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Bahá'í Apocalypticism:
The Concept of Progressive Revelation

by Zaid Lundberg

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Chapter 3

III. Methodology

In this section some methodological issues that are relevant for this thesis will be surveyed.

1. Research-questions and hypotheses


  1. What is Bahá'í-apocalypticism in general?
  2. How is it possible for the Bahá'í-religion to view revelation (religion) as successive, continuous and progressive while originating in a religious context (Islám) which claims that Muhammad is the "Seal of the Prophets" and that revelation is final?
  3. Is the concept of progressive revelation a central concept, principle, or theme, in the Bahá'í-religion?
  4. What is progressive revelation? What are some of its distinct features and dimensions?


  1. Bahá'í-apocalypticism in general has a multidimensional structure, e.g., hierarchical, horizontal, vertical, exoterical, and esoterical.
  2. Issues like the "Seal of the Prophets" and finality of revelation are, according to the Bahá'í-authors, ultimately a matter of viewpoint and interpretation (esoteric/exoteric). Thus, the Bahá'í-authors upholds the that the "Seal of the Prophets" and the finality of revelation are valid from one specific point of view, but they prefer to interpret these issues from within the concept of progressive revelation, especially within the cyclical scheme.
  3. Progressive revelation is a central concept, principle, and theme, in the Bahá'í religion. It consists both of an esoteric (texts of identification) and an exoteric dimension (texts of elaboration).
  4. Progressive revelation is an evolutionary concept of Bahá'í-apocalypticism and which interprets various revelations (religions) as essentially interconnected, cyclical, and progressive.

2. Methodological problems

A. The Material

The study of the Bahá'í-religion can in some respect be advantageous in comparison to the study of the more ancient religions in that: 1) the original and primary sources (Arabic/Persian/English), to a large extent, have been preserved and are utilized for direct translations, and 2) the Bahá'í-material, despite the religions young age, is quite vast.[38] At the same time, however, there is a frustration and disadvantage in that the great majority of this material is not yet translated, but efforts are being made to address and solve this problem.[39]

As was stated in the introduction, Shoghi Effendi was appointed as the interpreter and translator of the writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh wrote in both Arabic and Persian, whereas Abdu'l-Bahá mainly wrote in Persian. Moreover, the latter gave lectures in Persian that were either recorded by stenographic- or ordinary notes, and which subsequently were translated into English. Due to his American/English education, Shoghi Effendi naturally translated the original Arabic and Persian sources into English. Furthermore, due to his long-term correspondence (c. 1922-1957) with the world-wide Bahá'í community in English, Shoghi Effendi more or less established this as a universal language among the Bahá'ís.[40] Yet, Bahá'ís in various countries are not only encouraged, but sees it as imperative to translate the principal Bahá'í-writings into the vernacular. However, it should be emphasized that these translations are not based upon the original Arabic/Persian sources, but are in nearly all cases[41] based upon either: 1) English primary sources (Shoghi Effendi's writings), or 2) English secondary sources (usually translated by Shoghi Effendi). In addition, more than 60% of all published Bahá'í-literature that has been published in the world is in English. It is due to these reasons that the material for this thesis is primary and secondary English sources.[42]

B. The Method

This study is primarily an exegetical approach to Bahá'í-apocalypticism. However, to systematically and structurally analyze various dimensions of Bahá'í-apocalypticism the method which has been preferred for this study is mainly a "structural-criticism," which is a subordinate field of exegesis.[43] Consequently, extensive passages by the Bahá'í-authors have frequently been incorporated into the main-body of this thesis. These passages have, in turn, been utilized as the basis for the analysis of significant subjects: key terms, metaphors, concepts, structures, axes, and dimensions of Bahá'í-apocalypticism. It is "systematic" in that specific areas, e.g., theology, cosmology, and prophetology, are sequentially investigated. It is also systematic in that the Bahá'í-authors' texts in each area is generally dealt with in a "diachronic" fashion, i.e., first the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, then 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and finally Shoghi Effendi. It is also systematic since it has studied these areas in a "synchronic" manner, i.e., some subjects have been compared both "intra-textually" (within a text, or different texts, by the same author) and "inter-textually" (between various texts by the three Bahá'í-authors).

A "key term" is defined as a term which occurs repeatedly and/or is found as central to a Bahá'í-text. A "metaphor" is a figure of speech which is based on a pattern of resemblance. The metaphors which are recurrent, and that have been investigated in various contexts, are commonly of an astronomic/astrological, or organic, nature where the latter often exhibits characteristics of growth and progress. Certain regularly employed metaphors have in this thesis been labeled "models," (e.g., the solar-model and the seasonal-model). A "concept" can be defined as consisting of different "key terms". For example, the concept "progressive revelation" consists of two key terms — progress and revelation. However, this concept is, in turn, also associated with other key terms (e.g., evolution, capacity), or concepts (e.g., the Manifestation of God). A "structure" is seen as the relationship(s) between various concepts. Some repeated structures have been designated "schemes" (e.g., the macro/micro scheme and the cyclical scheme). An "axis" can also be regarded as a structure but which is associated with a specific directionality of revelation ("vertical/horizontal"). In turn, a "dimension" can be said to consist of all the previous mentions subjects, but it generally points to both the directionality and relationship between of the different structures. In this thesis the most prevailing dimensions have been defined in the following bi-polarities ("binary oppositions"): two "vertical/horizontal" axes, and two "esoteric/exoteric dimensions."[44] Together, the different key terms, metaphors (models), concepts, structures (schemes), axes, and dimensions, make up the overall system of Bahá'í-apocalypticism.

Finally, this method is, on the hand "analytical" in that it discerns certain explicit units ("surface structures") of the Bahá'í-texts, but it is, on the other hand also "synthetic" in that it examines various implicit relationships ("deep structures") between the above mention subjects.[45]


[1] It is beyond the scope of this thesis to fully introduce the historical origins and the development of these areas. For an introduction to the Bahá'í religion see, Hatcher, W. S. and Martin, J. D. (1989). For a more in-depth study see, e.g., Balyuzi, H. M. (1991). For an introduction to the field of revelation see, e.g., Ward. K. (1994). For an in-depth study of apocalypticism see, e.g., Hellholm, D. (1983). For an introduction to the ideas of progress see, e.g., Bury, J. B. (1920); Nisbet, R. (1994); Melzer, A. M., Wein
[2]rger, J. & Zinman, M. R. (1995).
See Hopper, D. H. (1991); Kumar, K. (1978)
[3] See Hellholm, D. (1983)
[4] See Bury, J. (1920)
[5] E.g., Augustine (354-430 AD). The City of God; Baillie, J. (1950). The Belief in Progres
[6] E.g., Plotinus (205-270 AD). The Enneads; Hegel, G. W. F. (1807). Phenomenologie des Geistes [The Phenomenology of Mind]; Caird, E. (1902). The Evolution of Religio
[7] Boyce, M. (1987). p. xiii. Most scholars date the life of Zarathustra c. 700-600 BCE, whereas Boyce is dating him between c. 1700-1500 BCE; see p. 18
[8] Boyce, M. (1987). p. 4
[9] Ithná-'Asharí in Arabic
[10] See e.g., Momen, M. (1985)
[11] Boyce, p. 152. The figure 878 CE appears to be a typographic error since most authors agree on Imám Hasan al-'Askarí's disappearance 260 AH = 873-74 CE See e.g., Amanat, A. Resurrection and Renewal, p. 10; Momen, M. (1985). p. 30
[12] al-Qá'im ("the one who will arise" in Arabic), is one of the many titles of Muhammad al-Mahdí, the Twelfth Imam (al-Mahdí means "the guided one" in Arabic)
[13] The "Gate," (in Arabic) also known as Siyyid 'Alí-Muhammad Shirází (1819-1850
[14] The historical development of the Shaykhi-movement or the Bábí-religion are beyond the scope of this thesis. For a greater analysis of these areas see e.g., Amanat, A. (1989); Arjomand, S. A. (1984); Báb (1987); Bayat, M. (1982); Browne, E. G. (1891), (1892), (1918), (1924); Lawson, B. T. (1987); MacEoin, D. M. (1979); Rafati, V. (1979); and Sachedina, A. (1981
[15] See e.g., Momen, M. (1981); Vámbéry, H. (1869); Hedin, S. (1887)
[16] See e.g., Gibb, H. A. R. (1960); Hedin, S. (1887)
[17] See e.g., GPB; Esslemont, J. E. (1980); Hatcher, W. S. and Martin, J. D. (1989
[18] "Explanation" in Arabic; see Nicolas, A. L. M. (1905) and (1911-1914); and Báb. (1987
[19] Man-yuzhiruhu'lláh in Persian. The full title of the Qá'im is Qá'im-i-Ál-i-Muhammad which is translated as "He who shall arise of the family of Muhammad." The relationship between the Qá'im and "Him whom God shall make manifest" is rather intricate and complex. "The Báb declared Himself to be the Qá'im and also the Gate (Báb) to a greater divine messenger, 'Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest'." Momen, W. (1991). p. 19
[20] The "Glory of God" (in Arabic) also known as Mirza Husayn-'Alí-i-Núrí (1817-1892
[21] See GPB, p. 101-102; WOB, p. 31
[22] The word "Bahá'í" ("a follower of Bahá") is derived from Arabic and is the name of both the religion and an adherent of this religion
[23] Buck, C. (1986)
[24] "Servant of Bahá" (in Arabic) also known as 'Abbás Effendi (1844-1921
[25] Also known as Shoghi Rabbáni (1897-1957
[26] It should be noted that Shoghi Effendi's style of writing was highly influenced especially by: E. Gibbon's (1737-1794) The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-78), and King's James' Bible
[27] Effendi, S. (1944)
[28] See Rabbani, R. (1969)
[29] Bury, p. 240, italics added. See also Schelling, Friedrich von (1775-1854), who, according to Bury, also "saw in history a progressive revelation of divine reason." Bury, p. 256, italics added
[30] See e.g., Sharpe, E. J. (1986). pp. 1-46
[31] Sharpe, E. J. (1986). pp. 27-32, italics added
[32] Caird, E. (1907). pp. 25-2
[33] See Hellholm, D. (1983)
[34] E.g., Dulles, A. (1994); Ward, K. (1994
[35] The Bahá'í religion is the second most widespread religion in the world with c. 7 million adherents. It is also the largest minority religion in Iran. See Hatcher, W. S. and Martin, J. D. (1989); Fazel, S. (1994); Schaefer, U. (1988
[36] See e.g., Balyuzi, H. M. (1970); Momen, M. (Ed.) (1987); MacEoin, D. M. (1979)
[37] Taherzadeh, A. (1987). vol. I, pp. 35-36; pp. 42-4
[38] In the Swedish Bahá'í News Magazine (Bahá'í Nytt; Nov. 1993), it is estimated that of Bahá'u'lláh's c. 15000 written documents (ranging from books, tablets, and especially letters), 7160 have been allocated and preserved in the Archives at the Bahá'í World Center, Haifa, Israel. In comparison, the works of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the figure is 15549 out of c. 30800, and Shoghi Effendi, the amount is 16370 out of c. 30100. The total amount of available written material, thus amounts to 39079. The rest of the written documents, estimated to be c. 37000, has either been destroyed, lost, or is hidden among either Bahá'í or non-Bahá'í
[39] This is especially the case with studies in the Bábí-religion where only portions of his writings have been translated into English. See: Báb (1978); Browne, E.G., (1918). However, some of the most important works of the Báb, the Arabic Bayán and the Persian Bayán, have both been translated into French, e.g., Nicolas, A. L. M. (1905) and (1911-1914). In this moment of writing a group of Bahá'í scholars, competent in Arabic and/or Persian, are both trying to systematize the works of Bahá'u'lláh and to translate hitherto unknown works in the Bahá'í community.
[40] It is to be noted that Shoghi Effendi only wrote one book, God Passes By, which was published in 1944. The rest of the titles which are associated with his name are compilations of letters in his correspondence with the world-wide Bahá'í community.
[41] The exceptions are Farsi, Urdu, and Turkish. In these cases the original Arabic/Persian sources are used as the basis for translation. See: LG, p. 107; Volker, C. A. (1989-90)
[42] For a more detailed explanation why English is used as the primary language for translations see: Collins, W. (1990). LG, p. 107; Volker, C. A. (1989-90).
[43] For an explanation of "structural criticism" see Hayes, J. H. & Holladay, C. R. (1987). pp. 110-11
[44] See Appendices I and II. See e.g., Schuon, F. (1984
[45] For an explanation of "surface structures" and "deep structures" see Hayes, J. H. & Holladay, C. R. (1987). pp. 110-11
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