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Who is the ‘Lion in Zion’ that Bob Marley sings about?


Bob Marley, the most famous reggae artist of all time, sings in his hit song ‘Iron, lion, zion’ about a mysterious fugitive running for his life to Zion. 

Who is this mystery man? Where is Zion?  

The answer lies within a little-known religion called the Rastafari, which Marley avidly followed.

Rastafari is an Abrahamic religion – like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – mostly prevalent in Jamacia, where Marley was born.

According to this religion, the Ethiopian monarchs are descendants of King Solomon & Queen Sheba. As the story goes the breathtaking Ethiopian Queen Sheba came to visit the world-famous King Solomon in Jerusalem. The king fell for her and the fruit of love was named King Melenic the First, Emperor of Ethiopia.

Melenic’s dynasty did not break for 3000 years. It lasted well into the 20 century, until King Haile Selassie Tafari – the last Ethiopian Emperor. While King Tafari lost his kingdom, he did gain some 700,000 followers who considered him no less than the Messiah and a God incarnated. Those followers are known as the Rastarfaris, their favorite hair cut are dreadlocks and Bob Marley was one of them.

Unfortunately for Emperor Selassie, in 1936 he had to flee Ethiopia due to an Italian invasion. As King Solomon’s descended it was only natural he would seek refuge as his ancestral home and capital- Jerusalem. 

To place the final pieces of the puzzle: the lion – which was prevalent in ancient Judea – was King’s Solomon’s tribe (the Tribe of Judah) insignia, and thus, by succession, Emperor Selassie’s insignia. Zion is another name for Jerusalem.

Hence, as the song goes: ‘I have to run like a fugitive to save the life I live; I’m gonna be iron like a lion in Zion

Sanctuary for the Lion of Judah, 1936 (Wikimedia commons)


Bonus Fact 1: ‘Ras’ means head and is a nobility rank. ‘Tafari’, means one who is respected or feared. 

Bonus Fact 2: Rastas use Selassie’s dynasty flag. It combines Judah’s lion – a symbol of the Ethiopian monarchy – with green, gold, and red.

Bonus Fact 2: According to Ethiopian mythology, when Melenic reached maturity he went to visit his father in Jerusalem. During this visit, he stole the arc of the covenant and brought it to Ethiopia where it is still hidden. 

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