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Prepared as part of Wilmette Institute notes and commentary on the Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh.

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Qayyúm-al-'Asmá:
Notes on Joseph

by Brent Poirier and Stephen Lambden

1999
Notes by Brent Poirier:

On Joseph:

In the Qayyumu'l-Asma the Báb presents Joseph and the treatment He received as the archetype of the ministries of all the Prophets.

At the beginning of the story of Joseph in the Quran and Book of Genesis, Jacob entrusts his beloved son Joseph to His brothers, who promise to take care of Him. It is my understanding that this is interpreted as referring to what the Guardian terms the "Greater Covenant," where God promises to send Prophets to humanity, and humanity promises to accept Them. The promises the brothers make — I think there are three in the Quranic version — refer to the Covenant humanity makes with God.

The terrible mistreatment of Joseph, and His eventual sovereignty, represents the initial reception humanity gives to all the Prophets, and Their eventual full recognition by, and spiritual sovereignty over, all humanity after They leave this world.

The brothers coming to Joseph to seek food, and His position as distributor of the food, signifies the Prophet dispensing the divine substance of The Word of God.

Jacob being blind, then regaining his sight when he inhales the fragrance of his long-lost Joseph and remembers the scent of his son, signifies humanity's recognition of the Revelation, and spiritual blindness being healed by it.

The brothers entering the presence of Joseph, and His asking questions of them, signifies all humanity being "gathered together" at the "Judgment Day" and being sifted ("questioned," as Bahá'u'lláh explains in paragraphs 186-187).

As far as the relevance of the Báb's interpretation of the story of Joseph to the Íqán, it seems to me that interpretation of Scriptural symbolism holds a high place in the Bahá'í Faith. The first of the Báb's works was devoted to it; and the Íqán, Bahá'u'lláh's greatest doctrinal work and second in rank Book, devotes a great deal of time to it.

It seems to me that just as the sufferings of the Báb were a prelude to the sufferings of Bahá'u'lláh, and they paralleled each other, this is a pattern in other aspects of Their ministries.

For example, as the Guardian explains in his "Dispensation" letter, the Báb foreshadowed the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh in the Bayán when He wrote "Well is it with him who fixeth his gaze upon the Order of Bahá'u'lláh." The Báb did not elaborate on this Order, though He provided some of its laws. Bahá'u'lláh then established the essentials of that Order, and the Master filled in the gaps Bahá'u'lláh intentionally left, as the Guardian explains on p. 328 of God Passes By.

This process of unfoldment might be compared to the gradual process of unveiling the significances of Scriptural symbology by the three Central Figures, which the Báb begins by interpreting the Súrih of Joseph in the Qayyumu'l-Asma; the essentials of which are set forth in the Íqán as Bahá'u'lláh interprets symbols from the Qur'an and the Old and New Testaments; and which the Master elaborates as He shows how to apply Their interpretations in His Tablets and in particular in Some Answered Questions.

The central Figure in these processes is Bahá'u'lláh, in that the Báb initiates the process, it reaches its climax in the Works of Bahá'u'lláh, and the Master supplements and applies Their Writings.

We are now reading the central work of the process of interpreting the Scriptures, and you can consult the statement on Shoghi Effendi's behalf about the Íqán being the "key-note" of interpretation which I quote on the first page of my printed materials.

On Joseph's garment:
"Say: From My laws the sweet-smelling savour of My garment can be smelled. . . "
      (Aqdas, paragraph 4)

As the House of Justice has pointed out in the Note for this paragraph (Aqdas, p. 165), the Writings state that the fragrant garment is a metaphor for recognition of the Manifestation. See how clearly this matches the description in the New Testament, and unseals the metaphor being presented in the Gospel:

"And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick; and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well." (Matthew 14:35)

"And behold, a woman who had a flow of blood fo twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment; for she said to herself, 'If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.' But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, 'Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.'" (Matthew 9:20)

In the Old Testament history, the metaphor of the garment of the Prophet protecting the people from drowning, and enabling them to walk on dry land to the far shore, is found:

"Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground." (II Kings 2:8)

As Bahá'u'lláh says in the Seven Valleys, p. 9, the knower is "dry in the sea."

Here, the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh is foreshadowed in prophecy:

"I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool.... Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed." (Daniel 7:9)

Christians understand the following verse to mean that Jesus merely renewing the Jewish Revelation would not have been adequate. Both Revelations are spoken of as "garments":

"No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse." (Jesus Christ, Gospel of Matthew 9:16)

It is possible that as early as the first night of this Dispensation, in the opening verses of the Qayyumu'l-Asma, the Báb may have unsealed this metaphor for Mullá Husayn. It says in the Súrih of Joseph (and in the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis) that when the brothers of Joseph entered His presence they did not recognize Him; later they recognized Him, meaning that men do not at first recognize the Manifestation, and later they do. When the brothers of Joseph returned to Egypt to tell their father Jacob that Joseph was alive, they had brought His shirt and cast it on Jacob's face. He recognized the scent of Joseph, again a symbol for recognition of the Manifestation. This verse (Qur'an 12:93) is the origin of this metaphor in the Aqdas. It is also interesting that Jacob "remembers" the scent of Joseph, and the "remembrance" of God, in the sense of the Mashriqu'l-Adkar, the Dawning-Place of the Remembrance of God, is related to this.

In one of His Tablets for which we do not yet have an authorized translation, Bahá'u'lláh identifies Himself as the "one like the Son of Man" in the first chapter of the Revelation of St. John. He is holding seven candles, which the Master in a Tablet says are the seven letters in the Arabic name "Bahá'u'lláh." In the Revelation it says that He is "clothed with a garment down to the feet." What do you think that means?

      Brent Poirier




Notes by Stephen Lambden:

      The Joseph story is a narrated in slightly differing forms in both the Bible (Gen 37ff) and the Qur'an (sura 12). There are also ancient Jewish, Christian and Islamic elaborations of parts or the whole of the story. The Quranic version is influenced by extra-Biblical Jewish traditions expository of the Biblical account.

      Bábí-Bahá'í scripture interprets the Qur'anic version — or this version as partly rewritten by the Báb in his lengthy Arabic Qayyum al-asma' ((mid. 1844; loosely translated = "The Self-Subsisting Names" — possibly alluding to the promised one as the Qayyum or [for Bahá'ís] the Deity Self-Subsisting = Bahá'u'lláh)...

      The Qayyum al-asma' (= QA) is in 111 chapters — each chapter expository of a verse of the Qur'an — each with 40 verses. Throughout these 111 chapters only a few verses interpret the Qur'anic Joseph story. This largely by means of exegetical rewrite. cf. the Jewish Targums. The interpretation is complex and Imámologically oriented- relates to the Twelver Imáms — as well as having something of a qabbalistic dimension. The role of the 3rd Imám, Husayn who was expected (like Jesus) to return is particularly important.

      The Báb's initial remarks on the Qur'anic story of Joseph are to be found in the 5th chapter of the QA where the vision of Joseph is allegorically interpreted (see Qur'an 12:4f). It is said that by "Joseph" God intended the spiritual "Reality" or "Self" (nafs) of the Prophet Muhammad and the "fruit of the womb of the Virgin" (Muhammad's daughter Fatimih), namely, Imám Husayn. The "sun", the "moon" and the eleven "stars" seen by Joseph ( = Imám Husayn) are Muhammad ("sun"), Fatimih ("moon") and the 11 Imáms ("stars").

      The Báb's interpretation of the Joseph story in the QA operates on several levels at once. The interpretation has meaning relative to Shi`i Islam, the Báb's mission and the advent of the Bábí messiah "man yuzhiruhu'lláh" ("He Whom God will make manifest" = Bahá'u'lláh).

      There is also a Bahá'í interpretation of the story in which Joseph's initially dire fate and rejection by his brothers relates to the life of Bahá'u'lláh and his rejection by his half-brother Mírzá Yahyá.

      The Báb's Qayyum al-asma* (= QA) — not a commentary in the classical sense of Tafsír — contains a great deal which has no direct connection with the story of Joseph as detailed in the 12th sura of the Qur'an. When, usually briefly and towards the end of (but by no means all of) the 112 chapters of this work, the Báb turns his attention to the story of Joseph, he most often rewrites a specific Qur'anic verse (contained in sura 12) in an abstruse manner and by utilizing a typological and qabbalistic hermeneutic gives it various levels of meaning. The esoteric significance which the Báb writes into the Qur'anic story of Joseph partly has to do with the rank and relationship between the Imáms — in particular Imám Husayn as an antitype of Joseph — and the position of the Hidden Imám or Dhikr. On another level, the Joseph story enshrines qabbaliatic mysteries. The Báb furthermore, finds reference to his own rank and role in the Qur'anic narrative.

      Several levels or dimensions of meaning are thus read into (= eisegesis) the story of Joseph such that it would seem impossible to extract from the Báb's multi-dimensional often eisegetical, Imámological and quasi-messianic "Tafsír" a clear cut and single level of meaning.

      The following few notes must suffice to give some idea of the Báb's rewritten treatment of the twelfth sura of the Qur'an.

      The Báb's initial remarks on the Qur'anic story of Joseph are found in the Vth chapter of the QA where the vision of Joseph (see 12:4f) is allegorically expounded. Among other things, it is asserted that God intends by Joseph the "Self" (nafs) of the Messenger (= Muammad) and the "fruit of the [womb of the] Virgin" (thamarat al-batul = Fatima, i.e. Imám Husayn). The sun, moon and eleven stars seen by Joseph (= Imám Husayn) in his vision, symbolize Fatima, Muhammad and the eleven Imáms (presumably `Alí — > Hasan al-Askari; see Q.12:7) who, along with Joseph are also representative of the 12 letters of the Kalimát al-Tawhíd (= the 12 letters of la ilaha ila Alláh ) — in chapter VIII (on Q.12;7) the Báb has it that God chose Joseph (= Imám Husayn) for the letter al-ha' and alludes to his (Imám Husayn's?) eschatological advent.

      Complicated qabbalistic speculations inform the Báb's exegetical rewrites of Qur'an 12:8f. In the IXth chapter of the QA (on 12:10) the favoured position of Joseph is related to the exaltedness of a letter concealed and veiled in mystery (the letter alif ( the letter A ) or the line below the dot of the letter B ?) and the reference to Joseph's brothers as a " group" (`usbat, in 12:8b) leads the Báb to speak of the prophet Muhammad (as the nafs of God or the letter alif?) being the " grades" (shu`un) of Joseph (as the alphabetic primogenitor of the other letters of the alphabet?). Qur'an 12:10 as rewritten by him in QA XI is related to the fate of Imám Husayn. The spokesman of Joseph's brothers is not Reuben but Imám Hasan the brother of Imám Husayn who cries out: ` Do not slay Joseph. Cast him into the depths of the pit of the divine unicity (jubb al-ahadiya) concealed about the [Siniatic] Fire." Having explained this the Báb, alluding to Qur'an 12:9, states that God decreed a "caravan" (siyarat) of travellers for Joseph who, according to a hidden wisdom, "travel from gate to gate" (min bab ila bab; cf. Q. 12:67 ) in the region of the Siniatic Fire. They are likened to pilgrims who visit the (celestial) Husayn and who journey from "the gate (al-bab) unto God in the abyss of the divine unicity" (lujjat al-ahadiya).

      The Qur'anic narrative of the circumstances of Joseph's abandonment by his jealous brothers is, in QA Xf (on Q.12:9f), related on one level to the circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of Imám Husayn as detailed in Shi`i literature. A cosmological and qabbalistic level of meaning is also present as is a level of application to the rank and role of the Báb himself. In chapter XI of his commentary the Báb writes:
"God created Joseph and his brothers (= certain letters of the alphabet?) in sanctified worlds (al-`awalim al-quds) from a dewdrop (or sprinkling rashh) above a name (ism),from a primordial drop (qatrat al-ibda') of the (pre-) existent [heavenly] Water [= `cosmic semen'?]. Then, when We caught a fragrance of the Greatest Dhikr, We, with the permission of God, clothed him in the robe of prophethood..".

      In the same chapter of the QA, as well as in chapter XX, the Báb clearly refers to himself as the one to whom the "caravan of love" (siyyarat al-hubb) was sent (cf.Q 12: ); as the "Arabian Youth" (al-fati al-`arabi) concealed in the depths of the pit (al-jubb) of the Siniatic Fire.

      A good example of the Báb's rewritten exegetical ("midrashic") style, is his treatment of Qur'an 12:31 in QA chapter XXXII (fol.52b-53a). Here it is not that Zulaikha arranges a banquet at which the angelic beauty of Joseph is disclosed to her lady friends, but a prefigurement of the courage and love of Zaynab (the sister of Imám Husayn) who asks her brother to disclose his celestial glory. On another level the same verse alludes to a banquet on the "crimson heights" at which "green knives" are dispensed (for the annihilation of the lower self?) and at which (?) God will bid the hidden Imám disclose his beauty unto the creatures.

      In such manner does the Báb allude to his imminent eschatological disclosure of the hidden Imám and to his own role as his mouthpiece. In QA XXXIII (on Q.12:32) it is the ladies of the "city of oneness" (madinat al-ahadiya) who cut their hands (see Q. 12:31) as a result of the spiritual "beauty" of the Báb.

      Commenting on Q. 12:33 in QA XXXIV (fol. 56a-b) the Báb puts the words of Joseph into the mouth of Husayn who, he teaches, cried out on the night of his martyrdom, "This prison is more beloved to me than that to which you invite me". The two youths imprisoned with Joseph according to Q. 13:36f (the king's cupbearer and baker) are, on one level, interpreted in QA XXXVIIf. (fol. 69af) as types of the believer (= the cupbearer) and the unbeliever (= the baker) in the Dhikr (= the Báb or the Hidden Imám). The latter, among other things, is also identified with the "full camel's load" of grain (Q.12:65; QA. LXVI fol.115a) and symbolically associated with the king's goblet (siqayat) hidden in the sack of Benjamin (see Q.12:70; QA LXXI.fol.125b). In the light of the Báb's role as "gate" to the hidden Imám, it is of interest that the Báb identifies himself with the "brother of Joseph" (= Benjamin) mentioned in Qur'an 12:87 (in QA LXVIII.fol.152bf) and rewrites Qur'an 12:67 in the following manner (in QA. LXVIII.fol.119):
"O People of the earth! Do not enter the gates (al-abwab) by one [and the same/or any] gate (bab ). But enter every gate (kull al-abwab) through this gate (al-bab = the Báb himself)..."

      Of similar import is the following version of Qur'an 12:90 (in QA.XC.fol.158b) in which talismanic terminology is utilized with a view to expressing the intimate relationship between the Báb and the hidden Imám:
"O Qurrat al-`Ayn! [= Imám Husayn or the hidden Imám?]. The people of the realm of Unknowing (al-`ama') will say: `Art thou indeed the Joseph of the divine onenes (yusuf al-ahadiya)?" Say:`Yea, By my Lord! I am the fourfold form (shakl al-rub`) in the Joseph of origination (yusuf al-bad`) and this is my brother, the threefold form (shakl al-thulth) in the shape of finality (? Súrat al- khatm = the Báb?). God hath graciously bestowed upon me [= the Báb?) the double mystery (al-sirrayn) in the two [Siniatic] Mounts (al- turayn) and the dual names (al-ismayn) in the two luminaries (al-nayyirayn). God will not suffer the reward of such righteous ones as believe in the Báb and are steadfast in the Book to be lost, even, in very truth, to the extent of a speck on a date stone."

      In certain of his works and letters written after the QA the Báb gives yet further dimensions of meaning to Qur'anic texts and traditions (ahadith) in which Joseph is mentioned. When he claimed to be the Qa'im he identified himself with the true Joseph.

      In a qabbalistic-talismanic and Sinaitic context in QA sura 91 the Báb is addressed as follows,
O Qurrat al-`Ayn! Thou [= the Báb], verily, wast concealed in the Jesus-like Word (al-Kalimát al-`isawiyun) in the Injil ("Gospel") and the Zabur ("Psalms") according to the form of the "Glorification" (`ala Súrat al-tasbih = "Subhán Alláh"). Say: `I am the triangular (`threefold', muthallath) form [= `Ali?] which was written down quadrangular (`fourfold', murabba` = Husayn?) in the sanctum of the Divine Cloud (fi'l quds al-`ama'; cf. the hidden Imám Husayn = Joseph?). And I, verily, am the inaccessible Name (al-ism al-mani`) which was made single in the Point of Fire (nuqtat al-nar = the Point beneath the ba'?)...".

      While Jesus is the "Word" of the Qur'an, the Báb is the "Jesus-like Word" of the QA. The "Jesus-like Word" here probably has a deep qabbalistic meaning relating to the Báb and his claims and to the mystery of the "Greatest Name" (on one level = Alláh; cf. the name `Alí and its constituent letters?) which the expected Qa'im is to divulge.

      In QA 90 the Báb claims Divinity and states "I, verily, created Gardens for the people of love (ahl al-muabbat) from my Word (Kalimáti) which, in very truth, is this `Alid, Arabian Youth..."

      In certain writings of the Báb the word *qayyum* [loosely, `self-subsisting'] synonymous with Qa'im (see for example, Letter of the Báb to Hajji Mírzá Sayyid `Ali, in INBAMC 58:176). The words Yusuf (Joseph) and Qayyum (`Self-Subsisting') have the same numerical (abjad) value, i.e. 156. As the return of Husayn (see for example Persian Bayán VII:1;IV:4,5, cf. Dala'il-i sab`a (Per.), 49) the Báb is also the Divine/Self-Subsisting Joseph.

Joseph = Husayn= Qayyum = Man yuhiruhu Alláh

      The Báb equates Joseph with the Imám Husayn. This in the light of his belief in his imminent eschatological "return" (raj`a) and his role as the "gate" (bab) to the hidden Imám. Subsequent to his transference to Adhirbayjan he claimed to be both the Mahdi-Qa'im and the Divine-Joseph (qayyum-yusuf). Towards the end of his ministry, he furthermore, came to see Joseph as a type of the Bábí messiah *man yuhziruhu'lláh* ("He whom God shall make manifest") whom he, in his *Kitáb al-asma'* ("Book of Names") (1849-50) refers to as "all-glorious Joseph" (yusuf al-Bahá'). The reference is in that section of the Kitáb al-asma' commenting upon the name of God *al-Bashir* ("the Herald"). There mention is made to the robe or garment of the Joseph of Bahá'. This pasage has been interpreted by Ishraq Khavari relative to Bahá'u'lláh as the Bábí messiah figure *man yuhiruhu'lláh * (see Ishraq Khavaria, QI 4:1870ff) — note the use of the word bashiar ("bearer/herald of good tidings") in Q.12:93 where the episode of Joseph's garment being placed on the face of the patriach Jacob/Israel restoring his vision — "But when the bearer of good tidings [bashir] came to him, and laid it [the qamis, "robe/garment") on his [Jacob's] face [wajhihi], forthwith he saw once again..". It is this Qur'anic verse which lies behind the Báb's exegetical rewrite of it in the Kitáb al-asma';

      "Hearken! Then take ye firm hold of the garment of the Joseph of Bahá' (qamis yusif al-Bahá') from the hand of His Exalted, Transcendent Herald of Glad Tidings (mubashshirihi al-`Alí al-a`la). And place it upon thy head in order that thou might recover thy sight (or `be endowed with insight' ) and discover thyself truly aware." (text as cited in QI 4:1875).

      This later quasi-eschatological level of the Báb's interpretation of the story of Joseph has, by Bahá'ías, been read back into the QA.

      At least three chronologically successive, typologically oriented interpretations of the Joseph story can thus be found in the Báb's writings;

      1) An interpretation in which Joseph = Imám Husayn (and the Arabic letter al-ha') and the Báb, the Dhikr, etc. This is dominant in the QA (see for example QA chapters V.,XXXII., XXXIV and XC).

      2) An interpretation in which Joseph is identified with the Báb himself as the imprisoned Qa'im and,

      3) An interpretation in which Joseph = man yuzhiruhu'lláh the Bábí messiah figure — in one sense of returned Imám Husayn — "Jacob" being the Bábís who long to attain his presence.

      These chronologically successive levels of interpretation are characteristic of the Báb's treatment of other Qur'anic texts and relate to the gradual evolution of the his claims as well as to the unfolding of a realized and futurist Bábí eschatology.
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