Through their appearance the Revelation of God is made manifest, and by their countenance the Beauty of God is revealed. Thus it is that the accents of God Himself have been uttered by these Manifestations of God [. . .] Know of a certainty that in every Dispensation the light of Divine Revelation hath been vouchsafed unto men in direct proportion to their spiritual capacity.- Bahá'u'lláh (1862)
If the religions are true it is because each time it is God who has spoken, and if they are different it is because God has spoken in different "languages" in conformity with the receptacles. Finally, if they are absolute and exclusive, it is because in each of them God has said "I".- Frithjof Schuon (1963)
Revelation . . . is a Divine communication shaped to the interests and values of a particular society at a particular time . . . Divine communication might not be perfectly received and understood . . . either by the original recipient or by others who transmit and interpret it later. Bearing these two features in mind, one might think that God will communicate different things to different peoples, and will in all probability be able to communicate more of the ultimate Divine purpose to some people than to others.- Keith Ward (1995)
Contents Preface Introduction I. Background 1. The religious context 2. The philosophical context II. Literature Review III. Methodology 1. Research-questions and hypotheses 2. Methodological problems A. The Material B. The Method IV. Apocalypticism and Dimensions of Revelation 1. Problems of definition 2. A structural approach to revelation 3. Dimensions of revelation 4. Apocalypticism and revelation operationalized V. Bahá'í Apocalypticism 1. Theology - the source of revelation 2. Cosmology - the instrument of revelation 3. Universal and Specific Revelation - two means of revelation A. Universal Revelation B. Specific Revelation 4. Prophetology - the mediation of revelation A. The Prophets, Messengers, or Manifestations of God B. The nature of the Manifestation of God C. The Manifestation of God between God and man D. The Manifestation of God as Educators and Physicians VI. The Concept of Progressive Revelation 1. Texts of Identification - the esoteric dimension A. Identification with previous Manifestations of God B. Identification with God C. The Identity of the Manifestations of God 2. Texts of Elaboration - the exoteric dimension A. The rise and fall of a religion B. The continuity and succession of religions C. The differences between the Manifestations of God and the concept of progress D. The cyclical scheme E. The Bahá'í Cycle and the concept of progress VII. Summary and Conclusions VIII. Discussion Appendices I. Bahá'í Apocalypticism - The Vertical Axis II. Progressive Revelation - The Horizontal Axis III. Progress or decline? Abbreviations of Sources Bibliography
The purpose of this study is to systematically and structurally investigate a specific and central apocalyptic idea of the Bahá'í-religion the concept of progressive revelation. The concept of progressive revelation is thereby seen as incorporated into a much greater and coherent system of apocalyptic ideas that of Bahá'í-apocalypticism. This system is, in turn, subordinate to the Bahá'í-religion and the general study of apocalypticism.
In the first major part of this thesis, the general field of apocalypticism and the various dimensions of revelation will be introduced. The second major part Bahá'í-apocalypticism will introduce some important and pertinent areas to the concept of progressive revelation. Consequently, areas such as theology, cosmology, and prophetology, will be included and discussed, since it is possible to locate in them not only the overall framework for the concept of progressive revelation, but because they either tacitly, or implicitly, express various conceptual metaphors, structures, axes, and dimensions, which are associated with this concept. The third major part of this thesis examines the concept of progressive revelation by discerning specific and related key terms, concepts, metaphors, structures, axes, and dimensions, which ultimately are correlated to the general field of Bahá'í-apocalypticism. Finally, issues like the finality of revelation and the "Seal of the Prophets" are analyzed and discussed.
Before going into detail into Bahá'í'-apocalypticism and the concept of progressive revelation, it is necessary to briefly: review the general background of the Bahá'í-religion (Ch. II), survey some related studies (Ch. III), examine the methodology (Ch. IV), and the field of apocalypticism (Ch.V).
The title of this thesis is Bahá'í Apocalypticism: the Concept of Progressive Revelation. Thus, the key terms for this study are: Bahá'í, apocalypticism/revelation, and the concept of progress. The first two areas naturally fall within the study of religion whereas the third areas rather pertain more to philosophy or the study of history of ideas. Further, the idea of progress is also often associated with fields such as evolution, science, and technology. Without attempting to define or operationalize the terms "apocalypticism," "revelation" or "progress" here, it may be useful to make a tentative distinction between: 1) religious writings on apocalypticism and ideas of progress (the religious context), 2) philosophical writings on apocalypticism and ideas of progress (the philosophical context), and 3) the scholarly study of these two fields (the scholarly context). The historical origins of the religious and philosophical contexts are rather obscure and difficult to ascertain, but scholars have attempted to locate apocalyptic themes in, e.g., the ancient Egyptian and Iranian religions, and ideas of progress in ancient Greek philosophy and mythology. However, in dealing with the concept of progressive revelation and its general background, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between religious and philosophical works. For example, there are works that are of a more religious nature and which allude to the idea of progress, and there are philosophical works that contain features of apocalypticism. Moreover, the scholarly studies of these two areas are, in comparison, fairly recent phenomena.
Although these important areas are beyond the scope of this thesis, there are two important historical events, or contexts, which are necessary to highlight and which emerged contemporaneously with the birth of the Bahá'í-religion. Consequently, they will function as a general frame of reference for the present study. The first event is located within the religious context and the second within the philosophical context.
1. The religious context
The Bahá'í-religion has its roots in the land of todays Iran (the ancient Persia), which is associated with at least one great prophet Zarathustra. His name has subsequently been connected with, and given rise to, a world-religion Zoroastrianism. Although scholars disagree upon the exact dating of Zarathustra, Zoroastrianism was once a state religion of three great Iranian empires. The apocalyptic idea of the Saoshyant, or future "world saviour," is an especially noteworthy concept to the religious context of this thesis. However, Zoroastrianism has, since the 7th century CE, been largely replaced and dominated by another great world religion Islám. More precisely, it has since the 16th century CE been under the minority branch of Islám Shí'ah ("Twelver-Shí'ia"). In turn, Shí'i Islám consists of a variety of bifurcations that have sprung from this branch. Mary Boyce makes in this context an interesting observation regarding the apocalyptic relationship between Zoroastrianism and Shí'i Islám:
The Shí'i also found a figure to replace, in their hopes and longings, that of the Saoshyant. Bitterly disillusioned by the failure of the 'Abbasids to restore the caliphate to the descendants of 'Ali, they continued to regard the latter as the true imams or leaders, attributing them by virtue of their lineage and especial divine grace . . . Of the nine imams descended from Husayn . . . eight died violent deaths; but the last was held to have disappeared miraculously, in 878 [sic]. He is the 'hidden', or 'expected' imam, who will, like the Saoshyant, appear at the end of time, restore faith, and fill the earth with justice.
During the middle of the 19th century prophetic expectations gradually peaked in the awaiting of the appearance of the "hidden imam," "al-Qá'im" or "al-Mahdi." This was especially the case among adherents of the Shaykhi-movement and which subsequently created a fertile ground for the claim of the Báb in 1844 and the emergence of the Bábí-religion. Almost as soon as the múllas (Islámic clergy) were informed of the claims of the Báb, they arose in violent opposition throughout Persia to what they saw as heretical teachings. Consequently, growing attacks from mobs were instigated by the múllas and persecutions of the Bábís were common place. The dispensation of the Báb was very short-lived and lasted only six years. In 1850, in an episode reminiscent of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Báb was martyred together with a disciple by two firing squads each numbering 750 soldiers.
According to the Bahá'ís, the Báb's claim as the "hidden imám" is also seen the historical starting point of their religion, but although the two religions are seen as distinct, they are nonetheless seen as intimately connected. For example, in his major doctrinal work, the Bayán, the Báb had made many allusions and prophecies about "Him Whom God will make manifest." Bahá'u'lláh was an early and distinguished disciple of the Báb. After the Báb's martyrdom Bahá'u'lláh undertook a journey to the holy places of Iráq, and when arriving to Tihrán (1852), he became aware that a group of fanatical Bábís had, in the wrath of revenge of the Báb's martyrdom, tried to assassinate the ruling emperor, Násiri'd-Dín Sháh. However, the attempt failed and the assassins were instantly killed. The assassination resulted in that many Bábís were either directly martyred, or first put in jail, only to be executed later. A few months later Bahá'u'lláh was also arrested and imprisoned in the notorious Síyáh-Chál ("Black Pit") in Tihrán. It was here were he had his first intimations of revelation (1852). Since Bahá'u'lláh descended from a noble lineage he was spared execution but was, together with his family and followers, alternately banished and imprisoned throughout the Ottoman Empire (Iráq, Turkey, and Palestine/Israel). In Baghdád (1863), eleven years after his revelatory experience in the Síyáh Chál, Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed to be the one promised by the Báb. He is therefore seen as the founder of the Bahá'í-religion and hence its name. Concerning the above stated passage by Boyce, it is also significant that Bahá'u'lláh eventually also claimed to be the promised one in both Zoroastrianism (the return of Sháh Bahrám Varjávand) and Shí'í Islám (the return of Imám Husayn).
Before he passed away in Palestine/Israel (1892), Bahá'u'lláh appointed, in his will and testament, his eldest son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá to be the interpreter and head of the young Bahá'í-community. It was 'Abdu'l-Bahá who brought the Bahá'í-religion to the Middle East and the West through his journeys to Egypt, Europe, and America (1911-1913). He, in his turn, appointed Shoghi Effendi, the great grandson of Bahá'u'lláh, as the "Guardian" of the Bahá'í-community. Shoghi Effendi was educated in English literature at the American University in Beirut and Balliol College, Oxford. In addition, he also translated and interpreted major works of both Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, wrote a historical overview of the religion's first hundred years (1844-1944), and administered the growing world-religion until he passed away in London (1957). Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi are the three principal authors of the Bahá'í-religion, and their collected works are therefore essential to an analysis of Bahá'í-apocalypticism and the concept of progressive revelation.
2. The philosophical context
Above one can see that the Bahá'í-authors' lives span over almost two centuries (1817-1957) and, in addition, their combined travels stretched over geographical areas like Persia, the Near and Middle East, Africa, Europe, and North America. It is therefore important to briefly mention some early and contemporary notions of the concept of progressive revelation that may have influenced their writings. For example, in the middle part of the 18th century both Gotthold E. Lessing (1729-1781) and Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) wrote on the theme of progress or decline. The former wrote a pamphlet entitled Education of the Human Race (1780), and the latter wrote the monumental The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88). Although both authors may be of interest, it is the former who apparently wrote about a few themes that will subsequently be examined in this thesis. In his classical work The Idea of Progress (1920), J. B. Bury writes about Lessing as follows:
The thesis is that the drama of history is to be explained as the education of man by a progressive series of religions, a series not yet complete, for the future will produce another revelation to lift him to a higher plane than that to which Christ has drawn him up. This interpretation of history proclaimed Progress, but assumed an ideal and applied a measure very different from those of the French philosophers. The goal is not social happiness, but a full comprehension of God.
Later on in this thesis it will be discovered that themes like "education," "a progressive series of religions," "a series not yet complete," and "a higher plane," are central key terms and concepts to Bahá'í-apocalypticism and the concept of progressive revelation.
Concurrently with the above stated messianic fervor of the middle of the 19th century, Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species (1859) established the evolutionary paradigm that, throughout the consecutive decades, revolutionized almost every field of endeavor in the Western world. Moreover, it was also the century which many new sciences saw the light of day, e.g., Sociology, Psychology, and the Science of Religion, or Religionswissenschaft. In this context it is also interesting that Eric J. Sharpe writes that:
The decade from 1859 to 1969 witnessed the rapid development of an entirely new situation in the world religious study, a situation over which may be set as a rubric one word, 'evolution'. [. . . ] Might divine revelation itself be progressive, and might it be capable of interpretation on evolutionary principles? These were important questions, and they fascinated the late nineteenth century. [. . . ] an attempt was beginning to be made to view religion on the criteria provided by science, to judge the history and growth and evolution as one would judge the history, growth and evolution of any organism . . .
The question "Might divine revelation itself be progressive" can be seen as the basic question of not only this thesis, but can also be seen as a challenge to any religion that defends not only exclusivity but, above all, the idea of finality of revelation. Moreover, the themes of "history," "growth," and "evolution of any organism" are all highly applicable key terms for the present study, since they are replete with organic metaphors. Thus, it can be seen that the idea of progress is not a new concept in the history but, when it was coupled with the evolutionary paradigm, it witnessed a new renaissance and strongly influenced the newly born field of Science of Religion. Consequently, titles like Edward Caird's (1902) The Evolution of Religion were in the ascendance since the 1860's and flourished even into the next century. An excerpt from his book will conclude this introduction, not only since it is contemporary with the Bahá'í-religion, but because it contains some very salient key terms and concepts that shall be develop in this thesis:
[ . . .] the unity of mankind must for our purpose be interpreted as involving not only the identity of human nature in all its various manifestations in all nations and countries, but also as implying that in their co-existence these manifestations can be connected together as different correlated phases of one life, and that in their succession they can be shown to be the necessary stages of one process of evolution. The conception of development is thus a corollary which cannot be disjoined from the principle of the unity of man itself. [ . . . ] the life of the individual is a sort of epitome of the history of humanity . . . all the stages of animal life are reproduced in the development of the human embryo. . . The history of the individual mind cannot be used by itself, at least in the first instance, as a key to the history of the race, but rather his life becomes intelligible by means of the large letters in which its stages are written in the life of mankind as a whole.
The key terms and concepts of interest here are "the unity of mankind," the themes of "succession" and "stages of one process of evolution," and finally, the general scheme of a macro/microcosmos relationship, here depicted in that the history of mankind and the development of human beings are seen as organic parallels. These themes shall be discussed during and at the end of this thesis.
This chapter addresses in brief the third area discussed above the scholarly context. Yet, a literature review of apocalyptic studies in other fields will not be included here, but it may suffice to say that the field of apocalypticism has recently been revisited. The International Colloquium on Apocalypticism, held in Uppsala 1979, testifies to this, as do the reprinting of old titles and the publishing of new themes of revelation. It is perhaps no surprise that scholars of the Bahá'í-religion was absent at the International Colloquium on Apocalypticism. There are least three reasons for this. First, the Bahá'í-religion, despite its geographical spread, is still relatively unknown, both among the general population and in the academic world. Secondly, although there have been quite a few scholarly studies in various areas of the Bahá'í-religion, there have been very few scholarly studies pertaining to the study of Bahá'í-apocalypticism. Third, since the Bahá'í-religion is fairly unrecognized in the academic sphere, most scholarly research is being conducted and published by the Bahá'ís themselves, even though there are, and has been, a few notable exceptions.
The following studies, however, have all been conducted by Bahá'ís, and in general, they represent some disparate dimensions of Bahá'í-apocalypticism. One such study is the monumental study of Adib Taherzadeh's (1974-87) The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh (vol.'s 1-4) which primarily focuses on the textual level, or the content of revelation and its historical development, i.e., what did Bahá'u'lláh write where and when? This type of research could be classified as an historical content-analysis, although it is more descriptive than analytical. Taherzadeh also includes some interesting passages of an eye-witness who has recorded the process of the actual writing down of revelation, and references to how the writings of Bahá'u'lláh have been classified into specific genres. Taherzadeh has furthermore translated some original writings from Persian and Arabic to English.
The only academic pursuits to the study of Bahá'í-apocalypticism are Hugh Adamson's (1974) The Concept of Revelation in Islam and Bahá'í, and Nicola Towfigh's (1989) Schöpfung und Offenbarung aus der Sicht der Bahá'í-Religion. The former is a M. A. thesis which is a general survey of the Muslim- and Bahá'í-concepts of revelation. However, the concept of progressive revelation is only dealt with in a cursory fashion. This approach to the study of Bahá'í-apocalypticism could be described as comparative. The latter study is a Ph.D. dissertation and is to date the most scholarly and comprehensive research in the field of Bahá'í-apocalypticism. It not only gives a preliminary introduction to the relationship between God, creation (schöpfung) and revelation (offenbarung), but it further discusses these Bahá'í-concepts from the background of Islámic theology and philosophy. Moreover, Towfigh's dissertation also contains some relevant original (Arabic/Persian) texts by the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, which have been translated into German by the author. This type of study could be classified as mainly a philological and conceptual approach to Bahá'í-apocalypticism. However, the concept of progressive revelation has in this study been treated tentatively and is therefore far from exhausted.
Finally, one important study, and which is significant for this thesis, is S. Fazel and K. Fananapazir's (1993) A Bahá'í Approach to the Claim of Finality in Islam. This paper centers on the issues of finality and the "Seal of Prophets" that will be discussed at the end of this thesis. However, Fazel and Fananapazir's paper may be classified primarily as an apologetic approach to Bahá'í-apocalypticism.
Consequently, the above approaches to Bahá'í-apocalypticism classify as either textual, historical, comparative, philological, conceptual, or apologetic, and none of them have systematically studied the various structural levels of Bahá'í-apocalypticism or focused specifically on the concept of progressive revelation. Thus, the present study is the first attempt to address and fulfill this need.
1. Research-questions and hypotheses
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. 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.
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. 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 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.
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. 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." 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.
The study of apocalypticism or revelation is filled with the same enigmas and problems of definition and classification as that of the study of religion itself. However, the study of religion is a much wider and more complex phenomenon than the study of apocalypticism since the former includes the latter. Yet, the two areas seem to be intimately associated with each other and their close relationship is illustrated by the definitions of "revelation" found in two different encyclopedias. For example, Encyclopedia Judaica states that "Phenomenologically, every religion finds its starting point in a revelation." Similarly, Encyclopedia of Religion writes that "The concept of revelation is a fundamental one in every religion that in any way traces its origin to God or a divinity." The first definition is quite broad and universal since it embodies "every religion." The second definition is more specific and exclusive since it limits the origin of revelation to religions which identify a "God or a divinity." Consequently, the association between religion and revelation depends ultimately on how the terms "religion" and "revelation" are defined and operationalized. For example, Karl Barth maintains that Christianity alone possesses a revelation, but Keith Ward, although he upholds Christianity as the only true revelation, includes not only the "world religions" (e.g., Hinduism and Buddhism), but also all "primal religions" (i.e., religions of primal societies) into the category of revelation. The latter view is reminiscent of Nathan Söderblom's distinction between "revealed religion" (uppenbarelsereligion) and "cultural religion" (kulturreligion).
Barth's view could be classified as exclusive in that it excludes all other religions from the phenomenon of revelation. Similarly, Ward and Söderblom's views could be categorized as inclusive since they include other religions into the field of revelation. There is yet a third possible view which can be grouped as universal and which is advocated by a philosopher of religion, John Hick. He states that the "great world traditions constitute different conceptions of, and responses to, the Real from within the different cultural ways of being human." Thus, rather than limiting the origin of revelation to a "God or a divinity," Hick prefers to define it as "the Real." This view is also quite similar to the Sofia Perennis school which emphasize the esoteric and universal aspects of religion. From these different positions it is possible to conclude on the one hand that narrow, or specific, definitions of religion and revelation tend to be exclusive whereas broad, or vague, definitions of religion and revelation on the other hand have a tendency to be more universal.
Even when consulting an English dictionary one finds that the word "revelation" is affiliated with very different meanings: "Act of revealing," "that which is revealed," "divine communication," and "the Apocalypse." The first and third definitions are associated with a process of revelation, whereas the second and fourth definitions are connoted with the content of revelation, or a piece of apocalyptic literature. From an etymological perspective, the term "revelation" is derived from the Latin word reuéláre which means "to draw back a veil." Ward also conveys this meaning in that the "root idea of revelation is the manifesting or disclosing of something which is normally hidden." However, as can be seen from the English dictionary definition above, "revelation" also has a certain Biblical or literal connotation since it is the title of the last book of The New Testament, The Apocalypse according John. This original title is obtained from the Greek word apocalypsis, which means "to uncover."
As was seen in the religious context above apocalyptic ideas are found in very ancient religious traditions and, although the term "apocalypse" has Biblical connotations, this concept did not originate with inception of the Christian tradition. On the contrary, the Judaism has an extensive apocalyptic corpus and tradition, but some scholars maintain that it has been greatly influenced by Zoroastrianism. Further, in the Jewish scriptures there are four various verbs which are used to express the divine act of revelation: glh (to uncover), yd' (to proclaim, make oneself known), nggd (to report), and dvr (which is used for decisive communication on God's part). According to the Encyclopedia Judaica the first form, glh (to uncover), is used only rarely to denote divine revelation. Rather, the Hebrew idea of revelation consists instead of the "manifestation of the invisible God, unknowable to man on his own." In addition, the Arabic word for revelation in Islám is denoted by two different terms or concepts: wahy, (which is derived from the root "to inspire"), and tanzíl (sending down). Moreover, the Arabic term ilhám (inspiration or intuition) signifies a kind of secondary, or indirect revelation, as reflected within the individual believer. Thus, there appears to be some etymological similarity between the terms glh, apocalypsis, and reuéláre in the sense that they all impart the meaning of something being "uncovered" or "disclosed." However, it is also possible to discern that although the three relatively close religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islám) have been referred to, the term "revelation" clearly carries other connotations as well (e.g., "to report," "sending down," "inspire") and may therefore not be defined solely by the etymological Latin root "to unveil."
The problem of definition is even more complex if one examines the "non-Semitic" religious traditions (especially the Indian and Chinese religions), which hardly mentions a concept of revelation. However, there has been published works within the Hindu tradition which use the concept of revelation. Another reasoning that advocates that the Hindu tradition possesses a concept of revelation is the distinction between the Vedas and the Upanishads, which both have the status of being shruti (heard), i.e., "revealed" directly by the gods, or the rishis (seers), and those scriptures which are considered to be composed of men which are labeled smrti (remembered).
In the Bahá'í-religion no clear technical definition of revelation is given, but it is possible to more or less observe all the modes of revelation mentioned above. However, the glh and tanzíl modes seem most prevalent, but such a study is unfortunately beyond the scope of this thesis. Suffice it to say, and as will be seen in this thesis, the terms revelation and religion are often treated synonymously in various Bahá'í-texts.
According to Tord Olsson the technical terms "'apocalypse', 'apocalypticism' and 'apocalyptic literature' have been used rather ambiguously in scholarly literature," and from the discussion above, it is quite evident that such endeavors can be highly problematic. Yet, although a technical definition will not be provided for this thesis, it is nonetheless necessary to operationalize the terms "apocalypticism" and "revelation." This shall be attempted at the end of this chapter. First, however, two relevant definitions of "revelation" and "apocalypticism" will be reviewed. The Encyclopedia of Religion defines "revelation" more elaborately as:
[ . . .] a free announcement by the divinity. This announcement even goes beyond hierophanies and epiphanies and involves the manifestation of something holy or the rendering apprehensible of a divine depth, inasmuch as it always clearly includes the distinction between revealing subject and revealed object, between self-revealing God and mystery made known.
Here a distinction is made between the subject (God) and the object of revelation. Olsson similarly defines "apocalypticism" as follows:
Apocalypticism in its various aspects is related to a type of world-view which contains ideological premises for belief in the possibility of communication between man and the supramundane world, i.e., that divine secrets or plans relative to the mundane world in the present, past or future, can be revealed to human recipient. These revealed secrets may then refer to such diverse matters as the course of world history from beginning to end, certain epochs in history, eschatological events, and existential problems of human life.
In both definitions, revelation or apocalypticism are seen as an "announcement" or a "communication". However, the second definition does not distinguish between the subject and the object of revelation but rather between "the supramundane world" and man (human recipient). Note also that apocalypticism contains "various aspects." In both passages it is God or the supramundane world which is disclosing itself to the human world through an announcement or communication. Similarly, when discussing the origin of revelation, Ward states that revelation can be defined as "a communication of knowledge by God or by a suprahuman spiritual source." From these and the above attempts of defining "revelation" and "apocalypticism," it can be noted that they all point to a source, or origin, of revelation which is attributed to either a "divinity," "God," a "suprahuman spiritual source," or a "supramundane world." Rather than limiting the definition of revelation with the term "God," one can, in general, state that source or origin of revelation is ultimately associated with a "supramundane" or "transcendental" reality and its relationship to humanity. This "vertical" directionality is developed in the next section.
2. A structural approach to revelation
In addition to defining revelation the Encyclopedia of Religion lists five different criteria (characteristics or factors) of revelation which are used by phenomenologists of religion:
The above stated criteria suggests a rather complex and dynamic relationship, but these criteria have, for the sake of simplicity and for the purpose of this thesis, been reduced to three fundamental apocalyptic actors: 1) The supramundane reality, sender, or source of revelation (S), (i.e., the origin or author of revelation); 2) The messenger, or mediator of revelation (M); and 3) The receiver(s) or recipient(s) of revelation (R) (i.e., the recipient or addressees). A more elaborated and dynamic model could be devised to include not only the three actors above, but where the Messenger also could be considered as both the receiver (R) and sender (S) of revelation. In addition, the model could be further ramified in that some world religions also describe a level of mediation between the Source (S) and the Messenger (M) such as an angel, archangel, or holy spirit. In this more elaborate model the first level of mediation can be labeled (M1) and the second level (M2). The (M1) level is beyond the scope of this study but could be equated with the areas of angelology or theophanology. The (S) level corresponds in this thesis to Bahá'í-theology and the (M2) level to Bahá'í-prophetology. The content of revelation (C) is, in the scriptural traditions, usually attributed with a canon of sacred literature. The instrumentality, or means, of revelation (I) could be seen as the various modes of revelation mentioned above (glh, yd', nggd, dvr, wahy, tanzíl, and ilhám). These could, in turn, be related to the various levels in the above stated model. Moreover, these different criteria may be applied to illustrate the vertical directionality of the apocalyptic structure within a single religion and/or for comparative purposes as shown below:
This model is primarily a structural approach to various criteria in the field of apocalypticism and as such it also depicts some general levels or dimensions of revelation. The (M1) or (C) levels have not been included and analyzed in this thesis since areas like Bahá'í-cosmology and Universal and Specific Revelation were more appropriate. Hence, the simplified version of this model has been applied in general, and as will be shown, the Bahá'í-authors both explicitly and implicitly describe Bahá'í-apocalypticism in a similar structural scheme (See Appendix I). Further, as will be shown below, there are supplementary dimensions, or alternate models, which also could be utilized to describe the complex structure of apocalypticism.
Earlier, Olsson defined "apocalypticism" as "divine secrets" which referred to "such diverse matters as the course of world history from beginning to end, certain epochs in history, eschatological events, and existential problems of human life." This could be defined as the "content" of revelation and elsewhere Olsson continues to say that:
[. . .] "apocalypticism" seems to be relevant so far as it raises the question of the content of revelation; if something is revealed or uncovered, it must, of course, be a revelation of things that have been previously hidden, i.e., secrets . . . Apocalypticism is thus defined as revelation of the secrets of the cosmos and/or the invisible, divine world, or as revelation about the end of the world, or as revelation concerning the course of the world's history from creation till the end of time according to a fixed chronological framework, arranging history in particular periods though concentrating on the final phase.
It is interesting that although Olsson speaks about the "content of revelation" he also enumerates several areas which are related to the field of apocalypticism and which points to concepts, structures and dimensions beyond its content. Hence, Olsson clearly emphasizes one of these dimensions the eschatological dimension which primarily centers on the horizontal directionality of revelation in that it concerns the temporal, spatial, and causal realms. In the next section some additional dimensions will briefly be discussed.
3. The dimensions of revelation
Above it was noted that religion and revelation were intimately related and it is therefore interesting that Ward, in his Religion and Revelation, applies Ninian Smart's six main dimensions of religion (mythical, doctrinal, ethical, social, ritual, experiential) when classifying the various dimensions of revelation. In like manner, Avery Dulles, in his Models of Revelation, lists five various models which he refers to as: Propositional, Historical, Experiential, Dialectical, and New Consciousness. Although there appears to be some overlap between the two authors' classifications, it is important to note that Ward examines both, what he calls "primal religions," and five scriptural traditions (Judaism, Vedanta, Buddhism, Islám, and Christianity), whereas Dulles only studies models of revelation within the Christian tradition. However, the crucial point here is that both authors categorize the field of revelation into multidimensional models or structures.
It would be possible to adopt either Smart's or Dulles' classifications with respect to Bahá'í-apocalypticism and systematically investigate all the various dimensions or models of revelation. This thesis, however, looks primarily at two of the above mentioned models of revelation, namely the Dialectical Model and the Historical Model. But rather than using these specific terms, since they are not totally compatible, the terms "vertical axis" and "horizontal axis" have been preferred instead. The vertical axis corresponds in general to the structural approach described above and the horizontal axis correlates overall to an historical directionality in revelation. The vertical axis of revelation pertains to the structural relationships between the "supramundane" (S), the "mediator" (M), and "humanity" (R), or the relationship between various "mediators". In other words, this axis is defined as "vertical" since it points beyond the spatial, temporal, causal, and as such it can also be designated as a "transcendental," "essential" or "esoteric" dimension. In contrast, the horizontal axis refers to revelation in a historical and/or eschatological scheme, i.e., to certain fixed chronological frameworks, periods, and cycles. Consequently, this axis focuses within the temporal, spatial, and causal, realms which also can be regarded as an "immanent," "manifest," or "exoteric" dimension. Although this bipolar model suggests that the two axes and dimensions are independent from each other, they are, as will be shown in this thesis, intimately correlated and integrated in the Bahá'í-texts and are essential to a deeper understanding of the concept of progressive revelation.
4. Apocalypticism and revelation operationalized
With the above discussed areas in mind it is now easier to operationalize the terms "apocalypticism" and "revelation." With regard to the term "apocalypticism" Olsson makes the following relevant and useful distinctions:
The term "apocalypticism" here described as "a more or less coherent systems of apocalyptic ideas" would in this thesis correspond to the term "Bahá'í-apocalypticism." As will be shown in this thesis, this system (Bahá'í-apocalypticism) does contain numerous apocalyptic ideas. The term "apocalyptic idea" would here correlate to the term "the concept of progressive revelation". This concept is regarded as only one apocalyptic idea of Bahá'í-apocalypticism and consequently not the only one. As was stated in the beginning of this thesis, the primary objective of this study is to show that the concept of progressive revelation is a central concept of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, but not that it is the central concept. Such an investigation could be ventured, but then one would have to take into account all other possible apocalyptic ideas of Bahá'í-apocalypticism as well. The term "apocalypse" is not used in this thesis, but it interesting to note that this expression could correspond to the "content of revelation." Thus, it would here be equated with the (C) level in the structural approach above and in this context it corresponds to the Bahá'í-canon. The term "revelation," although it is etymologically speaking synonymous with the term "apocalypse," refer in this thesis only to either different apocalyptic ideas, structures, or various dimensions within the system of Bahá'í-apocalypticism. The term "revelation" occurs within different contexts of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, e.g., "progressive revelation," "Universal Revelation," and "Special Revelation," and may therefore be connoted with a variety of meanings depending upon the context. In conclusion, the term "Bahá'í-apocalypticism" is operationalized as: a system of dimensions of revelations (apocalyptic ideas) where the concept of progressive revelation is seen as a central concept.
In this chapter the various areas within Bahá'í-apocalypticism (theology, cosmology, Universal and Specific Revelation, and prophetology) will be introduced and examined. As a whole, these areas serve as a general framework to the subsequent analysis of the concept of progressive revelation.
The Bahá'í-religion is a monotheistic religion since one of its fundamental principles is the belief in the "oneness of God" or "unity of God." An example of this is seen in one of the obligatory Bahá'í prayers where the oneness of God is emphasized. Further, the oneness and unity of God is also mentioned in several other Bahá'í-prayers. In addition, one of the "names" of God is "the One" which is mentioned in the following passage by Bahá'u'lláh:
This, in truth, is the very root and essence of belief in the unity and singleness of God. "God was alone; there was none else besides Him." He, now, is what He hath ever been. There is none other God but Him, the One [. . .] He is, and hath from everlasting been, one and alone, without peer or equal, eternal in the past, eternal in the future, detached from all things, ever-abiding, unchangeable, and self-subsisting.
As in the Judeo-Christian and Islámic traditions, the word for "God" (Alláh) in the Bahá'í-religion is in the masculine gender ("He") and thus question concerning gender and anthropomorphism can therefore appropriately be raised. The Semitic languages lack a neutrum and the word for God is in the masculine genus and since the Bahá'í-religion emerged within a Islámic cultural context it has followed suit in this semantic tradition. However, the Bahá'í-authors refute that God has a gender or is a man. For example, Bahá'u'lláh writes that "God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute," or that "He hath through all eternity been free of the attributes of human creatures, and ever will remain so." Furthermore, Shoghi Effendi comments on the topic of a personal God as follows: "Such conception of Divine Being . . . is not anthropomorphic, for it transcends all human limitations and forms." Yet, the Bahá'í-authors portrays God as a personal God who is addressed in prayers in rather intimate terms, e.g., as "a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God," or "Friend."
Although God is described in personal terms, with innumerable attributes or "names," the essence of God is defined in an almost agnostic terminology. In his Kitáb-i-Íqán, Bahá'u'lláh depicts God as "the unknowable essence" who "hath ever been veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men." The following excerpts from Bahá'u'lláh further emphasize this point:
Immeasurably exalted is He above the strivings of the human mind to grasp His Essence, or of human tongue to describe His mystery. No tie of direct intercourse can ever bind Him to the things He hath created, nor can the most abstruse and most remote allusions of His creatures do justice to His being. . . He is and hath ever been veiled in the ancient eternity of His own exalted and indivisible Essence, and will everlastingly continue to remain concealed in His inaccessible majesty and glory.
[. . . ] I beseech Thee by Thy Name which no scroll can bear, which no heart can imagine and no tongue can utter a Name which will remain concealed so long as Thine own Essence is hidden and will be glorified so long as Thine own being is extolled.
In the first quotation Bahá'u'lláh states that: "No tie of intercourse can ever bind Him to the things He hath created." This is a significant point which shall be addressed below. In the last citation, which is a prayer, even the name of God remains unknown. These statements that the essence of God "hath ever been veiled in the ancient eternity" and that God's "Essence is hidden" seem to be quite contrary to some of the definitions of revelation above which were stated as an "unveiling" or a "disclosure of a superhuman reality" to human beings. However, this is also a paradox since the "short obligatory prayer" in the Bahá'í-religion states that God has created human beings in order to be known and worshipped. How is this possible if God is completely hidden, inaccessible and thereby unknowable to human beings? The enigma may be solved in that although God is "One" he is on one hand a personal God, possessing innumerable attributes, and yet on the other hand, an impersonal God, who is "sanctified above all attributes and holy above all names." The following lines delineates this mystical duality of God's nature: "Thou art the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden!" and "God . . . Who is both the Visible and the Invisible." Here God is described as being both completely immanent (most manifest, visible) while being absolutely transcendental (most hidden, invisible). The immanent nature of God could be equated with a personal, or manifest, God who is the possessor of innumerable attributes and names, and the impersonal and hidden nature of God with the unknowable essence of God.
The next three excerpts illustrates and contrasts the hidden, or transcendental, nature of God who wants to reveal, or manifest, himself and that this manifestation is seen as connected to the very act of creation:
He [God] was a hidden treasure. This is a station that can never be described nor even alluded to. And in the station of 'I did wish to make Myself known', God was, and His creation had ever existed.
The Cause of creation of all contingent beings has been love, as it is mentioned in the famous tradition: "I was a hidden treasure, and I loved to be known. Therefore I created the creation in order to be known."
Thou didst wish to make Thyself known unto men; therefore, Thou didst, through a word of Thy mouth, bring creation into being and fashion the universe.
According to these passages, God expresses a wish, or desire, from His side, to be known, and this is ultimately upheld as the generating impulse of creation. Thus, God's desire to be known, and God's creation of human beings in order to be known, appear to be intimately complementary. Although Bahá'u'lláh writes that the "door of the knowledge of the Ancient Being hath ever been, and will continue for ever to be, closed in the face of men," he also states in another context that:
Every created thing in the whole universe is but a door leading unto His knowledge, a sign of His sovereignty, a revelation of His names, a symbol of His majesty, a token of His power, a means of admittance into His straight path.
The sentence that everything in the universe is "a revelation of His names" can be noted in the passing since it alludes to the concept of "Universal Revelation" which shall be discussed below. Further, even though human beings may not know the essence, or the totality, of God, he can still be known through "Every created thing" and consequently, this implies that the human being can also know God by knowing himself. On this subject Bahá'u'lláh, apparently referring to another source, says that:
"He hath known God who hath known himself." . . . From that which hath been said it becometh evident that all things, in their inmost reality, testify to the revelation of the names and attributes of God within them. Each according to its capacity, indicateth, and is expressive of, the knowledge of God.
Again one can see that the "names and attributes of God," which exists in all things, is described as a "revelation." Notice also that these names and attributes of God are known and expressed according to "capacity." This is an important and recurrent key term and concept of Bahá'í- apocalypticism which shall be discussed in various contexts throughout this thesis.
In like manner, 'Abdul-Bahá also on the one hand states that God's "attributes are unknowable," and that the "Universal Reality with all its qualities and attributes . . . is holy and exalted above all minds and understandings." Yet, on the other hand, he also states that one can know God "by His attributes . . . by His signs . . . by His names." In comparing the reality of God to the reality of the sun, 'Abdul-Bahá continues to say that "We know not what the reality of the sun is, but we know the sun by the ray, by the heat, by its efficacy and penetration." In distinguishing between the "Reality" and the "attributes" of God he also says that "Knowing God, therefore, means the comprehension and the knowledge of His attributes, and not of His Reality." Consequently, the "Reality" of God can be equated with either the essence of God, or the Universal Reality (God) with "all its qualities and attributes." The latter phrase is suggestive to the totality of God's qualities and attributes.
From the above one may conclude that humans are capable not only to know the attributes and names of God through: 1) creation and 2) themselves, but that they were created for this very reason. However, humans can know neither the essence of God nor the totality of the attributes, or names, of God. In the subsequent sections (Cosmology, Universal and Specific Revelation, and Prophetology) it will be shown that there is a third way to know God, namely through the mediation of revelation (M).
From this brief survey of Bahá'í-theology one could readily see that revelation is intimately related to theology, and that theology (the knowledge of God) in its turn is connected with cosmology (creation). The question is now how cosmology is further associated with revelation. The following prayer by Bahá'u'lláh may illustrate this relationship:
Wishing to reveal Thyself, Thou didst call into being the Greater and the Lesser Worlds, and didst choose Man above all Thy creatures, and didst make Him a sign of both these worlds . . . Thou didst raise Him up to occupy Thy throne before all the people of Thy Creation. Thou didst enable Him to unravel Thy mysteries, and to shine with the lights of Thine inspiration and Thy Revelation, and to manifest Thy names and Thine attributes.
In this prayer one can discern the three mentioned areas above: God, in His wish to reveal Himself (revelation) has created both "the Greater and the Lesser Worlds" (cosmology), and the human being has been chosen above all other creatures with the unique capacity to know God (theology) and to manifest the names and attributes of God. In other words, the creation of cosmos has an intimate connection with the purpose of the creation of the human being (teleology), and as will be seen below, the structure of cosmos is related to the nature of revelation. Further, one may notice that humans occupy a unique rank in creation. Bahá'u'lláh also distinguishes between "the Greater and the Lesser worlds" above, and 'Abdul'-Bahá comments and elaborates upon this cosmological distinction as follows:
Man is the microcosm; and the infinite universe, the macrocosm. The mysteries of the greater world, or macrocosm, are expressed or revealed in the lesser world, the microcosm. The tree, so to speak, is the greater world, and the seed in its relation to the tree is the lesser world. But the whole of the great tree is potentially latent and hidden in the little seed. When this seed is planted and cultivated, the tree is revealed. Likewise, the greater world, the macrocosm, is latent and minitured in the lesser world, or microcosm, of man. This constitutes the universality or perfection of virtues potential in mankind. Therefore it is said that man has been created in the image and likeness of God.
In this quote cosmology is again associated with revelation and theology in that macrocosmos is "revealed in the lesser world" (revelation) which portrays that "man has been created in the image and likeness of God" (cosmology/theology). The macro/microcosmos structure is also a recurrent scheme in the Bahá'í writings. In this context one can also observe the organic metaphor with the seed and the tree where the tree, which is potentially latent in the seed, is subsequently "revealed."
In two quite general statements 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes that "all creation is growing and evolving. It never ceases," and that "the world of existence is progressive. It is subject to development and growth." The important key terms here, in connection with the cosmos, are: growth, progress, development, and evolution. These progressive characteristics of cosmos can also be seen from other passages by 'Abdu'l-Bahá which highlights other key terms of progress in that the cosmos is seen as a gradual and sequential unfoldment:
[. . .] this terrestrial globe in its present form, did not come into existence all at once; but that this universal existence gradually passed through different phases until it became adorned with its present perfection. Universal beings resemble and can be compared to particular beings, for both are subjected to one natural system, one universal law and divine organisation. So you will find the smallest of atoms in the universal system are similar to the greatest beings of the universe. It is clear that they come into existence from one laboratory of might under one natural system and one universal law; therefore they may be compared to one another. Thus, the embryo of man in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops, and appear in different forms and conditions, until in the degree of perfect beauty it reaches maturity and appears in a perfect form with the utmost grace. And in the same way, the seed of this flower which you see was in the beginning an insignificant thing, and very small; and it grew and developed in the womb of the earth and, after appearing in various forms, came forth in this condition with perfect freshness and grace. In the same manner it is evident that this terrestrial globe having once found its existence, grew and developed in the matrix of the universe, and came forth in different forms and conditions, until gradually it attained this present perfection, and became adorned with innumerable beings, and appeared as a finished organisation.
[. . .] the world evolved gradually. . . God did not allow the world to come into existence all at once, rather, the divine breath of life manifested itself in the commanding Word of God, logos, which engendered and begot the world. We thus have a progressive process of creation, and not a one-time happening . . . both scholars and Prophets have testified to the progressive creative action of the logos (divine breath of life).
In these citations it can be observed that the universe has not been created in an instant but that it has "gradually passed through different phases," or that it is a "progressive process of creation." Again, the macro/microcosmos scheme is brought up since "the smallest of atoms in the universal system are similar to the greatest beings of the universe." However, this last point shows that the macro/micro scheme is not limited, or exclusively applied, to human beings but that this scheme can be found on many levels, and thus, can "this terrestrial globe" be compared to "the embryo." Once again one may notice the usage of different organic metaphors (e.g., embryo, seed, flower). The notion of progress is also, according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, depicted as a "universal law" which reigns on all levels, from microcosmos to macrocosmos. In addition, 'Abdu'l-Bahá defines progress as follows:
'Progress' is the expansion of spirit in the world of matter. The intelligence of man, his reasoning powers, his knowledge, his scientific achievements, all these being manifestations of the spirit, partake of the inevitable law of spiritual progress and are, therefore, of necessity, immortal.
Progress is here referred to it as an "inevitable law." This principle of progress is further related to yet another important characteristic of Bahá'í-cosmology, that of its structure or "kingdoms." For example, 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes that:
Creation is the expression of motion. Motion is life. A moving object is a living object, whereas that which is motionless and inert is as dead. All created forms are progressive in their planes, or kingdoms of existence, under the stimulus of the power or spirit of life. This universal energy is dynamic. Nothing is stationary in the material worlds of outer phenomena or in the inner world of intellect and consciousness.
In this passage the dynamic nature of creation is clearly portrayed, but the important point here is the description of "planes, or kingdoms of existence," and that "All created forms are progressive." In addition to discussing physical creation or cosmos, the Bahá'í-texts not only describe all of existence as having various levels, planes, or kingdoms, but that they are arranged in what could be classified as a "spiritual hierarchy." Bahá'u'lláh elaborates and comments upon this hierarchical structure of the worlds in his Haft-Vádí (The Seven Valleys):
Although the divine worlds be never ending, yet some refer to them as four: The world of time (zamán), which is the one that hath both a beginning and an end; the world of duration (dahr), which hath a beginning, but whose end is not revealed; the world of perpetuity (sarmad), whose beginning is not to be seen but which is known to have an end; and the world of eternity (azal), neither a beginning nor an end of which is visible. . . . . Thus, some have said that the world of perpetuity hath neither beginning nor end, and have named the world of eternity the invisible, impregnable Empyrean. Others have called these worlds of the Heavenly Court (Láhút), of the Empyrean Heaven (Jabarút), of the Kingdom of the Angels (Malakút), and of the mortal world (Násút).
One can summarize this cosmological hierarchy in the following structure:
This structure depicts cosmos as being hierarchically connected with the field of revelation in the sense that the higher levels are ontologically "nearer" God and where God's nature is more fully revealed and comprehended. Above all, this scheme suggests the vertical axis of Bahá'í-apocalypticism.
As discussed in the previous section, God's essence can in this structure be seen to belong to the realm of Háhút. God is also in the Bahá'í-texts referred to as the "Ruler of the universe," the "central Orb of the universe," and the "Lord of all worlds." Although the passage and structure above elaborates upon five worlds, this numerical value should not be seen as an absolute or fixed figure of Bahá'í-cosmology, since it is possible to allocate references to: two worlds (God and His Creation, or the Greater and the Lesser Worlds); three worlds (God, the Manifestation of God, and human beings; or the world of divinity, the world of command, and the world of creation); or four worlds (zamán, dahr, sarmad, and azal). Moreover, in the citation above, where the four and five worlds were mentioned, the passage started with the sentence "Although the divine worlds be never ending, yet some refer to them as four." This suggests that the worlds of God are infinite. In addition, a further support that the worlds of God are innumerable can be seen from another excerpt by Bahá'u'lláh:
[. . .] the worlds of God are countless in their number, and infinite in their range. None can reckon or comprehend them, except God, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise [. . .] the creation of God embraceth worlds beside this world; and creatures apart from these creatures.
Even though the cosmos may be divided into various levels, the concern of this thesis is mainly the Násút realm, or the physical world. The reasons for focusing on this level are that it has been mostly elaborated upon by the Bahá'í-authors and that it clearly illustrates the theme of progress, both in each kingdom, and between the different kingdoms. As was seen above, the Násút level can be subdivided into four major grades or kingdoms: the mineral-, vegetable-, animal-, and human kingdoms. For example, 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes that:
[. . .] the men of divine knowledge have said that all existing phenomena may be resolved into grades or kingdoms, classified progressively as mineral, vegetable, animal and human, each of which possess its degree of function and intelligence.
It is unclear from the context who the "men of divine knowledge" exactly refer to, but the significant point here is that the "grades or kingdoms" are "classified progressively" where the first three kingdoms also are described as the "lower kingdoms" or "lower creatures." 'Abdu'l-Bahá explains these levels as additive in that each higher level incorporates all the characteristics of each level below, but displays additional and unique features and capacities which are absent in the levels below. For example, the human being is depicted as being endowed with consciousness, ideation, intellect, and spiritual faculties, which are deficient in the lower levels. Humans are thus, relatively speaking, regarded as superior beings. Furthermore, the human being, according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, is equipped with volition, while the lower kingdoms are described as "captives of nature." Consequently, the human being "transcends nature, while the mineral, vegetable and animal are helplessly subject to it. This can be done only through the power of the spirit, because the spirit is the reality." Here one can readily see the emphasis of the spiritual nature of the human being in contrast to the lower kingdoms, and that this spirituality is further equated with "reality."
As has been shown earlier, cosmos is viewed as dynamic and progressive. However, this progressive theme also exists in the lower kingdoms. Yet, although progress is a general characteristic of both macro/microcosmos, 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to two inherent limitations in the lower kingdoms:
[. . .] for every being there is a point which it cannot overpass . . . A mineral, however far it may progress in the mineral kingdom, cannot gain the vegetable power. Also in a flower, however far it may progress in the vegetable kingdom, no power of the senses will appear. . . it can only progress in its own condition.
A lower degree cannot comprehend a higher although all are in the same world of creation whether mineral, vegetable or animal. Degree is the barrier and limitation.
The two above stated limitations: 1) that one can only progress within one's kingdom and, 2) that one cannot comprehend a higher kingdom, are intimately related to the principle that "In every station there is a specialized capacity." Yet, these limitations are not confined the lower kingdoms but are also valid for the higher kingdoms (i.e., above Násút) mentioned previously. Human beings are therefore incapable, due to their limited capacity, to truly comprehend the higher kingdoms, and much less the essence, or totality, of God. Despite these inherent constraints upon the various kingdoms, this system is not a static but on the contrary perceived as highly dynamic and organic in its nature. Hence, the various kingdoms coexists in what could be called a semi-permeable state or transfer-system. 'Abdu'l-Bahá elaborates on this theme as follows:
[. . .] the atoms of the material elements are transferable from one from of existence to another, from one degree and kingdom to another, lower or higher. For example, an atom of the soil or dust of earth may traverse the kingdoms from mineral to man by successive incorporations into the bodies of the organisms of those kingdoms. At one time it enters into the formation of the mineral or rock; it is then absorbed by the vegetable kingdom and becomes a constituent of the body and fibre of a tree; again it is appropriated by the animal, and at a still later period is found in the body of a man. . . . The perfections of the mineral are translated into the vegetable and from thence into the animal, the virtue always attaining a superlative degree in the upward change. In each kingdom we find the same virtues manifesting themselves more fully, proving that the reality has been transferred from a lower to a higher form and kingdom of being.
In this passage one can notice that although each level is progressive in its own right and the boundaries of the Násút are penetrable, the general tendency of these kingdoms is in the direction of "always attaining a superlative degree in the upward change." This process of transference thereby suggests an overall evolutionary or progressive notion, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá actually refers to this process as a "progressive transference." Above it was also noticed that the universe was not created in an instant but that it was gradually unfolded in time. This general evolutionary process can also be seen from the perspective of the kingdoms in their successive and gradual unfoldment. In this context 'Abdu'l-Bahá says that:
[. . .] the terrestrial globe from the beginning was created with all its elements, substances, minerals, atoms and organisms; but these only appeared by degrees: first the mineral, then the plant, afterward the animal, and finally man. But from the first these kind and species existed, but were underdeveloped in the terrestrial globe, and then appeared only gradually.
In the world of existence man has traversed successive degrees until he has attained the human kingdom. In each degree of his progression he has developed capacity for advancement to the next station and condition. While in the kingdom of the mineral he was attaining the capacity for promotion into the degree of the vegetable. In the kingdom of the vegetable he underwent preparation for the world of the animal, and from thence he has come onward to the human degree, or kingdom. Throughout this journey of progression he has ever and always been potentially man.
The general inclination of the whole system is that of a successive and gradual progression towards the higher kingdoms or levels. Notice also the last sentences in each of the quotations which states that "from the first these kind and species existed," and "he has ever and always been potentially man." These ideas imply that all relatively higher kingdoms (i.e., vegetable, animal and human) at one time were potentially latent in the mineral kingdom. This further suggests that the process of creation is guided by an orderly law ("law of progression") rather than by fortuitous and random forces. Concomitantly, the human species is thus overall regarded as promulgated by a teleological principle rather than seen as a rare epiphenomenon. However, as was stated earlier, the human kingdom differs from the lower kingdoms on several points, the most important being that the human being is considered as primarily spiritual in that it is endowed with an immortal soul which is "sanctified above material existence." Hence, on the Nasút level, it is only human beings who can transfer and progress upwards to the higher kingdoms (Malakút etc). On this point Abdu'l-Bahá says that:
God has created all earthly things under a law of progression in material degrees, but He has created man and endowed him with powers of advancement toward spiritual and transcendental kingdoms.
When we look upon the kingdoms of creation below man, we find three forms or planes of existence which await education and development . . . As to the human world: It is more in need of guidance and education than the lower creatures.
Previously, some aspects were enumerated which characterized human beings as different from the lower kingdoms, and the last citation above relates to another distinct feature. It basically implies that since humans are endowed with consciousness and volition, they are therefore capable of violating the laws of nature. Due to this circumstance they are also "more in need of guidance and education than the lower creatures." Further, since human beings are the only creatures who can transfer into the higher kingdoms, this terrestrial life is in the Bahá'í writings often portrayed as a preparation for the next world. In such contexts, organic metaphors which compares the terrestrial life to the prenatal embryo are prevalent. This view further points to the need for human beings to develop their latent spiritual capacities which, ultimately, are bestowed by God. Yet, reaching the next world, or higher kingdom, (the Abhá kingdom or most glorious kingdom; Malakút) does not mean that the progress of the individual soul, or the spiritual journey, has ended. On the contrary, the Bahá'í-texts are replete with sections which emphasize the souls progress ad infinitum into the higher kingdoms or planes of creation. For example, Bahá'u'lláh states:
Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolutions of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God and his attributes, and will reveal His loving-kindness and bounty.
By now it should be evident that the concept of progress is a recurrent and important concept of Bahá'í-cosmology. Some important key terms and concepts of Bahá'í-cosmology and theology in its relationship with revelation can be summarized as follows: 1) The essence of God is beyond human knowledge. However, the attributes of God can be seen as reflected in and through creation, including human beings, 2) Creation or cosmos as a whole is guided by a law of progress. It is highly dynamic, evolutionary, and teleological, and one of its generating impulses was the creation of humans, 3) The process of creation unfolds in a successive and gradual fashion, 4) Cosmos is hierarchically structured with innumerable levels or kingdoms, which suggests a vertical axis of apocalypticism, 5) Progress is above all possible within a level or kingdom, and the general tendency is to transfer towards the higher kingdoms, 6) Macrocosmos is potentially latent in the microcosmos which can reflect the former, 7) Human beings (microcosmos) are endowed with a unique capacity to reflect the macrocosmos, and cosmos was seen as created to manifest the different attributes of God, 8) human beings can progress indefinitely onto the higher kingdoms, 9) Although human beings have the capacities to progress they are in greater need than the lower kingdoms for guidance and education, and 10) The progressive or evolutionary character of the cosmos can also be summarized as being: successive, gradual, and organic.
These various aspects suggests that the cosmos is the instrument (I) for the revelation of God's attributes, a theme which will be further explored in the next section.
In the previous two sections the intricate relationship between Bahá'í-theology and cosmology was briefly surveyed and it was concluded that these two areas in turn are related to revelation. From a theological perspective it was shown that the essence of God was described in negative apocalyptic terms, i.e., this reality is described as being completely veiled, or concealed, to human knowledge. Yet, the attributes, names and kingdoms of God were seen, through the progressive process of creation, as part of the sphere of revelation (see Appendix I). This relationship can, for example, be seen in a prayer by Bahá'u'lláh where he depicts God as the "Author of all Manifestations, the Source of all Sources, the Fountainhead of all Revelations, and the Wellspring of all Lights!" The plural ending "revelations" suggest a diversity of revelation. In fact, Bahá'u'lláh does make a basic distinction with regard to the concept of revelation. One category of revelation is, as the terms conveys, defined as a "universal," or a "general" revelation. Similarly, the other category is entitled as a "specific" or "secondary" revelation. The term "secondary" also suggests that the "universal" category of revelation is "primary." In the following quotation Bahá'u'lláh distinguishes between these two kinds of revelation:
Consider, for instance, the revelation of the light of the Name of God, the Educator. Behold, how in all things the evidences of such a revelation are manifest, how the betterment of all beings dependeth upon it. This education is of two kinds. The one is universal. Its influence pervadeth all things and sustaineth them. It is for this reason that God hath assumed the title, "Lord of all worlds." The other is confined to them that have come under the shadow of this Name, and sought the shelter of this most mighty Revelation.
In the above quote revelation is seen as a process of education and God is referred to as "the Educator." This process of education is not only limited to human beings but includes "inanimate" objects as well. Further, the statement "the betterment of all things" implies a notion of progress. Not only is universal revelation seen as the primordial cause for the betterment of all beings, but is also described as the ultimate basis of their existence.
A. Universal Revelation
Above it was noticed that this kind of revelation "pervadeth all things" which suggests a notion of omnipresence, and hence it can be said to be universal. Both Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá elaborate on the theme of universal revelation in several sections of their writings. A few extracts from the writings of Bahá'u'lláh will further exemplify this category of revelation:
"Universal Revelation" . . . such revelation already existeth in all things . . . all things are the recipients and revealers of the splendours of that ideal King . . . the signs of the revelation of that Sun, the Source of all splendour, exists and are manifest in the mirrors of beings. Nay were man to gaze with the eye of divine and spiritual discernment, he will readily recognize that nothing whatsoever can exist without the revelation of the splendour of God, the ideal King. Consider how all created things eloquently testify to the revelation of that inner Light within them.
So potent and universal is this revelation, that it hath encompassed all things, visible and invisible. . . "No thing have I perceived, except that I perceived God within it, God before it, or God after it."
The whole universe reflecteth His glory, while He is independent of, and transcendeth His creatures. This is the true meaning of Divine unity. He Who is the Eternal Truth is the one Power Who exerciseth undisputed sovereignty over the world of being, Whose image is reflected in the mirror of the entire creation.
There are a few points to notice here. In the first two examples the technical term "universal revelation" is used whereas in the latter example this category is only indirectly inferred. Further, one can observe that the very existence of things are dependent upon this kind of revelation and in this sense it can be said to be an "ontological" basis. Also, it encompasses "all things, visible and invisible," which may be a reference to the higher, and therefore invisible, kingdoms. In the second excerpt, Bahá'u'lláh is referring to a saying which alludes to that God can be perceived in all things. This suggests that universal revelation is open to human experience. The third quote also conveys the macro/microcosmos scheme where God's image is "reflected in the mirror of the entire creation." In this context one can notice the solar-mirror model in the first passage where "the signs of the revelation of that Sun, the Source of all splendour, exists and are manifest in the mirrors of beings."
The theme of universal revelation is also expressed in a more mystical and poetic manner by Bahá'u'lláh:
How resplendent the luminaries of knowledge that shine in an atom, and how vast the oceans of wisdom that surge within a drop!
Within every blade of grass are enshrined the mysteries of an inscrutable wisdom, and upon every rose-bush a myriad nightingales pour out, in blissful rapture, their melody. . . In every leaf ineffable delights are treasured, and within every chamber unnumbered mysteries lie hidden.
The basic and recurrent theme here is that of the macro/microcosmos scheme. Although each being is sustained by revelation it may also reflect various attributes of God, but as could be noticed above, this is only in accordance to the inherent capacity. Moreover, all things are not only "recipients" of revelation but "revealers" as well, since they are "a revelation of His names." Further, as was mentioned formerly, human beings are viewed as unique in creation in their capacity of reflecting the names and attributes of God. In comparison to other created things (in the lower kingdoms of Násút), which may reflect at least one of the names or attributes of God, Bahá'u'lláh writes: "Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self." Earlier it was shown that the mirror-model was employed to "creation" and "beings," but here one can observe that the mirror-model is specifically addressed to the human kingdom. This metaphor and imagery is extremely frequent in the Bahá'í writings and is a theme which will be addressed when discussing the nature of the Manifestations of God.
B. Specific Revelation
When examining specific revelation in relation to universal revelation Bahá'u'lláh describes the former category as follows:
[. . .] "Specific Revelation of God" . . . interpreted as the "Holy Outpouring," this is admittedly applicable to the world of creation, that is, in the realm of primal and original manifestation of God. Such revelation is confined to His Prophets and chosen Ones, inasmuch as none mightier than they hath come to exist in the world of being.
In this passage the fundamental difference between universal and specific revelation is seen in that the latter is "confined to His Prophets and chosen Ones." This excerpt may now clarify the passage in the beginning of this section where Bahá'u'lláh distinguished between the two kinds of education (revelation) and stated: "The other is confined to them that have come under the shadow of this Name." "The other" thus indirectly refers to the Prophets mentioned above. Once again one can see that special revelation is described as "confined" and it could therefore be considered as a special category, or sub-category, of universal revelation. The significance of the term "confined" may also imply that it is only relevant, or applicable, for human beings since it was seen that the human world is more in need of guidance and education than the lower creatures. The lower creatures (or kingdoms) are already guided through the laws of nature which operates via universal revelation (education). This does not mean that human beings are excluded from universal revelation since, as was seen earlier, they are ontologically dependent upon this category of revelation. On the contrary, special revelation could instead be viewed as an additional and special category of revelation to human beings.
The following section, excerpted from one of Bahá'u'lláh's most mystical writings, Haft-Vádí (The Seven Valleys), is highly interesting since it not only uses a verse from the Qur'án and an Hadíth, but that it indirectly contrasts specific revelation with universal revelation:
For the heavenly wisdoms, like the clouds of spring, will not rain down on the earth of men's hearts forever; and though the grace of the All-Bounteous One is never stilled and never ceasing, yet to each time and era a portion is allotted and a bounty set apart, this in a given measure. "And no one thing is there, but with Us are its storehouses; and We send it not down but in settled measure." [Qur'án 15:21] The cloud of the loved One's mercy raineth only on the garden of the spirit, and bestoweth this bounty only in the season of spring. The other seasons have no share in this greatest grace, and barren land no portion of this favour . . . "His beauty hath no veiling save light, His face no covering save revelation." [Hadíth] How strange that while the Beloved is visible as the sun, yet the heedless still hunt after tinsel and base metal. Yea, the intensity of His revelation hath covered Him, and the fullness of His shining forth hath hidden Him.
The universal category of revelation can be observed in the phrase "though the grace of the All-Bounteous One is never stilled and never ceasing," i.e., it is eternal and perpetual. The specific category of revelation can be seen as contrasted with the universal since it is viewed as periodical, "to each time and era," and "a portion is allotted," or that it is revealed in "a given" or "settled measure." Notice the metaphor with the "clouds of spring" which "will not rain down . . . forever." This is another way that the term "confined" could be interpreted in that special revelation is seen as "confined," or limited, to a certain time-period. The solar-cloud metaphor can also be observed here, and in other contexts, where Bahá'u'lláh is using this model in that the clouds hides, or veils, the true nature of the sun. In the passage above Bahá'ulláh (probably referring to himself) writes that "the Beloved is visible as the sun" but "the intensity of His revelation hath covered Him." This statement also conveys the hidden, or concealed, aspect of revelation.
Another highly important concept is introduced here in that specific revelation is not disclosed instantaneously in its entirety, but that it is revealed in "a given measure." This concept is related to another key term and concept, that of capacity, which has been mention earlier. This recurrent theme in the Bahá'í-texts states that revelation is given to humans: "in direct proportion to their spiritual capacity;" "to the extent of their station," "in proportion to their ability to sustain the burden of His message;" "to a degree corresponding to the capacity of the people of Our age;" "in strict conformity with such conditions as have been foreordained by Him Who is the All-Knowing," "that would best meet the requirements of the age," and "according to the language of the people of creation."
Concomitantly, in the following excerpt Bahá'ulláh, again using the solar-model, is demonstrating what would happen if the total quantity of revelation would be revealed immediately:
[. . .] if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, at the earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure of the potencies which the providence of the Almighty hath bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste away and be consumed; for men's hearts would neither sustain the intensity of its revelation, nor be able to mirror forth the radiance of its light. Dismayed and overpowered, they would cease to exist.
Here one may notice that in the first excerpt the manifestation is described in "stages," a key term and concept which shall be discussed in other contexts. In addition, Bahá'u'lláh further states that if revelation would not be in accordance to capacity: "mortal eyes would be blinded by the dazzling intensity of His revelation;" or "all created things would be so dazzled and thunderstruck by the evidences of His light as to be reduced to utter nothingness."
There seems to be yet another reason why revelation is not given abruptly in its full measure:
Were the Eternal Essence to manifest all that is latent within Him, were He to shine in the plentitude of His glory, none would be found to question His power or repudiate His truth.
In this and other sections Bahá'u'lláh indicates that God's revelation to humanity also serves as a test or a judgment. Here the third category in the apocalyptic actors (R) the receivers is briefly touched upon, and it can be summarized that the revelation is given and received according to human; 1) capacity or station, and 2) circumstances, conditions, requirements and language, and 3) in order to test or judge mankind. Some of these themes shall further be develop when the concept of progressive revelation is to be examined.
Although the above indicates that revelation is in accordance to the three areas above, Bahá'u'lláh also states that "He Who is the Eternal Truth manifesteth Himself in conformity with that which He Himself hath purposed, and not according to the desires and expectations of men." In this paragraph revelation is seen as being in conformity with God's purpose which may, or may not, be in consonance with what humanity sees as its own purpose. Further, one can observe that although revelation may be in accordance with the above stated areas, it may not be in harmony with how humanity may desire or expect God to reveal himself.
To summarize: revelation can, according to Bahá'u'lláh, be divided into two main categories, one primary or universal revelation and one secondary or specific revelation. The latter seems to be a sub-category of the former since it appears to be confined to the human realm. Yet, all created things in the cosmos, including humans, are ontologically dependent upon universal revelation. As will be shown below, one of the central topics of this thesis, the concept of progressive revelation, falls under the category of specific revelation. Further, as was seen above, one central feature of specific revelation is the concept of a Prophet of God. It is therefore vital to briefly survey and analyze some of the most salient aspects of Bahá'í-prophetology before delving into the topic of progressive revelation.
In the introduction of this thesis the tripartite model of the actors of revelation was defined as: 1) sender, source (S), 2) messenger, mediator (M), and 3) receiver(s), recipient(s) (R). In the sections above, the first actor God (S) was discussed in Bahá'í-theology, and the third actor(s) humanity (R) was briefly touched upon in the former section on Universal and Specific Revelation. In order to more fully understand Bahá'í-apocalypticism and the concept of progressive revelation, it is in this section necessary to devote some analysis to the second actor of this structure the Bahá'í concept of mediation of revelation (M) which revolves around the prophet or messenger of God.
In the following examples, Bahá'u'lláh explains the need of a mediator between the Godly and the human realms, which further exemplifies the tripartite structure of revelation (S-M-R) :
[. . .] since there can be no tie of direct intercourse to bind the one true God with His creation, and no resemblance whatever can exist between the transient and the Eternal, the contingent and the Absolute, He [God] hath ordained that in every age and dispensation a pure and stainless Soul be made manifest in the kingdoms of earth and heaven.
[. . .] in the kingdoms of earth and heaven there must needs be manifested a Being, an Essence Who shall act as a Manifestation and Vehicle for the transmission of the grace of the Divinity Itself, the Sovereign Lord of all.
The sentence "a pure and stainless Soul" alludes to the prophet or messenger of God (M). This "Soul" is to be "made manifest" not only in the kingdom of earth but in heaven as well. Notice that this soul is to be made "manifest" which suggests some form of appearance. The reasoning that Bahá'u'lláh is applying here is similar to what was stated earlier in the section on universal and special revelation in that there can be no direct relationship between the essence of God (S) and his creation (creatures) (R). Hence, some indirect form of mediation (M) between these separate realms must be established. The statement that this "Being" is manifested "in the kingdoms of earth and heaven" can symbolize that the messenger either occupies a dual nature or station, or that the messenger has access to both realms, the terrestrial and the celestial.
A. The Prophets, Messengers, or Manifestations of God
The Prophet, or Messenger, of God is usually referred to as a "Manifestation of God." The Manifestation of God is, according to J. Cole (1982), at the center of the teachings of the Bahá'í-religion. This conclusion may be arrived at by inference from studying the various Bahá'í-texts, but Cole does not support this statement directly from the Bahá'í-writings themselves. It may be correct to state the concept of the Manifestation of God plays a central role in the Bahá'í-religion, but this concept, as will be shown, is part of a much larger and more central concept that of progressive revelation which ultimately is subordinate to the system of Bahá'í-apocalypticism.
The terms Prophet and Messenger are frequently employed by especially Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, but the term "Manifestation of God" appears to be the most common epithet used by all three Bahá'í-authors. The terms Prophet, and Messenger, of God are sometimes also used synonymously. For example, Bahá'u'lláh writes in the same sentence that "all the Prophets of God, His well-favored, His holy and chosen Messengers are, without exception, the bearers of His names, and the embodiments of His attributes." The terminology which is connected with the Manifestations of God is rather exhaustive. The following citation by Bahá'u'lláh may illustrate the abundant and complex variety of titles which are associated with this concept:
It hath, therefore, become manifest and evident that within the tabernacles of these Prophets and chosen Ones of God the light of His infinite names and exalted attributes hath been reflected, even though the light of some of these attributes may or may not be outwardly revealed from these luminous Temples to the eyes of men. That a certain attribute of God hath not been outwardly manifested by these Essences of Detachment doth in no wise imply that they who are the Day Springs of God's attributes and the Treasuries of His holy names did not actually possess it. Therefore, these illuminated Souls, these beauteous Countenances have, each and every one of them, been endowed with all the attributes of God.
In addition to the above stated designations, Bahá'u'lláh entitles the Manifestation of God as: "Tabernacles of holiness," "Primal Mirrors," "Essences of Being," "Day Stars of His divine guidance," "symbols of His divine unity," "sanctified Beings," "Manifestations of His wondrous Essence," "the Luminaries of truth," "Manifestations of the Sun of Truth," "Manifestations of Holiness," "Birds of the celestial Throne" etc. Notice the various metaphors of "mirror," "sun," and "bird." Further, the concept of "manifestation" occurs also in connection with other epithets. In the next passage Bahá'u'lláh enumerates various titles of the Manifestations of God and states that they are all essentially identical:
By virtue of this station they have claimed for themselves the Voice of Divinity and the like, whilst by virtue of their station of Messengership, they have declared themselves the Messengers of God. In every instance they have voiced an utterance that would conform to the requirements of the occasion, and have ascribed all these declarations to Themselves, declarations ranging from the realm of Divine Revelation to the realm of creation, and from the domain of Divinity even unto the domain of earthly existence. Thus it is that whatsoever be their utterance, whether it pertain to the realm of Divinity, Lordship, Prophethood, Messengership, Guardianship, Apostleship, or Servitude, all is true, beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Notice also that the Manifestations of God "have voiced an utterance that would conform to the requirements of the occasion," which connotes to the above stated concept of receptivity according to capacity. Although Bahá'u'lláh above seems to include a variety of titles under the epithet of Manifestation of God, in his Kitáb-i-Íqán, he elevates the "prophet endowed with constancy" who have revealed a "Book" and which suggests the advent of a new revelation and the establishment of a new religion. 'Abdu'l-Bahá is more explicit on this point since he clearly distinguishes between two kinds of prophets:
Universally, the prophets are of two kinds. One are the independent Prophets Who are followed; the other kind are not independent and are themselves followers. The independent Prophets are the lawgivers and the founders of a new cycle . . . The Manifestations of universal Prophethood Who appeared independently are, for example, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. But the others who are followers and promoters are like Solomon, David, Isiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. For the independent Prophets are founders; They establish a new religion and make new creatures of men; They change the general morals, promote new customs and rules, renew the cycle and the Law. Their appearance is like the season of spring, which arrays all earthly beings in a new garment, and give them a new life. With regard to the second sort of Prophets who are followers, these also promote the Law of God, make known the Religion of God, and proclaim His word. Of themselves they have no power and might, except what they receive from the independent Prophets.
Here one can see an important difference in that the "independent Prophets" (Abraham to Bahá'u'lláh) are "founders" of "a new religion." This kind of prophets are also referred to as "universal Prophets." The "second sort of Prophets" are dependent upon the former for whom they are "followers and promoters." In other words, the latter kind of prophets (Salomon to Ezekiel), do not establish a new religion since they do not reveal a "Book." They do, however, "promote the Law of God" and "make known the Religion of God." Consequently, only the "prophet endowed with constancy," or the "independent Prophets," are upheld as Manifestations of God.
In the example above 'Abdu'l-Bahá enumerates six universal Prophets, or Manifestations of God, but other sources mention additional religious figures, and therefore the following names can be added to the sequence: Adam, Noah, Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Húd, Sálih, Christ, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. Nevertheless, although the above mentioned, and more or less well-known, religious figures are regarded as Manifestations of God, the Bahá'í-authors do not specify a limited number of Prophets. On the contrary, the number of Manifestations of God appears to be unknown. On this theme Bahá'u'lláh states:
[. . .] the Manifestations of His Divine Glory . . . have been sent down from time immemorial, and been commissioned to summon mankind to the one true God. That the names of some of them are forgotten and the records of their lives lost is to be attributed to the disturbances and changes that have overtaken the world.
[. . .] the manifold bounties of the Lord of all beings have, at all times, through the Manifestations of His divine Essence, encompassed the earth and all that dwell therein. Not for a moment hath his grace been withheld, nor have the showers of His loving-kindness ceased to rain upon mankind.
Similarly 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes that:
[. . .] there have been many holy Manifestations of God. One thousand years ago, two hundred thousand years ago, one million years ago, the bounty of God was flowing, the radiance of God was shining, the dominion of God was existing.
From these examples it should be clear that the forgoing mentioned number of six Manifestations of God is not an exclusive number, since Bahá'u'lláh states that they "have been sent down from time immemorial," "in every age," and even that "the names of some of them are forgotten." Similarly, the quote by 'Abdu'l-Bahá above supports this conclusion since he states that the Manifestations of God existed even as far back as "a million years ago." The appearance of a Manifestation of God, according to this view of prophetology, may be a rare event, but it is not a unique phenomenon in the history of mankind. Although the list of religious figures above seems to be limited to the Near- and Far East regions, it is possible to interpret the sentence "encompassed the earth" as an allusion to a global scheme of revelation. In addition, Bahá'u'lláh says: "Unto the cities of all nations He hath sent His Messengers." Consequently, the revelatory process does not seem to be restricted to any specific time period or geographic locality.
The examples above are predominantly oriented toward the past and hence it is relevant to turn the attention to the future perspective of the Manifestations of God. In his Súriy-i-Sabr, Bahá'u'lláh addresses this issue and states that:
God hath sent down His Messengers to succeed to Moses and Jesus, and He will continue to do so till 'the end that hath no end'; so that His grace may, from the heaven of Divine bounty, be continually vouchsafed to mankind.
Thus, one can conclude that the Manifestations of God are neither limited to the past nor to the future but that the process of specific revelation is seen as ongoing and perpetual. This temporal theme will be further discussed in the subsequent sections dealing with the "Succession and Continuity of Religions" and "The cyclical scheme."
B. The nature and stations of the Manifestation of God
In order to understand Bahá'í-prophetology more fully it is also necessary to examine the nature of the Manifestation of God and to compare him to the human being and to God. For example, in his Qasídih-yi 'izz-i varqá'iyyih, Bahá'u'lláh explains that the Manifestation of God has both an inward and outward aspect. In addition, Bahá'u'lláh has devoted a whole tablet, Tablet of the Manifestation (Lawh-i Zuhúr), where he elaborates upon the nature of the Manifestation of God. He opens his exposition by stating that:
[. . .] the "Manifestation" is not composed of the four elements (earth, water, fire and air), nay, rather, He is the Mystery of Oneness, of the Ancient Identity, the Eternal Essence and the Unknowable Reality, and that, verily, He can never be known by any other save Himself. Therefore, one can never realize that He hath appeared from any of the four elements, or from any of the substances mentioned by the tongues of philosophers, or from any of the four expressions of nature, such as heat, cold, dry and wet, inasmuch as all these are created by His Command and Will.
From this example it is clear that Bahá'u'lláh implies that the essence of the Manifestation of God cannot be reduced to the four elements but that he is comprised of a completely different substance than that of the ordinary human being. However, further in his Lawh-i Zuhúr he continues to describe the body of the Manifestation of God, and this time he states that:
As to the bodies, verily, they are as thrones for His Manifestation, of which no one is informed save Himself! These bodies although they have appeared in the world of creation, in the Temple in which ye have been informed of (Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, etc.), yet were ye to gaze upon them with the eye of reality and innate consciousness, ye would testify that although they are created from the elements, yet they are sanctified from them to such an extent that there is no similitude between them.
When depicting the bodies of the Manifestation of God as "thrones" or "temples" Bahá'u'lláh now seem to admit that they are "created from the elements" and that they have "appeared in the world of creation." This appears to be contradictory to the first example where Bahá'u'lláh described that the Manifestations of God as not being composed of the four elements. However, the second example continues to say that although the Manifestations of God are composed of the elements they are "sanctified from them to such an extent that there is no similitude between them." Subsequently, in the Lawh-i Zuhúr, Bahá'u'lláh makes an implicit comparison between a diamond and a stone. It is possible to infer from the context of this metaphor that the former is attributed to the Manifestation of God and the latter to the human being. Although both bodies share similar properties the metaphor conveys a sense of value in that the diamond possess qualities which are deficient in the stone.
Earlier it was shown that both Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá made distinctions between two types of revelation and Prophets, and to clarify the above stated dichotomy between the Manifestation of God and the human being, Bahá'u'lláh also assigns a dual nature, or station, to the Manifestation of God. In his Kitáb-i-Íqán (The Book of Certitude), Bahá'u'lláh delineates this distinctions as follows:
These Manifestations of God have each a twofold station. One is the station of pure abstraction and essential unity. In this respect, if thou callest them all by one name, and dost ascribe unto them the same attributes, thou hast not erred from the truth. Even as He hath revealed: "No distinction do We make between any of His Messengers." . . . This Revelation is exalted above the veils of plurality and the exigencies of number. Thus He saith: "Our Cause is but One." Inasmuch as the Cause is one and the same, the Exponents thereof also must needs be one and the same.
Know thou assuredly that the essence of all the Prophets of God is one and the same. Their unity is absolute. God, the Creator, saith: There is no distinction whatsoever among the Bearers of My Message. They all have but one purpose; their secret is the same secret.
In both examples above Bahá'u'lláh is clearly drawing upon the Qur'án and is agreeing that from one perspective no distinction should be made between the messengers of God. Hence, he refers to this station as "pure abstraction and essential unity" of the Manifestation of God. Notice that in the second quote, Bahá'u'lláh says that it is the "essence of all the Prophets of God" which is identical. Further, he states that they have the same "Cause," "purpose," and "attributes."
Subsequently in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, Bahá'u'lláh explains the second station of the Manifestation of God:
[. . .] the station of distinction . . . pertaineth to the world of creation and to the limitations thereof. In this respect, each Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission, a predestined Revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each one of them is known by a different name, is characterized by a special attribute, fulfils a definite Mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation.
Here it is possible to discern a clear difference between the station of essential unity and that of distinction, and what is particularly evident in the station of distinction is the emphasis on limitations. By combining the findings from the Qasídih-yi 'izz-i varqá'iyyih, the Lawh-i Zuhúr, and the Kitáb-i-Íqán, one can contrast and structure the two stations as follows:
station of essential unity (esoteric)
uncreated, sanctified from the elements
essentially identical (no distinctions)
the same name
the Revelation is exalted
above the veils of plurality
the same attributes
station of distinction (exoteric)
bodies created by the elements
a distinct individuality
a different name
a prescribed/definite Mission
a special attribute
specially designated limitations
It was mentioned earlier that the Manifestation of God was manifested "in the kingdoms of earth and heaven" and the above scheme probably refers to this dichotomy. Yet, in this context Bahá'u'lláh also states: "They [the Manifestations] were created before the creation of heaven and earth." Consequently, this is another feature which distinguishes the Manifestation of God from the human being in that the former is seen as preexistent whereas human life originates at the moment of conception.
In other contexts Bahá'u'lláh portrays the dual nature of the Manifestations of God in a more indirect and mystical manner:
Unto this subtle, this mysterious and ethereal Being He hath assigned a twofold nature; the physical, pertaining to the world of matter, and the spiritual, which is born of the substance of God Himself.
These ancient Beings, though delivered from the womb of their mother, have in reality descended from the heaven of the will of God. Though they be dwelling on this earth, yet their true habitations are the retreats of glory in the realms above. Whilst walking amongst mortals, they soar in the heaven of the divine presence. Without feet they tread the path of the spirit, and without wings they rise unto the exalted heights of divine unity. With every fleeting breath they cover the immensity of space, and at every moment traverse the kingdoms of the visible and the invisible.
Here Bahá'u'lláh contrasts the physical and material nature of the Manifestation of God with the spiritual, "which is born of the substance of God Himself," and although they are born a physical birth, they have nevertheless "descended from heaven," and are capable of traversing the various kingdoms both the visible (material) and the invisible (spiritual).
In like manner, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also makes a similar differentiation of the Manifestation of God, but instead of making a dual distinction he enumerates three different stations; 1) the physical, 2) the human, and 3) the divine:
Know that the Holy Manifestations . . . speaking generally, have only three stations. The first station is the physical; the second station is the human, which is that of the rational soul; the third is that of the divine appearance and the heavenly splendor. The physical station is phenomenal; it is composed of elements, and necessarily everything that is composed is subject to decomposition. It is not possible that a composition should not be disintegrated. The second is the station of the rational soul, which is the human reality. This also is phenomenal, and the Holy Manifestations share it with all mankind. . . The third station is that of the divine appearance and heavenly splendor: it is the Word of God, the Eternal Bounty, the Holy Spirit.
Although 'Abdu'l-Bahá makes this additional distinction, it only appears to be a further division within the station of distinction, i.e., the first (physical) and second (human) stations can, by comparing them to Bahá'u'lláh's passage above, be viewed as subdivisions. Consequently, the first two stations both pertain to the realm of "creation" and could therefore be included within the station of distinction. The third station (the divine) could, in turn, be seen as identical with the station of essential unity where the Manifestation of God is equated with the "Word of God" and the "Holy Spirit" which emanates from God, or is "born of the substance of God Himself." 'Abdu'l-Bahá also agrees with Bahá'u'lláh that the Manifestation of God is preexistent. In addition, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá further states that the Manifestation of God is essentially infallible and that he is endowed with innate knowledge. Hence, one can complement Table 3 above with the following additions by Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá:
divine station human and physical stations (essential unity, esoteric) (distinction, exoteric) spiritual physical, material born of the substance delivered by the wombs of their mothers of God Himself; descended from heaven immortal, preexistent phenomenal, composed of elements, mortal, subject to decomposition Holy Spirit, Word of God human soul, rational soul essential infallibility can acquire infallibility (Most Great Infallibility) possesses innate, divine can acquire knowledge knowledge soars in heaven and dwells on earth, walks among mortals can traverse between all the kingdoms
The two tables summarize the nature and stations of the Manifestation of God. From this structural analysis one can observe that, with regard to the right columns, the Manifestation of God shares the same qualities, abilities, and limitations, with the rest of humanity. However, the left columns depicts the Manifestation of God as belonging to a completely different dimension or reality. Since the right columns are associated with limitations, distinctions, and plurality, this station has in this thesis equated with the exoteric dimension. Similarly, since the left columns portray the manifestation of God as existing beyond the time/space continuum, this station has been equated with the esoteric dimension. As will be shown in this thesis, the former station is intimately related to the horizontal axis whereas the latter station is primarily connected with the vertical axis of Bahá'í-apocalypticism (See Appendix I and II).
Previously it was concluded that special revelation is a sub-category of universal revelation and that the former is especially "confined" to the human realm since the lower kingdoms (in Násút) where seen as guided by the laws of nature (universal revelation). However, in the Lawh-i Zuhúr, Bahá'u'lláh does make a few surprising references that the Manifestation of God is not confined solely to the human realm:
In every world, He [the Manifestation of God] appears according to the capacity of that world. For example, in the world of spirits He manifests Himself to them and appears unto them with the signs of the Spirit. So, likewise, in bodies in the world of names and attributes; and in the worlds which are not known to any save God. All of these worlds have their position from this Manifestation. He appears unto them in His Form, so that He, their Lord, may direct them, and draw them nearer to the seat of His Command, and cause them to attain to that which was ordained for them. As His Reality is not known, so likewise all that is related to Him is not known, except to a certain degree.
[. . .] all in heaven and earth are created from Their Outward Temples, and that all the worlds of the Lord seek help from the Manifestation of God, the Protector, the Self-Subsistent!
Here the Manifestation of God appears in "every world," albeit according to capacity, and "all the worlds" seek his help." Consequently, the Manifestation of God seem to reveal himself, in the appropriate form and manner, even in the higher kingdoms, or "in the world of spirits" (Malakút etc). It is therefore possible to draw the conclusion that if one would interpret the meaning of the Manifestation of God with its essential nature, i.e., as the Holy Spirit, it is plausible to evaluate these examples in the context of both universal and specific revelation. The sentence: "all in heaven and earth are created from Their Outward Temples," could then be interpreted that all beings are created by the Holy Spirit, or by universal revelation. It would then follow that each world would also have its own "specific" revelation and that God, via the Holy Spirit, could manifest himself as, e.g., an animal in the animal kingdom and as a spirit in the spiritual world etc. Notice also that in the first section that although "His Reality is not known," "likewise all that is related to Him is not known." These two sentences could be explicated as referring the essence of God, and the totality of God's attributes, which may be known only to a "certain degree," i.e., according to capacity. That God reveals himself according to each station, or capacity, can be seen in the next examples of Bahá'u'lláh's writings:
He Who is everlastingly hidden from the eyes of men can never be known except through His Manifestation, and His Manifestation can adduce no greater proof of the truth of His Mission than the proof of His own Person.
His Manifestation for His creatures has ever been through His creatures.
Previously it was concluded that God can be known in three ways; through creation, the human being, and via the Manifestation of God. Yet, the first paragraph seems to suggest that the third way would be the only alternative. Another way to interpret this is that the first two ways belong to the universal category of revelation and are therefore indirect. The third way would therefore belong to the specific category of revelation which is direct. Consequently, for God to communicate directly with his human creatures, he must, via the Holy Spirit (station of essential unity), manifest himself as, or via, a human being (station of distinction). However, Bahá'u'lláh states that although this is the only way God can directly communicate with human beings, they become "deluded by the appearance of the peerless and everlasting Beauty in the garb of mortal men," and thus they may even fail to recognize him.
As was stated formerly, each created thing can only comprehend God according to its capacity, and if the amount or process of revelation would be too great or too sudden, this would be unbearable or even devastating to the creatures. Hence, Bahá'u'lláh continues in his Lawh-i Zuhúr to explain: "Verily, were God the Exalted to appear in His (proper) grade and form, and in a manner befitting His Station, no one could ever approach Him or endure to be near Him." Similarly, 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes that the "unseen Reality that embraceth all beings, and that existeth and revealeth itself in all stages, the essence whereof is beyond the grasp of the mind."
Although this manifestation and revelation at first appears to be pantheistic, it was earlier stated that God "can in no wise incarnate His Essence." As will be shown below, the essence of God is instead viewed as a "reflection," or "emanation," while the essence never manifests itself in creation. In order to clarify this obscure point it is necessary to examine the Manifestation of God by comparing him to both God and man.
C. The Manifestation of God between God and man
It was previously stated in the section on Bahá'í-theology that the essence of God is considered to be concealed to all created things, and yet the Manifestation of God is preexistent and referred to as a manifestation of God. Consequently, it is appropriately to examine whether the Manifestation of God in anyway is identical to God or not. Bahá'u'lláh is addressing this issue in the Kitáb-i-Íqán where he paradoxically states that:
Were any of the all-embracing Manifestations of God to declare: "I am God!" He verily speaketh the truth, and no doubt attacheth thereto. For it hath been repeatedly demonstrated that through their Revelation, their attributes and names, the Revelation of God, His name and His attributes, are made manifest in the world. . . . And were any of them to voice the utterance: "I am the Messenger of God," He also speaketh the truth, the indubitable truth.
In contrast to this statement, Bahá'u'lláh also emphatically states that:
Ten thousand Prophets, each a Moses, are thunderstruck upon the Sinai of their search at His forbidding voice, "Thou shalt never behold Me!"; whilst a myriad Messengers, each as great as Jesus, stand dismayed upon their heavenly thrones by the indiction, "Mine Essence thou shalt never apprehend!" From time immemorial He hath been veiled in the ineffable sanctity of His exalted Self, and will everlastingly continue to be wrapt in the impenetrable mystery of His unknowable Essence.
In the first passage Bahá'u'lláh clearly states that it would be equally valid to state that the Manifestation of God is identical with God as to denote him as a Messenger of God. Yet, in the second section Bahá'u'lláh vividly portrays the utter impossibility of the Manifestation of God of comprehending the essence of God. Notice that the Self of God is not only "veiled" since time immemorial, but that it is moreover an "ineffable" and "impenetrable mystery." Close analysis of the two sections, and by reading in them in the context of other Bahá'í-texts, reveals that this enigma only is apparent. Notice in the first section that the above stated identity between the Manifestation of God and God only is "through their Revelation, their attributes and names, the Revelation of God, His name and His attributes," and that these "are made manifest in the world." In other words, although the Manifestation of God is completely unable to comprehend the essence of God he can, albeit, in that he is a mediator of God, reflect and manifest God's attributes and names. In a previous section it was also seen that the "true meaning of Divine unity" was seen in that the "whole universe reflecteth His glory, while He is independent of, and transcendeth His creatures."
In the Kitáb-i-Íqán, Bahá'u'lláh discusses the first passage above in parallel with the two stations of the Manifestation of God. In this immediate context it is possible to infer that the station of essential unity points to a unity, or identity, with God, whereas the second station refers to the notion of duality, or distinction, between God and the Manifestation of God. These levels are also found when Bahá'u'lláh contrasts the two stations within himself:
When I contemplate, O My God, the relationship that bindeth me to thee, I am moved to proclaim to all created things 'Verily I am God!'; and when I consider my own self, lo, I find it coarser than clay!
Notice here that although Bahá'u'lláh is referring to an identity (station of unity, esoteric) he is still speaking of a "relationship" with God in dualistic terms. Further, when considering his own "self," he is comparing it to "clay," a metaphor which is highly suggestive in portraying his human and/or physical nature (station of distinction, exoteric). In another contexts of his writings, Bahá'u'lláh discusses the issue of "Divine unity" as follows:
The essence of belief in Divine unity consisteth in regarding Him Who is the Manifestation of God and Him Who is the invisible, the inaccessible, the unknowable Essence as one and the same. By this is meant that whatever pertaineth to the former, all His acts and doings, whatever He ordaineth or forbiddeth, should be considered, in all their aspects, and under all circumstances, and without any reservation, as identical with the Will of God Himself. This is the loftiest station to which a true believer in the unity of God can ever hope to attain. Blessed is the man that reacheth this station, and is of them that are steadfast in their belief.
In this passage it is possible to observe that the emphasis of the identity with God does not lie on an ontological level but exists rather on a performative and ethical plane. Bahá'u'lláh is stressing God's "acts and doings" (performative), and "whatever He ordaineth or forbiddeth" (ethical), and not that their beings are identical (ontological). The performative and ethical dimension can also be seen as integral to the term the "Will of God."
In his final work, The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Bahá'u'lláh is also referring to the theme of Divine unity, but this time in more personal terms:
This station is the station in which one dieth to himself and liveth in God. Divinity, whenever I mention it, indicateth My complete and absolute self-effacement. This is the station in which I have no control over mine own weal or woe nor over my life nor over my resurrection.
Once again, the emphasis of identity with God does not have an ontological status but lies rather on a level of surrender, or "annihilation," of the ego (lower self). Above it was concluded that the Manifestation of God's identity with God was on a performative and ethical plane. However, it is also possible to further distinguish between the performative/ethical dimension and the epistemological dimension, i.e., the Manifestation of God may be completely incapable of comprehending the essence of God, but due to his role as a mediator, he is still able to reflect the attributes or names of God through his obedience and actions. Earlier it was seen that the Manifestations of God embody all the human attributes (station of distinction). It was also noted that one characteristic which was unique to the human beings is the attribute of volition. In the last section above it was also observed that Bahá'u'lláh expressed his lack of control over his own "weal . . woe . . . life . . . resurrection." This brings us to the question of free will with the regard to the Manifestation of God. On this issue Bahá'u'lláh says:
[. . . ] of all men, the most accomplished, the most distinguished and the most excellent are the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth. Nay, all else besides these Manifestations, live by the operation of their Will, and move and have their being through the outpourings of their grace. . . . Human tongue can never befittingly sing their praise, and human speech can never unfold their mystery. These Tabernacles of holiness, these primal Mirrors which reflect the light of unfading glory, are but expressions of Him Who is the Invisible of the Invisibles. By the revelation of these gems of divine virtue all the names and attributes of God, such as knowledge and power, sovereignty and dominion, mercy and wisdom, glory, bounty and grace, are made manifest.
There are a couple of points that should be mentioned here. First, the Manifestations of God are viewed as superior to the ordinary human beings, and this was also seen when the station of essential unity was examined. Secondly, the Manifestations of God, although they share the free volition on the human level, do not "live by the operation of their Will," but rather according to the "Will of God." From this perspective the Manifestations of God are, in a limited sense, "identical" to God in that they are mediators of the Will of God. Third, human beings can not fully understand, nor properly describe, the Manifestations of God. Finally, the Manifestations of God are considered as "primal Mirrors" in that they are expressions of God, and by their "revelation . . . all the names and attributes of God. . . are made manifest." However, in Bahá'í-cosmology the macro/microcosm scheme was discussed and it was concluded that every man also had the unique ability to reflect and manifest "all of His [God's] names and attributes." Consequently, the question that emerges here is as follows: if human beings and the Manifestation of God both are able to reflect and manifest all the names and attributes of God, where lies the significant difference?
According to Cole (1982), the Manifestation of God does not manifest, or reflect, the essence of God, but rather the attributes of God. For example, Cole writes:
In spite of the clear statements in Bahá'u'lláh's writings attributing the station of divinity to the manifestation of God, we should underscore that such a station derives from being a manifestation of the divine attributes rather than the essence of God.
[. . .] Bahá'u'lláh does sometimes talk of the manifestation of the essence of God. But in light of his frequent disclaimers that the divine essence can be manifested, we must take this as an abbreviated way of speaking of the attributes of the essence of God.
It is interesting that Cole is both indirectly and directly admitting that Bahá'u'lláh is referring to the Manifestation of God as the "manifestation of the essence of God." Yet, he does not support this conclusion that it is only the names and attributes of God that are revealed and manifested with any direct evidence from the Bahá'í-texts. However, what could speak in favor of Cole's conclusion is a statement like the following by Bahá'u'lláh:
Know thou of a certainty that the Unseen can in no wise incarnate His Essence and reveal it unto men. He is, and hath ever been, immensely exalted beyond all that can either be recounted or perceived.
If one interprets the first line: "the Unseen can in no wise incarnate His Essence and reveal it unto men" as one indivisible whole, then it is certainly possible to conclude that God does not reveal "His Essence" unto men. Still, it is in fact possible to find lines by Bahá'u'lláh which states the very opposite:
[. . .] in every age and Dispensation, whenever the invisible Essence was revealed in the person of His Manifestation . . .
It is also conceivable to interpret the first section above as following: "the Unseen" [the essence of God] can not reveal itself by incarnating its essence, but it does reveal its essence through the process of emanation and reflection. On this theme 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes the following:
The Real Speaker, the Essence of Unity, has always been in one condition, which neither changes nor alters, has neither transformation nor vicissitude. He is the Eternal, the Immortal. Therefore, the proceeding of the human spirits from God is through emanation.
Here 'Abdu'l-Bahá clearly indicates that although the "Essence of Unity" (the essence of God) is immutable, yet, human spirits proceed from God through the process of emanation.
During his visit to Paris 'Abdu'l-Bahá gave a few public speeches which subsequently have been recorded and collected as his Paris Talks. During one of these talks he comments upon the Gospel statement "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" -and explains this as "God manifested in man." In this speech, and in another talk entitled, The Holy Spirit, The Intermediary Power Between God and man, 'Abdu'l-Bahá uses the solar-mirror model to elucidate these mystical relationships. In this model the sun symbolizes the essence, or totality, of God, the rays of the sun the emanation of the holy spirit, and the Manifestations of God "a perfectly polished Mirror." The significance of this solar-mirror model is that the sun does not descend into the mirror, i.e., God does not incarnate into the Manifestation of God. Yet, the sun's rays emanate into the mirror, i.e., God's attributes are perfectly reflected and manifested in the Manifestation of God via the emanations of the holy spirit. Consequently, the sentence "God manifested in man" is not perceived as a manifestation of God in the sense that it would be an "incarnation," but rather as a process of emanation via the holy spirit.
'Abdu'l-Bahá continues to develop this theme by using the same model as above, but where he also explains the "extreme need" for a mediator between God and human beings:
The Infinite Reality cannot be said to ascend or descend. It is beyond the understanding of man, and cannot be described in terms which apply to the phenomenal sphere of the created world. Man, then, is in extreme need of the only Power by which he is able to receive help from the Divine Reality, that Power alone bringing him into contact with the Source of all life. An intermediary is needed to bring two extremes into relation with each other. Riches and poverty, plenty and need: without an intermediary power there could be no relation between these pairs of opposites. So we can say there must be a Mediator between God and Man, and this is none other than the Holy Spirit, which brings the created earth into relation with the 'Unthinkable One', the Divine Reality. The Divine Reality may be likened to the sun and the Holy Spirit to the rays of the sun. As the rays of the sun bring the light and warmth of the sun to the earth, giving life to all created beings, so do the 'Manifestations' bring the power of the Holy Spirit from the Divine Sun of Reality to give light and life to the souls of men. Behold, there is an intermediary necessary between the sun and the earth; the sun does not descend to the earth, neither does the earth ascend to the sun. . . . The Holy Spirit it is which, through the mediation of the Prophets of God, teaches spiritual virtues to man and enables him to attain Eternal Life. All these blessings are brought to man by the Holy Spirit; therefore we can understand that the Holy Spirit is the Intermediary between the Creator and the created. The light and heat of the sun cause the earth to be fruitful, and create life in all things that grow; and the Holy Spirit quickens the souls of men.
From this talk it is clear that 'Abdu'l-Bahá equates the "Mediator," or "Intermediary," with the Holy Spirit, and that it operates via the "mediation of the Prophets of God" (the Manifestations of God). Similarly, Bahá'u'lláh also states that the role of the Manifestation of God is in connecting "this world with the realms above," and in other contexts he portrays the Manifestation of God as a channel, or vessel, of God. Thus, the Manifestation of God is partaking in both God's and the human realm, and yet, he cannot be reduced to either one. As has been repeatedly shown, the essence of God is beyond the human knowledge, but is in a sense indirectly accessible via the Manifestations of God. Consequently, the role of the Manifestation of God is primarily that of being a mediator (M) between the heavenly and earthly realms. Furthermore, in the last sentence the organic theme is recognized in that the sun causes the "earth to be fruitful, and create life in all things that grow." This organic theme is then immediately paralleled with that the Holy Spirit "quickens the souls of men."
The above noted tripartite structured model of revelation (S-R-M) is clearly illustrated in what is known as the "ringstone symbol," which is a symbol of the "Greatest Name" (i.e., Bahá).
This symbol can be likened to an "ideogram" since it possible to interpret it on many different levels. One way of interpreting it is that it consists of the Arabic letters "b" and "h" where the former letter stands for "Bahá" (Bahá'u'lláh) and the latter represents the "Báb." These letters, in their mutual configuration, can also be seen to be associated with what in this thesis is referred to as the three actors in the simplified model of revelation. Thus, the top horizontal line is described as "the world of God" or "the Creator," which agrees to (S). The middle horizontal line is depicted as "the world of Revelation," "the Manifestations of God," which correlates to (M). The bottom horizontal line symbolizes "the world of Creation" or the world of "man," which corresponds to (R). Finally, the vertical line is a repeat of the middle horizontal line and connects the three worlds and represents "the Holy Spirit," or "the Manifestation of God." Consequently, one can in this symbol clearly see that the Manifestation of God exists as a mediator between God and man, and in this intermediary role, he serves as a channel in order to connect the two worlds.
Another way of interpreting this symbol is that the two stars represents the two Manifestations of God (Báb and Bahá'u'lláh) and the lines the body of the human being. It is also interesting to observe that the upper half of the symbol can be said to be symmetrically reflected in the lower half, which conveys the idea that the world of God, via the Manifestations of God, is be mirrored in the world of Creation. These two latter interpretations are thus expressive of the macro/microcosmos scheme.
Yet, the question still remains if it is the essence of God which is reflected via the Manifestation of God, or if it is simply the very same attributes and names of God which humans can manifest. As Cole rightly observes, there are quite a few statements by Bahá'u'lláh which clearly indicate that the Manifestations of God are described as revealing God's essence. The following sections by Bahá'u'lláh may shed some light on this topic:
These Prophets and chosen Ones of God are the recipients and revealers of all the unchangeable attributes and names of God. They are the mirrors that truly and faithfully reflect the light of God.
The door of the knowledge of the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face of all beings, the Source of infinite grace, according to His saying: "His grace hath transcended all things; My grace hath encompassed them all" hath caused those luminous Gems of Holiness to appear out of the realm of the spirit, in the noble form of the human temple, and be made manifest unto all men, that they may impart unto the world the mysteries of the unchangeable Being, and tell of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence.
In the first section it can be observed that the Manifestations of God are both "recipients and revealers." They are thus not only messengers of revelation (M) but receivers (R) as well. This division is thus also in agreement with the specific model of apocalypticism. Again one can see that the Manifestations of God are described as "mirrors" who truly and faithfully can reflect God's light. But the important point here is that the Manifestations of God are described as the revealers of "all the unchangeable attributes and names of God." The distinction of unchangeable attributes is perhaps a subtle nuance, but is indicative of the essential (unchangeable) nature of God. The second citation reiterates the unknowability of God, and that the Manifestations of God come from the spiritual world and appears "in the noble form of the human temple." The significance of this quote, however, is the very last sentence where Bahá'u'lláh says that the Manifestations of God "tell of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence." In other words, they make the essence of God known to humanity. Moreover, the last section even identifies the Manifestation of God with the "Eternal Essence."
As a final support for the above stated reasoning, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also describes the Manifestations of God as reflecting the essence of God:
[. . . ] these manifestations are the Holy Dawning-places, the Universal Realities and the Divine Beings, Who are the true mirrors of the sanctified Essence of God. All the perfections, the bounties, the splendors which come from God are visible and evident in the Reality of the Holy Manifestations, like the sun which is resplendent in a clear polished mirror with all its perfections and bounties. If it be said that the mirrors are the manifestations of the sun and the dawning-places of the rising star, this does not mean that the sun has descended from the height of its sanctity and become incorporated in the mirror, nor that the Unlimited Reality is limited to this place of appearance.
Here the solar-mirror model is employed again, but notice that 'Abdu'l-Bahá in this context of the Manifestation of God clearly refutes that the sun would descend and be incarnated (incorporated) in the mirror (the Manifestation of God). The Manifestation of God is rather seen as being able to perfectly reflect the sun's (God's) attributes.
The simplified tripartite structure of revelation was described earlier where God (S) was symbolized as the sun, the Spirit/Manifestation of God as the emanating ray as the mediator or intermediary (M), and humanity as the earth as the recipients (R). However, the special model of revelation is also discussed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá where he is elaborating upon the Christian concept of the "Trinity":
But as to the question of the Trinity. . . there are necessarily three things: The Giver of the Grace, and the Grace, and the Recipient of the Grace; the Source of the Effulgence, and the Effulgence, and the Recipient of the Effulgence; the Illuminator, and the Illumination, and the Illuminated. Look at the Mosaic cycle: The Lord, and Moses, and the Fire (i. e., the burning bush), the Intermediary; and in the Mohammedan cycle: The Lord, the Apostle (or Messenger, Mohammed), and Gabriel . . . Look at the sun and its rays and the heat which results from its rays; the rays and the heat are but two effects of the sun, but inseparable from it; yet the sun is one in its essence, unique in its real identity, single in its attributes, neither is it possible that anything should resemble it. Such is the essence of the Truth concerning the Unity, the real doctrine of the Singularity, the undiluted reality as to the (Divine) Sanctity.
There are a few salient points here, but suffice it to say that in the examples of Moses and Muhammed the special model of apocalypticism can be recognized in that God is seen as "the Source," or "the Illuminator" (S), and "the Fire," or "Gabriel" are viewed as mediators (M). Finally, Moses and the Apostle (Muhammed) are regarded as the recipients of revelation (R). Immediately after this tripartite structure, the solar-model is applied and according to the "real doctrine of the Singularity," the emanations are seen as inseparable from the sun.
In conclusion, when distinguishing between the Manifestation of God and the human beings 'Abdu'l-Bahá also applies a solar-lunar-model where he equates the Manifestation of God with the sun, which is self-luminous, and the human beings with the moon, which receives its light from the sun. Thus, the Manifestations of God are referred to as "Primal Mirrors," or "Primary Mirrors," and human beings are perceived as "secondary mirrors," which in turn, reflect the light from the Manifestations of God. In this solar-lunar-model, human beings are seen as dependent upon the Manifestations of God as the harbingers of light, guidance, education and healing. The next and final section of this chapter will further elaborate on this theme where the Manifestations of God are seen as the true educators and physicians of humanity.
D. The Manifestations of God as Educators and Physicians
In a previous section it was shown that revelation is seen as a process of education, one universal, pertaining to universal revelation, and one specific, pertaining to specific revelation. In that context it was also noticed that God was referred to as "the Educator." In this sense, God is regarded as the source of both processes of education (revelation), the universal and the specific. It was also observed that the human kingdom was in more need of guidance and education than the lower kingdoms, and it is in this context that the Manifestations of God a referred to as the "educators" of mankind. This educational role of the Manifestations of God is emphasized especially in the writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and to a lesser degree in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh. A few quotes by these Bahá'í-authors will exemplify this theme in its connection with the concept of progress:
The Prophets and Messengers of God have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth. The purpose underlying their revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High. The light which these souls radiate is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples. They are like unto the leaven which leaveneth the world of being, and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest. Through them the clouds rain their bounty upon men, and the earth bringeth forth its fruits.
In this passage Bahá'u'lláh states the purpose of the Manifestations of God in that they are guiding and educating mankind. However this education is not solely for the terrestrial life, but for the next world as well so that humans may, "at the hour of death, ascend . . . to the throne of the Most High." Yet, one can also discern the progressive concept in that the terrestrial purpose of "these souls" (the Manifestations of God), are likened to a leaven which is responsible for, not only "progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples," but also for the "arts and wonders of the world." Moreover, organic metaphors of the "leaven and bread," "the rain, earth, and fruits," are also clearly recognizable.
Similarly, 'Abdu'l-Bahá frequently uses the solar-model and organic metaphors in conjunction with the education of Manifestations of God, and in this first section one can see that he is alternating between universal and specific education (revelation) since he is incorporating the lower kingdoms as well:
All earthly creation whether mineral, vegetable, animal or human is dependent upon the heat, light and splendor of the great central solar body for training and development. Were it not for the solar heat or sunlight, no minerals would have been formed, no vegetable, animal and human organisms would or could have become existent. . . . In the inner world of the Kingdom, the Sun of Reality is the trainer and Educator of minds, souls and spirits. Were it not for the effulgent rays of the Sun of Reality, they would be deprived of growth and development; nay, rather, they would be non-existent. For just as the physical sun is the trainer of all outer and phenomenal forms of being through the radiation of its light and heat, so the radiation of the light and heat of the Sun of Reality gives growth, education and evolution to minds, souls and spirits toward the station of perfection.
In this solar-model the Manifestation of God is referred to as the "Sun of Reality" which is responsible for the training and development of "minds, souls and spirits" in the same manner as the physical sun is for the growth of the vegetable, animal and human kingdoms. Thus, one can here clearly discern the emphasis on the concept of progress in statements like "growth and development" and "growth, education and evolution," which ultimately strives towards the "station of perfection."
This next passage by 'Abdu'l-Bahá will be used to further exemplify the emphasis on progress in connection with education:
The wisdom and purpose of Their [the Manifestations of God] training is that man must pass from degree to degree of progressive unfoldment until perfection is attained. . . . without progressive and universal education perfection will not be attained. Man must walk in many paths and be subjected to various processes in his evolution upward. Physically he is not born in full stature but passes through consecutive stages of fetus, infant, childhood, youth, maturity and old age. . . . the journey of the soul is necessary. . . Without training and guidance the soul could never progress beyond the conditions of its lower nature, which is ignorant and defective.
In the context of this quote 'Abdu'l-Bahá is also referring to the Manifestations of God as "divine Gardeners" who cultivate the "earth of human hearts and minds" where the educational process is likened to an organic cultivating process. Further, the repeated notion of progress is clearly stated in that the human being progressively unfolds until he has attained perfection. This process is an "evolution upward" and is compared to the various developmental stages which a human being passes through: fetus, infant, childhood, youth, maturity and old age. This is a frequent metaphor in the Bahá'í-texts and which shall be explored below. Moreover, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also mentions that humans, without this education, would not progress, but would remain on the animal stage of development.
This final quote by 'Abdu'l-Bahá further brings up some different aspects with regard to "universal education" and its evolutionary perspective:
The Prophets of God are the first Educators. They bestow universal education upon man and cause him to rise from the lowest levels of savagery to the highest pinnacles of spiritual development. . . They are universal Educators, and the fundamental principles they have laid down are the causes and factors of the advancement of nations. Forms and imitations which creep in afterwards are not conducive to that progress. On the contrary, these are destroyers of human foundations established by the heavenly Educators. These are clouds which obscure the Sun of Reality.
Here it can be noticed that the Manifestations of God are referred to as the "first Educators" and "universal Educators." The evolutionary, or progressive, theme is seen in that these educators make human beings rise from "the lowest of savagery" to the attainment of spiritual development. 'Abdu'l-Bahá also mentions that the Manifestations of God are "the causes and factors of the advancement of nations," but one can also recognize that "forms and imitations" are not only counterproductive of such "progress," but that they even are considered the "destroyers of human foundations." Here it is also possible to observe the opposite theme of progress that of regression or decline.
Another theme which can be found in the Bahá'í writings is that this terrestrial life is seen as a school and that humanity is viewed as its children or pupils. Hence, there are certain things humans (as individuals) and humanity (as a collective), shall learn and develop in this world or kingdom. The Bahá'í-authors lists the following areas: to free ourselves from the bonds and chains of the world of nature; to be freed from the thralldom of natural instincts and physical tendencies; to acquire divine perfections; to train the souls of humanity; to prepare for the life in the next world; to make the whole of humanity and human civilization develop; and to create the Kingdom of God on earth.
Just as God in the Bahá'í writings is referred to as the "Educator" he is also referred to as "The All-Knowing Physician" who has his "finger on the pulse of mankind." Apart from being referred to as Educators, the Manifestations of God are also known in the Bahá'í-texts as "Divine and infallible Physicians," or "true Physicians," and the concept of progress can similarly also be found in these contexts. The following section by Bahá'u'lláh expresses some aspects of this concept:
The Prophets of God should be regarded as physicians whose task is to foster the well-being of the world and its peoples, that, through the spirit of oneness, they may heal the sickness of a divided humanity. To none is given the right to question their words or disparage their conduct, for they are the only ones who can claim to have understood the patient and to have correctly diagnosed its ailments. No man, however acute his perception, can ever hope to reach the heights which the wisdom and understanding of the Divine Physician have attained. Little wonder, then, if the treatment prescribed by the physician in this day should not be found to be identical with that which he prescribed before. How could it be otherwise when the ills affecting the sufferer necessitate at every state of his sickness a special remedy? In like manner, every time the Prophets of God have illumined the world with the resplendent radiance of the Day Star of Divine knowledge, they have invariably summoned its peoples to embrace the light of God through such means as best befitted the exigencies of the age in which they appeared.
Here humanity is described as being suffering from a sickness which only the Manifestations of God correctly can diagnose. However, they not only perform the diagnosis but also prescribe the proper treatment. The latter half of this section reveals an important theme which will be relevant for the subsequent discussion on the concept of progressive revelation. For example, one can notice the sentence which states that "the treatment prescribed by the physician in this day should not be found to be identical with that which he prescribed before," and this is due to that "every state of his sickness a special remedy." The sentence that follows this metaphor is that the Manifestations of God have "invariably summoned its people . . . through such means as best befitted the exigencies of the age in which they appeared." This theme is further developed in a another statement by Bahá'u'lláh where he says that "Every age hath its own problem . . . The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require." This line of reasoning suggests that the Manifestations of God must prescribe different treatments at different times since the ailments vary. Bahá'u'lláh also argues that the reasons for that mankind is still "encompassed with great, with incalculable afflictions" and is seen "languishing on its bed of sickness, sore-tried and disillusioned," is due to that "they that are intoxicated by self-conceit have interposed themselves between it and the Divine and infallible Physician." It is not exactly clear who "they" are, whom Bahá'u'lláh is alluding to, but in another context he is referring to himself as the "true Physician" who is "debarred from administering the remedy, whilst unskilled practitioners are regarded with favor, and are accorded full freedom to act." In this context he also exemplifies what he means with the malaise of humanity:
Witness how the world is being afflicted with a fresh calamity every day. Its tribulation is continually deepening. . . . At one time it hath been agitated by contentions and disputes, at another it hath been convulsed by wars, and fallen a victim to inveterate diseases. Its sickness is approaching the stage of utter hopelessness.
The contentions, disputes and wars, seem to be a few examples of "its sickness" which also seem accelerating. 'Abdu'l-Bahá gives some additional examples of these ailments as the "lack of love and absence of altruism," and concludes that if these are absent "no progress or prosperity" can be attained. In another place he identifies the ailments as "selfish disorders, intellectual maladies, spiritual sicknesses, imperfections and vices." 'Abdu'l-Bahá continues to say that neither science, patriotism, nor racial allegiance, can be the remedy for such disease, only the "spiritual teachings of the religion of God."
On this theme 'Abdu'l-Bahá is also briefly touching upon the concept of progressive revelation since he is stating that:
[ . . .] in the day of Jesus Christ the world of humanity was afflicted with various ailments. Jesus Christ was the real Physician. He appeared, recognized the symptoms and prescribed the real remedy. What was that remedy? It was His revealed teaching especially applicable to that age. Later on many new ailments and disorders appeared in the body politic. The world became sick; other severe maladies appeared, especially in the peninsula of Arabia. God manifested Muhammad there. He came and prescribed for the conditions so that the Arabs became healthy, strong and virile in that time. In this present age the world of humanity is afflicted with severe sicknesses and grave disorders which threaten death. Therefore, Bahá'u'lláh has appeared. He is the real Physician, bringing divine remedy and healing to the world of man.
In this context 'Abdu'l-Bahá is successively mentioning three Manifestations of God; Jesus Christ, Muhammed and Bahá'u'lláh, and that they have appeared in different ages to diagnose the disease and to prescribe the necessary treatment. Thus, there appears to be a certain periodicity, or cyclical pattern, in the appearance of the Manifestations of God. In the same context 'Abdu'l-Bahá also defines what the treatments for this age are:
The essential principles of His healing remedies are the knowledge and love of God, severance from all else save God, turning our faces in sincerity toward the Kingdom of God, implicit faith, firmness and fidelity, loving-kindness toward all creatures and the acquisition of the divine virtues indicated for the human world. These are the fundamental principles of progress, civilization, international peace and the unity of mankind. These are the essentials of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings, the secret of everlasting health, the remedy and healing for man. It is my hope that you may assist in healing the sick body of the world through these teachings so that eternal radiance may illumine all the nations of mankind.
Here one may discern a series of more or less abstract religious principles that are recognized as remedies. However, the interesting point for this thesis is that 'Abdu'l-Bahá is identifying these treatments with the "fundamental principles of progress, civilization, international peace and the unity of mankind," and he later states that these are "the essentials of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings." Hence, one can observe that the concept of progress is one of these fundamental principles.
Now, to in order to summarize this section of Bahá'í-apocalypticism it was concluded in Bahá'í-theology that the essence of God is completely inaccessible and unknowable to human beings, but that God, according to capacity, can either indirectly be known through; a) his creation or within the human being (universal revelation), and directly b) through his Manifestations of God (specific revelation). In the Bahá'í-cosmology it was also concluded that the cosmos was highly dynamic and evolutionary in its character. Further, it could be shown that cosmos also was structured in a spiritual hierarchy and that each form of existence could evolve and progress within its plane or kingdom. Thus, even the lower kingdoms were seen as being under the influence of "education." However, human beings, although essentially spiritual, have evolved through the lower kingdoms and they differ from these in that they can traverse onto the higher and more spiritual kingdoms. Specific revelation, although present in all kingdoms, is primarily confined to human beings, where the Holy Spirit, manifests itself in the form of, or via, a human being called a Manifestation of God. The Manifestations of God have visited humanity at different times in history and this is a process which will continue in the future. Further, the Manifestations of God occupy a dual station, one spiritual or divine (esoteric) and one human and physical (exoteric), and in this respect they partake both in the heavenly and earthly realms. The Manifestations of God was further seen as mediators between God and man (M), especially in their role as divine educators and physicians, and were finally regarded as the primary instruments for the progress of the individual, society, civilization, and ultimately, for the unification of the world. In the next chapter additional aspects of the Manifestation of God will be examined, but within the framework of the concept of progressive revelation.
The structure of this chapter on Bahá'í-apocalypticism can be seen as generally oriented along a vertical axis. It is designated as vertical in that the field of theology represents the most esoteric dimension since one aspect of God remained completely transcendental or hidden. Thus, it could be seen that the subsequent areas of cosmology, universal and specific revelation, and prophetology, gradually disclosed a more horizontal axis since the more immanent or manifest levels of cosmos were elaborated upon. This latter area can therefore be seen as increasingly exoteric.
This chapter has supported the first hypothesis of this thesis that is Bahá'í-apocalypticism in general has a multidimensional structure, e.g., hierarchical, horizontal, vertical, exoterical, and esoterical.
As will be shown in the next chapter, the esoteric/exoteric dimensions are intricately correlated, but the overall orientation is still in the horizontal direction in that the concept of progressive revelation mainly concerns the temporal, spatial, and causal, nature of revelation and religion (See Appendix I and II).
In the previous sections from cosmology to prophetology it has repeatedly been noticed that the concept of progress within Bahá'í-apocalypticism is central. As was formerly stated in the Introduction, one of the aims of this thesis is to systematically and structurally analyze the concept of progressive revelation. The preceding chapter of Bahá'í Apocalypticism may therefore be regarded as a rather lengthy preamble for this concept. It was also stated in the hypotheses that the concept of progressive revelation is a central concept of the Bahá'í-religion and consequently within the system of Bahá'í-apocalypticism.
The concept of progressive revelation is defined in a Bahá'í-dictionary as "The concept that Divine Revelation is not final, but continuing," while another source states that it "Possibly [is] the central principle behind the Bahá'í concept of the oneness of religion." The first definition emphasizes on the concept of continuity (exoteric dimension) whereas the latter focuses on the underlying unity between religions (esoteric dimension), and further states that it is a central principle.
This hypothesis that the concept of progressive revelation is a central concept of the Bahá'í-religion will now be tested on two major levels:
The first level will be the simplest to confirm while conclusions about the second only will be reached and supported at the end of this chapter.
The following paragraphs by Shoghi Effendi are used to directly ascertain that the concept of progressive revelation is a central concept, or principle, of the Bahá'í-religion:
The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh . . . is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process.
[. . .] the fundamental principle which constitutes the Bedrock of Bahá'í belief, the principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is orderly, continuous and progressive and not spasmodic or final.
The Faith of Bahá'u'lláh should indeed be regarded . . . as the culmination of a cycle, the final stage in a series of successive, of preliminary and progressive revelations.
It is possible to interpret the first two paragraphs above that "religious truth is not absolute but relative" as a separate principle from "Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process." Moreover, by that fact that it is mentioned first, this could be considered as the fundamental principle of the Bahá'í-religion. It is also possible, however, to see the two sentences as inseparably related and as a more elaborate version of a single principle. Note also that Shoghi Effendi in this context refers to this sequence as the "fundamental principle" and that it is constituting "the Bedrock of Bahá'í belief." Another passage by Shoghi Effendi will clarify this relationship in determining if they are to be treated as two separate principles or as one single principle:
Let none, however, mistake my purpose, or misrepresent this cardinal truth which is of the essence of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. The divine origin of all the Prophets of God including Jesus Christ and the Apostle of God [Muhammed], the two greatest Manifestations preceding the Revelation of the Báb is unreservedly and unshakably upheld by each and every follower of the Bahá'í-religion. The fundamental unity of these Messengers of God is clearly recognized, the continuity of their Revelation is affirmed.
Here Shoghi Effendi indirectly refers to the "continuity of their Revelation" as a "cardinal truth which is of the essence of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh." In the first sections above one may also notice that the term "continuous" is directly coupled with the term "progressive," whereas the last quote contains the term "successive." Later on in this thesis, it will be shown that the terms successive and continuous are two crucial key terms to the concept of progressive revelation. Shoghi Effendi does also directly use the technical term "progressive revelation" in his own writings, both in the singular and in the plural as seen above. However, there exists no English translations where 'Abdu'l-Bahá directly utilizes the technical term "progressive revelation." In the English translations of Bahá'u'lláh's writings the technical term has only been found once, but it appears that this term never occurs in the original Arabic or Persian texts. Although Shoghi Effendi seems to have invented the technical term, it does not follow that the concept is absent in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá. This thesis would rather like to advocate the opposite in that Shoghi Effendi, due to the concept's centrality and frequency in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, must have seen the need to formulate a technical term that would disclose its appropriate connotations. Consequently, Shoghi Effendi asks the following question:
Does not Bahá'u'lláh Himself allude to the progressiveness of divine Revelation?
Shoghi Effendi's question indicates both that Bahá'u'lláh indirectly and implicitly refers to this concept and that he further implies that this concept is rather self-evident. Although both 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Bahá'u'lláh may hint at this concept, it will be shown in the subsequent sections that progressive revelation is a central theme of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, not only by the analysis of several Bahá'í-texts on this theme, but it will also be seen in the Bahá'í-author's own discussions of this concept.
While enumerating the various principles which he found to be central to the Bahá'í-religion, 'Abdu'l-Bahá mentions in a passage the underlying oneness of the religions. As this thesis proceeds, it will be shown that this is one fundamental aspect to the concept of progressive revelation. Although the exact technical term of progressive revelation may be lacking in the writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, statements like "revelation is progressive and continuous" are abundant. Here one can recognize that the term "continuous" is once more is coupled with the term "progressive." Similarly, although Bahá'u'lláh only alludes to the concept of progressive revelation in his Kitáb-Íqán, it is replete with frequent symbolism on this theme. In the following paragraph by Bahá'u'lláh (translated by Shoghi Effendi), the technical term "Progressive Revelation" is clearly noted:
Contemplate with thine inward eye the chain of successive Revelations that hath linked the Manifestations of Adam with that of the Báb . . . And when this process of Progressive Revelation culminated . . .
Having found direct and explicit support in the Bahá'í-text that progressive revelation is a central concept, or principle, of the Bahá'í-religion, it is logical to make this concept the primary object of study in the continuing investigation of Bahá'í-apocalypticism. Below the second level of the hypothesis will be tested, i.e., to analyze various Bahá'í-texts which indirectly and implicitly suggest that the concept of progressive revelation is a central concept of Bahá'í-apocalypticism.
The second major level of investigating this concept is by studying "texts of elaboration" in which the Bahá'í-authors elaborate on various themes of progressive revelation. This level is generally similar to the station of distinction (the exoteric dimension) in that it is the phenomenal aspects of religion which are predominant. This second major level could, in turn, also be further divided into four sub-categories which: a) centers around the theme of the rise and fall of an individual religion, b) examines the succession and continuity of religion (revelation), c) looks at the differences of the Manifestations of God and the progressive character of religion (revelation). The fourth and final sub-category d) can be seen as a synthesis and extension of the previous three sub-categories in that it portrays the concept of progressive revelation in a cyclical scheme of substantially greater time-periods.
A. Identification with God
The identity between the Manifestation of God and God was discussed in a former section. However, it is possible to allocate texts of identification where Bahá'u'lláh appears to identify himself with God in different religious traditions. In the following passage one can notice that Bahá'u'lláh utilizes the first form of the plural "We" in conjunction with four known religions:
At one time We addressed the people of the Torah. . . At another, We addressed the people of the Evangel. . . At still another, We addressed the people of the Qur'án saying: 'Fear the All-Merciful, and cavil not at Him through Whom all religions were founded.' . . . Know thou moreover, that We have addressed to the Magians Our Tablets, and adorned them with Our Law. . . . We have revealed in them the essence of all the hints and allusions contained in their Books. The Lord, verily, is the Almighty, the All-Knowing.
Here Bahá'u'lláh, most likely from the station of essential unity, identifies himself with "Him through Whom all religions were founded." Hence, he says that he at different times addressed various "people" and lists them as: "the people of the Torah" (Judaism), "the people of the Evangel" (Christianity), "the people of the Qur'án" (Islám), and the "Magians" (Zoroastrianism). Notice that in the final sentence the first person of the plural shifts to the third person in the singular. With this shift in mind it is also possible to interpret this section in that Bahá'u'lláh merely is speaking with the "voice of God" and that he does not, as was previously seen, identify himself neither with the totality nor the essence of God. However, the important point in this context is that Bahá'u'lláh claims that God has consecutively addressed various people at different times and thereby is the ultimate originator and founder their respective religions.
B. Identification with previous Manifestations of God
The second level of investigation texts of identification has already been conducted in some detail by Cole (1993) in his "I am all the Prophets": The Poetics of Pluralism in Bahá'í Texts. The title alludes ultimately to a passage in the Kitáb-i-Íqán where Bahá'u'lláh is elaborating upon the theme of the "return" of the Manifestations of God, and where Muhammed, according to Bahá'u'lláh, is identifying himself with the former Prophets:
Thus hath Muhammad, the point of the Qur'án, revealed: "I am all the Prophets." Likewise, He saith: "I am the first Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus." . . . Wherefore, should one of these Manifestations of Holiness proclaim saying: "I am the return of all the Prophets," He verily speaketh the truth. In like manner, in every subsequent Revelation, the return of the former Revelation is a fact, the truth of which is firmly established.
Bahá'u'lláh is making a similar but indirect claim in the following text which Cole also uses for his analysis. The original text have, due to lack of space and its extensive length, been considerably shortened, and the assumed person referred to in the text have been added:
Praise be to Thee, O Lord My God, for the wondrous revelations of Thy inscrutable decree and the manifold woes and trials Thou hast destined for Myself. At one time Thou didst deliver Me [Abraham] into the hands of Nimrod; at another Thou hast allowed Pharaoh's rod to persecute Me [Moses]. . . Again Thou didst cast Me [Joseph] into the prison-cell of the ungodly. . . And again Thou didst decree that I [John the Baptist] be beheaded by the sword of the infidel. Again I [Jesus Christ] was crucified for having unveiled to men's eyes the hidden gems of Thy glorious unity . . . How bitter the humiliation heaped upon Me [Imám Husayn], in a subsequent age, on the plain of Karbilá! . . . In a later age, I [the Báb] was suspended, and My breast was made a target to the darts of the malicious cruelty of My foes. . . Finally, behold how, in this Day, My treacherous enemies have leagued themselves against Me [Bahá'u'lláh], and are continually plotting to instill the venom of hate and malice into the souls of Thy servants.
The crucial element in the above text of identification is that the author is using the narrative voice in the first person of either the singular or the plural. It is perhaps surprising that Bahá'u'lláh here identifies himself with Joseph, John the Baptist, and Imám Husayn, who, according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's distinction above, would be classified as dependent prophets. The important point here, however, is that Bahá'u'lláh identifies himself with six different religious figures: Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Imám Huseyn, and the Báb. The identification with these religious figures is, however, not exclusive since Bahá'u'lláh in another context also identifies himself with Muhammed: "If ye cherish the desire to slay Muhammad, the Apostle of God, seize Me and put an end to My life, for I am He, and My Self is His Self."
There is another way to look at texts of identification and that is to examine the concept of "return of prophets," and above Bahá'u'lláh also seems equate "I am all the Prophets" with "I am the return of all the Prophets." Christopher Buck has made an analysis of the claims of Bahá'u'lláh and refers to this concept as "Cross-Cultural Messianism." Buck identifies four figures in four different religions whom Bahá'u'lláh directly claims to be identified with:
In addition, there are a few cryptic lines where Bahá'u'lláh: 1) identifies himself with the Báb in that he refers to him as "My Previous Manifestation," or as "My previous Revelation," and, 2) claims to be the return of the Báb "arrayed in a new raiment," or "clothed in the glory of Bahá." Nowhere does Bahá'u'lláh directly claim to be the return of Krishna or the Buddha, but Shoghi Effendi, writing about Bahá'u'lláh on this theme, extrapolates the above claims to include even these two religious figures. Further, the above stated religious figures here can not be a fixed number since Bahá'u'lláh also proclaims to be the "Promised One" of all religions. The following passage by Bahá'u'lláh will exemplify this conclusion:
Followers of the Gospel, behold the gates of heaven are flung open. He that had ascended unto it is now come. Give ear to His voice calling aloud over land and sea, announcing to all mankind the advent of this Revelation -- a Revelation through the agency of which the Tongue of Grandeur is now proclaiming: 'Lo, the sacred Pledge hath been fulfilled, for He, the Promised One, is come!' The voice of the Son of Man is calling aloud from the sacred vale: 'Here am I, here am I, O God my God!' . . . whilst from the Burning Bush breaketh forth the cry: 'Lo, the Desire of the world is made manifest in His transcendent glory!' The Father hath come. That which ye were promised in the Kingdom of God is fulfilled. This is the Word which the Son veiled when He said to those around Him that at that time they could not bear it . . . Verily the Spirit of Truth is come to guide you unto all truth . . . He is the One Who glorified the Son and exalted His Cause . . . The Comforter Whose advent all the scriptures have promised is now come that He may reveal unto you all knowledge and wisdom.
In this symbol-laden passage Bahá'u'lláh is shifting dramatis personae in that he is alternating between the third person and the first of the singular. Bahá'u'lláh also transfers between the religious symbolism of Christianity and Judaism in that he identifies himself with the "Son of Man" (Jesus Christ), the "Burning Bush," the "Father," the "Spirit of Truth" and the "Comforter." The important point, however, is the final sentence in which Bahá'u'lláh implies that he is the advent of the promised one of "all the scriptures." In another text he says that he is "the One Whom the heart of the world remembereth and is promised in the Books of God." Consequently, it is quite irrelevant to ascertain whether Bahá'u'lláh identifies himself with either four or five Manifestations of God since he is stating that every Manifestation of God can be said to be the "return of all the Prophets," and as was concluded in an earlier section, the exact number of Manifestations of God is unknown.
C. The Identity of the Manifestations of God
A third approach to examine the texts of identification is to look at texts where the Bahá'í-authors emphasize the identity between the Manifestations of God. The crucial difference here, however, is that this identification occurs in the third form of either the singular or the plural and not, as was seen above, in the first form of singular or the plural. The two types of identification of texts above could therefore be defined as specific texts of identification and this latter form as general texts of identification. The following excerpt by Bahá'u'lláh exhibits this general identity between the Manifestations of God:
Inasmuch as these Birds of the celestial Throne [Manifestations of God] are all sent down from the heaven of the Will of God, and as they all arise to proclaim His irresistible Faith, they, therefore, are regarded as one soul and the same person. For they all drink from the one Cup of the love of God, and all partake of the fruit of the same Tree of Oneness.
In the section on Prophetology it was observed, according to the station of essential unity, that "there is no distinction whatsoever among the Bearers of My Message," and above it is shown that the Manifestations of God are even to be "regarded as one soul and the same person." Bahá'u'lláh even admonishes those who try to make a distinction between the Manifestations of God, and yet it was also clearly seen that each Manifestation of God occupies a station of distinction as well. This contradiction shall now be examined by illuminating the above cited passage with other excerpts from the Bahá'í-authors.
For example, in the following analogy and using the solar-model, Bahá'u'lláh elaborates upon the concept of the "return":
[. . .] Muhammad, Himself, declared: "I am Jesus." . . Thus it is that Jesus, Himself, declared: "I go away and come again unto you." Consider the sun. Were it to say now, "I am the sun of yesterday," it would speak the truth. And should it, bearing the sequence of time in mind, claim to be another sun, it still would speak the truth. In like manner, if it be said that all the days are but one and the same, it is correct and true. And if it be said, with respect to their particular names and designations, that they differ, that again is true. For though they are the same, yet one doth recognize in each a separate designation, a specific attribute, a particular character.
The interesting matter here is that Bahá'u'lláh elaborates upon the "sequence of time" (temporal aspect) and that he later contrasts and tries to integrate the two stations of the Manifestation of God. The last line testifies to this: "For though they are the same" (station of unity), yet "one doth recognize in each a separate designation, a specific attribute, a particular character" (station of distinction). Similarly, 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes that:
All these holy, divine Manifestations are one. They have served one God, promulgated the same truth, founded the same institutions and reflected the same light. Their appearances have been successive and correlated; each One had announced and extolled the One Who was to follow, and laid the foundation of reality. . . . the divine religions They established have one foundation; Their teachings, proofs and evidences are one; in name and form They differ, but in reality They agree and are the same.
The identity between the Manifestations of God is seen in that they are essentially "one." However, in the final part of this quote, 'Abdu'l-Bahá contrasts the dual station by stating that "in name and form They differ" (station of distinction), but "in reality They agree and are the same" (station of unity). Finally, Shoghi Effendi also writes: "No distinction can be made amongst the Prophets in the sense that They all proceed from One Source, and are of One Essence" (station of unity), and continues to say "But Their stations and functions in this world are different" (station of distinction). Thus, all three Bahá'í-authors explicitly advocates that the Manifestations of God are identical and yet, from another point of view, they differ. This theme shall be further developed in sections which follows.
Although Bahá'u'lláh identifies himself with the above mentioned religious figures and claims to be the "return of all the Prophets," this identification appears to apply according to the station of essential unity and not according to the station of distinction. In this regard 'Abdu'l-Bahá says that the "return" does not refer to "specific, individual souls and identities." Consequently, and as was seen previously in the discussion on the nature of the Manifestation of God, the Manifestations of God all have their own "distinct individuality," which basically means that Mirza Huseyn 'Alí is not identical to either the individual of Muhammed or Jesus, or any other Manifestation of God. On the other hand, there still appears to be a certain affinity, or identity, within the station of essential unity. For example, in discussing Jesus Christ's statement that John the Baptist was the return of "Elias" 'Abdu'l- Bahá says that:
[. . . ] if we regard the return of the individual, it is another individual; but if we regard the qualities and perfections, the same have returned. Therefore, when Christ said, "This is Elias," He meant: this person is a manifestation of the bounty, the perfections, the character, the qualities and the virtues of Elias.
'Abdu'l-Bahá seems to argue that although John the Baptist denied that he was Elias and Jesus Christ said that John the Baptist was Elias, their contradictory statements derive from the different perspectives of either the station of essential unity or distinction. Consequently, from the perspective of distinction ("another individual"), John the Baptist is right. Concomitantly, from the perspective of essential unity ("the same have returned"), or that the return implies the return of the "qualities, conditions, effects, perfections, and inner realities of the lights which recur in every dispensation," Christ is right.
From the above cited texts it is possible to say that texts of identification emphasize the station of essential unity between the Manifestations of God while recognizing the station of distinction. Moreover, texts of identification do, in general, elaborate upon neither the succession, continuity, nor the progressive nature of revelation, but focuses rather on what could be called the esoteric dimension of revelation since this identity appears to be beyond the ordinary spatial, temporal, and causal dimension. This dimension could also be said to be vertical in that it accentuates the "higher" dimensions which were described in the section on Bahá'í-cosmology. However, sometimes texts of identification and elaboration are interspersed even within the same sentence, which obviously makes it difficult to classify the text. Hence, it was already seen in this section that Bahá'u'lláh spoke of the "sequence of time" and that 'Abdu'l-Bahá mentioned that the Manifestations of God have been "successive and correlated."
The second major level of analyzing the concept of progressive revelation will now be studied. This will be done by examining texts of elaboration which, rather than focusing on the station of essential unity, emphasize the station of distinction, in that they cover dynamic themes like; the rise and fall of a religion, the continuity and succession of religions, the concept of progress, and the cyclical scheme of revelation. Consequently, this level of examination elaborates and revolves around the exoteric, manifest, or horizontal axis of progressive revelation which is spatial, temporal, and causal.
A. The rise and fall of a religion
This level of texts of elaboration focuses on a single religion, on its inception, growth, culmination, and finally, its decline. Above, it has been shown that the solar-model is used frequently in various contexts. The Bahá'í-authors also employ the rising and setting of the sun in describing the inception of revelation (religion), and compares it to the advent, or the revelation, of the Manifestation of God who is portrayed as the "Sun of Truth":
Consider the sun. How feeble its rays the moment it appeareth above the horizon. How gradually its warmth and potency increase as it approacheth its zenith, enabling meanwhile all created things to adapt themselves to the growing intensity of its light. How steadily it declineth until it reacheth its setting point. Were it, all of a sudden, to manifest the energies latent within it, it would, no doubt, cause injury to all created things . . . In like manner, if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, at the earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure of the potencies which the providence of the Almighty hath bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste away and be consumed; for men's hearts would neither sustain the intensity of its revelation, nor be able to mirror forth the radiance of its light. Dismayed and overpowered, they would cease to exist.
In the first part of this section Bahá'u'lláh describes the physical sun and in the latter half he compares it with the "Sun of Truth." In both parts, this solar-model points to a gradual rise and fall of both the physical sun and the revelation of the "Sun of Truth." The steadily decline refers here only to the physical sun, but several other texts points indirectly to this phenomena as a decline in religion in that the sun is described as set or darkened. This decline is viewed as inevitable since Bahá'u'lláh metaphorically states that the "break of the morn of divine guidance must needs follow the darkness of the night of error." Further, the gradual rising of the sun, as it approaches the zenith, enables "all created things" to adapt to the "growing intensity of its light." Likewise, one can notice that the revelation is gradually growing, or increasing, in its "intensity" which signifies a progressive character. Moreover, Bahá'u'lláh is mentioning the "earliest stages," and the "full measure" of revelation which has to be in direct proportion to the capacity of the receivers. Taken together, these progressive features intimate that a revelation (religion), only is "potential" or "latent" at its inception, and that its "full measure" unfolds sequentially and gradually in time.
Similarly, 'Abdu'l-Bahá uses a similar model where he compares the physical sun to the "Sun of Reality" which "rises from the horizon of the Kingdom with the greatest power and heat." He continues to say that when "it reaches the meridian it will begin to decline and descend, and the spiritual summer will be followed by autumn when growth and development are arrested." First, there is an interesting transition here in that 'Abdu'l-Bahá shifts from the solar-model to adopt another important metaphor, that of a seasonal-model. Secondly, the terms "growth" and "development" can be noticed, which are significant for both spring and summer, and thus they are also highly indicative of the concept of progress, i.e., a religion may grow and develop until a certain point and eventually this process is "arrested."
Bahá'u'lláh also employs the seasonal-model, but it is, however, often limited to the season of spring ("Divine Springtime" or "spiritual Springtime"), and he rarely describes the other seasons. For example, in discussing universal and specific revelation above, Bahá'u'lláh stated that the "cloud of the loved One's mercy raineth . . . only in the season of spring" and that the "other seasons have no share in this greatest grace, and barren land no portion of this favour." Hence the season of spring seems to be superior in comparison to the other seasons.
The seasonal-model is more often used by 'Abdu'l-Bahá when outlining not only the rise and fall of a singular religion but, as shall be seen below, in his portrayal of the successive and continuous character of religions. 'Abdu'l-Bahá also makes the following comment in the comparison of the seasonal-model and the "spiritual world":
The spiritual world is like unto the phenomenal world. They are the exact counterparts of each other. Whatever objects appear in this world of existence are the outer pictures of the world of heaven. When we look upon the phenomenal world, we perceive that it is divided into four seasons; one is the season of spring, another the season of summer, another of autumn and these three seasons are followed by winter.
Here one can once again discern the macro/microcosmos scheme in that the "spiritual world" (the spiritual seasons) is reflected in the "phenomenal world" (the four "phenomenal" seasons). Generally speaking, the usage of an analogy rests upon the assumption that there is some degree of coherence or resemblance between two "analogous" phenomena. Yet, 'Abdu'l-Bahá seems here to use the concept of analogy above in a more Platonic sense in that there is a perfect correspondence between the "spiritual world" and the "phenomenal world" in that the objects of "this world of existence" are the "outer pictures of the world of heaven." However, the writings of both Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá are replete with examples in which they use the term "symbol" in the coherence sense while admitting that a symbol may contain multiple levels of meanings. For example, 'Abdu'l- Bahá states that the "outer sun is a sign or symbol of the inner and ideal Sun of Truth, the Word of God," and that the "reality of Prophethood . . . is symbolized by the sun, and the holy Manifestations are the dawning places or zodiacal points." Although the above statement suggests a correspondence theory, the general context of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's writings rather supports a coherence theory. Thus, the "spiritual world" and "phenomenal world" are coherent rather than corresponding since they are similar but not identical, and hence can the latter, according to its capacity, reflect the former. With this subtle nuances in mind, the following excerpt will illustrate this theme more tacitly:
The coming of a Manifestation of God is the season of spiritual spring. For instance, the appearance of Christ was a divine springtime. Therefore, it caused a great commotion and vibrant movement in the world of humanity. The Sun of Reality dawned, the cloud of mercy poured down its rain, the breezes of providence moved, the world became a new world, mankind reflected an extraordinary radiance, souls were educated, minds were developed, intelligences became acute, and the human world attained a new freshness of life, like unto the advent of spring. Then gradually that spring was followed by the autumn of death and decay. The teachings of Christ were forgotten. The Christly bounties ceased. Divine moralities disappeared. Day ended in night. The people became negligent and oblivious. Minds weakened until conditions reached such a crisis that material science rose in the ascendant. Knowledge and sciences of the Kingdom became obsolete, the mysteries of God deepened, and the traces of the bounties of Christ were completely obliterated. The nations were enmeshed in superstition and blind imitation. Discord and disagreement arose, culminating in strife, war and bloodshed. Hearts were torn asunder in violence. Various denominations appeared, diverse sects and creeds arose, and the whole world was plunged into darkness.
In this text there is an intermingling with the seasonal-model and the advent of the Manifestation of God, here exemplified by Jesus Christ. His arrival is compared to a "divine springtime" where the "Sun of Reality" has dawned. Thus, the seasonal-model (springtime) is once again correlated with the solar-model (the break of dawn or the sunrise). These two models are then used to describe the renewal of the world and one can also observe an educational theme here in that "souls were educated." In other places 'Abdu'l-Bahá also states that it is during this time that "universal progress takes place" in general, or that "universal progress appears in the world of humanity." This further points to the centrality of the concept of progress in Bahá'í-apocalypticism.
Although the springtime is "the season of joy, of happiness," it is also seen as "the day of judgment, the time of turmoil and distress." In the quote above the season of summer is omitted, but in the previous citation by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, it was understood that he speaks of the "season of summer" as well. Consequently, the first season (spring) is usually associated with the advent of a Manifestation of God, of renewal and resurrection. In other words, it is viewed as the rise of a revelation (religion). In turn, the summer is regarded as the peak, or the zenith, of the revelation (religion) where "The word of God is exalted, the Law of God is promulgated; all things reach perfection."
Above one can also notice that spring gradually is followed by autumn which is symbolized as "death and decay." Further, in the middle of the passage the solar-model is ("Day ended in night") is inserted and is once again associated with the seasonal-model. In the above mentioned model, 'Abdu'l-Bahá draws parallels with the decline of religion, the setting of the sun, the arrival of winter, and continues his exposition to say that eventually:
Only the name of religion of God remains, and the exoteric forms of the divine teachings. The foundations of the Religion of God are destroyed and annihilated, and nothing but forms and customs exist. Divisions appear, firmness is changed into instability, and spirits become dead; hearts languish, souls become inert, and winter arrives; that is to say, the coldness of ignorance envelops the world and darkness of human error prevails. After this come indifference, disobedience, inconsiderateness, indolence, baseness, animal instincts, and the coldness and insensibility of stones. It is like the season of winter when the terrestrial globe, deprived of the effect of the heat of the sun, becomes desolate and dreary.
In this text the term "exoteric" occurs and is associated with the phenomenal aspects of religion. Further, if autumn represents the "fall," or decline, of religion, then the winter season appears bring out the lower nature (animal instincts etc.) of man.
In discussing the symbols of the "sun" and the "moon" in his Kitáb-i-Íqán Bahá'u'lláh also explains that:
[. . . ] the "sun" and "moon" of the teachings, laws, commandments, and prohibitions which have been established in the preceding Dispensation, and which have overshadowed the people of that age, become darkened, that is, are exhausted, and cease to exert their influence. . . . the "sun" and "moon" of the teachings, the laws, and learning of a former Dispensation have darkened and set.
In this solar-model the sun is used as an illustration that a former Dispensation (religion) has "darkened and set" (declined), and can thus be associated with the winter-period in the seasonal-model.
Below follows a summarized scheme of some of the most common characteristics of each "spiritual season" according to various texts by Bahá'u'lláh, and especially by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The first level looks at the solar-model counterpart for each season (Spring = dawn). The second level enumerates some organic metaphors. The third level lists some general and recurrent features for each season. The fourth level looks at some religious themes, and the fifth level tries to allocate some attributes among humanity. Please note that this schematic illustration is only a structural outline and that no causal relationships have been established here:
Spring Summer 1) dawn, sun rise (morning) 1) zenith (noon) 2) vernal rain-showers (bounty) 2) flowers, blossom, fruits 3) renewal, rejuvenation, resurrection, 3) fullness, brilliancy, beauty; growth new life, awakening, a time of turmoil and and development attain their greatest distress, joy and happiness power, fruits will attain to the acme of perfection, grains and plants will yield their produce, and earthly beings will attain their most complete development and growth 4) Advent of the Manifestation 4) The word of God is exalted, the Law of God of God, the Day of Judgment, is promulgated, the teachings of God a new creation conquer the world 5) souls are educated, 5) all things reach perfection, men become minds are developed, educated, praiseworthy results are intelligence becomes acute produced, universal progress appears in the world of humanity Fall Winter 1) sunset (afternoon) 1) night 2) flowers wither 2) trees are naked, leafless 3 ) growth and development are arrested, 3) everything is clad in the robe of death; death and decay; unwholesome and sterile cold, darkness, tempests, death, winds blow, it is the season of sickness, desolation; it snows, rains, hails, when all things are withered, and the storms, thunders and lightens, freezes balmy air is vitiated and congeals 4 ) only the name of religion of God remains 4) material science/materialism ascends, Divine moralities disappears, only the discord and disagreement arise, exoteric forms of the divine teachings culminating in strife, war and bloodshed, remain, the foundations of the Religion of hearts are torn asunder in violence, various God are destroyed and denominations appears, diverse sects and creeds arise annihilated, and nothing but forms and customs exist 5) people become negligent and oblivious, 5) ignorance envelops the world and attraction and goodwill do not remain, darkness of human error prevails, divine qualities are changed, the indifference, inconsiderateness, radiance of hearts is dimmed, indolence, the teachings are forgotten, spirituality of souls is altered, virtues baseness, animal instincts, coldness, are replaced by vices, and holiness and insensibility and purity disappear
The advantage of structurally illustrating the various religious "seasons" is that certain patterns, or themes, start to emerge. Each season can in this way be associated with the solar-cycle, which in turn has its corresponding organic metaphors etc. In reviewing these metaphors, one can probably conclude that they are not selected at random. Rather, each season has a certain value connected with it where the first two seasons are described most favorably and where the latter two share the most negative connotations. Hence, the metaphors seem to be consciously employed to express a certain viewpoint on a religious phenomenon. Therefore, in examining the concept of progressive revelation, it is interesting to note that the theme of progress, growth and development are especially frequent within the summer-season. It is also in this season where the sun reaches its climax, zenith, or solstice (astronomic metaphors), and which the blossoms and fruits appear (organic metaphors). These metaphors have in turn their counterparts in that the religion is depicted as geographically expanding and growing i.e., "the teachings of God conquer the world," "all things reach perfection," and "universal progress appears in the world of humanity." From these various allusions it plausible to assume that it is during this period that a religion is seen its most glorious era. However, in neither the solar-model nor in the seasonal-model have any historical dimensions (time-periods) been discussed, but a whole section shall be devoted to discuss this topic.
It would certainly be possible to review the other seasonal-models above as well, e.g., winter, and note that some seasonal characteristics of winter "tempests, thunder, lightnings etc," are associated with "strife, war and bloodshed" and the appearance of "various denominations, diverse sects and creeds." But the important point in this context is not to analyze each season, but to observe that revelation (religion) is viewed as a highly organic, dynamic, and cyclical, phenomenon, and that it seems to be governed by a similar set of laws as the phenomenal seasons. However, although this model appears to be rather orderly and regular it shall now be discussed if humans somehow can influence and cause the directionality of a revelation (religion).
Instead of speaking of religion in general and the above mentioned analogous schemes, there are other sections where both Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá elaborate upon a known religion, or Manifestation of God. For example, in the following passage Bahá'u'lláh describes the decline Shí'i Islám:
Behold . . . how the sayings and doings of the followers of Shí'ih Islám have dulled the joy and fervour of its early days, and tarnished the pristine brilliancy of its light. In its primitive days, whilst they still adhered to the precepts associated with the name of their Prophet, the Lord of Mankind, their career was marked by an unbroken chain of victories and triumphs. As they gradually strayed from the path of their Ideal Leader and Master, as they turned away from the Light of God and corrupted the principle of His Divine unity, and as they increasingly centered their attention upon them who were only the revealers of the potency of His Word, their power was turned into weakness, their glory into shame, their courage into fear.
In this excerpt the "power, glory, and courage" of the past ("early . . . primitive days") is contrasted with the contemporary situation of Shí'i Islám. Notice that Bahá'u'lláh is stating that the followers have "gradually strayed from the path." Here the process of decline does not seem to be an inevitable, or a natural, process in the sense of the phenomenal seasons since the adherents have "turned away from the Light of God," "corrupted the principle of His Divine unity," and have "increasingly centered their attention upon them who were only the revealers of the potency of His Word." This last sentence is quite ambiguous, but it is likely that the "revealers of the potency of His Word" refer to the religious leaders (the Imáms). The term "increasingly" also reinforces the significance of a gradual process. The last sentence moreover exemplifies the decline in that power has been turned into weakness, glory into shame, and courage into fear. This method of contrasting pairs of opposite is also utilized by 'Abdu'l-Bahá while describing the decline of religion:
[. . .] the spirituality of the Religion of God had been changed into materiality, and virtue into vices; the love of God had been changed into hatred, enlightenment into darkness, divine qualities into satanic ones, justice into tyranny, mercy into enmity, sincerity into hypocrisy, guidance into error, and purity into sensuality.
The first lead in this bi-polarity is also highly informative in that it indirectly describes the positive attributes of a "true religion," either at its moment of inception or at its climax. 'Abdu'l-Bahá likewise comments upon the decline of certain religions e.g.,, Judaism and Christianity. However, below follows instead an example where 'Abdu'l-Bahá briefly elaborates on decline of Buddhism and Confucianism:
Buddha also established a new religion, and Confucius renewed morals and ancients virtues but their institutions have been entirely destroyed. The beliefs and rites of the Buddhists and Confucianists have not continued in accordance with their fundamental teachings. . . but later the original principles . . . gradually disappeared, and ignorant customs and ceremonials arose and increased until they finally ended in the worship of statues and images. . . It is, therefore, clear and evident that the Religion of God does not maintain its original principles among the people, but that it has gradually changed and altered until it has been entirely destroyed and annihilated.
This passage continues by using another common organic metaphor of religion the "tree" which through its various phases finally becomes "old and entirely fruitless . . . withered and decayed." The important and recurrent theme in all the above cited passages is that revelation is gradually growing in a similar manner as it is gradually declining. One reason for this decline is, according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the "passage of time" which obscures the fundamental principles in the religion. Another reason is that "dogmas and blind imitations" increasingly encrusts the religion. These dogmas and blind imitations are not only viewed as one reason for the decline of the religion, but are even considered the "cause of the decline and effacement of a nation." In this context, 'Abdu'l-Bahá contrasts the causes of development and debasement as follows:
[ . . .] allegiance to the essential foundation of divine religions is ever the cause of development and progress, whereas the abandonment and beclouding of that essential reality through blind imitations and adherence to dogmatic beliefs are the causes of a nation's debasement and degradation.
Here are two important issues to notice. First, the terms "development and progress" are seen as diametrically opposed to "debasement and degradation" and secondly, the adherents allegiance to either the essence of religion, or to the dogmatic beliefs, does cause either the development, or the debasement, of a religion or nation. Consequently, although the "section of time" may be one factor to the decline of a religion, it is certainly not the only one. Furthermore, although the decline of a religion is seen as an inevitable and natural process, the adherents of a religion do seem to play a vital role in that they may influence the rate and direction of this process. Still, this could also be regarded as a reciprocal process since Bahá'u'lláh also states that religion also is the cause of the "progress of the world, [and] the development of nations," and that the decline of religion increases the "waywardness of the ungodly" which ultimately leads to "chaos and confusion."
Moreover, the Bahá'í-authors also repeatedly refer to the degeneration in either Persia, the Ottoman Empire, or in the world at large. Bahá'u'lláh writes, for example, about the "perversity of the people of this age" and that the "prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective," and it is in this context that he brings up the theme of "secularization":
The vitality of men's belief in God is dying out in every land; nothing short of His wholesome medicine can ever restore it. The corrosion of ungodliness is eating into the vitals of human society; what else but the Elixir of His potent Revelation can cleanse and revive it?
Here one may recognize the metaphor of the Manifestation of God as the "Divine Physician" who, through his "wholesome medicine" is able to restore and revive the human society from a disease, described as the "corrosion of ungodliness." This may be interpreted as either "atheism," or the lack of vitality in one's belief or spirituality. It is especially noteworthy that the terms "potent Revelation" is equated with the "Elixir." Notice also that Bahá'u'lláh is referring to the downfall of religiosity "in every land" which is suggestive of a global process of secularization. It is hence possible to equate the malaise of humanity, described in a previous section, with the decline of religion. This would further accentuate the intimate and mutual relationship between religion and humanity.
Similarly 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes about the theme of secularization in that "irreligion has conquered religion" and the "realm of the religionist has gradually narrowed and darkened." He continues to say that:
[ . . . ] the sphere of the materialist has widened and advanced; for the religionist has held to imitation and counterfeit, neglecting and discarding holiness and the sacred reality of religion. When the sun sets, it is the time for bats to fly. They come forth because they are creatures of the night. When the lights of religion become darkened, the materialists appear. They are the bats of the night. The decline of religion is their time of activity; they seek the shadows when the world is darkened and clouds have spread over it.
In this citation the rise of materialism is seen as a direct and natural consequence of the decline of religion. One can also notice the solar-model in that the sun has set and the materialists are negatively compared to "bats" who seek the "shadows when the world is darkened." Yet, in another context, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also attributes another cause to the downfall of religion with the "animosity and hatred existing between sects and denominations," and the "strife and contention" exists within a single religion, ultimately leads to religious wars and bloodshed. He continues to say that it is the "imitations" that destroy the foundation of religion and extinguishes the spirituality of the world and concludes with the following statement: "When materialists subject imitations to the intellectual analysis of reason, they find them to be mere superstitions; therefore, they deny religion." Here the perspective of the materialists seems to have altered in that it the materialist, when they scrutinize the religion, are unable to accept it due to its "imitations" and "superstitions." Finally, in other texts 'Abdu'l-Bahá also says that religion does not keep pace with the reforms of society and thus becomes increasingly inadequate and obsolete.
In the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, with headings like "The Signs of Impending Chaos," "The Decline of Mortal Dominion," and "Breakdown of Political and Economical Structures," Shoghi Effendi similarly and repeatedly portrays the decline of religion, society, and civilization. He includes areas like the "catastrophic fall of mighty monarchies and empires in the European continent," the "fall of the Qajar dynasty," the "overthrow of the Sultanate and the Caliphate, to the sustaining pillars of Sunni Islam." He then compares these themes to the "destruction of Jerusalem in the latter part of the first century of the Christian era" and the "Fall of the Roman Empire." Shoghi Effendi further states that this decline not only "threatens to engulf the whole structure of present-day civilization," but that the tumult "will grow in scope and in intensity" and its ramifications will extend "over the surface of the globe."
The above described reciprocal and intricate interplay between religion and humanity is also described by Shoghi Effendi below:
The signs of moral downfall, as distinct from the evidences of decay in religious institutions, would appear to be no less noticeable and significant. The decline that has set in in the fortunes of Islamic and Christian institutions may be said to have had its counterpart in the life and conduct of the individuals that compose them. In whichever direction we turn our gaze, no matter how cursory our observation of the doings and sayings of the present generation, we can not fail to be struck by the evidences of moral decadence which, in their individual lives no less than in their collective capacity, men and women around us exhibit. There can be no doubt that the decline of religion as a social force, of which the deterioration of religious institutions is but an external phenomenon, is chiefly responsible for so grave, so conspicuous an evil.
Here one can discern yet another explanation on the same topic. The downfall of religion is analyzed and subdivided into its internal (the individual members) and external (the religious institutions) components. This relationship is consequently described as intimately connected. Due to the downfall of morals in the former, the latter has ceased to be a "social force." Yet, since the religion is comprised of individuals, the "deterioration of religious institutions is but an external phenomenon." Thus, the last phrase implies that the individuals are the internal cause of the deterioration of religious institutions and ultimately, to the decline of religion as a whole. In another context, discussing various religions, Shoghi Effendi surprisingly refers to the religious decline as being "progressive," and hence one can observe that the usage of this term is not solely limited to an evolutionary or unilinear perspective, but that it also can describe a gradual process. However, in the vast majority of contexts the term "progressive" still connotes a positive and evolutionary concept.
In conclusion, for whatever reasons, or causes, the original religion either gradually progresses or declines, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's remarks that "if religions did not change and alter, there would be no need of renewal." The implication here seems to be that change is the ultimate and inevitable cause of the decline, and thus it is important to emphasize that this change is not unilinear, but is, as was observed, either in the "rise" (progressive) or in the "fall" (declining). Both processes do, however, tend to be slow and gradual, and therefore they are suggestive of extensive time-intervals. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's reasoning seem to be that since religions inevitably do decline, at some point or another, they will eventually be in need of renewal and restoration. He further says that due to this factor of change, the "manifestation is renewed, and a new religion [is] established." The expression the "manifestation is renewed" is, as was previously seen, identical to the concept of the "return" of the Manifestation of God. The next section will analyze what this renewal of religion is.
B. The succession and continuity of religions
Beyond the single religion, or the general concept of religion, one can in texts of elaboration discern a second theme which, in a broader sense, emphasize the succession and continuity of two or more religions. If the texts of identification describe the unity between various Manifestations of God in the esoteric dimension, this level of texts of elaboration describe their unity in the exoteric dimension. However, these two types, or levels, of texts are sometimes interspersed within each other which makes it difficult to determine the exact "level" of the text. Hence, while examining texts of identification it was previously shown that in the solar-model of the "return" of the Manifestations of God Bahá'u'lláh also mentioned the "sequence of time." Further, one could also observe that when Bahá'u'lláh identified himself with various religious figures, he unfolded this identification sequentially, beginning with Abraham and ending with the Báb. Moreover, it was also shown that texts of identification could be described as either general or specific, i.e., Bahá'u'lláh could either identified himself directly and specifically with various Manifestations of God, or the Bahá'í-authors described this identity in an indirect and general fashion. Similarly, the Manifestation of God can also in texts of elaboration be described in general or specific terms. The following excerpts may serve as examples of general texts of elaboration by Bahá'u'lláh which convey the theme of succession and/or continuity in religion:
These Mirrors [Manifestations of God] will everlastingly succeed each other, and will continue to reflect the light of the Ancient of Days. They that reflect their glory will, in like manner, continue to exist for evermore, for the Grace of God can never cease from flowing.
The Revelation sent down by God hath most surely been repeated, and the outstretched Hand of Our power hath overshadowed all that are in the heavens and all that are on the earth.
This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.
In the first example one can observe that when the Manifestations of God are being referred to, they are described in the third form of the plural. The second and third examples only briefly describe the succession, or the continuity, of either revelation or religion. The last sentence in the first example is particularly interesting since, it was noted above in the discussion on specific revelation, that to "each time and era a portion is allotted and a bounty set apart, this in a given measure." Yet, the excerpt above states that it "can never cease from flowing." One solution to this paradox is to say that specific revelation, although it is "seasonal," or "repeated," it is nevertheless perpetual. This passage is also similar to the one discussed in Prophetology where Bahá'u'lláh writes that "God hath sent down His Messengers to succeed to Moses and Jesus, and He will continue to do so." In both quotations the two terms "succeed" and "continue" are clearly noticeable and thus conveys the theme of succession and continuity respectively.
In the beginning of this chapter it was stated that Bahá'u'lláh used the chain-model to describe "the chain of successive Revelations that hath linked the Manifestations." The analogy of using a chain, which consists of a sequence of rings, suggests a sequence of revelations which are both successive (specific) as well as continuous (linked). Consequently, the two first examples above describe a dynamic pattern of change, or the exoteric dimension of revelation (succession, repetition), while the third example briefly mentions the non-change, or the esoteric dimension of religion. The theme of change and non-change of revelation shall be further developed in the section below.
The clearest and most abundant cases of texts of elaboration, in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, are those which are more specific, i.e., which specifically refer to other Manifestations of God or religions. As was noticed above in the discussion of texts of identification, Bahá'u'lláh identified himself with a sequence of religious figures. It is interesting to compare the text of identification above with the following specific text of elaboration:
Among the Prophets was Noah . . . And after Noah the light of the countenance of Húd shone forth above the horizon of creation. . . . And after Him there appeared . . . the holy person of Sálih, Who again summoned the people to the river of everlasting life. . . . Later, . . . the Friend of God [Abraham] appeared from behind the veil . . . And when His day was ended, there came the turn of Moses. . . . And when the days of Moses were ended . . . the light of Jesus . . . encompassed the world.
The text used above has been severely edited and abbreviated for this thesis since it is several pages in length, but still, it gives an idea of the structure of a specific texts of elaboration. Thus, the text synchronically lists a sequence of Manifestations of God, beginning with Noah and ending with Jesus Christ, and for each Manifestation of God Bahá'u'lláh elaborates on a certain theme. The crucial difference, however, between a specific text of identification and a specific text of elaboration is that in the former the Manifestations of God are always described in the first form of the singular or plural whereas the latter always portrays them in the third form of the singular or the plural.
In a mystical section in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, while describing the path of a seeker, Bahá'u'lláh alludes to the entrance into what he metaphorically describes as the "City of Certitude." This metaphor is also portrayed in the following citation:
Once in about a thousand years shall this City be renewed and re-adorned . . . That city is none other than the Word of God revealed in every age and dispensation. In the days of Moses it was the Pentateuch; in the days of Jesus the Gospel; in the days of Muhammad the Messenger of God the Qur'án; in this day the Bayán; and in the dispensation of Him Whom God will make manifest His own Book.
Here the estimated time-period of about a "thousand years" for the renewal of the "Word of God" is clearly recognized. The "Word of God" is described as being "revealed" and could therefore be equated with the term "revelation." The identification with various "revealed scriptures" further suggests this. The phrase "in every age" implies a repeated pattern of renewal of about a thousand years. Bahá'u'lláh then enumerates a synchronic sequence of five Manifestations of God into which he indirectly includes himself; Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb (who revealed the Bayán), and Bahá'u'lláh ("Him Whom God will make manifest"). Each Manifestation of God is also associated with a "Book" which reveals "the Word of God": the Pentateuch, the Gospel, the Qur'án, the Bayán, and finally, Bahá'u'lláh's "own Book."
Above one can notice in the two quotations that the sequence of Manifestations of God varies. From this it is possible to conclude that it is not the listed Manifestations of God in each sequence which is significant, but rather that Bahá'u'lláh identifies himself in such a sequence of Manifestations of God who, "in every age and dispensation," reveals and renews the "Word of God" (revelation). Thus, in certain text of elaboration, especially those dealing with succession and continuity, there may be an element of text of identification as well.
In the previous section it was observed that both Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá used the solar-model to describe the rise and fall of a religion. Below 'Abdu'l-Bahá is again using this model, but in a slightly different context:
The physical sun has its rising and its setting. The earthly world has its day and night. . . . The Sun of Reality, likewise, has its rising and setting. There is a day and night in the world of spirituality. After each departure there is a return and the dawning light of a new day.
In this general text of elaboration, 'Abdu'l-Bahá not only illustrates the rise and fall of a religion, but continues to say that "there is a return and the dawning light of a new day." The sunset is therefore not seen as the end but the beginning of something new a "new day." Elsewhere, while discussing the "oneness of the Manifestations of God," 'Abdu'l-Bahá employs the solar-model in yet a third way. In describing the Manifestations of God as "successive manifestations," he states that the "sun is one and the same but its points of dawning are various." He continues by intermingling the solar-model with the seasonal- model in a quite different fashion:
During the summer season it rises from the northern point of the ecliptic; in winter it appears from the southern point of rising. Each month between it appears from a certain zodiacal position. Although these dawning-points are different, the sun is the same sun which has appeared from them all. The significance is the reality of prophethood which is symbolized by the sun, and the holy Manifestations are the dawning-places or zodiacal points.
Consequently, one can see that the appearance of the Manifestations of God occur within the time-span of the solar-year and are described as the "dawning-places or zodiacal points" of the sun, i.e., the astrological constellation into which the sun rises each day. Furthermore, the "reality" of the Manifestations of God is viewed from the station of essential unity ("the sun is one"), while their successive appearances is seen from the station of distinction ("but its points of dawning are various"). It should also be noted here that 'Abdu'l-Bahá clearly admits that he is using these metaphors in a symbolic way.
In the previous section 'Abdu'l-Bahá used the seasonal-model to describe the rise and fall of a religion and above it was shown that the solar-model described succession of revelation as the "dawning light of a new day." 'Abdu'l-Bahá also uses the seasonal-model in a similar manner in that the "spiritual springtime returns and a new cycle appears." This theme is portrayed in the following passage:
The divine religions are like the progression of the seasons of the year . . . This is the continuous cycle of the seasons spring, winter, then the return of spring. But though the calender changes and the years move forward, each springtime that comes is the return of the springtime that has gone; this spring is the renewal of the former spring. Springtime is springtime, no matter when or how often it comes. The divine Prophets are as the coming of spring, each renewing and quickening the teachings of the Prophet Who came before Him.
Here the comparison between the "divine Religions" and the "progression of the seasons" is evident, and thus one can once again discern yet another cyclical theme of revelation and religion. Although the seasons are viewed as cyclical, the process itself is also designated as "continuous," which briefly points to the theme of change and non-change in religion. Notice also that each spring is seen as the "return of the springtime that has gone," which suggests a certain pattern of repetition.
In discussing text of identification above, it was also seen that 'Abdu'l-Bahá described the appearances of the Manifestations of God as being "successive and correlated." He moreover portrays this process as "continuous" and compares it to the rays which emanates from the center of the sun. In another passage he starts with a general text of elaboration, stating that:
From time immemorial the divine teachings have been successively revealed, and the bounties of the Holy Spirit have ever been emanating. All the teachings are one reality, for reality is single and does not admit multiplicity. Therefore, the divine Prophets are one, inasmuch as They reveal one reality, the Word of God.
The text then continues to be of a more specific character in that he synchronically enumerates the following sequence of Manifestations of God: "Abraham announced teachings founded upon reality, Moses proclaimed reality, Christ established reality and Bahá'u'lláh was the Messenger and Herald of Reality." In the next quote he does exactly the reverse. The text starts with a specific Manifestation of God whereupon it immediately proceeds to become more of a general text of elaboration:
From the days of Adam until today, the religions of God have been made manifest, one following the other, and each one of them fulfilled its due function, revived mankind, and provided education and enlightenment. They freed the people from the darkness of the world of nature and ushered them into the brightness of the Kingdom. As each succeeding Faith and Law became revealed, it remained for some centuries a richly fruitful tree and to it was committed the happiness of humankind. However, as the centuries rolled by, it aged, it flourished no more and put forth no fruit, wherefore was it then made young again. The religion of God is one religion, but it must ever be renewed.
The successive character of revelation can here be observed in the statements which describe the religions as "one following the other" or "each succeeding Faith." One may also notice the educational feature of the Manifestation of God who provide "education and enlightenment." The next part is especially interesting where the various religions again are organically compared to a tree-metaphor which remains "for some centuries a richly fruitful tree." This further indicates a time-period of a religion's duration, and can in turn be compared to Bahá'u'lláh's estimate above of a "thousand years." The text further reiterates this time-period in that the centuries roll by and the tree ceases to produce fruit. This can be interpreted that the "tree of religion" has entered the winter-season ("it aged"), and that eventually, the spring will make it "young again." The last sentence is also suggestive of the esoteric unity of religions, while the renewal of religion may describe its exoteric and multiple dimension. In other words, the imagery portrays that the "tree of religion" remains one and the same throughout the seasons, while its renewal may be seen in its periodic manifestation of leaves, flowers, and fruits.
In his Promised Day is Come, in a chapter entitled "The Continuity of Revelation," Shoghi Effendi devotes a lengthy discussion to the topic of succession and continuity of religion which is illustrated by the following paragraph:
Repudiating the claim of any religion to be the final revelation of God to man, disclaiming finality for His own Revelation, Bahá'u'lláh inculcates the basic principle of the relativity of religious truth, the continuity of Divine Revelation, the progressiveness of religious experience.
Here the phrase the "continuity of Divine Revelation" is upheld, together with the "relativity of religious truth," as a basic principle. Note also that this sentence is immediately followed by the concept of "progressiveness of religious experience." In other contexts Shoghi Effendi also refers to themes like "successive Dispensations," "successive Founders," that revelation is "continuous" and that the various religions of the world are recognized as having a "sequence," an "interdependence . . . wholeness and unity."
Finally, there are also a few passages which could be regarded as text of elaboration, and which emphasize the theme of succession and continuity, since they deal with the aspect of "prophecy." In other words, these texts imply that there is an awareness, or innate knowledge, of the succession and continuity among the Manifestations of God themselves. For example, Bahá'u'lláh states that:
[. . . ] all the Prophets of God whenever made manifest unto the peoples of the world, have invariably foretold the coming of yet another Prophet after them, and have established such signs as would herald the advent of the future Dispensation.
Here Bahá'u'lláh seem to indicate that each manifestation of God is somehow announcing the advent of "another Prophet" and a "future Dispensation." 'Abdu'l-Bahá likewise says that "Each of the holy Manifestations announced the glad tidings of His successor, and each One confirmed the message of His predecessor." This last sentence adds another aspect to the continuity of revelation in that the Manifestation of God is conscious of, and connected, with Manifestations of God in the past (the "predecessor") and of the future (the "successor"). This theme is expressed more elaborately in the next citation by 'Abdu'l-Bahá where he lists a sequence of Manifestations of God described as the "Founders of the various religious systems":
The holy Manifestations Who have been the Sources or Founders of the various religious systems were united and agreed in purpose and teaching. Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, and Bahá'u'lláh are one in spirit and reality. Moreover, each Prophet fulfilled the promise of the One Who came before Him and, likewise, Each announced the One Who would follow. Consider how Abraham foretold the coming of Moses, and Moses embodied Abrahamic statement. Moses prophesied the Messianic cycle, and Christ fulfilled the law of Moses. It is evident, therefore, that the Holy Manifestations Who founded the religious systems are united and agreed; there is no differentiation possible in Their mission and teachings; all are reflectors of reality, and all are promulgators of the religion of God. The divine religion is reality, and reality is not multiple; it is one.
Here it is possible to recognize how the miscellaneous key terms and concepts, discussed in previous chapters and sections, converge within a single passage. For example, earlier it was observed that the Manifestations of God, from their station of essential unity, were regarded as "one soul and the same person," and elsewhere Bahá'u'lláh says that they are "one spirit, one being, one revelation." From this perspective one can also understand why they are regarded as "united and agreed in purpose and teaching." Nevertheless, the successive theme of Manifestations of God has also been clearly delineated above and hence, from the perspective of the station of distinction, each one of the Manifestations of God is known by a "different name, is characterized by a special attribute, fulfils a definite Mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation."
In examining texts of elaboration above, it was possible to distinguish between the two dimensions of progressive revelation; the esoteric (the station of essential unity) which primarily emphasize the essential identity of the Manifestations of God, and the exoteric dimension (the station of distinction), which focuses on the succession and continuity between the various Manifestations of God. Although these, and the above statements, admit of an apparent diversity, it is nevertheless the underlying unity which is seen as the fundamental reality. Examples of these themes are also seen in other statements by Bahá'u'lláh in which he says that the Manifestations of God have appeared "in diverse attire" or that they are the "accents of God Himself," and hence 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that "reality is not multiple; it is one." Consequently, as was previously stated and shown in this section, texts of elaboration delineate an exoteric unity of the various Manifestations of God in that the different revelations are perceived as fundamentally and coherently interrelated (successive and continuous). This section therefore serves as a general frame of reference for the next section which will examine the exoteric differences, or distinctions, between the Manifestations of God and the religions.
C. Differences between the Manifestations of God and the Concept of Progress
The concept of progress, as has been seen previously, could be recognized already in the field of Bahá'í-cosmology, where 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes about the "progressive process of creation," and that "'Progress' is the expansion of spirit in the world of matter." It was observed that all beings progress within their own kingdoms or planes of existence. Further, it was also shown that the human species, although being primarily spiritual, has successively progressed through the lower kingdoms, and is further distinguished from these in that it can evolve and transfer towards the higher or more spiritual kingdoms. Moreover, it was also noticed in the first section of this chapter that each religion progresses up to a certain point and then gradually starts to decline. In the following two sections, this progressive theme shall be explored to see whether it goes beyond the theme of succession and continuity of revelation. In other words, the question here is not only if there is a concept of progress in a religion and between religions, but also what it is that progresses? In the final section the eventual goal of progressive revelation shall be examined.
The concept of progress, being dynamic by nature, as have been shown, is more associated with that of the exoteric and horizontal axis than the esoteric and vertical axis of revelation. Consequently, it is in the context of the station of distinction among the Manifestations of God where this concept is expressed most clearly. For example, Bahá'u'lláh states that it is because of this "difference in their station and mission" that the Manifestations of God "appear to diverge and differ." In other words, although the Manifestations of God are esoterically unified, they have, nonetheless, different "stations" and "missions" in the world.
Earlier it was noticed that the solar-model is frequently employed in describing either the nature of the Manifestations of God, their relationship with God, or their relationships between each other. It is however interesting to observe that when Bahá'u'lláh is portraying the station of distinction between the diverse Manifestations of God, and the variations in the measure of revelation, he prefers to use a metaphor of the moon, or a lunar-model. One reason for this may be that the sun is usually attributed with permanence and unity, whereas the moon more often associated with change and diversity:
Every true Prophet hath regarded His Message as fundamentally the same as the Revelation of every other Prophet gone before Him . . . The measure of the revelation of the Prophets of God in this world, however, must differ. Each and every one of them hath been the Bearer of a distinct Message, and hath been commissioned to reveal Himself through specific acts. It is for this reason that they appear to vary in their greatness. Their Revelation may be likened unto the light of the moon that sheddeth its radiance upon the earth. Though every time it appeareth, it revealeth a fresh measure of its brightness, yet its inherent splendour can never diminish, nor can its light suffer extinction. It is clear and evident, therefore, that any apparent variation in the intensity of their light is not inherent in the light itself, but should rather be attributed to the varying receptivity of an ever-changing world.
Here it can be clearly seen that the "measure of the revelation" is not constant, but that it may differ for each Manifestation of God. The station of distinction is also seen in that each Manifestation of God is the "Bearer of a distinct Message," and that he reveals himself through "specific acts." That is why the Manifestations of God "appear to vary in their greatness." It can also be noted that when the moon appears, it reveals "a fresh measure," which connotes to the vernal theme of renewal and rejuvenation. The analogy basically conveys that the moon, on the one hand, is permanently illumined with a constant emanation of radiance, but on the other hand, due to its relationship with the earth, it "appears" to vary in its intensity. Thus, the model illustrates that the Manifestations of God from one perspective are essentially one and the same (esoteric), but from another perspective, they appear to be different due to the "varying receptivity of an ever-changing world" (exoteric). Yet, another theme also emerges, that of "an ever-changing world," a factor which will be examined below. Moreover, in the excerpt above, Bahá'u'lláh only ascribes a "variation" in either the intensity of revelation, or in the receptivity, but he does not specify any directionality of this variation, i.e., if it is decreasing or increasing. Yet, using a lunar-model in portraying the variation and measure of revelation suggests that the intensity of light is coupled with the lunar-phases (crescent, new-moon, half-moon, full-moon, etc). Consequently, it would mean that the measure of revelation first gradually is increasing and subsequently decreasing. This model would thus be in full agreement with the solar- and seasonal-models.
There is another passage where Bahá'u'lláh elaborates upon the relationship various measures of revelation, but this time in relation to himself:
The Revelation of which I am the bearer, is adapted to humanity's spiritual receptiveness and capacity; otherwise, the Light that shines within me can neither wax nor wane. Whatever I manifest is nothing more or less than the measure of the Divine glory which God has bidden me reveal.
In this passage it is possible to see that there is a clear distinction between the esoteric measure of revelation which is constant (it "can neither wax nor wane") and the exoteric measure of revelation which, as has been stated earlier, "is adapted to humanity's spiritual receptiveness and capacity." It is in this second measure where the measure can vary, but again Bahá'u'lláh does not specify the directionality. However, in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, Bahá'u'lláh addresses various religious themes and symbols, and one of these deals with a Qur'ánic verse in which he comments upon the symbolic meaning of "heaven":
As He hath said: "When the heaven shall be cloven asunder." [Qur'án 82:1] By "heaven" is meant the heaven of divine Revelation, which is elevated with every Manifestation, and rent asunder with every subsequent one. By "cloven asunder" is meant that the former Dispensation is superseded and annulled.
In this commentary one can readily see that the symbol of "heaven" is equated with "divine Revelation" which is "elevated with every Manifestation." The terms "every subsequent one" alludes to the successive theme of revelation, and together with the term "elevated," they point to a gradual and successive elevation of revelation, i.e., progressive revelation. Moreover, the term "elevated" here seem to suggest that it also is a "higher revelation" since it not only "supersedes" but also "annuls" the former religion. If the first term means that the new revelation is a "higher revelation," the second pair of terms suggests that the older form of revelation is antiquated or obsolete.
In order to understand the theme of elevation or progress in revelation it is now necessary to briefly explore a related area that of change and non-change in revelation (religion). About this topic Bahá'u'lláh says the following:
Know thou . . . that in every age and dispensation all Divine Ordinances are changed and transformed according to the requirements of the time, except the law of love, which like unto a fountain, flows always and is never overtaken by change.
Here the primary factor for change is the "requirements of the time," and yet, the "law of love" remains constant and unaltered throughout the different religions. Consequently, there appears to be two aspects of revelation, one which is non-changing and the other which is subjected to change and transformation.
In like manner, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also indirectly discusses two aspects of the "divine religions" as follows:
As regards the inculcation of morality and the development of human virtues, there is no difference whatsoever between the teachings of Zoroaster, Jesus or Bahá'u'lláh. In this they agree; they are one. The second aspect of the divine religions is nonessential. It concerns human needs and undergoes change in every cycle according to the exigency of the time.
Similarly to Bahá'u'lláh's account above, one can first observe that there is a dual notion of revelation, one "non-essential" and one "essential." However, although 'Abdu'l-Bahá does not directly define the first aspect above, he does refer, as shall be seen in the next quote, to the first aspect as the "fundamental basis," or the "essence of the Law," and he also uses the terms the "fundamental principle of the religion," and the "foundation of the religion." Secondly, the latter aspect of the "divine religions," which concerns "human needs," is subjected to change. Thirdly, one can recognize that the factor of "exigency of the time" is once again referred to.
In the following two passages 'Abdu'l-Bahá elaborates more in detail about the dual parts of the "law of God":
[. . .] the law of God is divided into two parts. One is the fundamental basis which comprises spiritual things that is to say, it refers to spiritual virtues and divine qualities; this does not change nor alter: it is the Holy of the Holies, which is the essence of the Law of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, and which lasts and is established in all the prophetic cycles. It will never be abrogated, for it is spiritual and not material truth; it is faith, knowledge, certitude, justice, piety, righteousness, trustworthiness, love of God, benevolence, purity, detachment, humility, meekness, patience and constancy. It shows mercy to the poor, defends the oppressed, gives to the wretched and uplifts the fallen. These divine qualities, these eternal commandments, will never be abolished; nay, they will last and remain established for ever and ever. These virtues of humanity will be renewed in each of the different cycles; for at the end of every cycle the Spiritual Law of God that is to say, the human virtues disappear, and only the forms subsists.
The first aspect of the law of God clearly emphasizes a fundamental and essential unity in the revelation between the various Manifestations of God. 'Abdu'l-Bahá thus enumerates a number of "spiritual virtues and divine qualities" which are non-changing in each revelation, and hence this part of the law will "never be abrogated," and he therefore refers to them as "eternal commandments." However, even though this part of the law is non-changing and eternal, it is nonetheless "renewed in the cycle of every Prophet," and hence this part of the law always reappears with each new Manifestation of God. In both quotations above, 'Abdu'l-Bahá uses the concept of the "cycle," and as shall be seen in the next section, this may refer to either a specific religion or period of revelation.
As to the second aspect or part of the law of God 'Abdu'l-Bahá continues to say that:
The second part of the Religion of God, which refers to the material world, and which comprises fasting, prayer, forms of worship, marriage and divorce, the abolition of slavery, legal processes, transactions, indemnities for murder, violence, theft and injuries this part of the Law of God, which refers to material things, is modified and altered in each prophetic cycle in accordance with the necessities of the times.
By contrasting the two parts of the law of God, the "essential" with the "non-essential," one can see that 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to the former as "spiritual," or "human virtues," and the second one as dealing with "material things." In comparing the list of virtues, or "material things," it appears that the former primarily deals with individual qualities, while the latter is mainly concerned with social transactions, or "human needs." Although both aspects of the law are revealed by each new Manifestation of God, it is only the latter part that is "modified and altered." So, while the former remains an absolute essence with each revelation, and is therefore only "renewed," the second part can be seen as a relative non-essential since it is subjected to modification and alteration and consequently, it "undergoes change in every cycle." This latter aspect of the law is thereby, as Bahá'u'lláh mentioned previously, subjected to "abrogation" and "annulment" by each subsequent Manifestation of God, and it is therefore in this "non-essential" aspect of religion, according to Shoghi Effendi, where the revelations of the Manifestations of God differs.
It is now time to turn to an earlier but partially quoted excerpt by Shoghi Effendi which further elucidates and summarizes some of the points discussed above:
The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh . . . is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the non-essential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society.
First of all one may observe, in the first part of this citation, the esoteric dimension which emphasizes that "Divine Revelation" has a "divine origin," that the religions are "continuous," and "their aims and purposes are the same." In other words, this dimension identifies the source, course, and goal of revelation as identical. Secondly, one may also note the exoteric dimension which expresses various distinctions and states that "their teachings are but facets of one truth," "their functions are complementary," and that "they differ only in the non-essential aspects of their doctrines." The last sentence is especially meaningful since it further underlines the theme discussed above, i.e., the differences between the various religions are not essential (absolute), but only "non-essential" (relative). However, to equate the terms essential with the absolute and non-essential with the relative may be problematic, since the opening line states that "religious truth is not absolute but only relative," while the last quotation continues to say that "their teachings are but facets of one truth."
This statement is reminiscent of the concept of God, which was discussed in an antecedent chapter and which now can be related to the above as follows. The essence of God, which may be equated with "the absolute" or "truth," can not be completely known by any Manifestation of God and consequently, it can not be fully known through any particular religion or revelation. It is rather seen as an integral part of a continuous and progressive revelatory process in that each subsequent religion may reflect some greater "facets of one truth" which ultimately is the essence of God. Thus, religious truth can be seen as "relative," not only because each religion stands in an intimate relation to every other religion, but primarily because it only can transmit a partial aspect of the truth, or a specific "measure of Revelation." Another interesting term in the above passage is that Shoghi Effendi states that the various religions are "complementary," which also points to the theme that no religion possesses the full and final revelation of God, but that the religions are fundamentally and mutually interrelated.
If the first level of Shoghi Effendi's cited passage emphasizes the essential unity, or the esoteric dimension, the second level emphasizes the non-essential diversity, or the exoteric dimension, and hence one can observe that these dimensions are deeply intertwined. Yet, there is another level of this quote which may seem to integrate these two views, and which sees revelation as a "progressive process" and the various religions as "successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society." Not only is the progressive and evolutionary concept clearly expressed in terms of religion or revelation, but one can further recognize that it is related to "human society" as well.
This idea, that the growth of revelation is intimately related to the development of humanity, is also expressed in the following paragraph by 'Abdu'l-Bahá:
The more the world of humanity develops, the more the effulgences or emanations of Divinity will become revealed, just as the stone, when it becomes polished and pure as a mirror, will reflect in fuller degree the glory and splendor of the sun.
The increase of "effulgences or emanations of Divinity" could be interpreted as a growth of revelation and is, moreover, seen as a direct consequence of the development of the "world of humanity." Again the mirror-model can be noticed in connection with humanity which, potentially, may reflect in various degrees the "glory and splendor of the sun," i.e., the "emanations of Divinity." The next paragraph by 'Abdu'l-Bahá further elaborates on this theme:
[T]he dispensations of past ages are intimately connected with those that follow them: indeed, they are one and the same, but as the world groweth, so doth the light, so doth the downpour of heavenly grace, and then the Day-Star shineth out in noonday splendour.
In this citation one can first distinguish the theme of the esoteric dimension in the context of the continuity and succession of the religions. After that comes an explanation of why the "light," or the "downpour of heavenly grace," must grow. Together, the terms "grow" and "downpour of heavenly grace" are highly suggestive of a progressive theme of revelation. It is, however, unclear what 'Abdu'l-Bahá means by the phrase that the "world groweth," but it could refer to either the Násút level in general, the human world, or the human society, but in the passage below, the expression "the world of existence" may elucidate this phrase.
The next passage by 'Abdu'l-Bahá clearly shows that the rain-model is utilized once again to illustrate the progressive nature of revelation:
[ . . . ] revelation is progressive and continuous. It never ceases. It is necessary that the reality of Divinity with all its perfections and attributes should become resplendent in the human world. The reality of Divinity is like an endless ocean. Revelation may be likened to the rain. Can you image the cessation of rain? Ever on the face of the earth somewhere rain is pouring down. Briefly, the world of existence is progressive. It is subject to development and growth. Consider how great has been the progress in this radiant century. Civilization has unfolded. Nations have developed. Industrialism and jurisprudence have expanded. Sciences, inventions and discoveries have increased. All of these show that the world of existence is continuously progressing and developing; and therefore, assuredly, the virtues characterizing the maturity of man must, likewise, expand and grow.
A couple of points are observed here. First, it is interesting that the "reality of Divinity" is compared to "an endless ocean" while revelation itself is "likened to the rain." This set of metaphors suggests the non-changing and infinite nature of Divinity as the ultimate source of revelation. In turn, associating revelation with "rain" may hint to its particular nature, but also its continuous and successive character. The question "Can you image the cessation of rain?" may be interpreted and paraphrased as "Can you imagine the finality of revelation?" and may therefore be seen to address the claim of finality in revelation, an issue that shall be examined in the final section of this chapter. Secondly, revelation is clearly described not only as being continuous but, more importantly, as progressive. In another context, where 'Abdu'l-Bahá describes religion as being progressive, he further states that if religion is "non-progressive it is without the divine life; it is dead." Thirdly, the "world of existence" is also depicted as progressive. In this connection one can note that 'Abdu'l-Bahá associated the following areas with the concept of progress: civilization, nations, industrialism, jurisprudence, sciences, inventions and discoveries. Fourth, these two progressive spheres, the revelatory and the worldly, are seen as parallel, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá thereby draws the conclusion that the "maturity of man must, likewise, expand and grow." Elsewhere he also says that "in the contingent world, the human species hath undergone progressive physical changes and, by a slow process, hath scaled the ladder of civilization." This sentence is highly suggestive of a gradual and sequential advancement of the human civilization.
Earlier it was also shown that the first aspect of the law concerned the development of human virtues, while the second part applied to social and material transactions. This is an important distinction, since although 'Abdu'l-Bahá is quite positive to the above mentioned "material" progress, often referred to as a "material civilization," this is only one aspect of a more profound evolutionary process, which ultimate purpose is to establish a "divine civilization" in which the spiritual abilities of human beings will fully develop.
Shoghi Effendi also employs a similar analogy of the development of humanity with the "measure of Divine Revelation":
Just as the organic evolution of mankind has been slow and gradual, and involved successively the unification of the family, the tribe, the city-state, and the nation, so has the light vouchsafed by the Revelation of God, at various stages in the evolution of religion, and reflected in the successive Dispensations in the past, been slow and progressive. Indeed the measure of Divine Revelation, in every age, has been adapted to, and commensurate with, the degree of social progress achieved in that age by a constantly evolving humanity.
Many of the previously discussed themes are imbedded in this single and compact statement. The evolution of mankind is here portrayed as being organic and constantly evolving. This process of evolution is, moreover, described as "slow," "gradual," and "successive," and as having various levels, or stages, of unification: family, tribe, city-state, and nation. Shoghi Effendi then compares the evolution of humanity with the "Revelation of God," and says that it similarly has existed at various "stages in the evolution of religion." This process is concomitantly described as being "slow," "successive," and "progressive." The final sentence integrates these two processes of evolution in that it says that the "measure of Divine Revelation, in every age, has been adapted to, and commensurate with, the degree of social progress achieved in that age by a constantly evolving humanity." In both examples above, one can clearly observe that both 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi ascertain parallels between the religious and human spheres.
In order to examine how the differences between the Manifestations of God relates to the above discussed areas, another paragraph by Shoghi Effendi will clarify this relationship:
Any variations in the splendor which each of these Manifestations of the Light of God has shed upon the world should be ascribed not to any inherent superiority involved in the essential character of any one of them, but rather to the progressive capacity, the ever-increasing spiritual receptiveness, which mankind, in its progress towards maturity, has invariably manifested.
In the beginning of this section, a similar quote by Bahá'u'lláh was analyzed where he wrote that any apparent variation in the intensity of the light between the Manifestations of God was attributed, not to the light itself, but rather to the "varying receptivity of an ever-changing world." Here, however, Shoghi Effendi attributes this variation to the "progressive capacity, the ever-increasing spiritual receptiveness" of mankind, which also is portrayed as progressing towards "maturity." In other contexts, this process of humanity's evolution is frequently described, by both 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, as a development from infancy to manhood or maturity. Concurrently, revelation is sometimes described in similar organic terms in that it, e.g., exists in an "embryonic state" and is thus capable to develop into stages of maturity. Again it is possible to see the emphasis on the concepts "capacity" and "receptivity." However, in Bahá'u'lláh's statement, the degree of "receptivity" is only described as varying, while Shoghi Effendi clearly defines it as being progressive and "ever-increasing." Nevertheless, and as will be shown below, the Bahá'í-authors do clearly point to that the variation of revelation generally is in the progressive direction.
The differences of the Manifestations of God and concept of progress are sometimes more explicitly and specifically elaborated upon than the quotes used above. For example, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, using a more astrological oriented solar-model, compares the Bábí-revelation with that of Bahá'u'lláh as follows:
The Revelation of the Báb may be likened to the sun, its station corresponding to the first sign of the Zodiac--the sign Aries--which the sun enters at the vernal equinox. The station of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation, on the other hand, is represented by the sign Leo, the sun's mid-summer and highest station. By this is meant that this holy Dispensation is illumined with the light of the Sun of Truth shining from its most exalted station, and in the plenitude of its resplendency, its heat and glory.
In this passage it is evident that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's comparison with Bahá'u'lláh's revelation as "the sun's mid-summer and highest station" and the Báb's revelation as the sun at the vernal equinox, evidently implies that the former has progressed towards a more developed and "exalted station." Similarly, in a letter written on his behalf, Shoghi Effendi compares Islám with the former religions as follows:
Muhammadanism [Islám] is not only the last of the world religions, but a fuller Revelation than any one preceding it. The Qur'an is not only more authoritative than any previous religious gospel, but it contains also much more; ordinances, teachings and precepts, which taken together constitute a fuller Revelation of God's purpose and law to mankind than Christianity, Judaism or any other previous Dispensation. This view is in complete accord with the Bahá'í philosophy of progressive revelation, and should be thoroughly accepted and taught by every loyal . . . Bahá'í.
It is peculiar that Shoghi Effendi here refers to Islám as the "last of the world religions," since this phrasing is quite contrary to the theme of succession and continuity of revelation discussed above. Even the term "latest" would be awkward, since the Bahá'í-authors usually refer to the Bahá'í-religion, not Islám, as the latest in a series of religions and further emphatically inculcates that no religion can claim to be the final religion. Still, the interesting thing about the above quoted passage is that Shoghi Effendi compares Islám with Christianity and states that the former is a "fuller Revelation" than the latter and "any other previous Dispensation." This clearly suggests a progressive concept of revelation, and one can also readily observe this since Shoghi Effendi designates this concept as the "Bahá'í philosophy of progressive revelation," which not only should be "thoroughly accepted . . . by every loyal . . . Bahá'í," but also should be "taught." This statement consequently suggests that the concept of progressive revelation has doctrinal connotations and implications as well, which clearly implies that it should be identified as one of the Bahá'í-religion's central doctrines.
In the above cited quote, two or more religions are compared with each other, but elsewhere Shoghi Effendi writes that, in accordance with the "principle of progressive revelation," every Manifestation of God must bring a "measure of divine guidance ampler than any which a preceding and less receptive age could have received or appreciated." The term "divine guidance" can be interpreted as meaning "revelation" and it is evident that Shoghi Effendi indicates that the preceding ages were less receptive, which logically means that the proceeding ages are more receptive, and thus they will be capable to receive an "ampler" measure of revelation. In other contexts, Shoghi Effendi writes about the concept of "progressive religion" and describes the religions that have preceded the Bahá'í-religion as "different stages in the eternal history and constant evolution of one religion, Divine and indivisible, of which it itself forms but an integral part." This phrase is especially significant since Bahá'u'lláh above stated that this is the "changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future." Although both Bahá'í-authors state that all revelations, in either the past or in the future, are essentially identical, Bahá'u'lláh's statement here emphasizes the non-changing and essential dimension of religion, while Shoghi Effendi includes the more dynamic view of "stages" and "evolution."
In addition, although all the various religions may be seen as "one religion," Shoghi Effendi also states that the Bahá'í-religion is an "integral part" of this process and in other contexts he says that it is but "one link in the chain of continually progressive Revelations." Here the chain-model again suggests both a distinct and separate character of each revelation (the exoteric and horizontal axis), as well the underlining continuity which connects all the revelations of the past and the future (the esoteric or vertical axis). The use of the plural "progressive Revelations" also support the idea that each revelation is progressive in its own right, and yet, all revelations are seen as being part of a much larger scheme, which will be the topic in the next section.
In order to summarize this section one can at this stage conclude that progress occurs on two intimately and mutually interconnected dimensions:
1) The religious, or revelatory, dimension which is the level of the Manifestations of God, the revelation, or the religion, which is intrinsically progressive. Each religion progresses up to a certain point, and then starts to decline. But the general theme of the successive and continuous religions is an overall progressive and evolutionary tendency, and thus each new Manifestation of God brings a greater measure of revelation (religion) to humanity than each previous one. This variation in revelation is, however, not inherent in the Manifestations of God, but is attributed to various worldly, or human factors, and thus the various revelations must differ in their non-essential aspects. This part of the revelation would therefore correspond to 2 a) below, in that it is concerned with various societal and material transactions. However, although the Manifestations do differ, they always reveal the non-changing and essential aspect of the "Law of God." This part of revelation would correspond to 2 b) below, in that deals with spiritual and human attributes and virtues.
2) The human, or worldly, dimension. In general, this level may also correspond to revelation which is given in accordance with the "conditions" and "varying requirements of the age" and the "spiritual capacity" of mankind.
a) human society (material civilization) has slowly, gradually and successively evolved in that higher stages of unification has been accomplished: family, tribe, city-states, and nations.
b) humanity's spiritual capacity and receptivity (spiritual civilization) has slowly and gradually increased over time. Mankind is thus described as spiritually developing through the sequential stages of growth: infancy, childhood, youth, and maturity.
The above summarized dimensions are, as was seen from the various Bahá'í-authors, intrinsically and reciprocally related, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá's mirror-model above illustrates this relationship, i.e., the more humanity develops and progress, both materially and spiritually, the greater the measure of revelation. Yet, there are several passages in the Bahá'í writings which would support the statement that religion, or revelation, is the primary cause of progress and development. 'Abdu'l-Bahá even states that the divine teachings of religion has been "the basis of all civilization and progress in the history of man" and that "it is the source of illumination, the cause of development and the animating impulse of all human advancement." However, if one would attribute the first dimension above to specific revelation, in that it involves the Manifestations of God, the second dimension could be said to be both indirectly under the influence of universal revelation, and directly under the guidance of specific revelation. Consequently, God, who is entitled the "Fountainhead of all Revelations" (universal and specific), would therefore be seen as the ultimate cause of progress in both dimensions. This conclusion lends further supports to the hypothesis that progressive revelation is a central concept of Bahá'í-apocalypticism.
D. The cyclical scheme
In the following two sections of progressive revelation, the issue of finality in revelation, and the various concepts of cycles of Bahá'í-apocalypticism shall be examined. The previous sections constitute, in a way, a necessary framework for this discussion, which also integrates many previously discussed key terms and concepts of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, especially the concept of progressive revelation.
As was stated in the beginning of this thesis, the Bahá'í-religion has its origins within the Islámic context and naturally, the Bahá'í-authors had to address such problematic issues as the finality of revelation and the Qur'ánic concept of the "Seal of Prophets." In the previous discussions on the rise and fall of a religion and the succession and continuity of revelation, it was concluded that revelation occurred in a "seasonal," or cyclical fashion. These concepts points to that revelation, although periodic, is a perpetual phenomenon. In addition, the Bahá'í-authors not only regard the whole of the Qur'án as "an absolutely authenticated Repository of the Word of God," but also designate Muhammed as the "Seal of the Prophets." How is it possible to on the one hand acknowledge that revelation is continuous, and yet, on the other hand, admit that Muhammed is the "Seal of the Prophets"? This obviously appears to be a plain contradiction and how the Bahá'í-authors attempts to reconcile these apparently opposing positions shall be discussed below.
The Bahá'í-authors, especially Bahá'u'lláh, seem to approach this issue in at least five major ways, whereas 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi mainly utilize the fourth and fifth approaches. The first three approaches are more vertical or esoteric in character whereas the last two ways are predominantly horizontal and exoteric.
1. The finality of revelation
One approach is where Bahá'u'lláh, while discussing the theme of progressive revelation, generally addresses the issue of finality of revelation, or that God is incapable of raising up another Manifestation of God. In the following passage Bahá'u'lláh draws upon the Qur'án and thus uses similar arguments against the Muslims as Muhammed did with the Jews:
"'The hand of God,' say the Jews, 'is chained up.' Chained up be their own hands; And for that which they have said, they were accursed. Nay, outstretched are both His hands!"[Qu'rán 5:65] "The hand of God is above their hands."[Qu'rán 48:11] . . . How can He be conceived as powerless to raise up yet another Messenger after Moses? Behold the absurdity of their saying; how far it hath strayed from the path of knowledge and understanding! Observe how in this Day also, all these people have occupied themselves with such foolish absurdities. For over a thousand years they have been reciting this verse,[Qu'rán 5:65] and unwittingly pronouncing their censure against the Jews, utterly unaware that they themselves, openly and privily, are voicing the sentiments and belief of the Jewish people! Thou art surely aware of their idle contention, that all Revelation is ended, that the portals of Divine mercy are closed, that from the day springs of eternal holiness no Sun shall rise again, that the Ocean of everlasting bounty is forever stilled, and that out of the Tabernacle of ancient glory the Messengers of God have ceased to be made manifest. . . . These people have imagined that the flow of God's all-encompassing grace and plenteous mercies, the cessation of which no mind can contemplate, has been halted.
From the context of this passage, Bahá'u'lláh compares the Jews' denial of Muhammed with "all these people" who "in this Day" have been "reciting this verse" for "over a thousand years." These statements apparently refer to the Muslims and the Islámic dispensation, which at the time of Bahá'u'lláh was over 1200 years old. He then further implies that although the Muslims have been reciting this verse (Qu'rán 5:65) for all this time, they are yet unaware that they are "voicing the sentiments and belief of the Jewish people," and hence that they are repeating the Jews' denial. This argument is both a theological argument, since Bahá'u'lláh addresses the omnipotence and power of God, and an apologetic argument, since he on the one hand agrees with the Qur'ánic statements and, on the other hand, reinterprets and polemically utilizes them against the Muslims themselves.
2. The "Seal of the Prophets"
A second approach is where Bahá'u'lláh directly addresses the issue of the "Seal of the Prophets" by adopting statements which, traditionally, may be directly assigned to Muhammed himself:
[. . .] how many are those who, through failure to understand its meaning, have allowed the term "Seal of the Prophets" to obscure their understanding, and deprive them of the grace of His manifold bounties! Hath not Muhammad, Himself, declared: "I am all the Prophets?" Hath He not said . . . : "I am Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus?" Why should Muhammad, that immortal Beauty, Who hath said: "I am the first Adam" be incapable of saying also: "I am the last Adam"? For even as He regarded Himself to be the "First of the Prophets" that is Adam in like manner, the "Seal of the Prophets" is also applicable unto that Divine Beauty. It is admittedly obvious that being the "First of the Prophets," He likewise is their "Seal." . . . They [the Manifestations of God] are at the same time the Exponents of both the "first" and the "last." . . . Were a discerning eye to be found, it will readily perceive that the exponents of the "first" and the "last," of the "manifest" and the "hidden," of the "beginning" and the "seal" are none other than these holy Beings, these Essences of Detachment, these divine Souls.
Here Bahá'u'lláh seem to address the issue of the "Seal of the Prophets" by interpreting the "Seal" as the "last" Prophet of God. This way is clearly encountered from an esoteric point of view where each Manifestation of God, in his station of essential unity, is regarded as both the "First" or the "Last." This approach was also seen in an earlier context above where Bahá'u'lláh employed the solar-model to explain the concept of the "return." Thus, although Muhammed is considered the "Seal of the Prophets," this title is not seen as unique or exclusive solely to Muhammed, but that all the Manifestations of God could claim this title. Consequently, Bahá'u'lláh states that this title may be applicable even to the "First" of the Manifestations of God Adam. Once again, it is possible to observe that Bahá'u'lláh is using apologetic arguments by referring to the Islámic tradition and directing these towards a Muslim audience.
3. Unsealing the seal
A third approach seem to occur when Bahá'u'lláh either directly identifies himself with the return of Imám Husayn, or when he indirectly refers to the advent of his own revelation. Although Bahá'u'lláh upholds Muhammed as the "Seal of the Prophets," in other contexts he alludes to that "the seal" has been broken:
The seal of the choice Wine of His Revelation hath, in this Day and in His Name, the Self-Sufficing, been broken.
I have . . . with the hand of divine power, unsealed the choice wine of My Revelation, and have wafted its holy, its hidden, musk-laden fragrance upon all created things.
[. . .] the greatness of this Day the Day whereon the Finger of majesty and power hath opened the seal of the Wine of Reunion, and called all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth.
In all three examples, Bahá'u'lláh associates the process of "unsealing" with the metaphor of the "wine." This is a recurrent metaphor in Bahá'u'lláh's writings and which is further commonly affiliated with concepts like revelation, reunion, and life. Moreover, the use of sealing and unsealing may also point to the notion of authority or power. Thus, statements like the unsealing has been made "in His Name," "with the hand of divine power," or by the "Finger of majesty and power," further emphasize this notion of authority.
4. The Adamic or Prophetic Cycle and the Bahá'í Cycle
A fourth approach, which is by far the most predominant and elaborate in the Bahá'í- writings, is when the Bahá'í-authors address this issue from an exoteric point of view and where the horizontal axis of cycles is predominant. It is therefore necessary to examine the Bahá'í concept of cycles more closely.
The perhaps earliest reference to the mentioning of a "cycle" occurs in one of Bahá'u'lláh's mystical works, the Four Valleys. In this piece he briefly states: "The Cyclic Scheme, to them, is but to Him a stair." It is unclear what Bahá'u'lláh exactly refers to here, but this mysterious line may suggest two different points of view of the same phenomenon, namely one cyclical and one that is gradually escalating. These two themes are, as was previously seen, respectively highly relevant to the concepts of cycles and progress. Earlier in this thesis, it was observed that a religion associated with a Manifestation of God may sometimes be referred to as a "cycle," e.g., the "Mosaic cycle," the "Messianic cycle," and the "Mohammedan cycle." The notion in this context may convey the meaning of a specific religious dispensation or revelation, and in a previous section it was concluded that one of the important differences between the dependent Prophets and the independent Prophets (Manifestations of God) was that the latter are "founders of a new cycle." Moreover, such a cycle is also associated with a "Book," and thus terms like the "cycle of the Qur'án" may also occur. However, the term "cycle," as the next paragraph by Bahá'u'lláh shows, appears also in many instances to be synonymous with the concept of an "age":
[. . .] they Who are the Luminaries of truth and the Mirrors reflecting the light of divine Unity, in whatever age and cycle they are sent down from their invisible habitations of ancient glory unto this world, to educate the souls of men and endue with grace all created things.
Here one is reminded of the educational theme of the Manifestations of God. In the previous sections it was also seen that the various revelations and Manifestations of God were described as successive and continuous. Bahá'u'lláh does in like manner refer to the ages as "successive." Furthermore, it was stated that the solar-model was employed to describe not only the rise and fall of a religion, but the succession and continuity of religions as well. 'Abdu'l-Bahá also applies this solar-model in connection with the seasonal-model and says that "just as the solar cycle has its four seasons, the cycle of the Sun of Reality has its distinct and successive periods." The Manifestation of God ("Sun of Reality") is in other words seen as having its own cycle, or season. Hence, the term "cycle" is on the one hand equated with a religion's rise and fall, and yet, on the other hand, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also refers to this "cycle of the seasons" as being "continuous." Consequently, the various religious cycles (seasons) are seen as both successive and continuous.
In his Some Answered Questions, in a chapter entitled "The Universal Cycles," 'Abdu'l-Bahá answers a question pertaining to the concepts of "cycles." By beginning his exposition with an explanation of the nature and duration of the astronomical cycles, he continues to say that:
Each of the Divine Manifestations has likewise a cycle, and during the cycle His laws and commandments prevail and are performed. When His cycle is completed by the appearance of a new Manifestation, a new cycle begins. In this way cycles begin, end and are renewed, until a universal cycle is completed in the world, when important events and great occurrences will take place which entirely efface every trace and every record of the past; then a new universal cycle begins in the world, for this universe has no beginning . . . Briefly, we say a universal cycle in the world of existence signifies a long duration of time, and innumerable and incalculable periods and epochs. In such a cycle the Manifestations appear with splendor in the realm of the visible until a great and supreme Manifestation makes the world the center of His radiance. His appearance causes the world to attain to maturity, and the extension of His cycle is very great. Afterward, other Manifestations will arise under His shadow, Who according to the needs of the time will renew certain commandments relating to material questions and affairs, while remaining under His shadow. We are in the cycle which began with Adam, and its supreme Manifestation is Bahá'u'lláh.
This passage contains many themes which shall subsequently be developed in this section. For example, one can readily see that each Manifestation of God is attributed with a specific "cycle" and that this cyclical pattern is repeated with a "new cycle," which suggests the successive and continuous pattern of revelation. Further, 'Abdu'l-Bahá makes a reference to a "universal cycle" which "signifies a long duration of time, and innumerable and incalculable periods and epochs." Thus, such a cycle seem to include a great number of "periods" and "epochs." Notice also the sentence where 'Abdu'l-Bahá says that "cycles begin, end and are renewed, until a universal cycle is completed," which in turns indicates that various shorter cycles occur within a longer universal cycle. Moreover, a "universal cycle" is, above all, associated with a "supreme Manifestation" whose "cycle is very great," who "causes the world to attain to maturity," and that the subsequent Manifestation of God will be "under his shadow."
In the final sentence above, 'Abdu'l-Bahá identifies the present cycle with the "cycle which began with Adam" and that Bahá'u'lláh is its "supreme Manifestation." Previously it was also witnessed that Bahá'u'lláh referred to the "chain of successive Revelations that hath linked the Manifestations of Adam with that of the Báb." Similarly, Abdu'l-Bahá stated that "From the days of Adam until today, the religions of God have been made manifest, one following the other." The notion of a cycle which began with Adam is often referred to as the "Adamic cycle," the "Prophetic cycle," or the "Prophetic Era." However, the term "Prophetic cycle" sometimes also occurs in the plural and refers to the various successive cycles of the Manifestations of God.
It is now necessary to proceed with the analysis of a fourth approach to the issues of finality in revelation and the "Seal of the Prophets," and discern how these two are connected with the cyclical scheme. In the following passage it is possible to see how the term "Seal of the Prophets" is related to the concept of the "Prophetic Cycle":
It is evident that every age in which a Manifestation of God hath lived is divinely ordained, and may, in a sense, be characterized as God's appointed Day. This Day, however, is unique, and is to be distinguished from those that have preceded it. The designation "Seal of the Prophets" fully revealeth its high station. The Prophetic Cycle hath, verily, ended. The Eternal Truth is now come. He hath lifted up the Ensign of Power, and is now shedding upon the world the unclouded splendor of His Revelation.
Here Bahá'u'lláh states that "every age" can be designated as "God's appointed Day," but he continues to say that "This Day" (Bahá'u'lláh's "Day") is unique and "distinguished from those that have preceded it," i.e., the preceding ages or dispensations. Then he simultaneously proclaims that the title "Seal of the Prophets" is highly significant, since it alludes to a "high station." Moreover, Bahá'u'lláh announces that "The Prophetic Cycle" has terminated. In like manner, and referring to his own revelation, Bahá'u'lláh also declares that "In this most mighty Revelation all the Dispensations of the past have attained their highest and final consummation." Finally, in his last work, The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Bahá'u'lláh also relates the title of the "Seal of the Prophets" with a Qur'ánic and prophetic verse which ultimately alludes to the "Day of Judgment":
On this day the blessed words "But He is the Apostle of God, and the Seal of the Prophets" have found their consummation in the verse "The day when mankind shall stand before the Lord of the worlds."
This paragraph points to the intimate relationship between the epithet of the "Seal of the Prophets" and the eschatological and apocalyptical themes. The intimacy between the Adamic Cycle, the Prophetic Cycle, and the "Seal of the Prophets" can furthermore be seen in a passage of the Kitáb-i-Íqán where Bahá'u'lláh refer to "all the prophets, from Adam even to Muhammad, the 'seal'." Consequently, from the above cited passages, it is evident that although Bahá'u'lláh admits that Muhammed appropriately can be designated as the "Seal of the Prophets," he does not acknowledge the interpretation that the continuous succession of revelation is ended.
Concomitantly, Shoghi Effendi, on the one hand, says that the series of successive revelations was "starting with Adam and concluded by the Revelation of the Seal of the Prophets," and yet, on the other hand, he also states that the advent of the Báb "at once signalized the termination of the 'Prophetic Cycle' and the inception of the 'Cycle of Fulfillment'." Earlier it was seen that Shoghi Effendi, while referring to the successive series of progressive revelations, also says that this series was "beginning with Adam and ending with the Báb." These statements may seem somewhat ambiguous, with respect to the ending of the Adamic or Prophetic Cycle, but in another context he says that:
[. . .] the rise of the Orb of Bahá'u'lláh's most sublime Revelation marking the consummation of the six thousand year cycle ushered in by Adam, glorified by all past prophets and sealed with the blood of the Author of the Babi Dispensation.
This paragraph clarifies the above indefinite and inconclusive lines in that Shoghi Effendi now indicates that the martyrdom of the Báb ("the blood of the Author of the Babi Dispensation") has sealed the Adamic Cycle. From the above statements by the Bahá'í-authors, it has been shown that it is only Muhammed who designated the "Seal of the Prophets" whereas the Báb never is associated with this title. Still, the Báb, rather than Muhammed, appears to be intimately connected with the ending of the Adamic or Prophetic Cycle. Thus, it can be understood that Muhammed is regarded as the last, or final, Manifestation of God within the Adamic or Prophetic cycle, whereas the Báb is seen as concluding, or sealing, this Cycle, while simultaneously inaugurating a new Universal Cycle the Bahá'í Cycle. The station of the Báb may in this sense be viewed as being a pivotal transition-point between two major cycles.
Above one could observe that Bahá'u'lláh referred to the term "Prophetic Cycle," but he never uses the term "Adamic Cycle". This term appears to be utilized only by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. Moreover, it is only the latter author who directly specifies that its duration of approximately 6000 years. This figure, however, is not be taken at face value as a historical starting-point of revelation, since Shoghi Effendi also states that the Adamic Cycle may be "stretching back as far as the first dawnings of the world's recorded religious history." Moreover, in his answer to a question posed to him concerning the "Prophets that have preceded Adam," Bahá'u'lláh answers:
Know thou that the absence of any reference to them is no proof that they did not actually exist. That no records concerning them are now available, should be attributed to their extreme remoteness, as well as to the vast changes which the earth hath undergone since their time.
Bahá'u'lláh is obviously not arguing against the question and stating that Adam was the first Manifestation of God, but on the contrary, he seems to indirectly admit to the existence of Manifestations of God prior to Adam. Furthermore, it was previously seen that 'Abdu'l-Bahá stated that there have been Manifestations of God "One thousand years ago, two hundred thousand years ago, one million years ago," and in this context of the cyclical scheme he states that:
[. . .] there where many universal cycles preceding this one in which we are living. They were consummated, completed and their traces obliterated. The divine and creative purpose in them was the evolution of spiritual man, just as in this cycle. The circle of existence is the same; it returns. The tree of life has ever borne the same heavenly fruit.
From the above stated excerpts, it is evident that universal cycles are not unique or exclusive phenomena, although they revolve at very extensive intervals of time. One can also notice in the passage above that the purpose of these cycles is the "evolution of spiritual man," which once again testifies to the progressive concept. Moreover, one may discern the organic analogy of these cycles with the metaphor of the "tree of life" which periodically produces the "same heavenly fruit."
In an earlier passage in this section, 'Abdu'l-Bahá stated that "We are in the cycle which began with Adam," and yet, in the immediate excerpt he indirectly states that "we are living" in a Universal Cycle. This seems contradictory, but it is possible that although the two cycles are seen as separate, they may also be seen as ultimately continuous. Yet, there are numerous texts which explicitly states that "we are living" in a Universal Cycle. For example, in an antecedent passage, 'Abdu'l-Bahá designated Bahá'u'lláh as the "supreme Manifestation" of this Universal Cycle, and in addition he labels this Universal Cycle as the "Cycle of Glory," the "cycle of the Blessed Beauty," the "cycle of Bahá'u'lláh," the "Bahá'í Cycle." In other contexts he says that:
This is the day of Bahá'u'lláh, the age of the Blessed Perfection, the cycle of the Greatest Name.
[. . .] this era is the era of Bahá'u'lláh, and this age is distinguished above all other ages.
[ . . . ] this period is the period of the Blessed Perfection, and this cycle is distinguished from all other cycles and epochs.
Earlier Bahá'u'lláh stated that "The Prophetic Cycle hath, verily, ended," and from the lines above, one can see that 'Abdu'l-Bahá uses the terms "cycle," "day," "age," "era" or "period" of Bahá'u'lláh rather synonymously. Moreover, he says that "this age is distinguished above all other ages" or "cycles or epochs." Similarly, this theme of synonyms can also be found in another context where he says: "A year is the expression of a cycle (of the sun); but now is the beginning of a cycle of Reality, a New Cycle, a New Age, a New Century, a New Time and a New Year." In contrast with the Adamic Cycle, which is suppose to have been approximately 6000 years, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also states that the "magnitude of the Bahá'í cycle . . . must extend over a period of at least five hundred thousand years." The Bahá'í cycle is, consequently, seen as approximately a hundred times longer than the Prophetic cycle (See Appendix II).
Concomitantly, Shoghi Effendi contrast these "two universal prophetic cycles" with each other and states that the "Adamic Cycle" may be "stretching back as far as the first dawnings of the world's recorded religious history" and that the "Bahá'í Cycle" is "destined to propel itself across the unborn reaches of time for a period of no less than five thousand centuries." The terms "two universal prophetic cycles" may perhaps be confusing here, since a distinction was made earlier between the Adamic or Prophetic Cycle and the Universal Cycle, and here Shoghi Effendi appears to treat them as being more or less equal. However, in other contexts he states that the "Bahá'í Revelation" is the "culmination of a prophetic cycle," and that Bahá'u'lláh is the Originator of a new 'Universal Cycle'."
It was also previously seen that Shoghi Effendi says: "The Faith of Bahá'u'lláh should indeed be regarded . . . as the culmination of a cycle, the final stage in a series of successive, of preliminary and Progressive Revelations." The phrase "final stage" may be perplexing, but elsewhere Shoghi Effendi says that "Divine Revelation is orderly, continuous and progressive and not spasmodic or final." Thus, in the first context, directly addressing the Bahá'í-religion, he is referring to a the cyclical theme, whereas in the second context, addressing the theme of "Divine Revelation," he is maintaining that revelation is continuous and successive and not final. It is also significant that Shoghi Effendi above refers to the previous revelations as "preliminary," which is suggestive of a rather preparatory status for the Universal Cycle.
5. The Bahá'í Dispensation and the future Manifestations of God
A fifth approach which addresses the issues of finality of revelation and the "Seal of the Prophets" is where the Bahá'í authors point at either the "Bahá'í Dispensation," or the future Manifestations of God, which will subsequently appear. In just a few passages in his writings Bahá'u'lláh hints at this next Manifestation of God:
[. . . ] Him Who will be sent down unto you after Me . . . By those words which I have revealed, Myself is not intended, but rather He Who will come after Me.
Here Bahá'u'lláh clearly indicates that he does not claim to be the last, or final, Manifestation of God, but rather upholds that the succession of revelation continues. However, he also emphatically states that this event will not occur until the passing of at least one thousand years. 'Abdu'l-Bahá comments upon this claim and says that:
This is not a reference to the Universal Manifestation, for it is clearly set forth in the Holy Writings that centuries, nay thousands of years, must pass on to completion, before a Manifestation like unto this Manifestation shall appear again. It is possible, however, that after the completion of a full thousand years, certain Holy Beings will be empowered to deliver a Revelation: this, however, will not be through a Universal Manifestation.
This passage is in congruence with the passage above, where 'Abdu'l-Bahá elaborated upon the theme of "universal cycles," and here one can see that the Universal Manifestation is distinguished from the ordinary Manifestation of God. Yet, such a Manifestation of God is capable and "empowered to deliver a Revelation." In addition, Shoghi Effendi, while contrasting the two cycles with each other, states that the Bahá'í revelation may be:
[ . . . ] hailed as the promise and crowning glory of past ages and centuries, as the consummation of all the Dispensations within the Adamic Cycle, inaugurating an era of at least a thousand years' duration, and a cycle destined to last no less than five thousand centuries, signalizing the end of the Prophetic Era and the beginning of the Era of Fulfillment.
Evidently the Bahá'í revelation is seen as the "consummation of all the Dispensations within the Adamic Cycle" and that this event, on the one hand, signalizes the "end of the Prophetic Era," it is, on the other hand, the "beginning of the Era of Fulfillment." Earlier it was observed that the duration of the Adamic Cycle, or the Prophetic Era, was estimated as 6000 years and here this cycle is contrasted with the Bahá'í Cycle (the Era of Fulfillment) which is suppose to continue for at least 500 000 years. But, in the last paragraph by Shoghi Effendi, one may also notify another numerical value of "a thousands years," and elsewhere he refers to this concept as the "millennium." Above it was also noticed that Bahá'u'lláh alluded to this number in the renewal of the "City of God," and that the appearance of a new Manifestation of God will occur after a thousand years.
In answering the relationship between the Bahá'í Cycle and the "era of at least a thousand years," Shoghi Effendi states the following:
Concerning your question relative to the duration of the Bahá'í Dispensation. There is no contradiction between Bahá'u'lláh's statement in the Iqan about the renewal of the City of God once every thousand years, and . . . that the Bahá'í cycle will extend over a period of at least 500,000 years. The apparent contradiction is due to the confusion of the terms cycle and dispensation. For while the Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh will last for at least one thousand years, His Cycle will extend still farther, to at least 500,000 years. The Bahá'í cycle is, indeed, incomparable in its greatness. It includes not only the Prophets that will appear after Bahá'u'lláh, but all those who have preceded Him ever since Adam. These should, indeed, be viewed as constituting but preliminary stages leading gradually to the appearance of this supreme Manifestation of God.
Here Shoghi Effendi clearly makes a distinction between the "Bahá'í Dispensation" on the one hand, which is suppose to endure a thousand years, and the "Bahá'í cycle" which is suppose to continue for at least 500 000 years, on the other. Consequently, the Bahá'í Dispensation is considerably shorter and can thus be considered embodied within the Bahá'í Cycle as a "sub-cycle." Furthermore, one can observe that Prophets "will appear after Bahá'u'lláh," and elsewhere Shoghi Effendi refers to "successive Dispensations in the Five Thousand Century Bahá'í Cycle." Consequently, these "successive Dispensations" can be seen as sub-cycles within the Bahá'í Cycle as well.
In conclusion of the above mentioned approaches to the issues of finality of revelation and the "Seal of the Prophets," it should now be understood that all three Bahá'í-authors maintain that the Adamic, or Prophetic, Cycle has ended and that a new Universal Cycle the Bahá'í Cycle has been inaugurated. Consequently, from the latter two exoteric perspectives, the Bahá'í-authors defend that Muhammed is the "Seal of the Prophets," but interpret this title as being applicable only within the Prophetic Cycle, and not as the last, or final, Manifestation of God in the continuos succession of revelation. Moreover, it was stated that the Báb is designated as "sealing" the Prophetic Cycle, while at the same time ushering in the new Universal Cycle the Bahá'í Cycle.
This section has given support to the second hypothesis that 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 within the concept of progressive revelation, especially within the cyclical scheme.
E. The Bahá'í Cycle and the concept of progress
In the preceding section, it was observed that all three Bahá'í-authors claim that the two major cycles the Bahá'í Cycle and Prophetic Cycle are distinguished and significantly different from each other. In this section the objective is not so much contrast the two major cycles, but rather to focus on the concept of progress in the contexts of the Bahá'í Cycle which includes the Bahá'í Dispensation.
Previously, while discussing the differences between the Manifestations of God and the concept of progress, one could observe a tendency of progress in two major dimensions, which were intimately and mutually interrelated: the religious, or revelatory, dimension and the human, or worldly, dimension. In the preceding section, it was seen that the Prophetic Cycle was described as "preliminary" and that the Bahá'í Cycle was depicted as a "culmination." Furthermore, when the two major cycles were compared to each other, the comparison did not seem to indicate a gradual change, or development, but rather a radical, or an exponential, phase-transition. There are a few sections in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh where he not only addresses the above stated cyclical scheme, but where he, in this context, also indicates a more radical theme to the concept of progressive revelation:
"Knowledge is twenty and seven letters. All that the Prophets have revealed are two letters thereof. No man thus far hath known more than these two letters. But when the Qá'im shall arise, He will cause the remaining twenty and five letters to be made manifest." Consider: He hath declared knowledge to consist of twenty and seven letters, and regarded all the prophets, from Adam even to Muhammad, the 'seal', as expounders of only two letters thereof. He also saith that the Qá'im will reveal all the remaining twenty and five letters. Behold from this utterance how great and lofty is His station! His rank excelleth that of all the prophets, and His revelation transcendeth the comprehension and understanding of all their chosen ones.
Here Bahá'u'lláh refers to some sources in the Islamic tradition. The twenty-seven letters alludes to the number of letters in the Arabic alphabet, and probably also refers to some mystical numerology. However, the important thing to notice here is the sentences which states that "All that the Prophets," in the Adamic or Prophetic Cycle, "have revealed are two letters thereof," but that the "Qá'im will reveal all the remaining twenty and five letters." This features two basic themes; first, that revelation of the Prophetic Cycle is regarded as incomplete (preliminary), and secondly, that the greater proportion of revelation is yet to be disclosed (or culminate) when the Qá'im arises. Further, this passage also puts the Qá'im in a rather unique position, or "station," since "His rank excelleth that of all the prophets." It is, however, not clear if this passage should be taken at face value, since it would be quite contrary and inconsistent to what was stated above, since it would logically imply that the future Manifestations of God would have nothing to reveal. An alternative explanation would be that it is rather the relative status of the different cycles which is compared here in that it designates the Qá'im such a superior station that his revelation even excels the revelation of all the other Manifestations of God combined. Another way to look at this statement is to compare the relative duration of the two cycles where the Prophetic Cycle is completely dwarfed by the Bahá'í Cycle (See Appendix II).
In this context Bahá'u'lláh further writes about the increased capacity for revelation and thus this passage may complement the one above in that the former discusses the revelatory dimension whereas the latter elucidates the human dimension:
The heights which, through the most gracious favor of God, mortal man can attain in this Day are as yet unrevealed to his sight. The world of being hath never had, nor doth it yet possess, the capacity for such a revelation. The day, however, is approaching when the potentialities of so great a favor will, by virtue of His behest, be manifested unto men.
Here the human dimension of revelation is clearly observed and it appears that the capacity for revelation will continue to increase. The second line testifies to this, since it relates to both the past ("hath never had"), and to the future ("nor doth it yet possess"). Consequently, the present capacity for revelation is on the one hand greater "in this Day" (i.e., in the Bahá'í Cycle) than in the past, and yet the "day . . . is approaching" when a greater potential of the human capacity for revelation will be disclosed.
Similarly, in comparing the two major cycles with each other, 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to the Bahá'í Cycle as a "golden cycle," that "this cycle is distinguished from all other cycles and epochs," and that "this illumined age" is the "age of the progress of the world of humanity." Furthermore, it was shown in a preceding chapter that the measure of revelation was revealed in accordance to human capacity, but with regard to the Bahá'í Cycle 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that:
Know thou that the distinguished Individual of every age is endowed according to the perfections of His age. That Individual who in past ages was set above His fellows was gifted according to the virtues of His time. But in this age of splendours, this era of God, the preeminent Personage, the luminous Orb, the Chosen Individual will shine out with such perfections and such power as ultimately to dazzle the minds of every community and group.
'Abdu'l-Bahá does not say that the measure of revelation will be out of proportion to human receptivity, but he does state that the Universal Manifestation ("That Individual") will "dazzle the minds of every community and group." This certainly suggests that the measure of revelation will be dramatically intensified. In another passage he states this point more succinctly:
In cycles gone by, each one of the Manifestations of God hath had His own rank in the world of existence, and each hath represented a stage in the development of humanity. But the Manifestation of the Most Great Name . . . was an expression of the coming of age, the maturing of man's inmost reality in this world of being.
In this passage one is reminded of the intimacy and reciprocity between the revelatory and human dimensions. Thus, one can discern that each Manifestation of God would represent "a stage in the development of humanity," and that the crucial difference between this cycle, or age, with the former, is that humanity now is "coming of age." In another context 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that the Bahá'í Cycle is a "cycle of maturity and reformation." It was also mentioned earlier that 'Abdu'l-Bahá distinguished between a "material" and a "spiritual," or "divine civilization." In the next passage by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, it is shown how the various themes of cycles, the coming of age of humanity, civilization, and the concept of progress concur:
From the standpoints of both material and spiritual civilization extraordinary progress and development will be witnessed. In this present cycle there will be an evolution in civilization unparalleled in the history of the world. The world of humanity has, therefore, been in the stage of infancy; now it is approaching maturity. Just as the individual human organism, having attained the period of maturity, reachest its fullest degree of physical strength and ripened period there is witnessed an unprecedented measure of development, likewise in the world of humanity in this cycle of its completeness and consummation will realize an immeasurable upward progress, and that power of accomplishment whereof each individual human reality is the depository of God that outworking Universal Spirit like the intellectual faculty, will reveal itself in infinite degrees of perfection.
In this excerpt the macro/microcosmos scheme is once again applied, since the evolution of the "world of humanity" (macrososmos) resembles the "individual human organism" (microcosmos). Further, humanity is described as entering a phase of "completeness and consummation," and progress will take place on all levels, individually as well as collectively. Another feature of this Universal Cycle is establishment of the "unity of all mankind". This was impossible in "cycles gone by," according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, since continents "remained widely divided." Consequently, he implies that this is possible in this age, due to the "material" progress of mankind. In addition, although 'Abdu'l-Bahá evidently suggest that the Bahá'í Cycle is a completely different cycle than the Prophetic Cycle, he still says: "Whatsoever is latent in the innermost of this holy Cycle shall gradually appear and be made manifest, for now is but the beginning of its growth, and the dayspring of the revelation of its signs." Thus, one may recognize the same gradual feature, which was observed in the inception of revelation in general, also is valid for the Bahá'í Cycle.
In like manner, Shoghi Effendi, comparing Bahá'u'lláh with the other Manifestations of God, says: "There are no Prophets, so far, in the same category as Bahá'u'lláh, as He culminates a great cycle begun with Adam." Moreover, he states that the Bahá'í Dispensation is a "Dispensation which posterity will recognize as the most glorious and momentous in the greatest cycle in the world's religious history," and that the Bahá'í Era is an "age which marks the opening of the most glorious epoch in the greatest cycle which the spiritual history of mankind has yet witnessed." In discussing the intimate and mutual interconnectedness between the revelatory and human dimensions, he further says that "this present age" is an age which is "infinitely more advanced, more receptive, and more insistent to receive an ampler measure of Divine Guidance than has hitherto been vouchsafed to mankind."
In the next passage one can also note that several of the previously discussed topics of progressive revelation converge:
The embryonic Faith, maturing three years after His [the Báb's] martyrdom, traversing the period of infancy in the course of the Heroic Age of the Faith is now steadily progressing towards maturity in the present Formative Age, destined to attain full stature in the Golden Age of the Bahá'í Dispensation. Lastly the Holy Seed of infinite preciousness, holding within itself incalculable potentialities representing the culmination of the centuries-old process of the evolution of humanity through the energies released by the series of progressive Revelations starting with Adam and concluded by the Revelation of the Seal of the Prophets, marked by the successive appearance of the branches, leaves, buds, blossoms . . . whose radiance is now overspreading the surface of the globe during the present Formative Age, whose full splendor is destined in the course of future millenniums to suffuse the entire planet.
First, one may notice that Shoghi Effendi employs a variety of organic metaphors in describing the growth of the Bahá'í-religion. For example, he depicts it as "embryonic" at its inception and that it traverses a "period of infancy" and successive stages of growth, until it reaches the "full stature in the Golden Age." This process is further paralleled with the "centuries-old process of the evolution of humanity" which marks its "culmination." In turn, one may see that these processes also are coupled with the "series of progressive Revelations" and that this series also is identified with the Prophetic Cycle. Finally, the organic metaphors, employed above, also describe the succession of revelations as a gradual and consecutive unfoldment of "branches," "leaves," "buds," and finally "blossoms." More importantly, this sequential process is also delineated as progressive.
It is also possible to notice that Shoghi Effendi associate different "ages" (Heroic and Formative) or "epochs" within the Bahá'í Dispensation, and that its "full splendor" will only occur "in the course of future millenniums to suffuse the entire planet." He also refers to these "ages" as the "Iron Age" and, as was seen above, "The Golden Age" which is portrayed as an "age of fulfilment, fruition, attainment." Consequently, this process is also implied to be gradual and progressive.
Previously, it was understood that Shoghi Effendi described this evolutionary process of mankind as a process of "maturation," or as the "coming of age of the entire human race." In a preceding section, he also depicted the evolution of society as a sequential unification of families, tribes, city-states, and nations. However, nation-building is not conceived as the chief goal of the human society according to the Bahá'í-authors. On this theme Shoghi Effendi says:
Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life.
In this excerpt nation building is rather seen as the final step towards "World unity," or the establishment of a "new World Order." It is also possible to note that this process is further associated with a "world growing to maturity." This new and more mature stage of humanity is depicted as a higher order of complexity in the social organization of mankind. These globalization-themes are more elaborately described by Shoghi Effendi in the next passage:
The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, whose supreme mission is none other but the achievement of this organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations, should . . . be regarded as signalizing through its advent the coming of age of the entire human race. It should be viewed not merely as yet another spiritual revival in the ever-changing fortunes of mankind, not only as a further stage in a chain of progressive Revelations, nor even as the culmination of one of a series of recurrent prophetic cycles, but rather as marking the last and highest stage in the stupendous evolution of man's collective life on this planet. The emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and culture--all of which must synchronize with the initial stages in the unfoldment of the Golden Age of the Bahá'í Era--should, by their very nature, be regarded, as far as this planetary life is concerned, as the furthermost limits in the organization of human society, though man, as an individual, will, nay must indeed as a result of such a consummation, continue indefinitely to progress and develop.
In the previous quotes by Shoghi Effendi, he said that the Bahá'í Cycle was the "culmination of the centuries-old process of the evolution of humanity," yet he now states that the establishment of a "world civilization and culture" is the "last and highest stage in the stupendous evolution of man's collective life on this planet." In addition, he says that this is the "furthermost limits in the organisation of human society." Thus, when it comes to the level of organization of the planetary life, there seem to be a certain "ceiling-level," and yet, it is clear that the individual can "continue indefinitely to progress and develop."
Earlier it was observed that the various Manifestations of God who, according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, were to arise after the Universal Manifestation, were suppose to come "under His shadow." Shoghi Effendi similarly says that:
After Bahá'u'lláh many Prophets will, no doubt appear, but they will be all under His shadow. Although they may abrogate the laws of the Dispensation, in accordance with the needs and requirements of the age in which they appear, they nevertheless draw their spiritual force from this mighty Revelation. The Faith of Bahá'u'lláh constitutes, indeed, the stage of maturity in the development of mankind. His appearance has released such spiritual forces which will continue to animate, for many long years to come, the world in its development. Whatever progress may be achieved in later ages after the unification of the whole human race is achieved will be but improvements in the machinery of the world. For the machinery itself has already been created by Bahá'u'lláh. The task of continually improving and perfecting this machinery is one which later Prophets will be called upon to achieve. They will move and work within the orbit of the Bahá'í cycle.
In this passage there are a couple of points to consider. First, one may discern that the future revelations within the Bahá'í Cycle will also be "in accordance with the needs and requirements of the age." Secondly, the Bahá'í-religion is clearly associated with the "stage of maturity in the development of mankind." Third, one may recognize that there will also be progress "in the later ages," but that this improvement will be "in the machinery of the world." Thus, although this "machinery" (World Civilization) may be achieved, there will still be the need to improve upon this world order, both on the individual and the collective levels, which suggests that there will be room for progress. This, Shoghi Effendi implies, is the task for the future Manifestations of God to achieve, but still, they are regarded to "move and work within the orbit of the Bahá'í cycle."
From the above cited passages it was possible to observe that Bahá'u'lláh, and the Bahá'í Cycle, clearly are set apart from both; the previous Manifestations of God and the Prophetic Cycle, and the future Manifestations of God who will appear within the Bahá'í Cycle. Thus, Shoghi Effendi exclaims that "Bahá'u'lláh is the greatest Manifestation to yet appear" and that the future Manifestations of God, within the Bahá'í Cycle, will be "under His shadow." Nevertheless, the Bahá'í-authors also clearly maintain, from an esoteric point of view (the station of essential unity), that "No distinction can be made amongst the Prophets in the sense that They all proceed from One Source, and are of One Essence." Their differences are rather seen from an exoteric point of view (station of distinction) that "Their [the Manifestations of God] stations and functions in this world are different."
In order to conclude the sections in the chapter on progressive revelation a final passage by Shoghi Effendi will suffice. This compact passage has previously has been cited in part, and it used here since it not only succinctly summarizes the concept of progressive revelation but, more importantly, contextualizes it with many of the various key terms and concepts surveyed and analyzed above:
The Revelation entrusted by the Almighty Ordainer to Bahá'u'lláh . . . has been endowed with such potentialities as are commensurate with the maturity of the human race--the crowning and most momentous stage in its evolution from infancy to manhood. The successive Founders of all past Religions Who, from time immemorial, have shed, with ever-increasing intensity, the splendor of one common Revelation at the various stages which have marked the advance of mankind towards maturity may thus, in a sense, be regarded as preliminary Manifestations, anticipating and paving the way for the advent of that Day of Days when the whole earth will have fructified and the tree of humanity will have yielded its destined fruit. Incontrovertible as is this truth, its challenging character should never be allowed to obscure the purpose, or distort the principle, underlying the utterances of Bahá'u'lláh--utterances that have established for all time the absolute oneness of all the Prophets, Himself included, whether belonging to the past or to the future. Though the mission of the Prophets preceding Bahá'u'lláh may be viewed in that light, though the measure of Divine Revelation with which each has been entrusted must, as a result of this process of evolution, necessarily differ, their common origin, their essential unity, their identity of purpose, should at no time and under no circumstances be misapprehended or denied. That all the Messengers of God should be regarded as "abiding in the same Tabernacle, soaring in the same Heaven, seated upon the same Throne, uttering the same Speech, and proclaiming the same Faith" must, however much we may extol the measure of Divine Revelation vouchsafed to mankind at this crowning stage of its evolution, remain the unalterable foundation and central tenet of Bahá'í belief. Any variations in the splendor which each of these Manifestations of the Light of God has shed upon the world should be ascribed not to any inherent superiority involved in the essential character of any one of them, but rather to the progressive capacity, the ever-increasing spiritual receptiveness, which mankind, in its progress towards maturity, has invariably manifested.
Below some key terms and concepts of this lengthy passage will be highlighted and enumerated, but in an order which is adopted to the overall structural analysis of this thesis:
Together, these points consider various key terms, metaphors, concepts, structures, and dimensions of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, but especially in their relation to the concept of progressive revelation. Since one of the objectives in this thesis was to both directly, and indirectly, show that this concept was a central principle of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, one can in the above passage notice that Shoghi Effendi states: 1) that "all the Messengers of God should be regarded as" essentially one (esoteric dimension), and 2) that the "measure of Divine Revelation vouchsafed to mankind at this crowning stage of its evolution" differs (exoteric dimension). Consequently, these two dimensions (esoteric/exoteric) are two crucial perspectives to the analysis of the concept of progressive revelation, and taken together they "remain," according to Shoghi Effendi, "the unalterable foundation and central tenet of Bahá'í belief."
This chapter has presented both direct and indirect evidence to support the third hypothesis that progressive revelation is a central concept, principle, or theme, of the Bahá'í-religion and that it consists both of an esoteric (texts of identification) and an exoteric dimension (texts of elaboration). It has further given support to the fourth hypothesis that progressive revelation is an evolutionary concept of Bahá'í-apocalypticism and which interprets various revelations (religions) as essentially interconnected, cyclical, and progressive.
Bahá'í-apocalypticism was operationalized as a system of dimensions of revelations (apocalyptic ideas) where the concept of progressive revelation is seen as a central concept. Bahá'í-apocalypticism included various intimately related areas or dimensions such as, theology, cosmology, and prophetology. In reviewing the area of Bahá'í-theology it was found that God was the source of revelation (S). However, this source was partially concealed to human knowledge (the essence of God), and yet God had created human beings in order to be known and worshipped. This paradox was solved in the area of Bahá'í-cosmology where a dynamic cosmos was seen as a reflection of the attributes of God. The cosmos was in this sense regarded as the instrument of revelation (I). However, the cosmos was also conceived as structured in a spiritual hierarchy with various levels where each kingdom could receive and manifest, according to capacity, the attributes of God. More importantly for the concept of progressive revelation, it was evident in the area of Bahá'í-cosmology that progress was a recurrent and important key term and concept. The evolutionary character of the cosmos was further summarized as: successive, sequential, gradual, teleological, and organic.
Subsequently, it was seen that Bahá'í-cosmology could be divided into two main categories, or means of revelation (M), universal revelation, and specific revelation. It was the latter which was of special interest since the concept of progressive revelation could be classified under this category. One special feature of specific revelation was the concept of the Manifestation of God. This concept was discussed in the area of Bahá'í-prophetology where the nature of the Manifestation of God was investigated, and it was found to be a mediator (M) between God and human beings. Two major stations, or dimensions, where contrasted: the esoteric dimension (the station of essential unity) and the exoteric dimension (the station of distinction). Bahá'í-apocalypticism could be seen as being primarily structured in a vertical axis where the higher levels of this axis are increasingly more esoteric and the lower gradually more exoteric and horizontal (see Appendix I). These dimensions where in turn used as the underlying framework for the next research-question: the concept of progressive revelation.
The concept of progressive revelation was first directly confirmed as a central concept of the Bahá'í-religion. It was later indirectly studied from two major levels: 1) texts of identification, and 2) texts of elaboration. The former studied the esoteric dimensions of the Manifestations of God whereas the latter focused on the exoteric dimensions, e.g.: the rise and fall of a religion; the succession and continuity of religions; differences between the Manifestations of God and the Concept of Progress; and the Cyclical scheme. It was found that religions in general are viewed in a cyclical, evolutionary, and progressive fashion, both on the level of the individual religion as well as between religions. This cyclical scheme was seen in even greater periods such as the Prophetic and Bahá'í Cycles. It was in these contexts were the issues of finality in revelation and the "Seal of the Prophets" were discussed. It was found that these issues were approached from various perspectives, both esoterically and exoterically, and were the latter perspective was dominating. The two major cycles, the Prophetic Cycle and the Bahá'í Cycle, were later compared and it was found that the concept of progress was applicable here as well. The study of the concept of progressive revelation was seen to be oriented in the more horizontal and exoteric dimension, since it was predominately found within the spatial, temporal, and causal realms. Moreover, the various religions were seen as intimately and fundamentally correlated, both in the vertical and esoterical dimensions as well as in the horizontal and exoterical dimensions (See Appendix I and II). The most important point, however, was that the concept of progress could be found on all levels (except theology), from cosmology to prophetology, but especially in the various areas of texts of elaboration (exoteric dimension).
From the systematic and structural analysis made above and the stated summary, it can be concluded that this study has shown that:
As can be seen in the Abbreviations of Sources and Bibliography, this study has been based on a variety of Bahá'í-texts (English originals or translations) from three principal Bahá'í-authors whose lives together span 140 years (1817-1957), and whose collected works have addressed a multitude of different audiences in three different languages (Arabic, Persian, English). It should also be noted that the three authors also wrote (or spoke) in quite different styles and covered a wide variety of subjects. Yet, although the Bahá'í-texts presented in this thesis have been treated as "literary" sources, some of the material has a purely oral origin. This is especially applicable to some of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's sources which are based upon either a series of lectures (e.g., Paris Talks and Promulgation of Universal Peace), or interviews (e.g. Some Answered Questions). Other texts by 'Abdu'l-Bahá were originally written to specific addressees and consists thus of either a single letter (e.g., Tablet to August Forel) or a compilation of letters (e.g. Makátíb-i 'Abdu'l-Bahá). Similarly, some principal texts by Bahá'u'lláh were originally based upon correspondence with single individuals (e.g., Kitáb-i-Íqán), or sent as a proclamation to significant individuals (e.g., The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh to the kings and leaders of the world). Further, it was noted that Shoghi Effendi only wrote one book (God Passes By) and most his works are actually based upon compilations of letters through his correspondence with the international Bahá'í-community (e.g., World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, Promised Day is Come, and Messages to the Bahá'í World). Yet, as the only authorized translator and interpreter of the writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in his time, Shoghi Effendi's contribution and influence on some highly important Bahá'í-texts (e.g., Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and The Hidden Words) should not be underestimated.
With these issues in mind, it is perhaps understandable that the Bahá'í-authors not always present Bahá'í-apocalypticism in a very systematic and structured fashion, but that various subjects are fairly scattered throughout the Bahá'í-texts. The present study has therefore addressed the need to first systematize, structure, and analyze Bahá'í-apocalypticism, whereas the next step will be to view this field in its religious/philosophical and historical contexts.
Furthermore, although the presented material only represents a small fraction of the total amount of original Arabic and Persian Bahá'í-texts, it is still a representative cross-section of the available English sources. It was also stated that one reason for studying the English sources was that they were used as the basis for translations into most languages. Thus, this study has in some instances relied on a number of secondary sources, and this can be seen as a major limitation of this thesis. It is therefore recommended that future research on Bahá'í-apocalypticism directly compares and checks the English translations with the relevant primary Arabic and Persian sources.
Since this study was primarily a structural and ahistorical approach to Bahá'í-apocalypticism, it can be evaluated as a "self-contained" enterprise and which ignored the historical parameters. As such, it may represent an "emic" (internal/religious) perspective of religion (apocalypticism), i.e., it presented the Bahá'í-authors view of their own revelation (religion) in connection with other revelations (religions). Thus, this "emic" perspective may also be labeled as "religious" or "sacred history." This view can in turn be contrasted with the "ethical" (external/scientific) perspective of apocalypticism (religion) which embodies historical, exegetical, anthropological, social etc. perspectives. However, although this study primarily has presented an "emic" perspective of Bahá'í-apocalypticism, it was based upon a scientific approach in that it employed an exegetical method (structural criticism) which systematically analyzed various subjects of Bahá'í-apocalypticism. The next step of this research (the Ph.D. dissertation) will further complement, improve, and increase, the "ethic" perspective in that it will systematically include the religious/philosophical and historical contexts.
Bahá'í Apocalypticism The Vertical Axis
Key terms: Areas: Section:
Transcendental essence unknowable
--------------------------------------- God ---------------------------------- 1. Theology
Manifest attributes, names knowable
Immanent (according to capacity)
Hierarchical (levels, stages) (See Table 2)
Teleological 2. Cosmology
Capacity Macro (all worlds) Micro (human world)
Omnipresent Universal Confined Specific 3. Universal &
Perpetual Revelation Temporal Revelation Specific
Capacity Receptivity Revelation Gradual
Education Laws of Nature Education Manifestations of God
(See Tables 3 & 4)
Nature Capacity Humanity
Progressive Temporal, Spatial, Causal
Cyclical (See Appendix II)
Organic (metaphors and models)
Progressive Revelation The Horizontal Axis
A. The rise and fall of a religion
(solar-model) dawn - noon - sunset night
(seasonal-model) spring summer fall winter
B. The succession and continuity of religions
spring summer fall winter-spring summer fall -winter-spring summer fall winter
Season I Season II Season III
Religion I Religion II Religion III
C. Differences between the Manifestations of God and the Concept of Progress
Religion I Religion II Religion III
D. The cyclical scheme
6000 years 1000 years 500 000 years
Adamic Cycle, Bahá'í Dispensation Bahá'í Cycle, Bahá'í Era, Cycle of Fulfilment
Prophetic Cycle "The Millennium" The Golden Age
Throughout this thesis the themes of progress and decline have occurred in various contexts, especially in the subsection on "The rise and fall of a religion." However, the vigilant reader may have noticed that in some contexts the present age is described as being in a state of decline and yet in the section on "The Bahá'í Cycle and the concept of progress" the present age is described as being an age of progress and evolution, and that humanity is coming of age or reaching a stage of maturity. Furthermore, in the subsection on Prophetology, the Manifestations of God where described as divine physicians whose missions were to heal the ailments of the world, and elsewhere it was stated that they are the cause of progress in the world. It was also in this context that Bahá'u'lláh described the world's sickness as "approaching the stage of utter hopelessness." Moreover, in another context Bahá'u'lláh writes that:
The world's equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind's ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System--the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.
Statements like these appear to be quite contrary to the concept of progress and in the excerpt above it seems that Bahá'u'lláh's "new World Order" or "System" rather is the cause for the disturbance of the "world's equilibrium." Likewise, it was also earlier shown that although the arrival of the Manifestations of God is seen not only a season of "joy, of happiness," but as "the day of judgment, the time of turmoil and distress." Yet, Bahá'u'lláh also attributes the "perversity of the people of this age" to the "denial and opposition" of the people to the subsequent Manifestations of God. This line of reasoning is similar to Shoghi Effendi's discussion on the causes of the decline of religion where there seem to be a mutual interconnectedness between the revelatory and human dimensions.
In contrast to Bahá'u'lláh's statement that the world's "sickness is approaching the stage of utter hopelessness" is the statement below:
The whole earth is now in a state of pregnancy. The day is approaching when it will have yielded its noblest fruits, when from it will have sprung forth the loftiest trees, the most enchanting blossoms, the most heavenly blessings. Immeasurably exalted is the breeze that wafteth from the garment of thy Lord, the Glorified! For lo, it hath breathed its fragrance and made all things new!
Earlier it was seen that humanity as a whole was approaching a stage of maturity and here, along with various organic metaphors, a birth-metaphor is employed. The "whole earth" is here, rather than seen in a state of sickness, being paralleled to "a state of pregnancy" which does suggest a rather radical period of transition to something new. Shoghi Effendi includes the above cited passage in a chapter entitled "Pangs of Death and Birth" and, in conjunction with it, he says that the "darkest hour that must precede the dawn of the Golden Age of our Faith has not yet struck." Shoghi Effendi further comments upon the theme of decline and progress as follows:
Deep as is the gloom that already encircles the world, the afflictive ordeals which that world is to suffer are still in preparation, nor can their blackness be as yet imagined. We stand on the threshold of an age whose convulsions proclaim alike the death-pangs of the old order and the birth-pangs of the new. Through the generating influence of the Faith announced by Bahá'u'lláh this New World Order may be said to have been conceived. We can, at the present moment, experience its stirrings in the womb of a travailing age--an age waiting for the appointed hour at which it can cast its burden and yield its fairest fruit.
The present age is seen was being on the "threshold" between two world orders the "death-pangs of the old order" ("darkest hour") and the "birth-pangs of the new" ("dawn of the Golden Age"). A similar expression is found in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh where he says: "Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead." These and earlier passages by the Bahá'í-authors indicate that the world at present is in a major phase-transition between two major cycles, and Shoghi Effendi also refers to this present age as the "Age of Transition." This age is furthermore represented not only by two opposing world-orders, but also two major concurring processes:
A twofold process, however, can be distinguished, each tending, in its own way and with an accelerated momentum, to bring to a climax the forces that are transforming the face of our planet. The first is essentially an integrating process, while the second is fundamentally disruptive. The former, as it steadily evolves, unfolds a System which may well serve as a pattern for that world polity towards which a strangely-disordered world is continually advancing; while the latter, as its disintegrating influence deepens, tends to tear down, with increasing violence, the antiquated barriers that seek to block humanity's progress towards its destined goal. The constructive process stands associated with the nascent Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, and is the harbinger of the New World Order that Faith must erelong establish. The destructive forces that characterize the other should be identified with a civilization that has refused to answer to the expectation of a new age, and is consequently falling into chaos and decline.
In this passage the above mentioned themes cohere and addresses the apparently contradictory themes of decline and progress. It is interesting to note that both processes are being described as accelerating and that they are reaching a "climax" which will be "transforming the face of our planet." The first process is described as "integrating" and "constructive" whereas the latter is depicted as "disruptive" and "disintegrating." It is interesting to note that the former "steadily evolves," "unfolds" and is related to a "continually advancing" world. These themes, as have been shown, are strongly indicative of a process of progressive revelation. Furthermore, this former process is also connected with the "nascent Faith of Bahá'u'lláh" and the "New World Order." The second process, although portrayed as "destructive," is seen in a positive light in that it tears down the "antiquated barriers that seek to block humanity's progress towards its destined goal." This barrier is hence related to a civilization which has "refused to answer to the expectation of a new age." This last sentence could refer to both: 1) the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh in general, and/or 2) Bahá'u'lláh's letters sent to various religious and political leaders in the 19th century. Consequently, the Bahá'í-authors seem to imply that although a religion or a religious cycle inevitably declines or is completed, peoples' "denial and opposition" or "refusal" of the Manifestations of God, is in some sense, the cause that the world is "falling into chaos and decline."
To conclude, although the general tendency of a single religion, the succession of religions, or the religious cycles is in general progressive, the concept of decline is also an integral part of this process, especially at the end of a religious or prophetic cycle. Thus, decline is a necessary part of the concept of progressive revelation, but humanity is also to some extent responsible for both the process of progress as well as the process of decline.
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