Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Paragraphs 69 and 70

In like manner, when the hour of the Revelation of Jesus drew nigh, a few of the Magi, aware that the star of Jesus had appeared in heaven, sought and followed it, till they came unto the city which was the seat of the Kingdom of Herod. The sway of his sovereignty in those days embraced the whole of that land.

These Magi said: "Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east and are come to worship Him!"[Matthew 2:2] When they had searched, they found out that in Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, the Child had been born. This was the sign that was manifested in the visible heaven. As to the sign in the invisible heaven -- the heaven of divine knowledge and understanding -- it was Yahya, son of Zachariah, who gave unto the people the tidings of the Manifestation of Jesus. Even as He hath revealed: "God announceth Yahya to thee, who shall bear witness unto the Word from God, and a great one and chaste."[Qur'án 3:39] By the term "Word" is meant Jesus, Whose coming Yahya foretold. Moreover, in the heavenly Scriptures it is written: "John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand."[Matthew 3:1-2] By John is meant Yahya.

Another review.

To continue this theme, Baha'u'llah is now drawing us forward to Jesus, showing how these two signs were present in His time, too.

While this paragraph seems to us to be very straightforward, there are a few things that we wonder about. First of all, He seems to be reminding us that these signs, and recognizing them, has led many over the centuries to the wealth, knowledge and wisdom that He mentioned at the end of the last paragraph as being the goal of sacred Texts. Remember, if we don't achieve these noble goals, then He regards "the consideration of such records a grave mistake and a grievous transgression". So here, He isn't repeating the importance of these Texts, nor is He reminding us that these stars in the invisible heaven bring consolation and assurance. He presumes that we know this, that we remember it from the last paragraph.

He also mentions an odd detail, that John was the "son of Zachariah". This tiny detail reminds us, in a subtle way, of the importance of lineage, which comes into play again with the Bab, who was a Siyyid, a descendant of Muhammad. This was very important in His claim of His station, and highly relevant to His uncle, who was also a Siyyid. It strikes us as important because Baha'u'llah has, until now, been very careful to show us only what each of the Messengers have in common, not what makes them unique. Remember, way back when speaking about Noah, He never mentions the Flood or the ark, only what He had in common with all the other Messengers. So for Baha'u'llah to mention so tiny a detail we feel is important to His argument. We believe He is preparing the ground, in a sense.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Paragraph 68

After Him came Moses, He Who held converse with God. The soothsayers of His time warned Pharaoh in these terms: "A star hath risen in the heaven, and lo! it foreshadoweth the conception of a Child Who holdeth your fate and the fate of your people in His hand." In like manner, there appeared a sage who, in the darkness of the night, brought tidings of joy unto the people of Israel, imparting consolation to their souls, and assurance to their hearts. To this testify the records of the sacred books. Were the details to be mentioned, this epistle would swell into a book. Moreover, it is not Our wish to relate the stories of the days that are past. God is Our witness that what We even now mention is due solely to Our tender affection for thee, that haply the poor of the earth may attain the shores of the sea of wealth, the ignorant be led unto the ocean of divine knowledge, and they that thirst for understanding partake of the Salsabil of divine wisdom. Otherwise, this servant regardeth the consideration of such records a grave mistake and a grievous transgression.

And now on to Moses. Baha'u'llah is moving us forward through the various revelations, beginning with Abraham, and now Moses. The main part of this paragraph, of course, deals with the star in heaven and the harbinger on earth, as will all the passages in this section. After all, this is still all about the "sign of the Son of Man in heaven".

For the most part, there is little new. The Jewish records talk about the details that Baha'u'llah mentions, and all He is doing is reminding us of them. Of course, if we do not know this, there is the implicit hint that we should study our own history. But if it is familiar, then He is connecting the dots for us.

Then comes the second half of this paragraph. "Were the details to be mentioned, this epistle would swell into a book." Maybe it's just us, but isn't it already a book?

Anyways, it's this next part that intrigues us.

He says that He doesn't want to talk about the past, and that He is only doing this because of His love for the Uncle of the Bab. And then, in that very last sentence, He says something that intrigues us. He regards "the consideration of such records a grave mistake and a grievous transgression".

It seems that the records He is mentioning are none other than the records of the sacred books He has just mentioned. If so, these are the same sacred books that He has previously, and repeatedly, told us to reflect on and consider. "Consider the past". "Refer ye... to that which hath been recorded in every sacred Book." Over and over He is drawing our attention to these Books. So why here does He regard the consideration of these same Books as a "grave mistake and a grievous transgression"?

We have three ideas about this.

The first is that later, in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Baha'u'llah says "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." As we know from going through these various Books of the past, most of them are filled with stories of miracles. Perhaps He is trying to turn our attention away from the stories and towards the teachings. After all, it is the teachings that are important. The stories are just icing on the cake. And too much icing can one's tummy upset.

The second idea is that Baha'u'llah also tells us to "Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements." These stories are all about the past. Perhaps He is telling us not to look at the past, but instead to look towards the future, in this context.

But it is the third idea that really moves us. We think that Baha'u'llah is telling us all of this so that, with luck, "the poor of the earth may attain the shores of the sea of wealth, the ignorant be led unto the ocean of divine knowledge, and they that thirst for understanding partake of the Salsabil of divine wisdom." If the perusal of these sacred Books does not lead to these ends, that is result in true wealth, knowledge and wisdom, then the study of these Texts is a "grave mistake and a grievous transgression". In other words, reading these texts, and not attaining to true knowledge can lead us to great danger and death. It can result in a violation of a law that leads to tremendous grief.

If we look back at paragraph 14, we see that by "having weighed the testimony of God by the standard of their own knowledge... and found it at variance with their limited understanding, they arose to perpetrate such unseemly acts." The people of the day of a Messenger of God did horrible things to Them, based on their misunderstanding. But if they didn't have any understanding of the Book of God to begin with, they would never have done such acts that they would later regret. It all comes back to the very first paragraph of this Book: "No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth."

It's interesting, isn't it, how it always comes back to that very first paragraph? When we can make that connection, then we feel we finally got to the core of it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Paragraph 67

Among the Prophets was Abraham, the Friend of God. Ere He manifested Himself, Nimrod dreamed a dream. Thereupon, he summoned the soothsayers, who informed him of the rise of a star in the heaven. Likewise, there appeared a herald who announced throughout the land the coming of Abraham.

This morning, as we are writing this, we have the wonderful bounty of Samuel's fiancee joining us. And with her fresh perspective, for she hasn't really read this blog yet, she has pointed out a key that we have overlooked. Or if we haven't overlooked it, it was implicit, and she has made it explicit. She has pointed out to us that the very underlying essence of Baha'u'llah's message is unity. Of course, we knew this, but she has applied it here.

Baha'u'llah is reminding us, in this section about the various Messengers, that there is an essential unity between all the religions. Whatever we think is unique to our religion is actually found in all faiths.

In Jewish tradition these signs, Nimrod's dream, the new star, and the herald, are all there, but we don't often focus on them. Baha'u'llah is, in a very simple way, reminding us that they are there, even so far back.

It's interesting, actually, that Baha'u'llah does not mention Noah in this context. Why? We think it is because He is drawing upon recorded tradition, reminding us, once again, of those things that we already know. We may have forgotten these little details, because we don't often dwell on them, but they are there, if we only look. Noah, however, has not had these traditions recorded about Him. Of course, we are certain that they were there, but as there is no record of it, it would not add to Baha'u'llah's argument here, for He could be seen as just making it up.

It's also worth noting that He could have talked about Buddha here, too. We know from the Buddhist texts that there was a star, a dream by the king, a herald, and so on, but all of this would have been irrelevant to the Uncle of the Bab, who was Muslim, and had little or no knowledge of Buddhism. Why do we mention this? Because this book is supposed to be a guide to how we are to teach the Faith, and this is an important lesson to us: keep it relevant to the listener.

On another note, today, a Nimrod is someone who is considered an idiot. Why? We think it is because Nimrod denied the signs of the coming Messenger, Abraham. Similar to Pharaoh and Herod, Nimrod ignored these signs and did all he could to hold on to temporal, or worldly, power. And really, doesn't that just make him... well... an idiot?