The Concept of Sacred Justice in Hebrew Eschatology
First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #24
Louhelen Bahá'í School: Michigan, USA
October 8–12, 1999
(see list of papers from #24)
published in Lights of Irfan, volume 1, pages 111-120
© 2000, Irfán Colloquia
While Bahá'í students of prophecy have paid considerable attention to Biblical references to "Glory" as a motif in end-of-the-age imagery, they have devoted noticeably less printed space to discussions of references to "Justice" and "Judgment." Often the relationship between the Bible and the Bahá'í teachings has been depicted preeminently as a contrast between Christian concern with the salvation of the individual soul and the Bahá'í program to transform the social order of the planet. Admittedly this schema is in accordance with Shoghi Effendi's comments on the role of Christianity in the progress of religion. Reducing the relationship solely to this dimension of comparison however does not fully account for the range and scope of social prescriptions strewn throughout the Bible, and especially prominent in the ancient Hebrew scriptures. Centuries before Jesus, Peter and Paul, the social order of the Israelite tribes was legislated, adjudicated, and enforced in accordance with the Covenant and Law of Moses. While not world-embracing in its vision, the Mosaic order is certainly our original example of a divine standard of justice. The notion of justice as a divinely ordained pattern of social organization does not begin with Bahá'u'lláh.
That justice is one of the central organizing concepts of Bahá'u'lláh's order is clear from even a cursory examination of Bahá'í introductory material and stands out as a dominant theme in most in-depth studies of Bahá'í social doctrine. It is therefore all the more startling that Bahá'ís isolate ourselves from the common universe of western theological discourse by generally ignoring the truth that justice, understood as an aspect of obedience to God's will, is a fundamental organizing principle which pervades the Hebrew scriptures. As such, in order to clarify the relationship between the Bible and the Baha'i vision of World Order, it is essential first to understand the multifaceted Hebrew concept of Mishpat, most typically rendered al "Justice" in newer translations, but usually translated as "judgment" in the King James Version. Mishpat also appears as "plan," "order." "custom," "rule," "standards,' and "specifications," depending on the context and the translation. This principle is well known to Old Testament scholars, and has a determining role in the formation of social ethics both for Jews and for progressive Christians. Justice as a focal point of religion is not news to them. Christians thoroughly familiar with the Bible and holding to a liberal, rather than literal, interpretation need not become Bahá'ís in order to find religious sentiments of peace, tolerance, justice, equality, and charity.
So lest we claim modern originality for ancient ideas, and before we can proclaim with assurance exactly what original and constructive contributions Bahá'u'lláh has made to the planetary discussion, and which of those original ideas can be implemented only within the context of a the Covenant-bound Bahá'í community, we must know with clarity what has been said and done in times past.
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