The Terms Revelation, Interpretation, and Elucidation in the Bahá'i Writings
First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #4
November 4–6, 1994
(see list of papers from #4)
published in Scripture and Revelation, pages 53-68
© 1997, Irfán Colloquia
The release of the English translation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas invites a closer examination of the Bahá'í teachings and raises an entirely new series of questions about the nature of Bahá'í law. Often these questions are based on assumptions about the nature or composition of Bahá'í texts. This composition is described as either revelation (the process by which Bahá'u'lláh composed some of His writings), interpretation (the term used for 'Abdu'l-Baháís and Shoghi Effendi's writing, which probably represents two similar though distinct processes), or elucidation (one process used by the Universal House of Justice).
An examination of passages from Bahá'u'lláh's writings shows that revelation is not a straightforward transfer of God's truths to paper, but involves earthly processes as well as a divine one. Bahá'u'lláh utilized the words and grammar of nineteenth-century Arabic and Persian; His language is in a style distinct from that of the Báb and Muhammad; and when He revealed the same text on more than one occasion sometimes there were slight differences in wording. More significantly, Bahá'u'lláh sometimes refers to information that could have been available to Him via nineteenth-century Arabic and Persian books, even information that, as well as modem scholarship can determine, is probably not historically accurate (though such temporal information does not affect the reliability of the spiritual points He was making).
The same observations are true of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, who quote information that appears to be historically inaccurate in their books. Shoghi Effendi's secretary stated the Guardian was not infallible in matters of economics and science and apparently he did not claim infallibility in matters of history (though his historical writing clearly reflects a very high level of precision and accuracy).
Shoghi Effendi's translations appear to contain a mixture of infallible interpretation and prodigious genius, as this statement of the Universal House of Justice implies: "Shoghi Effendi's translations of the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh into English carry with them a large measure of interpretation of the intent and purpose of the Author" [italics mine]-sbut, the House adds, they are not a re-revealing of the text in English, therefore the English language should not "be considered as a language of revelation" (on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 16 September 1992). In the forward to the Kitáb-i-Íqán Shoghi Effendi echoed this view, emphasizing the impossibility of translating texts revealed by Bahá'u'lláh into English and exhorting future translators to use his efforts as an example in their attempt.
The translations authorized by the Universal House of Justice carry even less permanency, in that the House of Justice may decide to revise its own approved translations in the future, just as it can change its legislations based on the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. The door thus appears to be open for scholarly and other translations to be pursued at some point in the future.
The 1993 release of the English translation of the
Kitáb-i-Aqdas has stimulated a closer examination of the
Bahá'í teachings and has raised an entirely new series of
questions about the nature of Bahá'í law. Often these questions
are based on assumptions about the nature of revelation (the term used
to describe the process of writing followed by Bahá'u'lláh);
interpretation (the term used to describe the process of composition
followed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, a term that probably
conflates two similar though different processes together) and
elucidation (one process followed by the Universal House of Justice).
Academics outside the Bahá'í community often reject the concept
of revelation entirely or radically redefine it. The idea of revelation has
even become unfashionable among those who study religion; when Harvard Divinity
School chose a new dean about 1985, many noted with surprise that he believed
in revelation. Few liberal scholars have focused their attention on developing
philosophical language for discussing revelation. Conservative Christian
scholars have developed elaborate schemes for understanding the Bible as
revelation, but these notions may not be particularly useful to
Bahá'ís. For example, there is the view of Charles Hodge, the
great early twentieth-century Princeton theologian, that the original
autographs of the Bible--now lost--were inerrantly inspired word by word, and
that the circulating text of the Bible is close, though not identical to, the
The popular conservative Protestant notion of revelation is that the biblical
text itself is inerrant, word by word; that it is perspicuous, that is, its
meaning is plain for anyone to see; and that the text is literal, that is,
metaphorical interpretations are rarely necessary and should be avoided in
favor of the surface meaning of the text.
The popular American Bahá'í notion is probably similar; the
major difference would be that American Bahá'ís recognize the
central role of metaphor in the Bahá'í scriptures. The popular
American Bahá'í understanding of the nature of the
Bahá'í revelation probably maintains that the text is literally
true--that it does not contain factual errors--and that it is perspicuous, that
is, the average Bahá'í can read and figure out the meaning of the
text without someone else--a Bahá'í scholar--explaining it to
Is this concept of revelation adequate? As one digs deeply into the texts,
the situation appears to be more complicated than one might initially think.
Study uncovers several dilemmas, for on the one hand one must not weigh "the
Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current" among humanity
(Kitáb-i-Aqdas, |br99) but on the other hand one must pursue an
independent investigation of truth. Or, on one hand, one must show respect for
the revelation of God and for the faith of the believers, but on the other hand
one must explore the meaning and purpose of the revelation rigorously and
thoroughly in order to understand it. And in the process of such exploration
one should feel free to ask tough questions from the perspective of faith, for
non-Bahá'ís will ask such questions but without such perspective.
This paper will assume that an investigation of revelation does not require a
choice between honesty and respect; rather, both are necessary.
Further, this paper argues that revelation has a dual nature: divine concepts
and principles, earthly languages and words; divine origin and earthly
expression. God's ideas must be expressed on this earthly plane, consequently
that expression is inevitably tied up with aspects of this plane. Not only
must the revelation use words, but it must be expressed in a grammar, it must
be composed in a style, and it must be transmitted through a brain, a hand, and
a voice. The words, the grammar, the style, the brain, and the hand or voice
will all leave traces that we can identify in the thought of God when it
becomes Text. They may all generate limitations on the revelation, as
Bahá'u'lláh Himself suggests when He laments "how great the
multitude of truths which the garment of words can never contain!"
An early American Bahá'í, Thornton Chase, gives one example of
the earthly limitations that 'Abdu'l-Bahá faced. Chase spoke about
situations where American Bahá'ís often would not tell
'Abdu'l-Bahá about the problems in their Bahá'í
I think we have been silent too long, and that it is our spiritual duty to the
Cause to send Him ['Abdu'l-Bahá] information by material means of the
things and acts which cause the real hindrances to the spread of the Cause in
this country. He, of course, knows the spiritual conditions, of both
individuals and communities, but He does not know the especial acts which cause
those conditions, except as He is informed. He, while here, is "under the law"
and needs to learn by the conditions and laws of this plane, the same as any
human would have to do. His Spiritual Perception is, of course, perfect, but
that does not signify that He "knows everything" that is done.
Chase puts his finger on a very real problem that can arise when one takes the
concept of divine revelation too seriously: one can decide not to tell the Head
of the Faith something on the grounds that He already knows it omnisciently.
There are many stories in the Bahá'í community about the
supernatural access to information that Bahá'u'lláh,
'Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi had. My point here is not to dispute
these stories; merely to say these superhuman mechanisms do not seem to have
been working at every instant. If they had, Bahá'u'lláh would
not have read newspapers, as He suggests He may have done; 'Abdu'l-Bahá
and Shoghi Effendi would not have constantly written the friends asking for
news; they would not have pumped visiting pilgrims for their knowledge and
evaluation of places, peoples, cultures, and individuals; and Shoghi Effendi
would not have had to do massive, monumental research in order to edit The
Dawn-breakers or write God Passes By.
One must also consider the fact that Bahá'u'lláh's writing is in
a style distinct from the Báb's and Muhammad's, a fact
that suggests a role for the human experience of Bahá'u'lláh in
clothing the divine revelation in words. There is the fact that in Epistle
to the Son of the Wolf Bahá'u'lláh frequently quotes from His
earlier writings, but when He does so there are occasional very slight
differences in wording; as if the revelation of God were transmundane and
wordless, and the process of clothing it in words is partly under the control
of the creative genius of Bahá'u'lláh Himself.
Further, when one examines the historical and cultural information contained
in Bahá'u'lláh's writings one notes that the knowledge to which
He customarily refers is information that would have been available to Him via
ordinary nineteenth-century means. Bahá'u'lláh never reveals a
commentary on Confucian ethics or Buddhist cosmology, neither of which would
have been readily available in nineteenth-century Persian or Arabic. He does
not discuss Olmec hymns or Indo-European myths, none of which are available to
even twentieth-century scholars, but which must have existed and which must
have contained profound statements worthy of discussion, commentary, and praise
by a Manifestation of God. Bahá'u'lláh revealed in pure
Persian--much to the astonishment of the Zoroastrians--but never revealed in
ancient Avestan, Iran's ancestral tongue.
In short, Bahá'u'lláh's earthly knowledge is miraculous, but not
too miraculous. Perhaps the reason for this is given in
Gleanings (XXIX) when Bahá'u'lláh describes the principle
of separation and distinction. According to this principle, God does not force
anyone to accept the Manifestation of God; rather, evidence sufficient for the
spiritually minded is presented, so that they may recognize the Manifestation
of God and thus be distinguished and separated from those who do not have such
a spiritual suseptibility. Consequently no miracle by a Manifestation can be
too miraculous, for it would force all to acknowledge Him.
One might also consider a fascinating comment by a wise Bahá'í
who described the Kitáb-i-Aqdas as consisting of a series of distinct,
concatenated flashes of revelation. Indeed, one gets this impression
sometimes. Consider the last four paragraphs
of the Aqdas, 187 through 190. All but one consists of two or three short
sentences. The pattern followed by each paragraph is as follows: first there
is a sentence giving legislation: the four pronouncements in this case are 1)
not to overburden animals, 2) what to do if someone unintentionally takes
another person's life, 3) the exhortation that the world's parliaments select a
universal language and script, and 4) the prohibition of smoking of opium. The
sentence revealing divine legislation is then followed by one or two sentences
that either exhort the reader to follow the commandment, emphasize the divine
nature of the commandment, or comment on the purpose of the commandment.
One is struck by the fact that the last paragraph of the Aqdas forbids opium;
there is no concluding paragraph, no wrap-up, no parting exhortation. This is
even more surprising when one notes that the prohibition on smoking opium had
already been given in paragraph 155, so its repetition in paragraph 190,
strictly speaking, is not necessary. Furthermore, penalties for murder such as
the one stated in paragraph 188 are also found in several widely-scattered
paragraphs of the Aqdas, rather than being bunched together systematically.
Certainly one cannot argue that Bahá'u'lláh was untidy and
unsystematic in His presentation; in several places the
Kitáb-i-Íqán is masterful in the way it crafts and builds
arguments logically. Perhaps, for reasons best known to God, the revelation of
the Aqdas came to Bahá'u'lláh in discrete flashes. The style of
some of the other tablets revealed after the Aqdas--especially the ones with
lists--also gives this impression.
Bahá'u'lláh offers what might be called a classic description of
how He received revelation in the
Lawh-i-Hikmat. There He
Thou knowest full well that We perused not the books which men possess and We
acquired not the learning current amongst them, and yet whenever We desire to
quote the sayings of the learned and of the wise, presently there will appear
before the face of thy Lord in the form of a tablet all that which hath
appeared in the world and is revealed in the Holy Books and Scriptures. Thus
do We set down in writing that which the eye perceiveth. Verily His knowledge
encompasseth the earth and the heavens (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh
Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, 148-49).
Presumably Bahá'u'lláh was not claiming complete innocence of
earthly sources of knowledge when He says "We perused not the books which men
possess and We acquired not the learning current amongst them." It seems very
unlikely--though it cannot be proved--that Bahá'u'lláh never read
a book. Rather, this statement probably was meant to reinforce
Bahá'u'lláh's claim that he was not an expert via earthly means;
He had never attended a clerical madrasih, a
Súfí takíyih, or a western-style
The purpose of Bahá'u'lláh's statement, one can argue, is to
describe His divine access to knowledge. If one takes
Bahá'u'lláh's statement at face value--a dangerous assumption,
since it is probably metaphorical in some sense--one notes that
Bahá'u'lláh does not claim to have constant and instantaneous
access; first He must "desire to quote the sayings of the learned and of the
wise," and then He waits until a tablet containing all knowledge appears before
Him. If this description is literal it raises some intriguing questions.
Bahá'u'lláh says the tablet containing all knowledge appears when
He wishes to quote a saying of the "learned and of the wise"; if He is
describing a process that is occurring while He reveals a tablet, what is the
source of His revelation before He summons up the tablet of all
knowledge in order to quote the learned? Surely He is not creating His tablet
via a normal human process of meditation, thinking, and inspiration, and then
tapping into a tablet of all knowledge, as it were, to bolster His points with
a few juicy quotations and flesh out His footnotes! Perhaps two types of
revelation exist, one that comes directly from God and one that allows Him to
utilize earthly sources of knowledge in a divine way. Two types of revelation
seem to be at work in the Fire Tablet, which appears to be a dialogue between
Bahá'u'lláh and God.
A short tablet in Gleanings (XL) may provide another window into the
process of revelation. In the first paragraph Bahá'u'lláh is
speaking to God. It laments that "Thou hast breathed Thy breath into me, and
divorced Me from Mine own Self." It goes on to give a glimpse into the nature
of Bahá'u'lláh's superhuman humanness. The second paragraph
begins "thereon a Voice replied" and apparently represents a divine response.
The third paragraph states "I was preparing to make reply, when lo, the Tablet
was suddenly ended, leaving My theme unfinished, and the pearl of Mine
utterance unstrung." One cannot but wonder what happened; did
Bahá'u'lláh's reception of the tablet of all knowledge suddenly
break down? What processes were at work in the composition of this tablet,
including the part involving Bahá'u'lláh's own voice?
A statement in the Íqán raises interesting questions about
historical information present in Bahá'u'lláh's tablets. The
Íqán begins with descriptions of the lives and trials of the
various Manifestations of God. When talking about Noah
Bahá'u'lláh notes that several times Noah prophesied, but "the
divine promise was not fulfilled," which caused many of Noah's followers to
abandon Him. This statement itself raises questions about the nature of
revelation and whether God can change His mind.
Bahá'u'lláh then adds the following: "Finally, as stated in
books and traditions, there remained with Him [Noah] only forty or seventy-two
of His followers" (Íqán, 7-8). This certainly looks like an
example of Bahá'u'lláh tapping the tablet of all knowledge; but
in this case the Most Great REFER program brought up at least two statistics,
and they conflicted (assuming the information is meant to be taken literally,
of course; perhaps Noah could have had forty followers in one sense and
seventy-two in another). Rather than give the "correct" number,
Bahá'u'lláh chose to give both traditional numbers and passed
over their apparent logical contradiction without comment.
Related to this example is Juan R. I. Cole's detailed and controversial
exploration titled "Problems of Chronology in Bahá'u'lláh's
Tablet of Wisdom" (World Order, vol. 13, no. 3 [Spring, 1979], pp ?).
Cole noted that Bahá'u'lláh both quoted from and paraphrased
Islamic philosophers, including historical information from them that
contradicts the far more precise understanding of the ancient world that modern
history and archaeology have constructed.
For example, Bahá'u'lláh states that the Greek philosopher
Empedocles "was a contemporary" of King David, "while Pythagoras lived in the
days of Solomon" (Cole, p. 31; Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed
after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, 145). Modern historians place David's
reign from circa 1010-970 B.C.E. and Solomon's as 970-30 B.C.E.; Empedocles's
birth and death dates as c. 490 and 430 B.C.E. and Pythagoras' as c. 580-500
B.C.E. In short, modern history places a
400-500 year gap between the Greeks and the Israelites and reverses the birth
order of the philosophers. Modern historians would view the dates as extremely
reliable, with errors of a few years to a decade at most; a greater change in
the dates would violate radiocarbon dates, ancient Egyptian written records,
and do severe violence to ancient Greek histories. Cole even notes that the
statement of Muslim historians that David, Solomon, Empedocles, and Pythagoras
were contemporaries contradicts the general Muslim historians' understanding of
ancient dates, which were usually only a few decades different from modern
Cole concludes that "the central propositions contained in the Tablet of
Wisdom can be infallibly and eternally true, although particular
statements that express or support those propositions might prove
inaccurate outside their original context" (p. 39 [italics in original]).
Shoghi Effendi's statement that "we must not take this statement [the
contemporaneity of the four men] too literally" (Cole, p. 37n) does help
resolve the matter, but again underlines the fact that
Bahá'u'lláh is not literally, historically correct.
When one turns to the writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi one
finds a similar situation. 'Abdu'l-Bahá is reported to have stated "I
do not know everything. But when I need to know something, it is pictured
before Me." This statement bears remarkable
resemblance to Bahá'u'lláh's description of revelation in the
Tablet of Wisdom. Again, it expresses both divine access to knowledge ("it is
pictured before me") and limitation ("I do not know everything").
In The Secret of Divine Civilization 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that
Luther "was originally one of the twelve members of a Catholic religious body
at the center of Papal government" (p. 41). This statement is an aside in a
discussion of the Protestant Reformation, a reform, 'Abdu'l-Bahá noted,
that was "demonstrably correct." Luther's membership in such a body would
greatly surprise Luther scholars, who would be hard pressed to find any hint
about involvement in it in the thousands of pages of Martin Luther's personal
papers, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of pages of biographies,
memoirs, popular pamphlets, and attacks on Luther penned by his contemporaries.
For that matter, Catholic historians probably are unable to find any evidence
in the extensive Vatican archives of a twelve-member body "at the center of
It seems likely that 'Abdu'l-Bahá was repeating an understanding of
history circulating in the nineteenth-century Middle East. This inference is
reinforced by the following:
One of the friends in Yazd wrote to him [Shoghi Effendi] stating that the
account given by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in one of His Tablets about events related
to the martyrdom of some of the believers in that place was in conflict with
known facts about these events. Shoghi Effendi replied saying that the friends
should investigate the facts carefully and unhesitatingly register them in
their historical records, since 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself had prefaced His
recording of the events in His Tablet with a statement that it was based on
news received from Yazd (Universal House of Justice, letter to an individual
believer, July 25, 1974).
This does not prove that 'Abdu'l-Bahá was drawing from ordinary sources
of information when discussing Luther's career, but does show that
'Abdu'l-Bahá uses such sources in His writings.
Regarding Shoghi Effendi, we have two statements written by secretaries on his
behalf in 1944 and 1956 respectively:
The infallibility of the Guardian is confined to matters which are related
strictly to the Cause and interpretation of the Teachings; he is not an
infallible authority on other subjects, such as economics, science, etc.
The Guardian's infallibility covers interpretation of the revealed word, and
its application. Likewise any instructions he may issue having to do with the
protection of the Faith, or its well-being must be closely obeyed, as he is
infallible in the protection of the Faith. He is assured the guidance of both
Bahá'u'lláh and the Báb, as the Will and Testament of
'Abdu'l-Bahá clearly reveals. (Quoted in Universal House of Justice,
letter to an individual believer, July 25, 1974)
The same letter by the Universal House of Justice states that "in the matter of
accuracy of historical fact, Shoghi Effendi had to rely on available
information." Thus there is no reason for a Bahá'í to assume
that every fact in God Passes By or The Dawn-breakers must be
completely and literally accurate. The House of Justice adds in the same
letter, however, that "the Guardian was meticulous about the authenticity of
historical fact," a statement amply demonstrated by any careful checking of the
contents of God Passes By.
The purpose of the above discussion is primarily to provide context for one's
study of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Such context relates to the question of the
relevance of nineteenth-century Bábí and Islamic legal context to
the understanding and future application of the laws of the Aqdas. It is
likely the Universal House of Justice is not in the position to rule that some
laws of Bahá'u'lláh were only meant for the nineteenth century
and thus will never be made binding on the friends; this might be tantamount to
abrogation or change of the laws of the Aqdas, which the House notes in the
Introduction to the Aqdas (p. 5) that it cannot do. But possibly some laws
make the most sense in a nineteenth-century context and need to be avoided
through legitimate means, such as some inheritance laws, which can be avoided
if the believer writes a will.
Possibly the above provides parallels when one turns to the question of how to
evaluate and treat Shoghi Effendi's translation of about a third of the Aqdas.
The Universal House of Justice has laid out a set of dilemmas about Shoghi
Effendi's translation that remind one of the dilemmas over the historical
accuracy of facts in the revelation. On 8 December 1964 the Universal House of
Justice stated that
the beloved Guardian was not only a translator but the inspired Interpreter of
the Holy Writings; thus, where a passage in Persian or Arabic could give rise
to two different expressions in English he would know which to convey.
Similarly he would be much better equipped than an average translator to know
which metaphor to employ in English to express a Persian metaphor which might
be meaningless in literal translation.
This passage makes it clear that Shoghi Effendi's translation was a part of his
authority to interpret the Word; an authority that a previously quoted letter
of the Universal House of Justice stated was "infallible." However, in a
letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a believer on 16
September 1992 it was noted that
while Shoghi Effendi's translations of the Writings of
Bahá'u'lláh into English carry with them a large measure of
interpretation of the intent and purpose of the Author of the text--an
interpretation which he, as Interpreter of the Sacred Text, could alone
authoritatively provide--one should not conclude that the English language into
which the Writings were translated could, therefore, be considered as a
language of Revelation.
This passage defines two limitations on Shoghi Effendi's translations; first,
the translation does not constitute a re-revealing of the original text in
English; and second, the translation carries with it "a large measure of
interpretation" suggesting that processes other than authoritative
interpretation (such as technical processes of translation) may have been at
work. Both of these conclusions find echoes in this comment by Shoghi Effendi
about his translation of the
This is one more attempt to introduce to the West, in language however
inadequate, this book of unsurpassed pre-eminence among the writings of the
Author of the Bahá'í Revelation. The hope is that it may assist
others in their efforts to approach what must always be regarded as the
unattainable goal--a befitting rendering of Bahá'u'lláh's
matchless utterance. (Kitáb-i-Íqán,
Here the Guardian notes that no translation, including his own, can befittingly
render Bahá'u'lláh into English; and that his translation is
meant to serve as the model for others in their efforts to translate
Bahá'u'lláh. From these various statements one can conclude that
other translations of Bahá'u'lláh into English are possible,
depending on the needs of various audiences and time periods. But none will
ever replace Shoghi Effendi's translations, as the latter contain a large
element of authorized interpretation that no ordinary translator will ever be
empowered to provide.
Translations authorized by the Universal House of Justice are in a wholly
different theological category from Shoghi Effendi's because the power of
interpretation does not extend to them. The Universal House of Justice does
possess the power of elucidation, a power that to my knowledge it has
never defined. At minimum it involves logical deduction or induction as to the
meaning of a text, or making clear the meaning of a text through analogy.
'Abdu'l-Bahá's and Shoghi Effendi's power of interpretation, on the
other hand, appears to have been a far more dynamic and creative process, whose
results are less outwardly predictable: thus 'Abdu'l-Bahá was able to
interpret that when Bahá'u'lláh said a man could have two wives
He really meant a man could only have one, and that while in most cases
statements about men in the Aqdas applied to women as well, this was not the
case of the statement about the men of the House of Justice.
The Universal House of Justice describes the translation it has authorized as
"an acceptable rendering of the original" which will enable the reader "to
obtain at least an inkling of the splendour of the Mother Book of the
Bahá'í Dispensation" (Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Introduction, p. 10),
hardly an indication that the translation is final. Rather, in this manner the
House has made it clear that it sees itself in the position to modify its
translation in the future. It also leaves the door open to scholarly
translations and other efforts to capture other aspects of the Most Holy
The Universal House of Justice notes that
"there is a profound difference" between the Guardian's authority to interpret
and the House's authority to elucidate in Universal House of Justice to a
National Spiritual Assembly, 9 March 1965, which was published in Wellspring
of Guidance: Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1968
(Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1970), pp.
Thornton Chase to Carl Scheffler (copy),
9 March 1904, Chicago House of Spirituality Records. Chase's quote that
'Abdu'l-Bahá is "under the law" may come from Myron H. Phelps, Life
and Teachings of Abbas Effendi (New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1903), p.
The style of the Aqdas has also been
described as Qur'ánic; it, too, contains numerous seemingly unconnected
bits of information. An interesting and unanswerable question is whether the
style of the Aqdas resembles the Qur'án's because such a style
underscores the claim that the Aqdas is the new book of laws, or whether the
styles of the books resemble each other because each represents concatenated
flashes of revelation. In this regard, the Guardian comments:" All Divine
Revelation seems to have been thrown out in flashes. The Prophets never
composed treatises. That is why in the Qur'an and our own Writings different
subjects are so often included in one Tablet. It pulsates, so to speak. That
is why it is "Revelation" (Unfolding Destiny, 454).
This conclusion is reinforced by the
following statement by Bahá'u'lláh: "We have not entered any
school, nor read any of your dissertations. Inclined your ears to the words of
this unlettered One, wherewith He summoneth you unto God, the Ever-Abiding"
(Gleanings, XCVIII). Here clearly "unlettered One" does not mean
Bahá'u'lláh is illiterate but that He does not have a formal
Paul J. Achtemeier, ed., Harper's
Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), 208, 975; The
New Encyclopedia Britannica: Micropedia (London: Encyclopedia Britannica,
1979) vol. 3, p. 879, vol. 8, p. 326. Dates are given in B.C.E. (Before the
Common Era) which are the same as B.C.
 One could add that this solution, while
theologically valid because Shoghi Effendi has stated it, is logically
difficult. There is the fact that Bahá'u'lláh appears to
contrast the dating of Empedocles and David with the dating of Pythagoras and
Solomon, a contrast that is impossible if modern historical dating is correct.
Further, there is the question of how far one can stretch dates by stating they
should not be taken too literally; if I were to state that Ponce de Leon and
Sun Yat-sen were contemporaries, as were Columbus and Mao Zedong, and when
someone disagreed I responded that I should not be understood literally, my
response would be judged weak.
'Abdu'l-Bahá's words to Saffa
Kinney, as published in Stanwood Cobb, Memories of 'Abdu'l-Bahá
(Washington, D.C.: Avalon Press, n.d.), p. 21. Note that this source is a form
of pilgrim's notes and that 'Abdu'l-Bahá's words cannot be authenticated.