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Selected Topics of Comparison in Christianity and the Baha'i Faith

by Peter Mazal

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Chapter 2

"The Woman and the Child"

A comparison of archetypal key elements in early Christian and Bábí-Bahá'í History


The underlying premise for my comparing certain key features of Christianity and the Bahá'í Faith is the phenomenon of recurring archetypal events and dramatis personae in each religious dispensation. Such an axiom is based on the notion of 'spiritual forces', being at work in the universe[1], and a spiral concept of history.[2]

In my understanding, the 'return', i.e., the archetypal reccurence of main characters unto the stage of life constitutes one of these 'spiritual forces' operant in the world, and I will focus on this feature in the following chapters.

The first chapter acknowledges the fundamental limitation, due to the lack of sources, which characterizes the comparison of a twothousand year old religion with one that only started last century. However, the phenomenon of 'reconstructing history' is not determined by access to historical information alone. Selective perception is still at play, governed by our worldview and premises. Two problematic and reductionistic perspectives are addressed. The first, a sexist orientation, is briefly touched upon, the second, a materialistic-secular outlook on life is dealt with more extensively.

The second chapter provides a brief overview of the doctrine of 'return' from a Bahá'í perspective.

The third chapter deals with the archetypal appearance of one or more prominent women in each religion, and explores the link between Tahirih, the immortal heroine of the Bábí-Bahá'í Era, and Mary Magdalene who might just as well have been a Christian antecedent of hers.

The fourth chapter argues for the validity of miracles and takes Jesus' virgin birth as a case in point.

The fifth chapter looks into the mysterious source of divine knowledge that all the Prophets claimed to have access to, and which is quite distinct from traditional, acquired knowledge.

The sixth chapter suggests that this capacity of divine knowledge is inherent in these prophetic figures and, consequently, is observable already during their childhood years.

Finally, it is one more time emphasized that a fruitful study of religions, both intrinsically and comparatively, would have to apply an integrative paradigm, enriching the historical critical method and a rationalistic orientation with spiritual principles.

1. Reconstruction of history

For scholars of religion and historians, it has been equally fascinating to try to reconstruct the formation of the early Christian community, as it has proven difficult, due to the lack of written sources and the difficulty of distinguishing fact from fiction from the few sources available. The process of reconstruction becomes even more complex, when one takes the various ideological positions and historic axioms into account, that have stressed and idealized certain features of this original community.

It has been portrayed as pure and holy, following the true teachings of Christ (as opposed to the later process of corruption), and as united and loving, having overcome all ethnic and social differences. It has been regarded as detached and voluntarily poor, sharing all the possessions with each other ("Christian communism"). It has been described as democratic and decentralized (as opposed to the evolving authority and exclusivity of the Catholic Church), but equally as having been under the guidance and leadership of the Apostles (justifying the Papal authority). It has been seen as liberal and favourable towards women (as opposed to the later exclusion and degradation of women), but also as conservative and patriarchal, exhorting women to be submissive and obedient. All these perspectives reveal more about the viewer than the viewed and confirm Gustave Le Bon's dictum of "Reason creates science; sentiments and creeds shape history."

With regards to the history of the Bahá'í Faith, the interested reader finds a wealth of written sources, diaries, biographies, community histories, reports and official documents, much of it authenticated and available for study, much still waiting to be translated into Western languages. There are basically no documents available, describing the development of the early Christian community from an external perspective, whereas the early history of the Babi and Bahá'í Faith has attracted considerable attention from orientalists, diplomats and scholars, as well as from antagonistic proponents.

However, the premise of the subjective reconstruction of history remains valid, in spite of having so many sources available, and still being so close to the time of the events. One of these reductionist approaches to history, in fact to reality as a whole, is based on sexism, on the supposed superiority of men over women. Such a limited perspective naturally pays little attention to the contribution of women to the process of advancing civilization.

Nakhjavání points out how in Nabíl's Dawn-Breakers, an extensive historical narrative about Bábí and early Bahá'í history, most of the Bábí women, who endured the same sufferings as the men, "have no names and Nabíl does not go out of his way to mention them."

She acknowledges the context of nineteenth-century "chauvinistic" Persia, and Nabil's simple background, but omitting, for example, the story of Mulla Husayn's sister, who was given the title "Nightingale of Paradise" by Bahá'u'lláh, is for her "the most damning evidence of our failure, as Bahá'ís, to live according to the ideal of equality." She invites the reader "to reassess what we consider 'significant' in history, to explore the drama from a fresh perspective, with new actors, to marvel at the old story rewritten."[3]

Another premise, commonly accepted by contemporary historians, is a secular approach to history.[4] Concepts deriving from religious doctrine, such as the possibility of divine intervention, and the distinct nature of the founders of religion (being endowed with a preexistent soul, innate knowledge, and supernatural powers) are ruled out categorically. Consequently, any 'miraculous' events and phenomena are denied, ignored, downplayed, or rationalized. A meta-historic perspective, such as Shoghi Effendi provided for the first Bahá'í Century (covering the period from 1844-1944),[5] would not be taken seriously in the academic world, and so it is understandable, yet unfortunate, that also some Bahá'í scholars yield to such a reductionistic paradigm.[6]

It seems to be an archetypal reaction of the learned of each age, in which a Manifestation of God[7] appears, to denounce their claim for divine inspiration and the originality of their writings. The following passage, in which Bahá'u'lláh bemoans the plight of the Báb, could easily refer to Christ or any of the other "Chosen Mouthpieces" as well:
No sooner did He reveal Himself, than all the people rose up against Him. By some He was denounced as one that hath uttered slanders against God, the Almighty, the Ancient of Days. Others regarded Him as a man smitten with madness ...Still others disputed His claim to be the Mouthpiece of God, and stigmatized Him as one who had stolen and used as his the words of the Almighty, who had perverted their meaning, and mingled them with his own.[8]

Modern historians would generally take a more positive stance. They would acknowledge that the founders of religion sincerely believed in their divine mission, that they were extraordinary individuals, with high moral qualities, alert to the needs of their time. They would not, however, accept their "claim to be the Mouthpiece of God", but rather try to sketch their 'development', to analyze the body of knowledge they had access to, the interactions they had had, which would have led them to their 'subjective belief' to be divinely inspired.

The following quote is a good example of such an approach. Amanat tries to identify "traces of Christian influence" in the Báb's Writings, and notices the Báb's "preoccupation with Christ", which he explains with the like-mindedness of the two characters, and the 'role-model' that the personality of Christ must have provided for the Báb.
This preoccupation with Christ was beyond the common Muslim knowledge of the time, which was mainly confined to the Qur'an and other Islamic sources. He must have taken his references directly from the Gospel, the study of which had given him an understanding of revelation and divinity some- what different from that of the Qur'an. No doubt the Báb found the personality of Christ appealing and his message of affection and self-sacrifice in conformity with his own... The idea of Second Coming, once blended with the apocalyptic role assigned to Jesus in Shi'ism, had become a very compelling model for a notion of a savior considerably different from the destructive and vengeful Mahdi of the Shi'ite prophecies.[9]

Amanat further describes the "active role", that the Báb's early believers had played, combining, on their part, "a strong desire to discern the messianic signs", rooted in their background of Islamic (Shaykhi) millenial expectancy, with the Báb's "sincere belief in his own inspiration". Revelation, in other words, as result of an interactive group-work, with the Prophet depending on able disciples, who would help Him to formulate and develop His doctrines.
One can suggest, then, that if Mulla Husayn at that particular moment had not met him in Shiraz, the course of Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad's spiritual development might have taken a very different direction. The role performed by Mulla Husayn and other early believers, who directed this undefined and still unintelligible inspirations of the Báb into the preconceived framework of Shaykhi prophecies, was far greater than is usually attributed to them. The ideas contained in the Báb's writings soon created a theoretical system different from that of Shaykhi or in some instances Shi'ite thought. Yet in practice the early believers elaborated on these ideas, mostly with the benefit of their own Shaykhi outlook.[10]

Cole employs a similar perspective, highlighting the influence of "hundreds of women", who must have contributed to Bahá'u'lláh's thoughts on gender equality.
It is clear that Bahá'u'lláh carried on an extensive correspondence with female believers. Although he was hardly alone among Middle Eastern men in rethinking gender relations in the 1880s, it is remarkable that he did so through correspondence with hundreds of women themselves. Although Bahá'í orthodoxy would insist that in these letters he revealed the truth to them, and so that the relationship was highly unequal, it seems clear that in other areas Bahá'u'lláh was influenced by his followers (he had not wanted to write a book of laws, for instance, but yielded to a flood of requests to do so), and there is no reason to reject out of hand the notion that his reformist ideas about women derived in part from an extensive interaction with them through correspondence.[11]

Space does not permit a detailed analysis of these (and other) passages, which attempt to 'explain' and de-mystify the source of knowledge the Prophets have access to. My purpose was to provide some examples of seemingly 'objective' historical analysis, which nevertheless rests on a priori premises, based on a secular worldview.[12]

It is not the method of critical historical analysis per se that is problematic, but rather the implicit premises of a secular paradigm, which categorically (but rarely expressis verbis) exclude any metaphysical considerations.

Historical analysis, operating within a Bahá'í doctrinal framework, can be a useful, even necessary tool. Lambden highlights the importance of employing this methodology for the sake of studying primary, nineteenth-century Bábí and Bahá'í historical sources.
In studying these sources, it is important to develop an awareness of their frequent hagiographical, apologetical, or polemical orientations and an ability to recognize and understand the function of such levels of thought as meta-historical legend and myth. Failure to acknowledge or to understand such dimensions in the sources can result in an unconscious fundamentalism that will lead both to a distorted presentation of historical facts and an inability to divine the religious message conveyed in these sources... It is thus important that the study of Bábí and Bahá'í doctrine - the universe of religious discourse - go hand in hand with any historical analysis. The precritical nature of a good many of the sources demands this methodological orientation.[13]

I agree in principle. What is necessary though, is a careful evaluation of the underlying premises, and the eventual integration of scientific and religious axioms.[14] Historical analysis should not be used to "cast the Faith into a mould, which is essentially foreign to its nature, taking no account of the spiritual forces, which Bahá'ís see as its foundation."[15] And Bahá'í scholars are warned not to fall "into the trap of distorting the picture by adopting what is, in essence, a materialistic and localized stance."[16]

2. Aspects of a spiritual paradigm

The doctrine of 'return' [17]

One aspect of this 'spiritual foundation', that can be fruitfully employed in a historic comparison, is the doctrine of 'return', not to be confused with the belief in 'reincarnation'.
The Bahá'í view of "reincarnation" is essentially different from the Hindu conception. The Bahá'ís believe in the return of the attributes and qualities, but maintain that the essence or the reality of things cannot be made to return. Every being keeps its own individuality, but some of his qualities can be transmitted.[18]

The last sentence of this quote deserves special attention. It suggests that some kind of personal connection between individual souls could be assumed, as opposed to a strictly impersonal reccurence of qualities and attributes. Such a personal linkage was alluded to by Báb, with regards to his main disciples, the 'Letters of the Living', being the 'return' of the holy figures of the Islamic dispensation.[19]

Bahá'u'lláh broadens this concept by affirming that, with the coming of each founder of religion, both faithful followers and opponents 'return'. The early believers "can be regarded, in name, in reality, in deeds, in words, and in rank, as the 'return' of those who in a former Dispensation had achieved similar distinctions",[20] while "those people of wickedness were the self-same people who in every age opposed and caviled at the Prophets and Messengers of God, till they finally caused them all to suffer martyrdom."[21]

Obviously, not all the Prophets and Messengers of God have suffered martyrdom in the literal sense of the word. Hence, it can be inferred from Bahá'u'lláh's statement, that the archetypal reccurence of central religious themes is not necessarily an exact re-enactment of "established 'roles' in the dispensational drama."[22] Rather, we can witness "a recurrence of certain patterns in human behaviour",[23] different events, with the same spiritual message to divine.[24]

Momen, in comparing the lives of the founders of six world religions, has highlighted several such archetypal patterns. An initiatory event signals the start of their ministry, often followed by a period of seclusion and spiritual preparation. Then they first gather a small group of disciples whom they teach, before they start to preach in public and declare openly their mission (including announcements to religious and political rulers). The gradual development of their teachings, first perceived as to reinvigorate the old religion, leads eventually to a decisive break with the past traditions, and a clash with the established priesthood. Such (external) opposition often causes 'migration' (having to wander around, or even being exiled), and there is also internal opposition, out of jealousy or envy. Finally, all of them promise the coming of a future, eschatological figure, and a 'Golden Age'.[25]

Momen's comparisons constitute a first summary of such 'archetypal patterns', based on dispersed statements in the Bahá'í primary writings, and invites further research.[26]
Among the themes that Momen suggests for further exploration, is "the presence of a prominent woman in each religious dispensation and the role that she plays in supporting either the prophet himself or his followers after the prophet's death."[27]

3. Archetypal Images of an Ideal Woman

Every religion tells the tale of an outstanding woman. Such prominent women who, according to Shoghi Effendi, "in the course of successive Dispensations, have towered, by reason of their intrinsic merits and unique position, above the rank and file of their sex,"[28] include Sarah, Asiyih, the Virgin Mary, Fatimih, Tahirih and Bahiyyih Khanum.

Most of the time, it is qualities like love, compassion, and support, which distinguish and characterize these figures. Sarah was a life-long and faithful wife and companion to Abraham. Asiyih, the daughter of the Pharaoh, saved Moses' life and raised him like a mother. Jesus' mother was completely devoted to her son, although there is reason to believe that she was not fully aware of his ministry. Fatimih is described as faithful daughter of Muhammad, and loving wife to Ali. Bahiyyih Khanum served and supported selflessly her father Bahá'u'lláh, her brother 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and her nephew Shoghi Effendi who paid following tribute to her:
Banishing from her mind and heart every earthly attachment, renouncing the very idea of matrimony, she, standing resolutely by the side of a Brother whom she was to aid and serve so well, arose to dedicate her life to the service of her Father's glorious Cause. Whether in the management of the affairs of His Household in which she excelled, or in the social relationships which she so assiduously cultivated in order to shield both Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá, whether in the unfailing attention she paid to the every day needs of her Father, or in the traits of generosity, of affability and kindness, which she manifested, the Greatest Holy Leaf had by that time abundantly demonstrated her worthiness to rank as one of the noblest figures intimately associated with the life-long work of Bahá'u'lláh.[29]

Tahirih, the immortal heroine of the Bábí Faith, certainly "presents a startling contrast to the former models."[30] She continually opposed her father in theological questions, she left her husband (and children), when he failed to support her on her spiritual quest, and she challenged both Muslims and fellow Babis with her radical and uncompromising way of proclaiming the new Faith.

The most famous incident of such a challenge is certainly the legendary scene at the Conference of Badasht in 1848, when Tahirih appeared unveiled in front of the assemblage, announcing the inauguration of a new dispensation. Shoghi Effendi has vividly described this scene and the reactions she caused among her fellow believers.
Fear, anger, bewilderment, swept their inmost souls, and stunned their faculties. 'Abdu'l-Khaliq-i- Isfahani, aghast and deranged at such a sight, cut his throat with his own hands. Spattered with blood, and frantic with excitement, he fled away from her face. A few, abandoning their companions, renounced their Faith. Others stood mute and transfixed before her. Still others must have recalled with throbbing hearts the Islamic tradition foreshadowing the appearance of Fatimih herself unveiled while crossing the Bridge (Sirat) on the promised Day of Judgment. Quddus, mute with rage, seemed to be only waiting for the moment when he could strike her down with the sword he happened to be then holding in his hand.

Undeterred, unruffled, exultant with joy, Tahirih arose, and, without the least premeditation and in a language strikingly resembling that of the Qur'an, delivered a fervid and eloquent appeal to the remnant of the assembly, ending it with this bold assertion: "I am the Word which the Qa'im is to utter, the Word which shall put to flight the chiefs and nobles of the earth!" Thereupon, she invited them to embrace each other and celebrate so great an occasion. [31]

Contrary to popular Bahá'í belief, this was not the only time that Tahirih unveiled herself publicly. It seems that sometimes, when she wanted to make a special point, to raise the 'Clarion call' so to speak, she would unveil, in order to increase the dramatic effect of her message.
During the month of Muharram, 1847, while Shiite Muslims donned mourning clothes to commemorate the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn, Tahirih deliberately excited their reaction by dressing in gay colors and appeared unveiled. She urged the Bábís to celebrate the Báb's birthday, which fell on the first day of that month.[32]

Other events are similarly less known among non-Persian Bahá'ís. Following scene took place during the 1848 conference, mentioned above.
At one time when Quddus was rapt in his devotions, Tahirih rushed out of her tent brandishing a sword. "Now is not the time for prayers and prostrations," she declared, "rather on to the field of love and sacrifice!"[33]

Tahirih's fervour calls Joan of Arc's heroism to mind, her religious fervour and compassionate belief in being guided aright - a parallel that has not gone unnoticed. 34

Less known, generally, are also Tahirih's leadership qualities. Her arrival in Karbila, 1843, and the influential position she soon acquired within the Shaykhi community, remain unexplored in Western accounts. Legendary, as Tahirih has become among Bahá'ís worldwide, these accounts toned her down considerably, as Maneck observes.[35]

The paradigmatic ideal, which Tahirih presents, stresses qualities like courage, assertiveness, passionate devotion to a higher ideal, intelligence, and eloquence. Traditional 'female' qualities, such as gentleness, submissiveness and devotion to family, are absent. 'Abdu'l-Bahá challenges the cliché, which would regard the qualities mentioned above, as typically 'male'.
Often in history women have been the pride of humanity - for example, Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was the glory of mankind. Mary Magdalene, Asiyih, daughter of Pharaoh, Sarah, wife of Abraham, and innumerable others have glorified the human race by their excellences. In this day there are women among the Bahá'ís who far outshine men. They are wise, talented, well-informed, progressive, most intelligent and the light of men. They surpass men in courage. When they speak in meetings, the men listen with great respect. [36]

It is interesting to note that the qualities 'Abdu'l-Bahá lists above, describing the virtues of contemporary Bahá'í women, relate to Tahirih's personality the best, as the following description of hers shows.
She discomfited the learned men of Persia by her brilliancy and fervor. When she entered a meeting, even the learned were silent. She was so well versed in philosophy and science that those in her presence always considered and consulted her first. Her courage was unparalleled; she faced her enemies fearlessly until she was killed.[37]

But Tahirih is not mentioned in this summary of outstanding women.[38] Who then provides the best historical example that 'Abdu'l-Bahá may have had in mind, for qualities such as being well educated, courageous, and eloquent?
It is now that we turn our attention to Mary Magdalene, a woman who 'Abdu'l-Bahá, seemingly in passing, has included in this list. This must have been startling for a Christian audience, to hear the name of the 'fallen woman' mentioned alongside with the revered "Mother of God."[39]

What was her special role, her contribution to humanity, seemingly forgotten and ignored, that 'Abdu'l-Bahá was alluding to? What are the object lessons that we can learn from her, and are there archetypal parallels to Tahirih (and, quite likely, to other outstanding women in religious history), waiting for us to be uncovered?

A survey of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's writings and talks makes clear that the reference to Mary Magdalene was no coincidence, no singular occurence. On at least eight other occasions he draws on her example to make a specific point.[40]
Again, it is well established in history that where woman has not participated in human affairs the outcomes have never attained a state of completion and perfection. On the other hand, every influential undertaking of the human world wherein woman has been a participant has attained importance. This is historically true and beyond disproof even in religion. Jesus Christ had twelve disciples and among His followers a woman known as Mary Magdalene. Judas Iscariot had become a traitor and hypocrite, and after the crucifixion the remaining eleven disciples were wavering and undecided. It is certain from the evidence of the Gospels that the one who comforted them and reestablished their faith was Mary Magdalene.[41]

The role of Mary Magdalene to confirm the Apostles in their faith, is the recurrent theme in most of the passages. In the passage above, this act is being placed into a larger context, the need for men and women to complement each other, in order to achieve the best results.
Just as physical accomplishment is complete with two hands, so man and woman, the two parts of the social body, must be perfect. It is not natural that either should remain undeveloped; and until both are perfected, the happiness of the human world will not be realized.[42]

'Abdu'l-Bahá then links the issue of equality and education to the question of peace, and asserts that "universal peace is impossible without universal suffrage." He predicts,
So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it. [43]

This prophetic outlook evokes images of the scene again, when Mary entered 'confidently and capably' the assemblage of the disciples, meeting them on 'equal grounds', and hindered them from giving in into their fears and doubts. She 'participated fully and equally in the affairs' of the early community, and played a crucial role in overcoming the temporary crisis. Her success was not only due to her eloquence and steadfastness, but also to the power of her own exemplary actions, as following passage suggests.
At the time of the ascension of the Spirit (Jesus Christ), the company of those who accepted the new Revelation numbered no more than a few souls. So intense was the alarm and perturbation to which that event gave rise that, for a time, these souls were quite overcome by their agitation and confusion. Then, a few days later, a woman by the name of Mary Magdalene arose, and, by her own example, instilled into them a constancy and firmness which enabled them to arise for the propagation of the Word of God (emphasis added).[44]

Here 'Abdu'l-Bahá portrays Mary as a courageous woman, venturing out into a hostile and dangerous environment, firmly determined to fulfill her mission and propagate the Cause of God. By doing so, she provided a role-model for the fearful and inhibited group, which had gone into hiding. The parallels to Tahirih, in terms of courage, determination and leadership qualities, cannot be overlooked.

The suggested link between Mary Magdalene and Tahirih becomes even stronger, when one looks at following passage in yet another of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's talks:
After the martyrdom of Christ, to Whom be glory, the disciples were greatly disturbed and disheartened. Even Peter had denied Christ and tried to shun Him. It was a woman, Mary Magdalene, who confirmed the wavering disciples in their faith, saying, "Was it the body of Christ or the reality of Christ that ye have seen crucified? Surely it was His body. His reality is everlasting and eternal; it hath neither beginning nor ending. Therefore, why are ye perplexed and discouraged? Christ always spoke of His being crucified." Mary Magdalene was a mere villager, a peasant woman; yet she became the means of consolation and confirmation to the disciples of Christ. In the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh there have been women who were superior to men in illumination, intellect, divine virtues and devotion to God. Among them was Qurratu'l-'Ayn. When she spoke, she was listened to reverently by the most learned men. They were most respectful in her presence, and none dared to contradict her. Among the Bahá'í women in Persia today there are Ruhu'llah and others who are gifted with knowledge, invincible steadfastness, courage, virtue and power of will. They are superior to men and well-known throughout Persia. [45]

Knowledge, steadfastness, courage, virtue and will power - these attributes, according to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, characterize contemporary Persian Bahá'í women who emulate the example of Tahirih. These assertions have been confirmed by anthropologist Judith Goldstein, who did field work on the various religious communities of Yazd, central Iran, between 1973-5. She observed how Bahá'í women would participate in religious discussions "in a manner quite different from the style of more traditional women's conversation...The Bahá'í women's active stance is expressed in eloquence." Goldstein also reports that the model for these self-confident and articulate women is Tahirih.[46]

Equality of the sexes, education, and peace were interdependent and central themes on 'Abdu'l-Bahá's agenda for his Western, mostly Christian audiences. It seems that by drawing repeatedly on Mary Magdalene's example, and establishing a link to Tahirih and her influence in the East, 'Abdu'l-Bahá is suggesting to adopt Christ's leading female disciple as a role model in the West and to explore and exploit the potentialities this paradigm has to offer.

'Abdu'l-Bahá's eulogies form a strange contrast to the attempts of Christian theologians, to downplay the importance of Mary Magdalene's role and influence among the early disciples. At worst, she was denounced as a mad woman, "out of whom he [Christ] had cast seven devils" (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2), and at best, she was mythologized as "remorseful sinner", which became a popular topos in Christian mysticism.

A good example would be Schenke's analysis of the period, following the death of Christ. He challenges the "complete breakdown" of the Apostle's morale (and therefore, sees no need to address the role of Mary Magdalene in strengthening their faith). He also completely ignores the apparitions of Christ, the women have had (see Mark 16:9-11, Matthew 28:9-10, John 20:14-18), and starts with the 'first' vision of Peter (according to 1 Cor. 15:4-5), dismissing the Gospel accounts as "later constructs with apologetical tendencies" (my translation).[47]

Kraft has a similar view but tries to be more diplomatic. He makes a distinction between the first apparitions at the empty grave and the ones before the apostles and believers, which Paul lists.[48] Since the apostles had all left Jerusalem (according to Kraft's reading of Mark 14:50, and Matthew 26:56)[49], the women's role was to act as witnesses for the empty grave, and to "provide the initial testimony of the realization of Jesus' resurrection."[50] What Kraft subtly implies here, and later explicitly suggests, is that the apparitions in front of the women were irrelevant for the gathering of the dispersed believers and the formation of the early community. This was the task and achievement of Peter, which he undertook, after Christ appeared to him 'first'.

Kraft goes to great lenghts, to 'prove' that the apostles had all left Jerusalem. This would indeed solve the dilemma, which has puzzled many theologians - why would Jesus reveal Himself to the women first, and not to the Apostles? Also, given that the disciples had all left, the embarrassing situation of women having had to comfort and confirm the men, would not have to be addressed (as Schenke and Kraft demonstrate). Unfortunately, the gospels are quite explicit about the role that the women played and the evidence that the disciples had not left Jerusalem is quite strong.[51]

Kraft's attempts to devalue these accounts remain less than convincing. Finally, he urges the reader not to deviate from Paul's list, which provides 'the oldest and most reliable historical account', suggesting, in effect, to give preference to Paul over the accounts in three of the Gospels.

Conzelmann sympathizes with the view that a second community (or group of communities) of early Christians existed in Galilee (above all, in Kapernaum). This would resolve the contradictions between the various gospel accounts, concerning the place of the first apparitions of Christ. He further challenges the (common) view that the Galilee apparitions are the older, more authentic ones. Why would the disciples have returned to Jerusalem, if Galilee was the "land of the experience of salvation?"[52]
He is concerned with many more details and ambiguities, but bypasses completely the issues mentioned above, involving the women in general, and Mary Magdalene in particular.

Schillebeeckx, in contrast to the more conservative theologians discussed above, gives sufficient credit to the role of the female disciples. He affirms that historically, the women have obviously first spread the news of the resurrected Jesus. He defends Paul's list as representing the official self-understanding of the church, to base their belief on the apostolic testimony. He rejects the notion of anti-feminism, pointing out that also the account of the two Emmaus disciples has only been accepted after Peter's testimony (and is not included in the list). In other words, he differentiates between official and lay experiences of theophanies, the latter ones still having their "legitimate place in the biblical report, which is not at all being concealed in the New Testament." And he concludes with quite a remarkable concession (compared to the silentium above): "At the contrary: Also on the basis of these women's experiences, the cause of Jesus seems to have been set in motion."[53]

Schillebeeckx puts more emphasis on the subjective experience of theophany and suggests that the disciples, at a turning point and orientating themselves anew, sensed Christ to be alive (a realization, which would not be essentially different from one that we could arrive at). This "life experience", he argues, "has been articulated in eschatological language." In this context, he concedes that Mary Magdalene may have played an important role (a consideration, which comes close to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's point of view).
Perhaps Mary Magdalene played a role, unknown to us, helping to convince the disciples that the new orientation in life, which this Jesus has caused in her life, has not become meaningless through Jesus' death, quite the opposite. In these accounts of socalled private apparitions - accounts of very intimate, personal religious experiences - the community recognizes their own experience.[54]

Stressing the inner experience of the resurrection, Schillebeeckx critizes the "crude and naïve realism", with which Jesus' apparitions have been seen and understood later on. Nevertheless, miraculous events form an intrinsic part of religious history. Often, such phenomena are explained as being expressions of mythology rather than historical facts. But sometimes, in addition to their inner, symbolic meaning, such phenomena do have an outer, material manifestation.[55]

4. Aspects of a spiritual paradigm The acceptance of 'miracles'

A prime example of such a 'miraculous event' would be the birth of Jesus. Not many scholars would be found nowadays, who would accept the doctrine of the 'virgin birth' as historical. The occurrence of a 'virgin birth' has been a widespread concept, and a sign for divinity, in the antique world, and the assumption, that Christianity had laid claim to, and adapted such a popular notion, seems quite plausible.[56]

However, that a certain 'miraculous' event resembles the mythological concepts of other cultures, is not automatically a proof for its own ahistorical origin. We can equally assume that some myths contain a historical kernel, lost in the mists of the past. Other myths again, may have had a symblic origin altogether, destined to convey a spiritual rather than a historical message.
In the case of Christ's virgin birth, its authenticity has been confirmed in both the Quran and the Bahá'í Writings.[57]

The line of argument differs substantially though, from the various myths of the past and the subsequent deification of Christ. Rather than a proof of divinity, it was a "grievous test" for the people, to recognize such a divinity in someone, "Who was known amongst the people as fatherless".[58]

Primarily, it must have been a "grievous test" for Mary, who "bitterly regretted she had ever been born", anticipating "the cavilings of the infidel and perverse"[59], and for Joseph, who, "being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily."[60] He was persuaded by a dream though, not to do that. Consequently, he accepted the legal fatherhood, and the couple, already having been engaged, got married.[61] It is only logical, to assume that the newly-weds would have tried to conceal this embarrassing episode as much as possible, and it seems, successfully.[62]

Early Christians paid little attention to the virgin birth, let alone regarded it as a proof of Christ's divinity. It is neither mentioned in the gospels of Mark and John, nor in the Acts of the Apostles, and it does not play a role in the theology of Paul. The Codex Syrus Sinaiticus[63] even mentions explicitely Joseph as being the father of Jesus.[64] It was only during the third and forth century, that this concept came to play an important role, because of divergent views and ongoing disputes over the nature of Christ, and the evolving doctrine of Trinity.[65]

To find themselves "in entire agreement with the most orthodox church views"[66], seems to have posed a challenge not only to modern scholars and critical Christians, but also to many early (Western) Bahá'ís.

'Abdu'l-Bahá's Some Answered Questions had been published as early as in 1908,[67] and Bahá'u'lláh's Kitab-i-Iqan was available in English in 1931. Nevertheless, Shoghi Effendi had to repeatedly clarify and emphasize the Bahá'í position regarding the Virgin Birth.

In 1935, he refutes as heretical the notion that Jesus might have been born illegitimately, and provides an extensive and convincing argument for the plausibility of miracles. His reasoning is particularly
interesting and instructive, with regards to reconciling the axioms of a spiritual paradigm with a rationalistic framework.
It would be sacrilege for a Bahá'í to believe that the parents of Jesus were illegally married and that the latter was consequently of an illegal union. Such a possibility cannot be even conceived by a believer who recognizes the high station of Mary and the Divine Prophethood of Jesus Christ. It is this same false accusation which the people of His Day attributed to Mary that Bahá'u'lláh indirectly repudiated in the Iqan. The only alternative therefore is to admit that the birth of Jesus has been miraculous. The operation of miracles is not necessarily irrational or illogical. It does by no means constitute a limitation of the Omnipotence of God. The belief in the possibilities of miracles, on the contrary, implies that God's power is beyond any limitation whatsoever. For it is only logical to believe that the Creator, Who is the sole Author of all the laws operating in the universe, is above them and can, therefore, if He deems it necessary, alter them at His Own Will. We, as humans, cannot possibly attempt to read His Mind, and to fully grasp His Wisdom. Mystery is therefore an inseparable part of true religion, and as such, should be recognized by the believers.[68]

Three years later, he wrote again to an individual, who was apparently not satisfied or convinced with the initial response he got. This letter is strongly worded, which may have been a reaction to the insistence of the questioner.
Again with regard to your question relative to the birth of Jesus: He wishes me to inform you that there is nothing further he can add to the explanation he gave you in his previous communication regarding this point. One thing, however, he wishes again to bring to your attention, namely that miracles are always possible, even though they do not constitute a regular channel whereby God reveals His power to mankind. To reject miracles on the ground that they imply a breach of the laws of nature is a very shallow, well-nigh a stupid argument, inasmuch as God Who is the Author of the universe can, in His Wisdom and Omnipotence, bring any change, no matter how temporary, in the operation of the laws which He Himself has created.[69]

It is not stupid, to believe in miracles. It is stupid, not to believe in them. Apart from the refreshing polemics, this quote provides one more time the premise, outlined above, that a scholar with a
'spiritual foundation' would adhere to.

Finally, in a lenghty and weighty epistle to the American believers, Shoghi Effendi summarizes the Christian doctrines, which are in unison with Bahá'í beliefs:
As to the position of Christianity, let it be stated without any hesitation or equivocation that its divine origin is unconditionally acknowledged, that the Sonship and Divinity of Jesus Christ are fearlessly asserted, that the divine inspiration of the Gospel is fully recognized, that the reality of the mystery of the Immaculacy of the Virgin Mary is confessed, and the primacy of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, is upheld and defended.[70]

Even though such a dramatic incidence has not occurred during His Dispensation, as in the case of Moses, killing an Egyptian, or Jesus, being an allegedly illegitimate child - linked by Bahá'u'lláh, suggesting yet another archetypal plot - people would have reacted similarly as in the past. This, at least, is Bahá'u'lláh's dire prediction.[71]

5. Aspects of a spiritual paradigm - Intuitive and inspirational knowledge

Every Manifestation of God claims to be the channel for divine knowledge and grace, and to propagate the Will of God for their day and age.

I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.[72] I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.[73]
This is the Dayspring of Divine knowledge, if ye be of them that understand, and the Dawning-place of God's commandments, if ye be of those who comprehend.[74]

... the breezes of the All-Glorious were wafted over Me, and taught Me the knowledge of all that hath been. This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and > All-Knowing.[75]
Many Messengers of God stressed the fact that their wisdom and knowledge of the world was not aquired by traditional means of studying. We know that many of them were raised in simple conditions, having been exposed only to basic education.

Bahá'u'lláh, in a letter to the Shah of Persia, assured him: "The learning current amongst men I studied not; their schools I entered not. Ask of the city wherein I dwelt, that thou mayest be well assured that I am not of them who speak falsely."[76]

Bahá'u'lláh alludes to a kind of "intuitive" knowledge, when He relates the visit of a delegate of a congregation of clerics, "who, when attaining Our presence, questioned Us concerning certain sciences, and whom We answered by virtue of the knowledge We inherently possess."[77]

On another occasion, He alludes again to this mysterious power, of having full and direct access to any kind of information, He may wish to quote from or refer to.
Thou knowest full well that We perused not the books which men possess and We acquired not the learning current amongst them, and yet whenever We desire to quote the sayings of the learned and of the wise, presently there will appear before the face of thy Lord in the form of a tablet all that which hath appeared in the world and is revealed in the Holy Books and Scriptures.[78]

Similarly as Christ, the Báb only received basic education and was trained in the profession of His family.
God beareth Me witness, I was not a man of learning, for I was trained as a merchant. In the year sixty[79] God graciously infused my soul with the conclusive evidences and weighty knowledge which characterize Him Who is the Testimony of God - may peace be upon Him - until finally in that year I proclaimed God's hidden Cause and unveiled its well-guarded Pillar, in such wise that no one could refute it.[80]

Such mystic ways of receiving knowledge only play a marginal role, according to the worldview of secular historians. They would focus on the rational learning process, and would examine the different schools of thought that the Prophet had access to, and must have been influenced by.

In the case of the Báb, Amanat did a thorough research of all the sources that the young merchant of Shiraz did know or might have known. Concluding, he describes the learning process of the Báb as an ordinary, "unsystematic" accumulation of knowledge, and is confident that this is what the Báb meant by "unlearned knowledge." Amanat notices critically that "weaknesses of presentation and the handicaps of a still maturing mind are often detectable", but, taking into account the "brief time span" and the "random opportunity" for the Báb "to study, memorize, and contemplate", he admits that "his accomplishments are impressive".[81]

The category of mystic intuition, of divinly-received knowledge, so characteristic for the origin of religion, has no place in contemporary history and social science. Back in 1941, Sorokin
emphatically emphasized the major role of this phenomenon for the progress of civilization.
All great religions are founded by mystics endowed with the charismatic gift of mystic experience... And mystic experience, which reveals the truth of faith, has little, if anything to do with ordinary cognition attained through the sense organs or rational discourse. Without mystic intuition, mankind could hardly have possessed any religion worthy of the name. Since religion in general, and the world religions in particular, constitute one of the foremost achievements of human culture, they testify to the significance of the role played by intuition - especially by mystic intuition - in the history of human thought and civilization.[82]

Based on a crude and reductionistic, essentially materialistic view, of human nature, however, human interactions and achievements are interpreted accordingly, in a degrading manner.
A legion of contemporary psychoanalytical and 'scientific' biographers, debunk and debase every personage - no matter how exalted - of whom they treat. Everybody and everything they touch - God, as well as noble men and achievements - is mockingly interpreted as something passive, commonplace, abnormal or pathological, impelled by prosaic, egotistical and, for the most part, physiological drives...Piety is identified with ignorance and superstition; moral integrity, with hypocrisy; signal achievements, with mere luck; and so forth.[83]

6. Early childhood episodes in the lives of the Prophets

Archetypal expressions of intuitive wisdom and the question of 'embellishment'

If we take the notion of 'inherent knowledge' seriously, then it is not surprising that this 'miraculous wisdom' should reveal itself already early on in the lives of the Prophets. Such early childhood incidents, which can be found in the various religious traditions, seem to be yet another archetypal feature in the history of religion.

By the time Mirza Husayn-Ali [Bahá'u'lláh] was fourteen, Balyuzi writes,
His rare understanding, His complete mastery of argument, and His unparalleled powers of exposition were remarked in all circles. Yet He was never assertive nor argumentative; rather, always courteous and patient. Only one thing aroused His ire, and that was any disrespectful reference to the Messengers of God and His Chosen Ones. Even then He would admonish the offender with kindliness and calm.[84]

Balyuzi then relates several incidents of Bahá'u'lláh's youth, which highlight His wisdom and insights.
In one of them, Bahá'u'lláh was visiting a distant relative, a famous mujtahid (Doctor of Law), who "had a thousand scholars of divinity around him, whom he taught and, from time to time, presented with a complex question to resolve."[85] The mujtahid had asked his students to explain an Islamic tradition, which states that 'Fatimih is the best of women of this world, but for the one born of Mary.' None of the scholars could provide a satisfactory answer, and Bahá'u'lláh was asked to resolve this puzzle.
Bahá'u'lláh replied that the initial statement emphasized the impossibility of its alternative, since there could be no other woman comparable to Fatimih. It was like saying that a certain monarch is the greatest of the kings of this world, except for the one who comes down from heaven; since no king has or will come down from Heaven, the uniqueness of that one monarch is stressed.[86]

It is then reported how the mujtahid kept silent, but scolded his students later, disappointed, that an "unturbaned youth" could outdo them.

In the case of Jesus, only one such incident is reported in the Bible, where the extraordinary wisdom of twelve-year old Jesus astonishes the teachers in the Temple.[87] Other such episodes, especially the so-called Alpha-Beta-Logion, can be found in apocryphal writings.[88]

The central plot of the Alpha-Beta-Logion, contained in stories about the young Jesus and various teachers in Nazareth, goes like that: "The master attempts to teach Jesus the alphabet. But, he cannot get beyond the first two letters, for Jesus demands that he explain the meaning of the letter Alpha. In most versions, he himself then expounds the mystic meaning of the alphabet."[89]

Lambden compares and analyzes the similarities between these stories, adapted versions in Islamic sources, and various accounts of the Báb's first day in school. The parallels are indeed remarkable, and so he concludes that "[i]t is doubtless these Muslim transformations of the Christian story that have contributed to both the form and the content of the stories of the Báb's first day at school."[90]

The second reason, indicating "the fundamentally nonhistorical nature of these stories",[91] lies in their "discrepancies", which Lambden observes. Since the existence of these 'discrepancies' play a major role in Lambden's argument, it is necessary to take a close look at the four narratives in question.[92]

The first two narratives are both attributed to the Báb's teacher, a certain Shaykh Abid. They are indeed only "loosely parallel", as Lambden observes. However, the second report seems to describe the events of "one day" at school, not the "first day". This could be deduced from the Báb's uncle reaction, to whose shop the bewildered teacher brings the child, and who rebukes his nephew "sternly", because He did not follow his instructions, to be silent, and listen attentively, as all the other pupils would do.

Such a 'stern rebuke' suggests a series of similar episodes, rather than a one-time event. And indeed, such incidents happened more often than once, as the teacher himself testifies. "No discipline could repress the flow of His intuitive knowledge. Day after day He continued to manifest such remarkable evidences of superhuman wisdom as I am powerless to recount."[93]

We can therefore exclude the second account from the comparison. Its 'discrepancies' can be resolved as different details of another incident.[94]

The third narrative is attributed to the assistant of the teacher, and describes the opening scene of the first day. The Báb's uncle had accompanied his nephew to school, sat next to the teacher, and the Báb was asked to recite a certain verse. Inspite of the teacher's persistence, the Báb remained silent for a long time, until He finally challenges the teacher with relating the verse ("He is the Opener, the All-Knowing") to Himself. The teacher is understandably upset and threatens to punish him, the uncle gives some kind advice and leaves.

The fourth narrative, related by a fellow pupil, describes the same opening scene, during which the Báb remained silent for a prolonged time. Only his two neighbours, at one point, could hear how the Báb recited quietly a couplet from Hafez, which obviously refers to His own situation, feeling like a bird, entrapped in the "snare" of the narrow earthly sphere.[95]
"That is your answer", the Báb had told his neighbour.[96]97 We don't know the question to this answer, but
it might have been the same as the teacher's one, wondering why the Báb would not comply with his request to recite certain verses. Captured birds don't sing.

With some good will, we can reconcile the third and the fourth account, arguing that they may have taken place synchronously. Two different perspectives are presented - the one of the teacher (and his assistant), being faced with the Báb's silence - and the one of the fellow pupils, overhearing the Báb's lowly muttered couplet.

We could also integrate the first account into the first day scenario, since it took place later during the day (the story opens with the teacher returning from some business, and overhearing the Báb reciting the Quran).

These observations do not devalue Lambden's point - that there is often an element of embellishment and historical inaccuracy in such anecdotes.[98] And I completely agree with his concluding remarks, which clearly aim at reconciling a religious with an academic perspective.
That certain narratives in well-known Bábí-Bahá'í sources can be shown to be essentially legendary or meta-historical does not mean that they become less meaningful for the Bahá'í believer. They may, in fact, become more meaningful, and less historically problematic. The modern scholarly recognition that the Gospels are not exactly concrete historical narratives does not make them spiritually meaningless for the mature Christian believer.99

This reasoning resembles very much the approach 'Abdu'l-Bahá took towards the Bible, with regards to its textual and historical inaccuracies. He regarded them as being secondary as opposed to the primary spiritual meaning they convey.
When Abdu'l-Bahá states we believe what is in the Bible, He means in substance. Not that we believe every word of it to be taken literally or that every word is the authentic saying of the Prophet.[100]

In one of His Tablets 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to this [the Ishmael/Isaac] discrepancy, and explains that, from a spiritual point of view, it is irrelevant which son was involved. The essential part of the story is that Abraham was willing to obey God's command to sacrifice His son. Thus, although the account in the Torah is inaccurate in detail, it is true in substance.[101]

This is a classic example of what is called theologumenon in Christian theology. That term refers to any subject, which does not address a normative interpretation of truth, and cannot be verified historically, either. The dispute of Jesus' birthplace (Bethlehem vs. Nazareth) would be another such theologumenon.[102]


Traditionally, hagiography has always been concerned with the spiritual message of a story, paying little attention to historic accuracy. And so it is not surprising, to find many details, both in the Old and New Testament, which are inaccurate and contradictory. The attempts of theologians, motivated by a literal understanding of the Bible, to 'explain' and reconcile such inconsistencies, have often created more contradictions, which then later scholars tried to solve, and so forth.[103]

Modern historical accounts, on the other hand, are often obsessed with details, and completely disregard the 'essential part of the story'. To balance these two aspects, to reconcile these two polarities, will be one of the challenges for a new scientific-religious synthesis.[104] The development, the conditions, and implications of such a synthesis are currently much debated.[105]

Only the future will show how "bottom-up science" and "top-down religion"[106], or, as far as history is concerned, a spiritual and critical-historical perspective, will be satisfactorily integrated.


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(1989-90): 39-54.
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Nabíl-i-Azam. The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Revelation.
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--- The Light of Divine Guidance. The Messages from the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith to the Bahá'ís of
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Author Refer System), Version 2.0. Crimson Publ., 1997.
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[1] see note 15.
[2] A spiral concept combines the cyclical notion of history repeating itself with the linear model of history ever-advancing, in the sense that recurrent themes happen on a higher, more complex level.
[3] Bahíyyih Nakhjavání, Asking Questions, pp. 126-33.
[4] The term "secular" is used interchangeably with the term "materialistic", referring to a philosophy, which excludes or ignores spiritual concepts, as are mentioned above.
[5] Shoghi Effendi, after describing the fate of the rulers, who received (and largely chose to ignore) messages of Bahá'u'lláh, provides further examples of divine intervention: "The conversion of the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies, as well as the Chinese empire, into republics; the strange fate that has, more recently, been pursuing the sovereigns of Holland, of Norway, of Greece, of Yugoslavia and of Albania now living in exile; the virtual abdication of the authority exercised by the kings of Denmark, of Belgium, of Bulgaria, of Rumania and of Italy; the apprehension with which their fellow sovereigns must be viewing the convulsions that have seized so many thrones; the shame and acts of violence which, in some instances, have darkened the annals of the reigns of certain monarchs in both the East and the West, and still more recently the sudden downfall of the Founder of the newly established dynasty in Persia - these are yet further instances of the infliction of the "Divine Chastisement" foreshadowed by Bahá'u'lláh ... and show forth the divine reality of the arraignment pronounced by Him against the rulers of the earth." (God Passes By, pp. 227-8).
[6] The Universal House of Justice has expressed its concern over this development in several letters (see "A Compilation of Bahá'í Writings on Scholarship", in The Bahá'í Studies Review, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 103-41.
[7] The term "Manifestation of God" is used interchangeably with the term "founder of religion", and "Messenger of God", as all of them manifested divine attributes and proclaimed the Divine Will (logos) for their respective age.
[8] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, pp. 145-6.
[9] Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, p. 198.
[10] Ibid., p. 174.
[11] Juan Cole, Modernity and the Millenium, p. 178.
[12] The underlying premise of aquired vs. intuitive and inspirational knowledge will be discussed later.
[13] Stephen Lambden, "An Episode in the Childhood of the Báb", in Peter Smith, ed., Studies in Bábí & Bahá'í History: In Iran. Vol. 3, p. 20.
[14] This point will be discussed later in more detail.
[15] The Universal House of Justice, quoted in "A Compilation of Bahá'í Writings on Scholarship", in The Bahá'í Studies Review, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 138.
[16] Ibid., p. 139.
[17] The terms "integral", "holistic", and "spiritual paradigm" are used interchangeably throughout this paper. Many thinkers have analyzed the "crisis of our age"(Sorokin), the "turning point" (Capra) towards a New Age, which will be characterized by globalisation (from universal currency to universal ethics), and by a shift of consciousness. This social and spiritual evolution will integrate the polar view of science and religion (and other polarities) into a holistic framework.
[18] Shoghi Effendi, Dawn of a New Day, p. 201.For the concept of 'return', see Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan, pp. 148-198; Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 183-7; 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, chapters 33 (The 'Return' spoken of by the Prophets) and 81 (Reincarnation).
[19] The eighteen disciples represent "the fourteen Infallibles - the Prophet Muhammad, the twelve Imams, and Fatima - plus the four Archangels." Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, p. 191.
[20] Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 159.
[21] Ibid., p. 151.
[22] Peter Smith, The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, p. 43.
[23] Bahíyyih Nakhjavání, Asking Questions, p. 125.
[24] In the case of the 'pattern' of sacrifice, Shoghi Effendi puts the death of Bahá'u'lláh's son, Mirza Mihdi, in the same rank with " those great acts of atonement associated with Abraham's intended sacrifice of His son, with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn" (God Passes By, p. 188). On the other hand, Bahá'u'lláh's own life, full of sufferings, has a similar redemptive function as the crucification of Christ. " Whoso will reflect upon the tribulations We have suffered, his soul will assuredly melt away with sorrow. . . . We have sustained the weight of all calamities to sanctify you from all earthly corruption, and ye are yet indifferent." (Gleanings, p. 307).That a sacrificial life can be equated with a martyr's death, is shown in the fact, that Shoghi Effendi designated several distinguished Bahá'ís as 'martyrs', although they all died a natural death. (See Messages to America pp. 3; 39-40; Light of Divine Guidance Vol.1, p. 263).
[25] Moojan Momen, "Bahá'u'lláh's prophetology: archetypal patterns in the lives of the founders of world religions", in The Bahá'í Studies Review, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1995), pp. 51-63.
[26] Shoghi Effendi provides many of these examples in God Passes By. He compares and links the various images of the 'initiatory event' (p. 101), and of the eschatological expectations (p. 94). He talks about internal opposition (and broadens the concept of 'Antichrist' (p. 164), and external opposition (pp. 121, 174). He also provides a condensed and compelling comparison of the ministry and sacrifice of Christ and the Báb, "a parallel which no student of comparative religion can fail to perceive or ignore." (pp. 56-57).
[27] Momen, p. 60.
[28] Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 75.
[29] Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'í Administration, p. 189.
[30] Susan Maneck, Tahirih: A Religious Paradigm of Womanhood, in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, Vol. 2, Number 2, p. 40.
[31] Shoghi Effendi. God Passes By, pp. 32-33.
[32] Amanat Resurrection and Renewal, p. 305, quoted by Maneck, Tahirih, p. 44.
[33] H. Noghabai. Tahirih, p. 60, quoted by Maneck, Tahirih, p. 46.
34" 'The Persian Joan of Arc, the leader of emancipation for women of the Orient ...' thus was she acclaimed by a noted playwright whom Sarah Bernhardt had specifically requested to write a dramatized version of her life." Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 76.
[35] Maneck lists as examples Tahirih's leadership with the Shaykhi community of Karbala, and the scene disturbing Quddus' devotions. She suspects that "the tendency of Bahá'ís to minimize the militant aspects of the Bábí religion in keeping with their present-day political quietism" may be partly responsible for this (p. 52).
[36] 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 174-5.
[37] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 74-5.
[38] However, her link to these women is clearly established. The statement above seems to have provided the reference for Shoghi Effendi, when he writes about Tahirih: "Little wonder that Abdu'l-Bahá should have joined her name to those of Sarah, of Asiyih, of the Virgin Mary and of Fatimih, who, in the course of successive Dispensations, have towered, by reason of their intrinsic merits and unique position, above the rank and file of their sex." Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 75.Later on, Bahiyyih Khanum, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's sister is included for the Bahá'í Era (p. 347). (ctd.) I regard this list as being descriptive rather than dogmatic-exclusive. It would make little sense to argue that Bahiyyih Khanum enjoys a higher position than, for example, Navvab, the wife of Bahá'u'lláh, or that Mary Magdalene (included in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's list) plays a less important role in supporting the Cause of Christ than Jesus' mother. In other words, the superlative description of the women mentioned above still leaves room for other central female figures whose characteristics may indeed complement each other.
[39] For Christian perspectives on Mary Magdalene, see below (pp. 10-11).
[40] In four of his talks in America (not counting the statement above), 'Abdu'l-Bahá referred to Mary Magdalene (Promulgation, pp. 134, 282, 395, 421). In his writings (as far as they are available in English), we find four more references (Selections, pp. 105, 123; Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 40; Crisis and Victory, p. 5).
[41] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 134.
[42] Ibid., p. 134.
[43] Ibid., p. 135.
[44] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Crisis and Victory, p. 5.
[45] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 282-3.
[46] Judith Goldstein, "Interwoven Identities: Religious Communities in Yazd, Iran." Diss. Princeton University, 1978, p. 227.Quoted by Maneck, Tahirih, p. 52.
[47] Ludger Schenke, Die Urgemeinde, pp. 13-18.
[48] 1 Cor. 15:3-8.
[49] Mark and Matthew only mention the flight of the disciples from the scene of Jesus' imprisonment, i.e., the Garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives. They may just as well have fled into Jerusalem and remained in hiding there (as Luke and John suggest).
[50] Heinrich Kraft, Die Entstehung des Christentums, p. 207 (my translation).
[51] See Acts 1:4, where Jesus "commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem."
[52] Hans Conzelmann, Geschichte des Urchristentums, p. 29 (my translation).
[53] Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus. Die Geschichte von einem Lebenden, pp. 305-6 (my translation).
[54] Ibid., p. 306 (my translation).
[55] See, for example, Kitab-i-Iqan, pp. 62-3, for Bahá'u'lláh's discourse on the symbolic and material meaning of "stars".
[56] Such a myth existed in Egypt, Babylon, India, Persia, and Greece. Especially the religion of Isis offers striking parallels to Christianity. Isis, the 'virgin mother' of Horus, was revered as 'mother of God' (gr.:'theotokos'). Origines, a third century Egyptian (!) theologian, was the first who claimed this title for the mother of Christ. This designation became popular throughout the Christian Empire, until it was officially sanctioned at the Council of Ephesus (431). Little wonder, that many scholars have suggested a direct influence. (For further details, see Deschner, Abermals kraehte der Hahn, pp. 360-372.)
[57] See Quran, Surah 19; Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan, pp. 56-57; 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, chapter 17.
[58] Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 57. Bahá'u'lláh likens the severity and function of this 'grievous test' to the incident, when Moses killed an Egyptian.
[59] Ibid., p. 56.
[60] Matthew 1:19.
[61] It can only be concluded by implication, that Joseph accepted legal fatherhood for Jesus. Otherwise, Mary would have been liable to be put to death (by stoning), according to the Jewish Law concerning adultery. To take this legal statement as an admission of his guilt (of having been the illegitimate father), as some scholars have done, remains speculation.
[62] In public, Mary referred to Joseph as Jesus' father (see Luke 2:48). During the ministry of Christ, i.e., 30 years later, this issue was not being raised by any of Christ's opponents, in order to refute His message. On the contrary, Joseph was commonly perceived to be Jesus' father (see Matthew 13:55, John 6:42, Luke 3:23, 4:22).
[63] The Syrian version of the Gospel, rediscovered only several decades ago.
[64] In the genealogy of Jesus, according to Matthew 1:16. This has been identified as "misunderstanding", based on translation, but it could equally had reflected the belief of the early Syrian Christians. Likewise, Judeo-Christians rejected the belief in a virgin birth until the third century.
[65] The different concepts of the nature of Christ will be discussed in a subsequent paper (chapter).
[66] "What science calls a virgin birth we do not associate with that of Jesus Christ, which we believe to have been a miracle and a sign of His Prophethood. In this matter we are in entire agreement with the most orthodox church views." Shoghi Effendi, High Endeavors, p. 70.
[67] This refers to the British edition; the first US edition was published in 1918.
[68] From a letter of the Guardian to an individual believer, October 1, 1935: Canadian Bahá'í News, February 1968, p. 11, quoted in in Lights of Guidance, p. 491, cit. 1641.
[69] From a letter dated February 27, 1938 written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, quoted in Lights of Guidance, p. 490, cit. 1638.
[70] Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 109. Further letters can be found in the same section of Lights of Guidance, where the two previous quotes come from.
[71] "And now, take heed, O brother! If such things be revealed in this Dispensation, and such incidents come to pass, at the present time, what would the people do? I swear by Him Who is the true Educator of mankind and the Revealer of the Word of God that the people would instantly and unquestionably pronounce Him an infidel and would sentence Him to death... Were a myriad voices to be raised, no ear would listen if We said that upon a fatherless Child hath been conferred the mission of Prophethood, or that a murderer hath brought from the flame of the burning Bush the message of "Verily, verily, I am God!" Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 58.
[72] John 8:28.
[73] John 5:30. See also John 14:24, 15:15 a.o.
[74] Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 87.
[75] Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 11.
[76] Ibid.
[77] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 131.
[78] Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 149.
[79] 1260 A.H., i.e., 1844 C.E.
[80] Báb, Selections from the Báb, p. 12.
[81] Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, p. 146.
[82] Sorokin, The Crisis of OurAge, p. 92.
[83] Ibid., p. 100.
[84] H. M. Balyuzi, Bahá'u'lláh, the King of Glory, p. 21.
[85] Ibid., p. 21.
[86] Ibid., p. 22.
[87] Luke 2:41-50.
[88] Most prominently, in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.
[89] Brian McNeil, quoted by Stephen Lambden, "An Episode in the Childhood of the Báb." In Peter Smith, ed., Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History: In Iran. Vol. 3, pp. 12-3.
[90] Ibid., p. 13.
[91] Ibid., p. 8.
[92] For reasons of brevity, only a condensed version and the conclusion of a textual analysis can be provided here.
[93] Ibid., p. 4 (see also Nabíl's Narrative, p. 52).
[94] According to the first report, the teacher had delivered the Báb at home, at His grandmother's. Lambden explains this 'discrepancy' with the "confusion surrounding the date of the Báb's father's death and who thereafter took care of him." (p. 18)
[95] "From the pinnacles of the Throne they whistle down to thee; How is it that in this snare thou now entrapped be?"
[96] Ibid., pp. 7-8.
[98] Lambden has undoubtedly knowledge of and access to many more descriptions, which could prove their fundamental incompatibility, and thus historical inaccuracy. Based on my reading of the four accounts presented, the historical kernel of the Báb's first day in school is still quite recognizable.
99 Ibid., n. 38, pp. 30-1.
[100] From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer and cited on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, March 13, 1986 in a letter to a believer, in Lights of Guidance, p. 495.
[101] Universal House of Justice, from a letter to an individual believer, July 19, 1981, quoted in Michael Sours, Understanding Christian Beliefs, p. 56.
[102] See Schillebeeckx, Jesus, p. 656.
[103] The following example is also illuminating in terms of 'reconstructing history', and concerns the appariations of Christ. There are inconsistencies in terms of who saw Christ first (see note 27), but also in terms of where He appeared to the apostles. According to Mark and Matthew, in Galilee, according to Luke and John, in Jerusalem (John 21 relates another apparition in Galilee, but it is commonly accepted among Bible scholars, that this 'epilogue' is a later addition). In Luke, the disciples are exhorted not to leave Jerusalem until they would be "endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49), which excludes an encounter in Galilee. The attempts of 'reconstructing history' existed in inventing a locale named 'Galilee' near Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives - Galiläa auf dem Ölberg (Hoffmann, 1896), Das Galiläa bei Jerusalem (Resch, 1910) - attempts, which were passed over in silence later on. Scholars then contended, whether it was Mark or Luke, who made a mistake. (For more details, see Karlheinz Deschner, Abermals krähte der Hahn, pp. 98-113.)
[104] For a discussion of such a synthesis, see Robert Barry, A Theory of Almost Everything, pp. 111-23.See also Mark Foster, "Suggestions for Bahá'í Hermeneutics". Foster builds on Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA (non-overlapping magistera) principle, and argues that religion and science, "though complementary, are not really separate." He explores the interdependencies of a "Structural Dialectics Paradigm", based on the Bahá'í principle of "Unity in Diversity".
[105] For discussions among Bahá'í scholars, see various recent contributions (June/July 1999) on Bahá'í-Studies List (accessible on the Internet at
[106] Foster, "Suggestions for Bahá'í Hermeneutics", p. 4.
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