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Scholars have discovered the central place of "Babylon" in Rastafarian discourse. Even the casual observer can detect the vehemence around this usage of the term. Thus, the necessity of this work may seem counter-intuitive to some, since such an obvious link exists.

This work seeks to reconcile the fact that in Rastafarian discourse "Babylon" is the dominant image and not exodus. Liberation movements have led us to think that the exodus serves as the single inspiration for oppressed groups. The social, economic, and political circumstances of 1930s Jamaica gave rise to the Rastafarian movement and their invective against colonial society.[1] Scholars have shown how these social and historical conditions suggest the usage of "Babylon" as an appropriate tool of social critique.[2] Not to deny that there is any influence of the exodus upon Rastafarian discourse, the question of why the trope of "Babylon" is more dominant in the Rastafarian movement than any other biblical image can be answered by a close reading of biblical texts and the reading strategy used by Rastafarians.

In exploring the symbolic power of "Babylon" in the Bible, it is necessary to pay attention to kindred notions of Ethiopianism, Zionism, exile and return or repatriation as concepts inspired by Marcus Garvey's thought. Rastafarian usage of "Babylon" reflects the development of Garvey's Afro-centric Bible readings[3] and the advancement of a "black Zionism," as reflected in his philosophy of "'Africa for Africans' at home and abroad." This work will explore both the biblical texts relating to Babylon and the interpretative moves of Garvey and the Rastafarians.

Garvey's Rhetorical World
Rastafarians have been viewed as one of the main inheritors of the legacy of Marcus Garvey. A part of the legacy is located in what Barry Chevannes calls "the Idealization of Africa"[4] in the Bible or Ethiopianism. This idea places Ethiopia either as symbolic or actual homeland and therefore both as a source of identity and a destination for the repatriation of Africans living outside of Africa.[5] Garvey hails the coronation of Haile Selassie as Ras Tafari, Emperor of Ethiopia, in 1930 as propitious for Africans, and Noel Erskine suggests this was "a positive movement in racial uplift."[6] Garvey's comments on this political movement tie developments in Ethiopia into his broader vision of Africans, and he supports these with scripture. Garvey observes in The Blackman in 1930: "The Psalmist prophesied that Princes would come out of Egypt and Ethiopia would stretch forth her hands unto God. We have no doubt that the time is now come. Ethiopia is really now stretching forth her hands."[7]

These interpretations are not original to Garvey. Chevannes argues that this approach has antecedents in Jamaica, in Cuba, and in the United States.[8] Garvey builds upon these ideas and presents for Rastafarians a model of an Africa-centered approach to the Bible that starts with critical reflection upon the social and political conditions of Africa's children. Nathaniel Murrell and Lewin Williams credit Garvey as an influence upon Rastafarians: "Garvey's Afrocentric interpretation of the Bible and his Ethiopianist vision and philosophy of Blackness . . . also influenced the Rastafarians."[9]

Garvey's articulation of the notion of African repatriation has resonances with the growing chorus of Zionism. Philip Potter hesitantly argues for a direct connection between Garvey and the fomenting discussions on Zionism in the early part of the nineteenth century. He cannot shake the possibility that Garvey's residency in England between 1912-1914 would have brought him into contact with these ideas and influenced his call for the creation of a black homeland: "There is a close affinity between the Zionist movement and its programme and Garvey's idea of a homeland in Africa and of the relation of Blacks everywhere to Africa."[10]

While Potter would reluctantly insert the term Zionism in Garvey's thought, sufficient ground exists, both from Garvey's own work and the extension of his work by his supporters, to view it as a form of Zionism. On June 06, 1928, in a speech delivered in London, Garvey lays out an argument for the creation of a black homeland. Invoking the results of the Berlin Conference that carved up Africa and distributed its various parts to European nations, Garvey laments that no share was given to Africans. He then asserts, "But we are going to have our part of Africa whether you will it or not. We are going to have it. Because we are not going to be a race without a country."[11] In an editorial in 1936, Garvey comments on the impending creation of a homeland for Jews and explores the similarities between the Jewish condition and the African. He commends wealthy Jews who finance the project of resettling Jews in Israel and deplores Blacks for lacking a similar philanthropy towards Africa. Garvey sums up the situation as this: "We must have an independent national expression, such an expression they must seek out of their new Zion."[12] By the following year, Garvey makes stronger connections between the Jews and blacks in North America. Speaking in Toronto on August 29, 1937, he says: "The Negroes of the United States and Canada may not go to Africa in this lifetime, but one day the call will come for us to return as the Jews are now returning to Palestine."[13]

Garvey makes symbolic and rhetorical connections between African repatriation and Zionism without explicitly using the term Zionism. It is not surprising, therefore, that persons whom Garvey influences are the ones who fill out this connection in his thinking. An article by Hilaire de Souza of Dahomey in the paper, Le Guide du Dahomey of 15 October 1921, illustrates Garvey's appeal. He characterizes Garvey's thinking as "this type of 'black Zionism,' which is widespread in certain countries, especially in the United States of America, and which preaches the return of blacks to Africa."[14] In the same way, the Rastafarians pick up Garvey's usage of Zion to speak about repatriation.

The term "Zion" as a catchall for things African sets the ground for the usage of the term "Babylon" in ways that "Ethiopia" does not. Scholars such as Chevannes make a distinction in the Rastafarian discourse between "Ethiopia," as a referent for the modern nation state and the symbolic/rhetorical apparatus around Haile Selassie, and then "Zion," which refers to Africa in general.[15] Even if one accepts that both "Ethiopia" and "Zion" have the same symbolic value for Rastafarians, the term "Ethiopia" in its biblical usage does not naturally lead to "Babylon" in its biblical usage. I am positing that it is the term "Zion" that suggests the usage of "Babylon" in Rastafarian discourse. The movement that I am suggesting begins with Garvey and his Ethiopianist ideas as inherited from earlier advocates of this view, then picks up the concept of "Zion" as an ideal place and homeland. This concept of "Zion" has as its inverse "Babylon," which then presents itself as a suitable signifier for the Rastafarian condition. Michael Jackson sums up the logic that is at work here as: "If Ethiopia was Zion, and the rest of Africa counted as Zion, then black people elsewhere were in Babylon."[16]

Babylon in Biblical Perspective
The examination of "Babylon" in its biblical usage needs to be predicated on the reading practices that Rastafarians employ. Murrell and Williams characterize the Rastafarian approach to the Bible as "a strict fundamentalist view,"[17] marked by a "free style," with a penchant for proof-texting along with running commentary. In other words, they read the plain sense of the text and are not bothered by the conventions of the historical-critical method; a close reading captures the biblical symbolism and retools it in support of their purposes. This practice they would have already employed along with Garvey and other "Africa-centered" readers of the Bible. It is this approach that gives power to "Ethiopia" in their discourse and that leads to the notion of Africa as Zion and eventually to colonial society as "Babylon." The majority of the referents to "Babylon" in the Bible are found in the context of historical reporting. The usage in Kings, Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and parts of the New Testament report the history of Babylon in relation to ancient Israel. Works like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Psalm 137, and Revelation contain symbolic and rhetorical usage of the term. Of these, Jeremiah has the largest number of referents (170 times) and a complex approach to Babylon. When the book of Jeremiah refers to Babylon there are three main views that can be identified. First, Babylon is seen as an instrument of punishment (Jer 20:4) that is raised up by God (Jer 21:2-7; 22:25; 25:11-12; 27:6-9, 11, 22; chs. 27-29). The second view follows from the first, where the account of the Babylonian assault on Judah is given with appreciation for their efforts. Included in the cycle of texts from chapters 34-43 are appeals to regard the Babylonians as friendly (42:11) and an accolade given to Nebuchadnezzar as servant of God (43:10).

The third view of Babylon in Jeremiah serves the purposes of the Rastafarians. In an oracle against Babylon (chs. 50-51), judgment is pronounced upon Babylon and its collapse predicted with glee. In view of the impending destruction of the Babylonian empire, the prophet issues a call to leave Babylon and to journey to Zion. In these two chapters the call to leave Babylon (50:5a and 50:28) does not appear without the destination, Zion (50:8, 51:6, 9b, 10b). There is only one instance when the call to leave is given and Jerusalem is used instead of Zion (51:45 and then 51:50). Further, there are instances when Zion is viewed as the victim (51:24) and Babylon as the aggressor being justly punished (51:35).

A reading of these Jeremiah texts can support the notion of repatriation to "Zion" as held by the Rastafarians. Inserting themselves into the text, they become the continuity of Israel that is called to "Zion," and the call to "Zion" has as its foundation the call out of "Babylon," an empire destined for destruction. Consequently, in a symbolic world where "Zion" is Africa, "Babylon" is colonial Jamaican society and the British Empire and its agents. The pairing of Zion and Babylon in the texts as opposite poles for reward and punishment, rehabilitation and retribution, repopulation and destruction, supports the construction of a system of signification where Babylon is the embodiment of evil. Additionally, the predictive nature of the text suggests that this reversal of Zion/Babylon is yet to come and therefore the present circumstances are appropriately viewed as Babylonian.

I want to go further to show how other texts of the Bible reflect similar themes and how all of them together inscribe the trope of Babylon into the Rastafarian discourse via the notion of Zion. The usage of Babylon in Isaiah is concentrated in chapters 13-23 (Oracles against the Nations), 36-39 (Hezekiah narratives), and 40-48 (Jacob/Israel passages). Here the vitriol against Babylon is as strong as in Jeremiah. The offensive against Babylon is balanced by restoration for Zion, except that Isaiah chooses to use the symbolic name of Jacob/Israel rather than Zion. Nonetheless, the concept of restoration to a homeland in the text follows upon the destruction of Babylon, as in 13:19 and in 14:1. Later, in chapters 47-49, the prediction of the downfall of Babylon (47:1 and 48:20) is followed by words of comfort and assurance to Zion (49:14 and 19). Essentially, the Isaiah readings function in two ways to support the Rastafarian discourse on Babylon. First, they show that the destruction of Babylon is the precursor to the rehabilitation of Zion;[18] as Abma Richtsje puts it, the text of Second Isaiah moves between Babylon and Zion like a "switching camera."[19] Second, they fill out the negativity against Babylon in its conceptualization of the city as a virgin daughter disgraced (Isa 47:1).

The interplay between Babylon and Zion, where the restoration of Zion is predicated on the downfall of Babylon, carries over into other prophetic texts such as Micah 4:10 and Zechariah 2:7. Another important text is Psalm 137, where the poetry reflects the geographical contrast between Babylon and Zion. The location in Babylon invokes memories of Zion. The songs of Zion become difficult to sing in Babylon. The geographical locations function as referents for the execution of retribution and recall.[20] These texts reemphasize how the Bible serves as a fruitful symbol world for the Rastafarians to nurture conceptions of Babylon that were applied to the British Empire.

Revelation is another major text that fuels the usage of the trope of Babylon. While scholars agree that "Babylon" refers to the Roman Empire in Revelation, there is doubt that a fundamentalist reading would reach the same conclusion. Revelation reuses the images from Jeremiah and Isaiah in more symbolic ways. The dirge "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great" in 14:8 and 18:2 reflects Isa 21:9. The notion of Babylon causing drunkenness in the earth (Rev 14:8) is suggested by Jer 51:7. The laments about the downfall of Babylon are similar to those in Jeremiah and Isaiah. The notion of virgin daughter Babylon in Isaiah (47:1) is intensified in Revelation to Babylon the whore (Rev 18:4). The call to "come out of her" (Rev 18:4) is similar to the prophets, but with no clear destination beyond that suggested by the rejoicing in heaven (ch. 19). The appeal of "Babylon" in Revelation for Rastafarians is not so much in the fact that it represents a symbolic usage of the term for an actual empire, but that it takes the vitriol of the prophetic texts to another level. Further, it replicates the duality of Zion/Babylon and therefore provides the power to critique colonial Jamaican society.

I have argued that the usage of "Babylon" in the biblical texts does not jump out at the Rastafarians in a vacuum or solely through the social conditions created by the British Empire. Rather, this usage evolved from the notions of repatriation to a homeland articulated as Zion in the discourse inherited from Garvey. As a struggle for black liberation, it is interesting that the Rastafarians do not make more of the exodus, as African Americans and South Africans have done in their struggles. This must give us pause to ask what it is about "Babylon" that arrested them in their reading of the Bible, thus enabling them to use it in their situation. I suggest that it is the Garvey movement's invocation of a "black Zionism" that paves the way for the Rastafarian usage of "Babylon." In the symbol of "Zion" as the homeland for displaced and oppressed people in "Babylon," the biblical texts give expression to the aspirations of the Rastafarians to shake off colonial oppression.

Zion as Counter-Empire of Babylon
This examination of "Babylon" in the Rastafarian discourse serves to enrich our analysis of counter-imperial moves in the Rastafarian movement. These counter-imperial moves are known as "Chanting down Babylon,"[21] in ways similar to the oracles against Babylon in Isaiah and Jeremiah. As in the biblical narrative, so in portions of Rastafarian discourse "Babylon" functions as a foil for "Zion." It is the negative for the full color photo that is Zion. The critique inherent in the term attacks imperial power and builds a counter-imperial movement. Joseph Owens points out that the symbol world of the Rastafarians is geographic: "the promised land and the land of exile, the deportation and the return;"[22] it is Babylon and Zion.

The attacks against Babylon as a system of oppression are evident in Rastafarian discourse. It picks up the same vitriol evident in the Bible. Owens quotes a song from 1972 as representative of Rastafarian thought:

Rastafari burn down Babylon,
Rastafari smite down Babylon
Rastafari crash down Babylon.[23]

Similarly, Chevannes demonstrates another popular hymn that evinces the power of resistance to "Babylon":

Babylon is a wicked one
O, Jah Rastafari O - Selah
Open up da gate mek I repatriate.[24]

Another significant song, "By the Rivers of Babylon," reworks Psalm 137 by capturing both the sense of alienation of exilic existence and the critique against imperial power.[25] These songs, as well as the musical traditions that Rastafarians inherited and created, provide a context of "symbolic insurgency and prophecy"[26] out of which the work of Bob Marley emerges.

The critique of Jamaican colonial society in Marley's music reflects the mainstream of Rastafarian philosophy as informed by Garvey's thought. Marley's lyrics speak of a mission to undermine the power of "Babylon" and to embrace "Zion" as the authentic site of liberation. This goal stands out in his song "Chant down Babylon" where he argues for the Rastafarian to resist Babylon through music:

Come we go burn down Babylon one more time,
Come we go chant down Babylon one more time[27]
With music, mek we chant down Babylon

As Anthony Bogues argues, Marley functions as more than a musician: he is social prophet. In that role, he recycles and articulates the complex symbol world of Jamaican culture and biblical language to provide pointed analysis on current socio-political realities. He notes that Marley's intentionally named trilogy of albums, "Black Survival, "Uprising," and "Confrontation," reflects this engagement with the struggle for survival and self-determination.[28]

In the lyrical world of Marley, Babylon stands for a systemic reality that alienates the descendants of Africa from their real selves and homeland. This system draws its support from social institutions such as the church and the school. In his "Babylon System" he speaks of the alienating quality of the colonial system:

We refuse to be
What you wanted us to be
We are what we are
That's the way it's going to be, if you don't know
You can't educate I.

Having expressed the drudgery of life under the colonial system as "trodding on the wine press much too long." he openly calls for rebellion against that system, Marley justifies his critique and the social response that he issues through his use of the vampire descriptor for "Babylon" to represent the parasitic power of the empire:

Babylon system is the vampire for the empire
Sucking the children day by day.
. . ..
Building church and university
Deceiving the people continually.

In "Rastaman Chant," Marley chants the refrain "Babylon your throne gone down," which takes its inspiration from Revelation. He takes the words from the angel in Rev 18:1-3 and places them in the mouth of "the Rastaman" and "the Iyaman" to make them function as messengers of divine punishment against the empire. Marley privileges the contemporary and native messengers over the biblical ones by having their declaration come first in the song. He then moves back to the biblical text to report the angelic declaration in order to undergird his critique of empire. In this way, he turns the sacred text that accompanied colonial society against it and shows how other functionaries serve as divine oracles. His reference to the "angel with the seven seals" heightens the sense of judgment and doom that he levels against the system of imperial power.

As I have argued, the notion of "Babylon" in the Rastafarian discourse stands with that of "Zion." Marley pairs Babylon with Zion in the rhetoric of "chanting down Babylon." When in "Rastaman Chant" he sings the rant against the empire, "Babylon your throne gone down," he goes further to invoke the homeland: "Fly away home to Zion/One bright morning when my work is over/I will fly away home." Marley connects Zion as homeland with the resolution of the plight of the African in diaspora. In his song "Zion Train," he appears to be engaged in a remake of a spiritual:

Zion train is coming our way;
The Zion train is coming our way;
Oh, people, get on board!

Yet like the deceptive ambiguity of the spiritual, Marley does not speak of another-worldly journey. He deftly turns the listener back to the historical realities out which his usage of Zion emerges:

Two thousand years of history, black history
Could not be wiped so easily.

He invokes the notion of Zion as homeland and counter-imperial space to Babylon; that is to say, Africa as distinct from the Jamaican colonial society. His comments on the necessity of African unity as a precursor to African repatriation reflect this inversion. In "Africa Unite," Marley speaks of the necessity to leave Babylon for the "Father's land": "Africa unite/'Cause we're moving right out of Babylon/And we're going to our Father's land." His use of the term "father's land" to refer to Africa and the inversion of Babylon/Zion frame his critique of the colonial system in "Babylon System." Marley locates the genesis of oppression as "From the very day we left the shores/Of our Father's land/We've been trampled on." He employs in these songs the switching technique of the biblical texts, as well as that used by Garvey, to suggest the usage of "Babylon" as an appropriate referent.

Marley renders African repatriation as an exodus. In this regard, he follows Second Isaiah. Yet he states that it is not Egypt that is the space of oppression, but Babylon:

Exodus movement of Jah people
We know where we're going
We know where we're from
We're leaving Babylon
We're going to our fatherland.

He then adds a subtle undertone to heighten the imagery and the spatial differences: "Send us another brother Moses to cross the Red Sea." The spatial differences invoke a journey and are markers of power, since the desired space of Zion stands in contradistinction to Babylon. However, the face off between Babylon and Zion is not seen in antagonistic terms, since they are not set in direct opposition to each other.[29] For an oppressed people, Zion serves as the destination that stands outside the reach of imperial power. While there is no direct threat from this "alter-empire" to the prevailing imperial power, the "alter-empire" holds its own power, but on a different plain that raises it above earthly empires. Marley sings of being persecuted but holding on to the vision of strength that emerges from Zion: "I'm gonna be iron like a lion in Zion." Much like the function of heaven, "Zion" functions as a source of help and another world that rivals the world under the power of "Babylon."

What I have outlined demonstrates how symbol systems work for oppressed people in relation to empire. Resisting empire in real time requires a symbol system that derives from a source that is both effective and relevant to the empire. In mining the Bible for the symbol systems of resistance to the British Empire, the Rastafarians use a source from which the empire derives its strength in order to critique it. Additionally, the symbol uses currency that has relevance over time. The symbolic value of "Babylon" as articulated in Rastafarian discourse is not diminished with movement away from the social and historical conditions in which it was first used because the symbol is not inextricably tied to those historical circumstances. The biblical texts give continuing relevance and value to the symbol and its historical moorings. "Babylon" is continually re-placed in the minds of Rastafarians with corresponding symbolic and rhetorical force.

The extent to which the symbol gets constantly reused and replaced in the consciousness of the Rastafarians accounts for the dynamism and relevance of the symbol. Over time, the constantly reused symbol "Babylon" does not require as much pull from the symbol "Zion," since the trope of "Babylon" has developed its own rhetorical power as a referent to oppressive empire. The necessity of another space that transcends the oppressive structures of colonial society is the underlay of the symbolic thought world of Babylon and Zion as it appears in the Rastafarian theology. This structured thinking is gleaned from biblical texts, but also replicated in the thinking of Garvey. It is the Rastafarians who give full flower to these ideas and package them in ways that represent resistance to ancient and modern forms of empire.

Steed V. Davidson, Freeport, New York


1. M. G. Smith, Roy Augier, and Rex M. Nettleford, Report on the Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica, Social and Economic Studies (Kingston: University of the West Indies, 1960). Barry Chevannes, Rastafari: Roots and Ideology (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994).

2. Joseph Owens, Dread: The Rastafarians of Jamaica (London: Heinemann, 1984). Leonard E. Barrett Sr., The Rastafarians: Sounds of Cultural Dissonance (Boston: Beacon, 1988). Ennis B. Edmonds, "Dread 'I' In-a-Babylon: Ideological Resistance and Cultural Revitalization," in Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader, edited by Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, William David Spencer, and Adrian Anthony McFarlane (Philadelphia: Temple Press, 1998).

3. Nathaniel Samuel Murrell and Lewin Williams, "The Black Biblical Hermeneutics of Rastafari,"in Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader, edited by Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, William David Spencer, and Adrian Anthony McFarlane (Philadelphia: Temple Press, 1998), 328.

4. Chevannes, Rastafari, 34. Ethiopianism is essentially the notion that the modern state of Ethiopia fulfills the prophecy in Psalm 68:31 of the rise of a dominant nation perceived to be in Africa.

5. Chevannes, Rastafari, 34.

6. Noel Leo Erskine, From Garvey to Marley: Rastafari Theology (Gainesville, Fl: University Press of Florida, 2005), 119.

7. Erskine, From Garvey to Marley, 120.

8. Chevannes, Rastafari, 37.

9. Murrell and Williams, "Biblical Hermeneutics of Rastafari," 330. Barrett, The Rastafarians, 68.

10. Philip Potter, "The Religious Thought of Marcus Garvey," in Garvey: His Work and Impact, edited by Rupert Lewis and Patrick Bryan (Jamaica: University of the West Indies, 1988), 160.

11. Robert Hill, ed., The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, vol. VII, November 1927 - August 1940 (1995), 204.

12. Hill, The Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers, 668.

13. Hill, The Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers, 777.

14. Robert Hill, ed., The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, vol. IX, Africa for the Africans 1921-1922 (1995), 239.

15. Chevannes writes that the Rastafarian hopes to be "delivered out of captivity by a return to 'Zion,' that is Africa, the land of our ancestors, or Ethiopia, the seat of Jah" (Chevannes, Rastafari, 1).

16. Michael Jackson, "Rastafarianism," Theology 83 (1980): 27.

17. Murrell and Williams, "Biblical Hermeneutics of Rastafari," 327. Contrary to Owens, I argue that it is the entire Bible that provides the source for the Rastafarians' symbolic usage of "Babylon." Owens proposes: "The Rastafarians" primary scriptural inspiration concerning Babylon is not, however, from the Old Testament, but rather from the New. The Book of Revelation, as an early Christian attack on the Roman empire of the day, painted Rome itself after the image of the ancient Babylon. . . . In the Rastas' eyes, this same Babylonian-Roman empire exerts continuing domination over the elect even . . . in the form of the British and American empires" (Owens, Dread, 69).

18. Franke conceptualizes the relation between Babylon and Zion this way: "The downfall and deposing of Virgin Daughter Babylon was a foil to the elevation and restoration of Virgin Daughter Zion. As Babylon was deposed, was sent from her throne into exile . . . conversely Zion was released from exile, and was restored once again to a position of honour." Chris A. Franke, "Reversals of Fortune in the Ancient Near East: A Study of the Babylon Oracles in the Book of Isaiah," in New Visions of Isaiah, edited by Roy F. Melugin and Marvin A. Sweeney (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 105.

19. Abma Richtsje, "Travelling From Babylon to Zion: Location and Its Function in Isaiah 49-55," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 74 (1997): 4.

20. Auffret regards the interaction between Babylon and Zion in the psalm as the reversal of fortune, since the locales switch between blessing and destruction. Pierre Auffret, "Essai sur la Structure Littéraire du Psaume 137." Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 92 (1980), 372. Savran notes that Babylon and Zion are "geographical poles" in the psalm. George Savran, "How Can We Sing a Song of the Lord?: The Strategy of Lament in Psalm 137" Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 112 (2000), 45.

21. Murrell explains that the term "chant down Babylon" refers to Rastafarian oppositional discourse with regards to colonial society. He lists a variety of sources apart from Marley, where the term is current. Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, "Introduction: The Rastafari Phenomenon," in Chanting Down Babylon: The Rastafari Reader, edited by Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, William David Spencer, and Adrian Anthony McFarlene (Philadelphia: Temple Press, 1998), 10. Bogues shows how Marley is representative of the Rastafarian musical tradition of social critique. Anthony Bogues, Black Heretics, Black Prophets: Radical Political Intellectuals. (New York: Routledge, 2003), 192. Erskine uses the parallel term "dread talk" to describe the Rastafarian resistance and survival mechanism. Erskine, From Garvey to Marley, 2.

22. Owens, Dread, 229.

23. Owens, Dread, 69.

24.Chevannes, Rastafari, 248.

25. The song "By the Rivers of Babylon," first performed by the Melodians in 1969, gained international attention through the version done by Bonnie Em in 1975. Murrell demonstrates how the original version of the song is an appropriation of the lament psalm by the Rastafarians. Samuel N. Murrell, "Tuning Hebrew Psalms to Reggae Rhythms: Rastas' Revolutionary Lamentations for Social Change." Cross Currents 50 (2000-2001), 529.

26. Bogues, Black Heretics, Black Prophets, 199.

27. Marley's adoption of the Rastafarian notion of music or "chant" as being an appropriate weapon against Babylon resonates with the biblical traditions. Savran argues that the question of singing songs in a strange land, posed in v. 4, is in effect answered in the negative. He goes further to propose that v. 4 functions as an introduction to v. 5 (and vv. 7-9), which he sees as an "oath song." Savran, "How Can We Sing a Song of the Lord," 49-50. Arguably, the angel's declaration of the destruction of Babylon in Rev 18:2 can be read as a "chant," given that in the book angelical messages are largely communicated through song. 28.Bogues, Black Heretics, Black Prophets, 200.

29. Aymer prefers to view the relationship as "alter-imperial, rather than anti-imperial, for all the rhetorics of empire pertain." Margaret P. Aymer, "Empire, Alter-Empire, and the Twenty-First Century," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 59 (2005): 145.

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Citation: Steed V. Davidson, " Babylon In Rastafarian Discourse: Garvey, Rastafari, And Marley," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Feb 2006]. Online:


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