Marley was an influential figure in the global expansion of a Rastafarian religious movement through his music. The movement began in 1930s Jamaica, focusing on the worship of former Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie I, whose followers believe him to be a messiah that will lead them into righteousness and prosperity.
Although Marley sang and spoken about being a Rasta, some say he converted to Christianity before his death. Abuna Yesehaq, archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere who died in 2005, admitted that he baptized Marley about one year before his death.
Yesehaq appeared in a 1984 interview with Jamaica Gleaner's Sunday magazine, titled "Abuna Yesehaq Looks Back on 14 Years of Ministry in Jamaica," in which he spoke about Marley's desire to become a Christian long before his death.
"Bob was really a good brother, a child of God, regardless of how people looked at him," Yesehaq said. "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."
In the interview, Yesehaq addressed claims that Marley's terminal cancer was the motivation behind his acceptance of Jesus Christ as his personal savior.
"When he toured Los Angeles and New York and England, he preached the Orthodox faith, and many members in those cities came to the Church because of Bob," Yesehaq said. "Many people think he was baptized 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 half an hour."
Judy Mowatt, a reggae and gospel singer who formerly sang backup for Marley in the group I Threes, recalled learning about Marley's conversion to Christianity in an interview with Cross Rhythms radio. Mowatt spoke with her former bandmate and Marley's wife, Rita, about the late musician calling out to Jesus Christ on his death bed.
"When Bob was on his dying bed, his wife Rita called me on the phone and said to me that Bob was in such excruciating pain and he stretched out his hand and said, 'Jesus take me.' I was wondering to myself, 'Why is it that Bob said Jesus and not Selassie,'" Mowatt questioned. "Then I met a friend of mine and he said his sister, who is a Christian, was a nurse at the hospital where Bob was before he passed on, and she led him to the Lord Jesus Christ. So when Rita saw him saying 'Jesus take me,' he had already received the Lord Jesus Christ in his life."
Bob Marley died from cancer in 1981 at the age of 36. Yesehaq conducted the rites for the musician's funeral.