The Unity of Religions in This Century, Jews and the Crucifixion, and the Sacrifice of Ishmael
by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice1990-11-06
BAHÁ'Í WORLD CENTRE
6 November 1990
Dear Bahá'í Friend,
The Universal House of Justice referred to the Research Department your letter of 18 May 1990 with its questions regarding the unity of religions in this century, the Jews and the crucifixion of Christ, and the sacrifice of Ishmael. Your follow-up letter of 26 September 1990 has also been received. The delay in dealing with your letter is regretted, but was occasioned by the amount of research involved and pressure of work at the World Centre.
We are now able to send you the enclosed copy of the memorandum prepared in response and hope that a study of this material will provide the enlightenment you have sought.
With loving Bahá'í greetings,
For Department of the Secretariat
From: The Research Department
Jews and the Crucifixion, and the Sacrifice of Ishmael
In his letter dated 18 May 1990 (and follow-up letter dated 26 September 1990) to the Universal House of Justice, Mr. _ asks a number of questions, to which we respond as follows.
1. In his first question, Mr. _ cites two texts. The first text is from a recorded talk in which 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to the twentieth century:
Praise be to God! the mediaeval ages of darkness have passed away and this century of radiance has dawned, -- this century wherein the reality of things is becoming evident, -- wherein science is penetrating the mysteries of the universe, the oneness of the world of humanity is being established and service to mankind is the paramount motive of all existence. . . .The second text is from a Tablet in which 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to the foundation of the unity of all mankind.
The fourth candle is unity in religion which is the corner-stone of the foundation itself, and which, by the power of God, will be revealed in all its splendor. . . .In light of these quotations and particularly the prophecy regarding all religions being unified in this century, Mr. _ asks: "Assuming this prophecy will come true because it's from the 'unerring pen' of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, why isn't knowledge of this prophecy promoted by the Universal House of Justice?" and "Am I to understand that the Lesser Peace also includes the unity of all religions?"("The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982), p. 39)
The source of the statement regarding the unification of all religions in this century is a talk given by 'Abdu'l-Bahá on 12 October 1912 in San Francisco, and published in "The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by 'Abdu'l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912", 2nd. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982), pages 361-70. In
the published text, which is a transcription of the simultaneous translation of that talk, the words used are "century" and "unified", but the original Persian transcription of this passage of the talk may be more accurately translated as: "The age has come when all the religions will attain universal peace." The Persian word "qarn" of the original transcription has been translated as "century"; however, as in the preceding sentence of the translation, it can also mean "age" or "time", which appear to be more fitting terms in this context. Moreover, the transcription states not that the religions will be united but that they will reach a state of universal peace. The meaning intended by 'Abdu'l-Bahá is given clearly in a preceding passage of this same talk; interpreting Isaiah's prophecy of the lion and the calf abiding in the same pasture, He states:
What does this mean? It means that fierce and contending religions, hostile creeds and divergent beliefs will reconcile and associate, notwithstanding their former hatreds and antagonism. Through the liberalism of human attitude demanded in this radiant century they will blend together in perfect fellowship and love. This is the spirit and meaning of Isaiah's words....2. Mr. _ cites the following passage:
When Christ appeared, twenty centuries ago, although the Jews were eagerly awaiting His Coming, and prayed every day, with tears, saying: "O God, hasten the Revelation of the Messiah," yet when the Sun of Truth dawned, they denied Him and rose against Him with the greatest enmity, and eventually crucified that divine Spirit, the Word of God, and named Him Beelzebub, the evil one, as is recorded in the Gospel....He asks: "How do I respond when a Jew says we are anti-Semitic because we believe the Jews crucified Christ?" He notes that Jews defend Judaism by saying that the Romans, not the Jews, crucified Christ.(J. E. Esslemont, "Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era", 5th rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1987), p. 6)
In responding to such a criticism it would be be helpful to point out that followers -- and the clergy in particular -- of all the religions have opposed the coming of the succeeding Manifestation. The Bahá'í writings point out the crucifixion of Jesus to emphasize not the criminal act itself but the spiritual blindness of a people who rejected the very Messiah they sought, for although the Romans committed the actual act of crucifying Christ, the crucifixion was caused by the rejection of Jesus by the Jews and their accusation of Him before Pontius Pilate. Such spiritual blindness has not been limited to the Jews, but has been witnessed in every Dispensation. Thus, in the following extract
Bahá'u'llah addresses the Jews as the crucifiers of Jesus, and similarly addresses the followers of the Christian, Islamic and Bábí Faiths. It is not the Jews in particular who have failed to recognize the Manifestations of God, but all of humanity throughout the Dispensations of the Prophetic Cycle. It is not the actual crime that is emphasized, but the relationship between the people and the promised Manifestation of God, and not the material aspect of the rejection but its more fundamental spiritual significance.
O Jews! If ye be intent on crucifying once again Jesus, the Spirit of God, put Me to death, for He hath once more, in My person, been made manifest unto you. Deal with Me as ye wish, for I have vowed to lay down My life in the path of God. I will fear no one, though the powers of earth and heaven be leagued against Me. Followers of the Gospel! 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. Do unto Me as ye like, for the deepest longing of Mine heart is to attain the presence of My Best-Beloved in His Kingdom of Glory. Such is the Divine decree, if ye know it. Followers of Muhammad! If it be your wish to riddle with your shafts the breast of Him Who hath caused His Book the Bayán to be sent down unto you, lay hands on Me and persecute Me, for I am His Well-Beloved, the revelation of His own Self, though My name be not His name. I have come in the shadows of the clouds of glory, and am invested by God with invincible sovereignty. He, verily, is the Truth, the Knower of things unseen. I, verily, anticipate from you the treatment ye have accorded unto Him that came before Me. To this all things, verily, witness, if ye be of those who hearken. O people of the Bayán! If ye have resolved to shed the blood of Him Whose coming the Báb hath proclaimed, Whose advent Muhammad hath prophesied, and Whose Revelation Jesus Christ Himself hath announced, behold Me standing, ready and defenseless, before you. Deal with Me after your own desires.It may also be pointed our that the Bahá'í writings, far from condemning the Jewish people, extol their destiny:("Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983), sec. 47, pp. 101-2)
From the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh
The children of Him Who is the Friend of God [Abraham] and heirs of the One Who discoursed with God [Moses], who were accounted the most abject of men, have split the veils asunder, and rent the coverings, and seized the Sealed Wine from the hands of the bounty of Him Who is the Self-Subsisting, and drunk their fill, whilst the detestable Shí'ih divines have remained, until the present time, hesitant and perverse.(Cited in "The Promised Day Is Come" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980), p. 87)
From the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá
Praise be to God that whatsoever hath been announced in the Blessed Tablets unto the Israelites, and the things explicitly written in the letters of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, are all being fulfilled. Some have come to pass; others will be revealed in the future. The Ancient Beauty hath in His Sacred Tablets explicitly written that the day of their abasement is over. His bounty will overshadow them, and this race will day by day progress, and be delivered from its age-long obscuirty and degradation.Mr. _ may also find helpful a careful study of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's talks to the Jewish people during His travels in America, in which He presents numerous and convincing arguments for the Jewish acceptance of Jesus as a Manifestation of God. These talks may be found in "The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by 'Abdu'l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912", pages 361-70, 402-415. Further talks on the Jewish people are found on pages 150-53, 197-203 of the same text.You have asked Me a question with regard to the gathering of the children of Israel in Jerusalem, in accordance with prophecy.(Cited in "The Advent of Divine Justice" (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1984), pp. 55-56)
1. This translation is accompanied by the following note: "According to information received by the National Assembly many years ago, this Tablet was revealed by the Master in the year 1897 to a Jewish community in the Orient."
3. Mr. _ cites the following text:
That which thou hast heard concerning Abraham, the Friend of the All-Merciful, is the truth, and no doubt is there about it. The Voice of God commanded Him to offer up Ishmael as a sacrifice, so that His steadfastness in the Faith of God and His detachment from all else but Him may be demonstrated unto men. The purpose of God, moreover, was to sacrifice him as a ransom for the sins and iniquities of all the peoples of the earth. This same honor, Jesus, the Son of Mary, besought the one true God, exalted be His name and glory, to confer upon Him. For the same reason was Husayn offered up as a sacrifice by Muhammad, the Apostle of God.He asks concerning the sacrifice of Ishmael: "Bahá'u'lláh said it was Ishmael... But again, how do I explain this to the Jews who say it was Isaac?"("Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh", sec. 32, pp. 75-76)
Mr. _ may find the following extracts useful in presenting the Bahá'í view of this subject:
As to the question raised by the Racine Assembly in connection with Bahá'u'lláh's statement in the "Gleanings" concerning the sacrifice of Ishmael: although this statement does not agree with that made in the Bible, Genesis 22:9, the friends should unhesitatingly, and for reasons that are only too obvious, give precedence to the saying of Bahá'u'lláh, which, it should be pointed out, is fully corroborated by the Qur'án, which book is far more authentic than the Bible, including both the New and the Old Testaments. The Bible is not wholly authentic, and in this respect is not to be compared with the Qur'án and should be wholly subordinated to the authentic writings of Bahá'u'lláh....the reference to Ishmael is correct, although it disagrees with the text of the Bible. The Qur'án too corroborates this statement of Bahá'u'lláh, and as this book is more authentic than the Bible, it is obvious that it should be given precedence over the Jewish and Christian Holy Scriptures, which cannot be considered as being wholly authentic.(From a letter dated 28 July 1936 written on bealf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, published in "Bahá'í News", no. 103 (October 1936), p. 1)(From a letter dated 7 March 1938 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)
The Guardian confirms that the record in the Qur'án and in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, that it was Ishmael, and not Isaac as stated in the Old Testament, whom Abraham was to sacrifice, is to be upheld. In one of His Tablets 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to this 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.(From a letter dated 19 July 1981 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)