Dating the Kitáb-i-Íqán: An excerpt from Symbol and Secret
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Dating the Kitáb-i-Íqán: An excerpt from Symbol and Secret
by Christopher Buck

Los Angeles: Kalimát Press, 1995; pages 7-12


      Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 to 1957, produced what became the standard translation of the Book of Certitude. Ideally, a translator should also be an authority on the text. Thus we look to Shoghi Effendi's pronouncements, as the logical starting point for dating the text in question. As to the date of revelation, Shoghi Effendi has fixed 1278 A.H. on internal grounds. In a letter written in the early years of his leadership, the Guardian initially had given 1861 as the year. Because the year 1278 A.H. converts to 1861-62, Shoghi Effendi presumably did not have any more specific data at his disposal at that time. Later, he quite definitely designated the year as 1862.

      Shoghi Effendi also is quite definite about the fact that the Book of Certitude was revealed in two days and two nights. The Báb's unconverted maternal uncle, Hájí Mírzá Sayyid Muhammad, at the urging of his Bábí relative Mírzá Aqay-i Nasiru'd-Din, had submitted certain questions to Bahá'u'lláh, but had not much time to receive his answers. In Khánidan-i Afnán, the Persian biography of the Afnán family (the relatives of the Báb), Hájí Mírzá Sayyid Muhammad states that Bahá'u'lláh completed the Íqán within two days of having received the questions submitted to him. This is confirmed in the unpublished memoirs of Aqay-i Nuru'd-Din.

      Originally it had been thought that the text was revealed in one night. Based on information obtained from Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl Gulpaygani, in the preface to his first English translation of the Book of Certitude, Alí-Kuli Khán states:

      "According to the prevailing opinion of the Bahá'ís, it was written in one night by the Supreme Pen [Bahá'u'lláh]. It is certain that Persian pilgrims to the holy sanctuaries in Irak do not stop in Baghdad more than one day. Even if Hájí-Seyd-Mohammed, as an exception to this custom, had remained in Baghdad a longer time, it is not probable that he could have attained to the presence of Bahá Ulláh more than two or three times. The Seyd submitted his questions through Hájí-Seyd-Jawad of Karbilá, to whom Bahá Ulláh had sent this message, "Let the maternal uncle of the Báb write down his questions; We will then write an answer to each." This strengthens the opinion of the rapidity of the Book."

It appears that the pilgrim returned with the original in hand, and this was kept in the family of the Báb's uncle until 1948, when it was presented to the Guardian.

      It is remarkable that a work of this size (some 200 pages in Persian) should have been revealed and copied within so short a time. Both reports, of the one-day and two-day periods of revelation, are reconcilable if the text was revealed within the first twenty-four hours and transcribed from "revelation writing" (khatt-i tanzil), now lost, within the next day and night. A further possibility has been raised by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice. In its Memorandum dated 22 January 1995, the Research Department writes:

      "Aside from the statements of the Guardian, on page 138 of God Passes By, we have located no other historical evidence of the span of time in which the book was revealed. It is interesting to note that Shoghi Effendi says only that the book was revealed within the space of two days and nights. The question of when a copy was made is not addressed. At the top of the same page, the Guardian states that "the unrecorded verses that streamed from His lips averaged, in a single day and night, the equivalent of the Qur'an!" Bahá'u'lláh Himself testifies to this phenomenon. See, for instance, His description in the Lawh-i Nasir in Majmu'ih (Cairo: 1920) p. 175."

      On the 1278 A.H./1861-62 C.E. date of composition, Browne (writing in 1889) at one point concurred, giving a literal translation of the internal evidence from the Book of Certitude itself:

      "One thousand two hundred and seventy-eight years have passed since the Manifestation of the 'Point of the Furkan' (i.e. Muhammad, who is so called in correspondence with the title "Point of the Beyan" applied to the Báb), and all these worthless wretches have read the Qur'an every morning, and have not yet attained to a single letter of the purport thereof."

      Browne reminds us that although "the Báb is very fond of dating not from the hijra, but from the bi'sat (mission) of Muhammad, which he places ten years earlier," no compelling reason requires that Bahá'u'lláh, though at the time a Bábí, followed the Báb's system of dating. (Had Bahá'u'lláh followed the Báb's method of reckoning, the reference to 1,278 years would have converted to 1268 A.H.) Furthermore, Browne concludes, judging from the two references to Baghdad in the text itself, that 1278 A.H., and not 1268 A.H. (when Bahá'u'lláh was in Tehran), is intended. In 1892, Browne revised his dating based on other internal grounds, complicating the problem somewhat.

      Browne notes that Bahá'u'lláh chose to return from exile when, "the order to return emanated from the source of command". In the sentences immediately following in the Persian text, Bahá'u'lláh states, "What pen can recount the things We beheld upon Our return! Two years have elapsed during which Our enemies have ceaselessly and assiduously contrived to exterminate Us, whereunto all witness."26 Browne understood the reference to "two years" as the period immediately following Bahá'u'lláh's return in 1856 from a self-imposed exile in the mountains of Kurdistan.

      But it seems that Browne's reading may be mistaken. According to Nosrat M. Hosseini, the presence of the adverb "now" (hal) in the Persian text clearly identifies the present. Bahá'u'lláh evidently is referring to machinations against him which had been ongoing for the past two years from the time of writing. This is probably a reference to the schemes of Sayyid Muhammad lsfahani, Bahá's mortal enemy.

      In an apparent preference for Browne's revised determination, MacEoin now favors the year circa 1858 over 1861-62, such that Browne's argument is still maintained in some current scholarship. Browne reasoned:

      "[A]II the writings wherein Beha [Bahá'u'lláh] clearly advances a claim to supremacy, contain internal evidence to prove that they were not written before the Adrianople period. The Ikan, which is the only one of Beha's works certainly known to have been written in Baghdad, contains no declaration of such a claim ... Now, according to Nabíl's poem (stanza 6), Beha returned to Baghdad from his two years' retirement at the age of forty, i.e. in A.H. 1272-3 (A.D. 1856), so that the Ikan must have been concluded ... in A.D. 1858."

      However, the return from exile is, at best, a past event, a terminus a quo (another of which may be the citation of Arabic Hidden Word No. 62, included without quotation formula in the Book of Certitude itself).

      There is, however, one further piece of internal evidence which corroborates — I think conclusively — the 1278 date. In speaking of the persecution of the Bábís, Bahá'u'lláh draws an interesting comparison, and contrast, to the martyrdom of Imám Husayn:

      "Were not the happenings of the life of the "Prince of Martyrs" regarded as the greatest of all events, as the supreme evidence of his truth? Did not the people of old declare those happenings to be unprecedented? Did they not maintain that no manifestation of truth ever evinced such constancy, such conspicuous glory? And yet, that episode of his life, commencing as it did in the morning, was brought to a close by the middle of the same day, whereas, these holy lights have, for eighteen years, heroically endured the showers of afflictions which, from every side, have rained upon them."

      The reference to eighteen years squares with the explicit mention of 1278, as the declaration of the Báb (and thereafter the Bábí movement) took place in 1260 A.H./1844 C.E. Amanat states: "All the sources agree with the Báb [Bayán II, 7, 301 that it was on the night of 5 Jumada al-Ula 1260/22 May 1844 that Mullá Husayn fully accepted Sayyid 'Alí Muhammad's claim" to babiyya (Gatehood). This date should have been a matter of general knowledge among the Bábís, irrespective of when formal use of the Badí' calendar commenced among them and among Bahá'ís thereafter. (The Badí' calendar of 19 months of 19 days each, with intervening intercalary days to complete the solar year, was established by the Báb in the Kitáb al-Asma', and was later ratified, with minor changes, by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i Aqdas, which stated that it should begin with the Báb's declaration.)"

      There is no question that Bahá'u'lláh had in mind the year 1260 A.H., as references to the apocalyptic significance of that date occur elsewhere in the Kitáb-i Íqán, as well as an 34 explicit reference to the Báb's declaration in the year 1260. By simple calculation, 22 May 1844, plus eighteen solar years equals 22 May 1862. But Bahá'u'lláh was not referring to solar years. For lunar years, the rule of thumb is that a lunar year is around eleven days shorter than the solar year. To approximate dating, we shall take Bahá'u'lláh literally and exclude the possibility of his having rounded up. Disregarding leap years, let us subtract 198 days (11 days x 18 years), from 22 May 1862. This yields early November 1861, give or take a few days. Only if Bahá'u'lláh meant a period of time well over eighteen years, does a dating some time in 1862 become likely. For this reason, the more conservative dating for the revelation of the Book of Certitude would be 1278 A.H., equivalent to 1861-62 C.E.

      The date of revelation of the Book of Certitude is, I think, established as 1278 A.H. on fairly straightforward and explicit internal grounds. But conversion to the Gregorian calendar is not so precise. The official Bahá'í date, though at one time 1861 C.E., is now 1862 C.E. To err on the side of caution, until specific justification for 1862 comes to light, a more conservative estimate of 1861-62 is to be preferred for purposes of academic investigation. Apart from intrinsic interest over the date of the text itself, its fixed place within an overall time frame goes far toward situating the Book of Certitude within Bahá'u'lláh's developing messianic self-consciousness.

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