The Bible in the form of the King James Bible is a holy book for Rastafari, but not all of the contents are acceptable. They believe that the Bible as it was originally written gave the early history of the black race, their identity and destiny as the chosen people of Jah. They believe it was originally written in Amharic (the language of Ethiopia) and corrupted by later translations to support the philosophy of the European slave masters. Part of Rastafari practice is therefore decoding the Bible, learning how to decrypt it as a book of symbols and debate it in their meetings. They focus in particular on the Old Testament. Psalm 87:3-4 is read as proof that the messiah will be born in Ethiopia. Daniel 2:31-42 is read as meaning that black people are destined to rule the world. Psalm 68 was central to the Garvey movement and is also one of the most frequently quoted in the Rastafari movement. The Book of Revelation is a central text, in particular the prophecy about the Emperor, whose titles, ‘Lion of the Tribe of Judah’ (Rev 5:2-5) and ‘King of Kings’ (Rev 19:16), mirror Haile Selassie I’s titles. References to Jesus in the Bible are read as references to Haile Selassie, the black messiah, whose true nature was hidden as white by the slave masters. Despite their view of the Bible as corrupted by white people, Rastafaris use the Bible because Haile Selassie, an Orthodox Ethiopian Christian, advocated it. However, they accept only their own interpretations by, for example, reading references to the devil as referring to the god of white Christianity.
The Bible is looked to as a source for Rastafari ways of living. There are biblical justifications for ganja use in Genesis 1:12, Genesis 1:29, Genesis 3:18, Exodus 10:12, Proverbs 15:17, Psalm 104:14, Psalm 18:18, Revelation 22:2, and many others. Dreadlocks are justified with Old Testament proscriptions against hair cutting such as “They shall not make baldness…” Leviticus 21:5, and Numbers 6:5, and 1 Corinthians 11:4-6 for women covering their hair. Rastas recite Psalm 133: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” at the beginning of meetings. Reading scripture is a regular part of weekly and monthly meetings. In ‘reasonings’ they strive to find hidden ‘true’ meanings in the Bible. One of the strictest ‘Mansions’ of Rastafari, the Bobo Shanti, read a section of the Bible nonstop for three hours, starting with Laws, then Prophets, and ending with the Gospels and Epistles, rarely commenting on what they are reading.
The work of Marcus Garvey and his organisation, the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), form a source of scriptural inspiration to Rastafari. Revered by Rastafaris as an inspirer, Garvey is second only to Haile Selassie. Garvey advocated a back-to-Africa movement. His spiritual mission was fighting against the social and economic oppression of black people in Jamaica and worldwide. A movement formed around him, which he organised into the UNIA in 1914. His work promulgates Pan-Africanism, a worldwide confraternity of black people, with Africa as the united self-sufficient black nation. All black people could return there. He supported establishing black educational institutions for teaching about black cultures and worked to uplift the black race, proclaiming “Africa for the African at home and abroad”. However, he never visited Africa himself; it was a symbol of a homeland that was never realised. He was never accepted in his native Jamaica, only achieving success in the United States. Garvey did not approve of Rastafari, which he saw as a form of religious fanaticism.
Other significant scriptures for the Rastafari include the Holy Piby, written by Robert Athlyi Rogers, an Anguillan, in the 1920s and distributed by the early Rastafari preacher, Leonard Howell. Rogers wrote it to support his own Afrocentric religion, the Afro Athlican Constructive Church, in which Ethiopians (meaning black Africans) were God’s chosen people and Marcus Garvey was an apostle. Rogers’ church did not find much support, but the Holy Piby became an early scriptural resource for Rastafari. The Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy by Fitz Ballintine Pettersberg, an African American preacher, was also written in the 1920s and provided inspiration for the early Rastafaris. It refers to King Alpha and Queen Omega and the ‘resurrection’ of Ethiopia. The Promised Key was written in 1935 by Leonard Howell, echoing much of the sentiment and some verbatim text of The Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy, although with King Alpha being identified as Haile Selassie. My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress is the two-volume autobiography of Haile Selassie written over his life and used by Rastafari for inspiration from the life of the man that they believe to be the messiah, the incarnation of Jah. The 14th century Kebra Nagast gives an account of the meeting of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon and relates how the Ark of the Covenant came to Ethiopia. It is used by Rastafari who trace Haile Selassie’s lineage to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, making him the descendent of the biblical King David, and his descendants the true Israelites of the Bible to whom God promises salvation.