Re: Genealogy of Baha'u'llah

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Posted by Robert Stockman on August 24, 2000 at 12:02:16:

In Reply to: Genealogy of Baha'u'llah posted by Seefan on August 04, 2000 at 07:13:43:

I have wanted to post on the subject, but I have had no time to do the research. I don't think the reference to Jesse has anything to do with the reference to Abraham; they are separate. There is no physical genealogy of Baha'u'llah that goes all the way back to Abraham or even to the Sassanian kings. Mirza Abu'l-Fadl says he saw a piece of paper (I suppose in the family papers) about the family's genealogy. I have no idea how complete it was.

I read the genealogy as symbolically important. I rather doubt there was anyone, even in the nineteenth century, who could prove descent from Abraham. Now a days people reconstruct their genealogies using census, baptismal, and church records, and personal papers like diaries. No censuses and other records were even created systematically before the Roman Empire, and then not again until the Islamic flourishings of 800-1250 and the 1600s in Europe. The Roman records were lost long ago, as have been most Islamic records. Families almost never keep detailed genealogies (that is, giving the name of everyone in the ancestral line). Furthermore, it was extremely common in the Middle Ages and earlier, all around the world, to invent genealogies if one was from an obscure family that suddenly became famous. So as a historian I an sceptical that a real genealogy covering 3,700 years (from about 1800 to about 1900 BC, when Abraham lived) is possible for anyone.

But in a way it does not matter because we can prove Baha'u'llah was descended from Abraham mathematically. Everyone has 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, etc.; how many ancestors does one have 3,700 years earlier? If one assumes 3 generations per century, that's 37 x 3 = 111 generations:

# generations ago # ancestors
1 2
2 4
3 8
4 16
5 32
6 64
7 128
8 256
9 512
10 1024 (now I'm going
to round down a bit)
20 1 million (it's
actually 1024 times 1024)
30 1 billion (=1000
years ago)
40 1 trillion
50 1 quadrillion

As you can see I have simplified to make the calculation easier; 1024 times 1024 is not 1,000,000, but 1,048,576. But the smaller number still makes my point: that after 1,000 years, one's ancestors is already equal to the total human population of the earth (which was less than a billion, 1,000 years ago). After 111 generations one's ancestors number almost a billion billion billion times MORE than the total human population. CONCLUSION: Everyone in nineteenth Iran is very likely descended from Abraham. For that matter, all modern Iranians are descended from Him, as is everyone in the Middle East (unless they just migrated there from an isolated aboriginal reserve in Australia, or some other very remote population that was isolated from the rest of humanity until a hundred years ago).

That's another reason I say the genealogy is probably symbolically important, not materially important.

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