Early Writings of Bahá'u'lláh:
Where was God before Creation? The Origins of Some Terms
First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #89
Center for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
June 28 – July 1, 2009
(see list of papers from #89)
Two early Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, probably the earliest, Rashh-i-'Amá and Lawh Kull at-Ta'ám, one in Persian the other in Arabic, were translated into English and studied by Stephen Lambden and extensively researched by Wahid Ra'fati (in Persian) a decade ago, but they are still the topic of further investigation. In several places in his writings, `Abdu'l-Bahá relates to, comments on, and interprets several themes in these early writings.
The importance of these tablets, as well as the third one, the Qṣídatu `izz warqá'iyyah, is that they outline the future development of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings about the Divine and the divine manifestations, and their relation to the two levels of reality: that which is attainable by the temporal senses and that which is attainable by the prophets' superawareness (SAQ, 151).
Highly mystical, the language which Bahá'u'lláh uses in these tablets is cryptic in many places and allusions are constantly made to diverse sources which, on the whole, may be identified. Naturally, coming from the Muslim world, Bahá'u'lláh's prime source of reference is Islam: the Qur'án, its interpretations and the hadíth; references are also made to súfí ideas and language. All these aspects have been studied in depth by Ra'fati in his 1999 article in Persian in Safíniyi`Irfán (Book 2, pp. 50ff), and although he dealt only with one Tablet, Rashh-i-'Amá, his observations are also valid to other early works of Bahá'u'lláh.
However, let us not forget that Islam was not born in a void. It was born in that part of the world which had been the cradle of human civilizations, and the residues of all these civilizations were there when Muhammad and his successors created the Islamic religion and its literature. This ancient legacy was memorized and constantly developed by storytellers, poets, scholars, generation after generation, and found its way into the Qur'án and the traditions as it had found its way into the writings of the Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans and the Christians. It is therefore interesting to examine some of the terms Bahá'u'lláh uses in these early Tablets and compare them to the rich sources that represent the ancient homiletic material which found its way indirectly into Islamic hadíth literature and eventually also into the writings of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. I mean the extensive midrashic and mystical Jewish literature. I do not mean that the creators of the hadíth borrowed from the midrash, but that both the midrash and the hadíth, in the larger meaning of the word, tapped the same early sources which were available in the territory where they were born and developed.
In this lecture I shall examine a very few ideas used by Bahá'u'lláh such as the idea of the cloud as the hiding place of the Divine Being or His dwelling place before creation and after creation. I shall move through the Bible and the midrash and show that Bahá'u'lláh's world of thought and imagination is wellrooted in the same ancient ground that gave rise to various types of thinkers before him: Prophets and priests, poets and storytellers, philosophers and theologians.
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