Notes by Michael Sours:
One student wrote:
I could not even begin to guess why Bahá'u'lláh wrote this epistle, but it
seems that He set the record straight of what happened at the time by the
followers and the enemies of the faith and then showed how great Gods
This is certainly true. I would like to add a little to this by looking at
Mary's question in the context of the period and events leading up to 1891.
At the time the Epistle was written, the distinction between Bábís and
Bahá'ís was not well known or understood. But there was a great distinction
between the Bábís of the 1850s and the Bahá'í community created by
Bahá'u'lláh. That distinction was because of Bahá'u'lláh's transformative
power and the Epistle to the Shaykh was written to point out this great
The religious and civil leaders in Persia thought of Bábís as a heretical
sect that caused a series of violent uprising and even attempted to assassin
ate the Sháh. The Bábís were seen not just as heretics but as a seditious
group dangerous to the kingdom. When Bahá'u'lláh wrote the Epistle to Shaykh
Muhammad Taqi He was writing a powerful religious leader who viewed Bábís in
that way. In the 1890s persecution of the Bábís (now mostly Bahá'ís) is still
occurring partly on the pretext of what had happened in the early years (esp.
1848-1852). Forty years had passed and Bahá'u'lláh's earthly ministry was at
its end. He recalls the violent events of 1848 and 1852 and openly, in this
Epistle, argues that He has taught the believers to give up fighting, even in
self-defense, and to be loyal subjects of the Sháh's government. He cites
examples of martyrs to prove that the Bahá'ís are not using force to resist
persecution. He argues that since the last four decades demonstrate the
effects of His reforms and the true nature of His teachings, the Sháh — and
this is His request - -should now show mercy on the Bahá'ís (p. 89).
Shoghi Effendi writes that in the Epistle Bahá'u'lláh "calls upon that
rapacious priest [Shaykh Muhammad Taqi] to repent of his acts, quotes some of
the most characteristic and celebrated passages of His own writings, and
adduces proofs establishing the validity of His Cause." (GPB 219) All of
these points are inter-related. His call to the Shaykh to repent is mostly in
the first 17 pages, but implicit throughout. He wants the Shaykh to stop
persecuting the Bahá'ís, to become worthy of his profession as a clergyman,
to help Persia by working to stop religious intolerance and violence, and to
even convene a gathering of clergymen to examine Bahá'u'lláh's writings and
help distribute His Tablets to the monarchs of the world (p. 59).
Shoghi Effendi's words that Bahá'u'lláh "adduces proofs establishing the
validity of His Cause" (GPB 219) is the kernel of the reason the Epistle was
written. This process of establishing the validity of His Cause involves
vindicating it from specific charges. I counted five main charges — conspiracy
to assassinate the Sháh, dissimulation, heresy, material ambition, and
sedition. The defense evidence He uses consist mainly of His teachings and
the conduct of Himself and the believers between 1852 and the1890s (p. 86).
In some cases He restates His ethical and spiritual teachings as He makes His
arguments, but to a large degree He quotes earlier writings. I believe He
chose to quote these writings because they were extant works that could be
dated and used as evidence. That is, they are evidence of what He had been
teaching — proof that He did not teach sedition or any opposition to the Sháh
or Islam. One of the reasons He choose the Tablets to the Kings as source
material may be to refute the charge of dissimulation, since these Tablets
show just how openly He proclaimed His messianic claims as well as His
teachings (p. 87), and because these contain certain prophecies that show how
profoundly He saw the changes taking place in the world (pp. 148-9).
The purpose of the Epistle doesn't seem to be to create a representative
anthology of all His main teachings. The characteristic and celebrated
passages quoted appear to be selected on the basis of the specific charges
brought against Him and against the Bahá'í community. For example,
Bahá'u'lláh quotes three Akká period works on pages 23-7 which show that He
forbids contention, sedition, and holy war and teaches honesty, piety, and
the importance of learning beneficial professions. These quotes appear
following His review of the case involving the assassination attempt on the
Sháh and are intended to demonstrate that He is opposed to such seditious
acts. He forbids sedition and teaches His followers to engage in such things
as are useful to the prosperity of the State.
Despite the fact that the Epistle's original purpose and content are so
strongly governed by the context of the period and the tragic early events
that so seriously damaged the reputation of the community, the message in the
Epistle is timeless and very relevant to us today. For me, its message of
non-violent spiritual activism and universalism, as well as its glimpses into
both the humanity and divinity of Bahá'u'lláh, make it a very vital texts for
both contemplating contemporary issues as well as Bahá'í identity and faith.
Another student asked:
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said: "Beware of false prophets, which
come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
(Matthew 7:15) Isn't it interesting how Bahá'u'lláh could so eloquently use
the same metaphor that Jesus used, showing us, if nothing else, that the
Manifestations of God and their followers have suffered the same kinds of
opposition and persecution. I would be interested to know the similar
reference from the Hebrew prophets
There are two Hebrew Prophets who use the term. The pre-exile Prophet
Zephaniah writes in His third chapter of the corruption of Jerusalem, saying,
"Woe to her who is rebellious and polluted, To the oppressing city! She has
not obeyed His voice, She has not received correction; She has not trusted in
the LORD, She has not drawn near to her God. Her princes in her midst are
roaring lions; Her judges are evening wolves (Zeph 3:1-3). Similarly, in the
Book of Ezekiel, the exile Prophet Ezekiel, in his twenty-second chapter
speaks out against the sins of Jerusalem and Israel's corrupt leaders, saying
"Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to
destroy people, and to get dishonest gain." (Ezek. 22:27)
Concerning Jesus' warning, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in
sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves," this primarily
refers to "prophets" in the sense of those who prophesy in the church, rather
than those who make messianic claims. (see Matthew 7:14-16, and Matt. 12:33;
Luke 6:43-45) The term "prophet" has three basic biblical meanings: (l)
Messianic Prophets like Christ and Moses; (2) Prophets who upheld the
teachings promulgated by Moses, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others;
and (3) individuals who simply had what was known as the "gift of prophecy,"
what Bahá'ís today might think of as seers or visionary. That is, in a narrow
sense, the term "prophet" can be defined as simply one who speaks
prophetically. This appears to be Paul's meaning when he ranks prophets below
the Apostles of Christ (1 Cor. 12:28). Paul here means, Apostles in the sense
of Jesus' appointed disciples. In Islam the term Apostle is applied to
Prophets like Muhammad and Jesus, and while it fits (meaning one "sent forth"
by God) such usage is uncommon to Christian thought. All the
religions — Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Bahá'í Faith — have
differences in how they use such terminology and it helps to understand this
when having discussions. Jesus' warning seems to be similar to that of the
Hebrew Prophets who spoke out against such "prophets" among the people who
claims that God was speaking to them or that certain things would happen.
Elsewhere Jesus says "Behold, I send you [Christians] out as sheep in the
midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves."
(Matthew 10:15-17; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-17) And "Go your way; behold, I
send you out as lambs among wolves." (Luke 10:2-4)
Also St Paul gives this warning, which we find in Luke's history of the
early days, the Book of Acts, "For I know this, that after my departure
savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock." (Acts
20:28-30). This warning concerns "wolves" among the Christian community and
we can observe in the early writings of the Church Fathers that they
understood this warning as well as Jesus' warning about false prophets to
refer to corrupt persons within the Church. One of the first of the Church
fathers, St Justin the Martyr, for example, in his famous "Dialogue with
Trypho" writes (in reply to the objections of Trypho about the teachings
purported by some Christians): "The fact that there are such men confessing
themselves to be Christians, and admitting the crucified Jesus to be both
Lord and Christ, yet not teaching His doctrines, but those of the spirits of
error, causes us who are disciples of the true and pure doctrine of Jesus
Christ, to be more faithful and steadfast in the hope announced by Him. For
what things He predicted would take place in His name, these we do see being
actually accomplished in our sight. For he [Jesus] said, 'Many shall come in
My name, clothed outwardly in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are
ravening wolves.' And, 'There shall be schisms and heresies.' And, 'Beware of
false prophets, who shall come to you clothed outwardly in sheep's clothing,
but inwardly they are ravening wolves.' And, 'Many false Christs and false
apostles shall arise, and shall deceive many of the faithful.' There are,
therefore, and there were many, my friends, who, coming forward in the name
of Jesus, taught both to speak and act impious and blasphemous things; and
these are called by us after the name of the men from whom each doctrine and
opinion had its origin."
In any event, the term "wolves" as a metaphor for corrupt people, and
especially leaders, is not exclusive to biblical or Christian literature or
even religious literature. Nevertheless, Bahá'u'lláh uses so many terms
rooted in the Bible, Qur'an, and Middle-Eastern religious literature, that
referring to such sources is very helpful.
Another student asked:
I have found myself wondering why the last significant work of Bahá'u'lláh
is an epistle to a malicious enemy of the faith — why Bahá'u'lláh did not
simply finish his series of books of Divine Revelation with a compilation or
summation or some other finalizing type of work written expressly for the
This is a great question and your answers were very interesting and
thoughtful. Its a hard question too. Why did this Epistle end up being the
last outstanding Tablet revealed by the pen of Bahá'u'lláh? There is a
transcendental aspect to this question we probably can't ever answer, but in
God Passes By Shoghi Effendi gives two basic reasons Bahá'u'lláh revealed the
1) To call upon the Shaykh to repent of his acts
2) To adduce proofs establishing the validity of His Cause.
These reasons are clearly based on determinations we can verify from the
contents of the Epistle. Why this should occur at the end of His ministry is
harder to determine. That is, we have two questions: Why He revealed this
Epistle to the Shaykh and why He revealed it in 1891?
Concerning the timing: My own personal view is that it required time to
pass first before Bahá'u'lláh could point out the evidence of the
transformation He had effected in the Bábí/Bahá'í community. Following the
assassination attempt Bahá'u'lláh took up, as He says, the task of
regenerating this people (p. 21) and now at the end of His ministry that task
is complete and the evidences are clear. He is now calling the attention of
the authorities to this matter so that they will know the truth of His
transformative influence and so that they will stop treating the Bahá'ís as
Concerning why revealed the Epistle for the Shaykh: We also know that the
Epistle serves a number of purposes that are subsets of the above two. The
contents of the Epistle suggest that Shaykh Muhammad Taqi was the channel
through which Bahá'u'lláh hoped His defense testimony, proofs, and
proclamation would reach the other religious divines of the Shi'ih sect in
Persia, the court of the Sháh, and the Bábí community through Mírzá Hadi
Dawlat. The Shaykh, by the way, would have been the best man for this job,
had he listened.
Besides the explicit request to the Shaykh to recognize the truth of His
claims and teachings and serve humanity, Bahá'u'lláh request three specific
things from the other religious leaders in Isfahan which are: to help
transmit any of the Tablets of the kings which may have remained undelivered
(p. 59), "unite with His Majesty, the Sháh, and cleave unto that which will
insure the protection, the security, the welfare and prosperity of men" (p.
91, 137), and appoint someone to investigate the doings of Mírzá Yahyá in
Cypress (pp. 120-21).
All of these request are inter-related. But if viewed separately, the
first of these requests, the suggestion that the Shaykh should assist Him to
deliver any undelivered Tablets, is the most far-reaching in significance.
(p. 59) In that request we can see that Bahá'u'lláh held out the hope that
the Shaykh would be moved by both Bahá'u'lláh religious claims and His global
vision of justice and peace.
The second request — that the religious leaders should unite with the Sháh
to insure the protection, the security, the welfare and prosperity of
men — can be understood in light of the principles Bahá'u'lláh is articulating
in the Epistle and the unjust treatment of the Bahá'ís in Persia and the
Ottoman Empire. The lack of religious toleration and equal protection under
the law in Persia had resulted in the persecution of Bahá'ís, a general state
of insecurity in the region, the looting of property under false pretext, and
so on. Ending religious fanaticism and establishing just laws would not only
ensure the well-being of the Bahá'ís but that of all people and that would
increase the prosperity of the nation.
The request that the religious leader send an investigative committee to
Cyprus is clearly intended to show that Mírzá Yahyá behavior and teachings
are not comparable to those of Bahá'u'lláh and that it was his
misrepresentations that instigated Bahá'u'lláh's transfer to `Akká.
Apart from the earlier testimony He cites from His Tablet to the Sháh, in
this Epistle He also makes two specific request of the Sháh, first that "His
Majesty the Sháh of Persia would ask for a report of the things which befell
Us in Constantinople, that he might become fully acquainted with the true
facts" (p. 126), and second, to help encourage the adoption of a universal
language among nations. In this connection He request the Sháh to exert
himself "so that all the peoples of the world may be illumined with the
effulgent splendors of the sun of thy justice" (pp. 138-9).
There is, of course, more, but these are some of the particular purposes
that are explicit in the texts....
On the Re-Revelation of Tablets
We can see from the contents of the Epistle that Bahá'u'lláh quotes from a number of different Tablets. The exact number is hard to determine since the sources for a few paragraphs have not, to my knowledge, yet been identified. Otherwise we know He quotes 8 earlier Tablets, or 12 if the Tablets and texts to the monarch are counted individually rather than as the Súratu'l-Haykal (note that the Hidden Words passages are from the Tablet to the Sháh).
Listed together we can determine three basic things quite quickly from the Tablets quoted:
- The main Tablets are well known among His writings,
- They are late works or early works that appear in late `Akká period compositions prior to the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf,
- There are relatively few Tablets cited. A close examination of differences between the Tablets as they appear on their own and in the Epistle, such as the Lawn-i Burhán, also show editorial changes that seem to serve recognizable purposes.
Traditionally, the belief that Bahá'u'lláh re-revealed certain texts when He quotes them is based on several considerations. One is the reverent belief that the words flowing from His Exalted Pen or spoken by Him are always revelation. If some words were once revealed earlier, then when they are quoted again they automatically become re-revelation. The second reason is that certain statements Bahá'u'lláh made in a few Tablets or in the Tablets signed by His scribe, Khademulláh are interpreted to indicate such a process of revelation. According to interpretations of these sources He neither was using any notes or searching in the texts of His earlier Writings nor instructing His scribes or other secretaries to add such quotations later on. Third, available recorded notes and memoirs of believers who were present at the time of revelation of some Tablets also indicate that Bahá'u'lláh was not using notes or instructing His scribe to add some sections from His earlier Writings to what He was revealing. Fourth, such quotations are not always exactly the same as they were revealed the first time is again understood as evidence. Some Bahá'ís therefore believe that using any other term for such a process would be disrespectful and contrary to accepted evidences.
Text scholars examining the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf may however see things differently and point out that, while such a concept may be true, there is no direct evidence in the Epistle to indicate that such a process had occurred, some evidence suggesting the contrary. Moreover, it is not explicitly claimed by Bahá'u'lláh in the Epistle. Bahá'u'lláh refers to what was revealed formerly and typically uses simple phrases such as "In the Tablet to His Majesty the Sháh it is written..." (p. 17), We shall herewith cite a few passages from Tablets specifically revealed to this people... (p. 22), "We have made mention of certain martyrs of this Revelation, and have likewise cited some of the verses which were sent down concerning them from the kingdom of Our utterance..." (p. 86), "In the Epistle to the Romans Saint Paul hath written..." (p. 91). That is, He "cites" or mentions or refers to what was previously written by Himself and others. In one instance, He uses symbolism that could be interpreted to suggest revelation as a preface to the citation He provides, i.e., His preface in the Epistle to the second half of the Lawh-i-Burhán:
"At this moment a Voice was raised from the right-hand of the Luminous Spot: 'God! There is none other God but Him, the Ordainer, the All-Wise! Recite Thou unto the Shaykh the remaining passages of the Lawh-i-Burhán (Tablet of the Proof) that they may draw him unto the horizon of the Revelation of his Lord, the God of Mercy, that haply he may arise to aid My Cause..." (pp. 96-7)
One can assume that this was an act of re-revealing unaided by reference to the texts of the Lawh-i-Burhán, but such an understanding has to be interpreted and it also possess theological problems if taken as a sign of His divinity. Rather than dismiss conventional explanations of composition out of hand or regard them as irreverent, it should probably be noted that when describing the Epistle in God Passes By, Shoghi Effendi could have used such a term, but choose not to, saying instead that Bahá'u'lláh "quotes" some of the most characteristic and celebrated passages of His own writings (GPB 219). In fact, there are no authoritative sources in English to support this concept, much less attach it to the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. Bahá'u'lláh often openly mentions that others do bring Him books and information (e.g, Íqán 184-5). Bahá'u'lláh also writes "We entreat Our loved ones not to ... allow references to what they have regarded as miracles and prodigies to debase Our rank and station, or to mar the purity and sanctity of Our name." (p. 33) He nowhere suggest that such a process of re-revelation is a necessary sign of His divinity.
To conclude, there are a number of points that should probably be considered.
- There is no reason here to deny any of the various concepts of re-revelation (which are defined differently by different believers).
- Some believers may be offended by any denial of the concept of re-revealtion that they hold and likewise offended by alternative explanations, so sensitivity is needed.
- There is no available texts in English affirming the concept but there are mostly untranslated texts and sources interpreted as general evidence for such a process.
- There are no texts indicating that such a process occurred with regard to the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf.
- There is internal evidence to suggest that the composition of the Epistle did not involve such a process, and therefore insisting that it did may involve Bahá'ís in an unnecessary conflict with scholarly opinions and create the appearance that Bahá'ís, or even Bahá'u'lláh, are making a claim that others perceive as untrue, thus reflecting negatively, and unnecessary so, on His true rank and station.
With these above points in mind, I would like to suggest that we remain openminded about this issue, not insist that accepting the concept of re-revelation (however one chooses to define it) is a necessary sign of respect for Bahá'u'lláh or evidence of His divinity, and mindful that this question requires sensitivity toward both the views of those who hold to it and those who don't.
Notes by Iraj Ayman:
A Personal Thought on the Timing and Addressee of the Epistle to the Son of
In some ways we can compare the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf with the
Tablet to the King of Persia (Lawh-i-Sultán). That Tablet was revealed at
the dawn of the public announcement of the Mission of Bahá'u'lláh and
establishment of his Cause as Bahá'í Faith. It is the longest Tablet
amongst the ones addressed to the Kings and Rulers of the earth and perhaps
the major declaration of His mission to the public. He has addressed that
call to the highest center of authority in his home country.
Bahá'u'lláh, towards the end of His earthly life, summarized the
gist of his teachings with a selection of His statements in the form of the
last call to humanity. He addressed it to the most notorious source of
ecclesiastical authority and the eminent arch-enemy of His cause in His
homeland. So He closed the cycle of calling to the people of the world by
producing a general testament. At that time the Sháh of Iran had to some
extent tempered his attitude and his treatment towards the Bahá'ís. So this
Epistle was addressed to the eminent representative of the remaining source
of opposition to His Cause. In this way He made some of the main features
of His cause known to and through the religious establishment dominating
the birthplace and the cradle of His Faith.
Both of these documents are very powerful, bold and open declaration of the
station and the mission of the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith. We should also
remember that Iran at that time was the only country where the Bahá'í Faith
had already emerged from the stage of obscurity and was known as a new
creed. We may also notice that by addressing this last major statement to a
notorious personality in Iran and sending it through him to Persians there
was no need for having it properly translated into a different languages.
Its content become instantly known to the readers. Remembering the problems
of producing proper translation of such a text into another language and
propagating it in countries where the new Faith was not publicly known was
not immediately feasible and as effective.
Such a document could have only been revealed at the end of the Ministry of
its Author when He had already completed pronouncing and producing what He
wanted to give to humanity.