Rastafarians & Their Belief in Jesus Christ

by Maryanne Schiffman

Rastafarians are famous for their trademark dreadlocks and ritual use of ganja, or Jamaican marijuana. However, few people know that the Rastafarian religion has roots in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and African religious traditions, and that Rastafarians believe in a Black Jesus Christ.

History

Rastafarianism was born in the 1930’s under two main influences: the "Back to Africa" Movement of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaica intellectual leader, and the coronation of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, whose pre-coronation name "Ras Tafari" gave the movement its name. Garvey’s movement was dedicated to raising the self-awareness and self-esteem of African-descended peoples in Jamaica and the U.S. and to encouraging pride in their African roots. When Haile Selassie was coronated in 1930, Rastafarians considered him to be a divine messiah and the savior of all black people, much like the Christian savior, Jesus Christ.

The Bible

Since the messiah of the Rastafarians, Haile Selassie, was from Ethiopia, Rastafarianism is based on the religion of that country, which since AD 330 has been Christianity. For this reason, Rastafarians study the Bible, in particular the Old Testament and the Book of Revelations in the New Testament. However, unlike many Christian churches that use only the 66 books of the authorized version of the Bible, Rastafarians recognize all 87 books.

Beliefs

Rastafarians believe in one God, Jah, who is black. He is both a transcendent deity and present in all men. For Rastafarians, salvation can only be achieved by liberating themselves from the evils of the Western world, which they call Babylon, and returning to their homeland of Africa. Rastafarians believe that blacks are an exiled chosen people, similar to the position of Jews in Judaism. They also believe in reincarnation.

Practices

Rastafarianism is guided by the culture and traditions of Ethiopia but recognizes no fixed rules of practice, instead emphasizing an ethos of peace, love, truth and right action. Rather than gather in designated places of worship, people meet in their homes for extended discussion sessions. Music is important, in particular the reggae music of Jamaica, and singing and drumming are used to communicate the ethos of the religion. Rastafarianism has no centralized or hierarchical church structure, and instead consists of several organizations such as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian World Federation, the Universal Black Improvement Organization, the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Rastafarian Universal Zion.

Rastafarians and Jesus

Rastafarians believe that God revealed himself as Moses, who was the first avatar or savior; the second avatar was Elijah and the third avatar was Jesus Christ. Among Rastafarian teachings, there are those who argue that Jesus predicted the coming of Haile Selassie, pointing to places in scripture that prophesied of one who had hair like wool and black skin. Some Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie is God, some believe he is the second coming of Christ as prophesied in the Bible and some believe he is Christ-like, tracing his lineage to Christ.

About the Author

Based in MedellĂ­n, Colombia, Maryanne Schiffman has a B.A. in economic development from UC Berkeley and an M.A. in Latin American studies from the University of Texas. Writing for more than 20 years, she has contributed to academic journals and online publications, including the Colombian NTN24 news website.

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