Origins

Sacred Texts

All of the writings of Baha'u'llah are regarded by Baha'is as divine revelation. The most important of these is the Kitab-i-Aqdas (the Most Holy Book). The writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha are regarded as authorized interpretations of the Baha'i teachings and are also part of Baha'i scripture. The writings of the Bab are regarded as divine revelation, but some of the laws that he gave were specifically changed or abrogated by Baha'u'llah.

Although Baha'is regard the Bab as the forerunner of Baha'u'llah, he was more than just a figure comparable to John the Baptist. Baha'is consider that the greatness of this age necessitated the coming of two great religious figures, and in this sense the Bab shares the stature of Christ, Muhammad, Baha'u'llah, and all of the founders of the world's religions. He is thus a founder of his own religion with its own scriptures and laws. The writings of the Bab are thus regarded as divine revelation.

The Bab wrote a great many works (perhaps the equivalent of 100 volumes), some of which were lost because of the turbulent nature of his ministry and the intense persecution to which his followers were subjected. For the same reason, only a small proportion of his writings achieved a wide circulation among his followers. He wrote in both Persian and Arabic, and his style is very dense and difficult for even learned people to understand. A comprehensive study of the writings of the Bab is still unavailable.

Among the writings of the Bab, one of the best-known and most widely circulated is the Qayyum ul-Asma (The Enduring of Names), his first work upon the declaration of his claim in 1844. It is in Arabic, is mainly theological in nature, and was often called the Quran of the Babis. The Bayan, a work from early 1848, is the most comprehensive of his writings, consisting of theological and social teachings as well as law and eschatology. It is in this book that the messianic figure of "He whom God shall make manifest" comes into prominence.

Another work of the Bab is the Seven Proofs in which he lays out the proofs of his mission. While Baha'is continue to use parts of the writings of the Bab, such as his prayers and his mystical and theological writings, his social provisions and laws are considered to have been superseded by those of Baha'u'llah, although Baha'u'llah did endorse and continue some of these (such as the calendar instituted by the Bab).

The Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah

O SON OF SPIRIT!

My first counsel is this:  Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.

O SON OF SPIRIT!

The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor.  Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be.  Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness.  Set it then before thine eyes.

During the time that Baha'u'llah was in Baghdad, before he had put forward any claim, his writings were of such quality that many of the Babis guessed his claim and were openly calling him "He whom God shall make manifest," whom the Bab had prophesied. These early writings included a book of proofs, the Kitab-i-Iqan  (the Book of Certitude); a book of spiritual and moral aphorisms, the Hidden Words ; and two mystical treatises, the Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys,  as well as a great deal of mystical poetry. While Baha'u'llah was in Edirne, he wrote a large number of works announcing his claim to the Babis as well as a series of epistles to the kings and rulers of the world—proclaiming his mission, explaining his teachings, and calling upon these leaders to take the first steps toward world peace.

The bulk of Baha'u'llah's writings date from the period that he was in 'Akka, particularly his last years in Bahji where he concentrated on dictating his works, which were usually in response to the numerous letters arriving for him. His most important book, the Kitab-i-Aqdas (the Most Holy Book) dates from the early 'Akka period (1873) and contains laws, theology, social teachings, and instruction regarding Baha'i institutions. This was followed by a series of tablets (most of Baha'u'llah's shorter works are referred to as "tablets") on his social teachings and the reforms that he envisaged for the world. The Book of the Covenant also belongs to this period; this work was read aloud after his passing and appointed 'Abdu'l-Baha as his successor.

The writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha are regarded as divinely inspired and are accounted as part of Baha'i scriptures. These include a number of works that 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote during the lifetime of his father, such as the Secret of Divine Civilization, a treatise on governance and on social and economic development; and A Traveler's Narrative, a history of the Babi and Baha'i Faith.

Once 'Abdu'l-Baha became leader of the Baha'i community, he had less time to write full-length books, and most of his writings from this later period of his life are responses to the numerous letters that he received from his followers in the East and, increasingly, in the West, and also from scholars and intellectuals in the Middle East, India, and the West. It is estimated that he wrote some 16,000 separate works and letters.

Baha'is also hold his recorded talks, whether to private groups or at public meetings, in high esteem. One collection of these, called Some Answered Questions , is particularly revered among Baha'is; in it he deals with many religious and social questions and he himself approved the text of the book. It has thus achieved the status of scripture. The other recorded talks and conversations of 'Abdu'l-Baha do not have the status of scripture, but are frequently used by Baha'is since they often contain clear and concise statements of the Baha'i teachings. It is important to note that only the writings of the central figures of the Baha'i Faith (either written by themselves or dictated to secretaries) have the authority of being considered scripture. All other talks and oral reports of the actions and conversations of the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and 'Abdu'l-Baha are not considered authoritative.

The writings of Shoghi Effendi, 'Abdu'l-Baha's successor, are not considered as Baha'i scripture in the sense of having spiritual power but are considered authoritative interpretations of the Baha'i scriptures. As with 'Abdu'l-Baha and Baha'u'llah, most of the Shoghi Effendi's extant corpus of writings consists of letters. While his early letters are mainly to individuals, as his ministry progressed he communicated more with the Baha'i institutions that he was establishing throughout the world, advising them on how to conduct their affairs in accordance with Baha'i principles. He also wrote a full-length book, God Passes By, interpreting the history of the Baha'i Faith. His other main area of writing consisted of translations of Baha'u'llah's writings. He translated three of Baha'u'llah's books and also two compilations of extracts from the writings of Baha'u'llah.


Study Questions:
     1.     What writings are regarded by Baha’is as part of their scripture and are they all regarded as binding?
     2.     Describe some of the main writings of the Bab.
     3.     What were the particular subjects that Baha’u’llah wrote about in each of the stages of his exile (Baghdad, Edirne, and ‘Akka)?
     4.     List the main books of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and describe something of the contents of each.

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