see where it would lead me. I learned many new insights and allowed the data to drive the plan for the book. For example, Old Testament wisdom texts such as Proverbs and Psalms along with New Testament letters of Paul are two key types of biblical source material for Marley that complement one another. The Exodus album contains the highest quantity of Paul references and a low quantity of wisdom references, while Uprising contains the highest quantity of wisdom references and no references to Paul. When Marley quotes wisdom, he’s teaching, and when he quotes Paul, he’s preaching.
What was the most difficult or challenging part of your process?
I don’t want to say challenging because it was a labor of love, but the foundation of the book is a comprehensive study of biblical references in all of Marley’s songs. I catalogued each biblical reference by song, album, biblical book, and biblical book type. I then analyzed the data looking for patterns and trends. It took a lot of effort to be this thorough, but I felt it was necessary in order to really understand Marley’s use of the Bible.
How do you feel this book will affect people’s perceptions about Marley?
The book offers a new perspective on Marley. Through my analysis, Marley emerges as a thoughtful and intriguing interpreter of the Bible in his lyrics. This is a side of Marley that has not been adequately appreciated. But hopefully the book will affect people’s perceptions about the Bible as well. People have looked at the Bible as something for specialists to study, but Marley shows us that active and fruitful engagement with scripture does not require specialized training. To use a musical analogy, some of the best songwriters are self-taught musicians.
Why were Marley’s biblical interpretations not subjected to this level of review until now?
Perhaps because Marley is seen as a rebel and a rock star, and these aspects appear to exist in opposition to the world of the Bible. But the Bible does not exist apart from the world of the rebel. In fact, Marley sings about Paul Bogle and Marcus Garvey, rebellious figures in their own right who were inspired by their reading of scripture. Marley continues in a long line of scriptural resistance.
How is your book different from earlier books about Marley?
This is the first book to explain how Bob Marley interprets the Bible in his lyrics. Over four hundred books have been written about Marley, not a single one devoted to the Bible. In general, little attention has been paid to Marley’s biblical interests. For example, the most recent documentary film about Marley makes the point that his rejection by the white segment of his family inspired his song “Corner Stone.” But a major point is missed: Marley’s lyric, “The stone that the builder refused / Will always be the head corner stone,” is a direct quotation from Psalm 118! Marley turned to the Bible when confronted with adversity and rejection, and found in its pages elements of his own experience. Marley saw himself in Psalm 118.
What inspired you to write this book?
The book is inspired by a road trip my brother Scott and I took in the summer of 1991. We drove from Connecticut to Vermont listening to Scott’s Bob Marley tapes, analyzing the lyrics and biblical references. A couple of weeks later, Scott was a passenger in another teenager’s car when he was killed in an alcohol-related crash. My family was devastated. Scott left us his love of life, nature, and the music of Bob Marley. I responded to grief by entering the classroom of Bob Marley. I learned to “stand firm” while offering prayers of thanksgiving and praise to God. Marley’s words came with the authority of one who withstood tremendous hardship through constant prayer and love of God. But they also came with the authority of scripture. This important aspect of Marley’s life and music has not been the subject of serious analysis until now.
The author with Marley’s Gibson Les Paul Guitar at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, August 2011.
“The Bible and the guitar were reciprocally essential to Marley’s musical message that he spread throughout the world via relentless touring.”
—Excerpt from the forthcoming book by Dean MacNeil
Bob Marley House, Nine Mile. Photo Credit: Dean MacNeil, Copyright © 1993-2013.
Marley would often retreat to his home in the village of Nine Mile, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica, where he farmed, wrote music, and studied the Bible (Davis, 69).
Stephen Davis, Bob Marley: Conquering Lion of Reggae, 2 rev. ed. (London: Plexus, 1994).