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750 muskets

Posted by Sen on December 25, 2008

[Last revised, April 2019]
Did a regiment of 750 musketmen line up to execute the Bab, in a barracks square in Tabriz, and all miss their target? Early accounts, and those closest to Tabriz, do not say that a whole regiment, or 750 men specifically, constituted the firing squad. Later reports, in the Bahai Writings, do say this. Here’s how Abdu’l-Baha tells the story, in E.G. Browne’s translation):

By one rope the Báb was suspended and by the other rope Aqa Muhammad-‘Ali, both being firmly bound in such wise that the head of that young man was on the Báb’s breast. The surrounding housetops billowed with teeming crowds. A regiment of soldiers ranged itself in three files. The first file fired; then the second file, and then the third file discharged volleys. From the fire of these volleys a mighty smoke was produced. When the smoke cleared away they saw that young man standing and the Báb seated by the side of His amanuensis Aqa Siyyid Husayn in the very cell from the staircase of which they had suspended them. To neither one of them had the slightest injury resulted.
(Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 26-7)

It’s not clear why Browne chooses this translation, which suggests that the entire Armenian (i.e., Christian) regiment formed the firing squad, but Abdu’l-Baha speaks of one fauj (company) from the Armenian fauj of the army at Urumiyyeh. Fauj is evidently used loosely to refer to a subdivision within a larger military force. Browne translates the same word a few lines later as ‘bodyguard’ and then again as ‘regiment.’ However many soldiers were present, one would assume that the majority of the soldiers, on such an occasion, would be allocated to crowd control.

The way Shoghi Effendi tells it, it goes like this:

The firing squad ranged itself in three files, each of two hundred and fifty men. Each file in turn opened fire until the whole detachment had discharged its bullets. So dense was the smoke from the seven hundred and fifty rifles that the sky was darkened. As soon as the smoke had cleared away the astounded multitude …. beheld a scene which their eyes could scarcely believe. The Báb had vanished from their sight! Only his companion remained, alive and unscathed,…
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 52-3)

and in Nabil’s version:

As soon as they were fastened, a regiment of soldiers ranged itself in three files, each of two hundred and fifty men, each of which was ordered to open fire in its turn …. The smoke of the firing of the seven hundred and fifty rifles was such as to turn the light of the noonday sun into darkness.
(Shoghi Effendi, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 510)

The Dawn-Breakers even has a photograph of the place:tabriz-511

But I have a problem with these accounts. I’m a practical man, I started my working life as a carpenter. So when I see a text say “two hundred and fifty men” lined up, I try to make a workable picture of that. Allow say 60 cm for each man (2 feet for the more imperial among us), and that gives us a line 150 metres long, or 500 feet long. How far are they from the target? I think of all the historic pictures of executions, and the range of accuracy of muskets with smooth bore barrels. 10 metres or 30 feet from the target would be safe, 15 metres would already be risky. There was a reason why the old dueling-with-pistols custom called for just ten paces, turn, and fire. Any more paces than that, and it wouldn’t be interesting. Even at twenty paces apart, your odds were better than Russian Roulette.

tabriz-diag1So let’s do a little geometry: if the line is 150 metres long, and the target is 15 metres from the centre of the line, then the soldiers on the end have to fire at a target that is just over 75 metres away (which they therefore have little chance of hitting), and they have to direct their fire inwards, turning about 80 degrees to fire across the front of their companions.

And that’s just the problem with the front file. The men on the ends of the two files behind them, firing inwards at that angle, will mow down the front rank in handfuls.

But then, would anyone in their right minds set up an execution squad with gunpowder muskets, to fire in three ranks? Either the second rank waits for the smoke to clear, in which case they can see that their work is not required, or they fire blind — in which case there are going to be wooden shutters with holes in them, and roof tiles broken, and probably bystanders hit as well. The third rank cannot fire at all, because if they did, the glowing hot remains of the wads they use to hold the gunpowder in place, and which pop out of the barrel after the bullet, would end up all over the front rank.

For that matter, think of the damage to the building from 750 bullets: and by some accounts the rooms behind the Bab and his companion were actually in use. If the commander was planning to use 750 muskets, he wouldn’t have put the Bab in front of a building in use, or anything else of value.

squad11And if you were given command of 750 men, and told to conduct a controversial execution, in a public place with a large crowd, wouldn’t you want most of your soldiers turned to face the crowd?

So how many muskets can we believe?

Let’s suppose that the commander does want to make the execution particularly impressive. It’s a show of state power. For the thunder of massed muskets, the cost of the powder and the damage to the building are an acceptable price to pay. A line 15 metres long (25 men shoulder to shoulder), 10 metres from the target, would place the men at either end of the line 15 metres from their target, and turning inward 30 degrees. That’s not too far, and the angle is not ludicrous. If the front rank kneels, another rank could be placed behind them. That gives a maximum of 50 men, not 750.

If the number of 750 is reduced to something more probable, the rest of the story (both the events and their religious interpretation as miracle and sign) can stand. This means that the accounts of Abdu’l-Baha — as Browne translates it — and Shoghi Effendi are not reliable, but this is not a problem for Bahais, as neither is regarded as infallible in historical matters. The Universal House of Justice writes, for example:

The Guardian was meticulous about the authenticity of historical fact. One of the friends in Yazd wrote to him stating that the account given by ‘Abdu’l-Baha 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-Baha Himself had prefaced His recording of the events in His Tablet with a statement that it was based on news received from Yazd. (Letter dated July 25, 1974)

The conclusion that a firing squad could have consisted of as many as 50 men is not the same as evidence that it was 50 men. For actual history, we need sources. So what do the credible historical accounts say? A few days after the execution of the Bab, the Russian Consul in Tabriz, Anitchkov, reported “the two condemned men faced death gallantly … Both were shot by the soldiers. But these latter, little used to proceedings of this sort, transformed the punishment into complete torture.” The British Consul in Tabriz, Richard Stevens, reported almost two weeks after the event “The founder of this sect has been executed at Tabreez. He was killed by a volley of musketry, and his death was on the point of giving his religion a lustre which would have largely increased its proselytes. When the smoke and dust cleared away after the volley, Bab was not to be seen … the balls had broken the ropes by which he was bound, but he was dragged from the recess where after some search, he was discovered, and shot.” These earliest reports say nothing about the size of the firing squad, and that is significant: a firing squad of as many as 50 men would be so noteworthy that it would be mentioned. The chronicle Nasikhu’t Tavarikh (ناسخ‌التواریخ), vol. 3, by the court historian Muhammad Taqi (‘Sepehr’) Kashani (محمدتقی سپهر کاشانی), known as Lesanu’l Mulk, says (1858) that following the first attempt at execution “The Bab missed the opportunity to stand before the crowd and say he escaped a thousand bullets” — but not that there were literally 1,000 muskets and soldiers. (Thanks to David Merrick for this information, see his summary of the sources here.)

Two eyewitness accounts of the execution are interesting, although they were written down much later, and not by the witnesses themselves. W.S. Blunt reports that in 1881 he met a man who claimed to have witnessed “a religious prodigy, notorious, if I remember rightly, at Tabriz. On that occasion, one of these prophets, being condemned to death by the supreme government, was bound to a cross with two of his companions, and after remaining suspended thus for several hours, was fired at by the royal troops. It then happened that, while the companions were dispatched at the first volley, the prophet himself remained unhurt, and, incredible to relate, the cords which bound him were cut by the bullets, and he fell to the ground on his feet.” Similarly, Owen Tweedy reports meeting an Armenian in Tabriz in the early 1930s whose grandfather had witnessed the execution. In his account, “…the Bab and the other stood firm, and were suspended by the arms from gallows-like frames in front of the firing-squad. The order was given and the volley rang out; but when the smoke had cleared away the Bab’s friend hung dead on his ropes, but the Bab himself had disappeared. The bullets had cut the ropes and he had fallen unharmed and had escaped into the crowd. Of course he was discovered almost at once, and once again he was hoisted on to the gallows. But the first firing-squad refused to act again, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that other soldiers were found to take their place. This time there was no mistake, and the Bab died.”
(The four reports above are all quoted in Momen, The Babi and Baha’i Religions, pp 77-82).

Again, the significant point is that these reflections of early reports do not mention the firing squad being unusually large. Two early reports do mention the size of the squad, as a small group of soldiers. In Persien das Land und seine Bewohner (1865) by Jakob Eduard Polak, the author states (volume 1. p. 350):

Bei der Execution, welche in Tabris stattfand, wurde der Delinquent gegen eine Mauer gestellt, und eine kleine Abtheilung Soldaten hatte aus Commando zu schießen.

For the execution, which took place in Tabriz, the condemned man was placed against a wall, and a small party of soldiers was ordered to shoot …”

This is confirmed by what appears to be an independent account also originating in 1865, from Mirza Kazem-Beg, a Russian from the Caucasus. He wrote a book on the Babis, Bab i Babidui, which was published in French in the Journal Asiatique in 1866. Kazem Beg’s account of the event says:
“At a signal, a platoon from the Christian regiment advanced and fired. By an extraordinary chance, the musket balls struck only the cords with which the Bab was tied: they broke and he felt himself free. A clamour arose. The Bab, it is said, moved towards the people in an attempt to persuade them it was a miracle.”
(The link opens page 377, where the story begins: the extract is on page 379).

Polak does not indicate his source, but it cannot be French translation of Mirza Kazem-Beg, since that was a published a year later. It is hardly plausible that he would have read Kazem-Beg’s Russian book and worked it into his own book, since the two books were published in the same year. Nor is it likely that Kazem-Beg got his information from Polak’s German account, because Kazem-Beg’s account is more extensive. So we have either two independent sources from 1865, or two reflections of a source that is even earlier than 1865.

Another European account from 1865, that of Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau in Les religions et les philosophies dans l’Asie centrale pp. 270-271 makes no mention of the size of the firing squad.

An account that cannot be precisely dated is cited in the ‘New History‘ collated by E.G. Browne. The New History is considerably later (circa 1880) but reflects the story as it had been told in Iran at an earlier date. In this version, Anis is executed first, with the Bab watching, then the Bab was suspended and the “regiment received orders to fire, and discharged their pieces in a single volley,” all missing except for bullets that cut the cords on which he hung. Then a Christian regiment was ordered to fire the volley, but “according to the account written by the late Haji Mirza Jani, on this second occasion also no hurt accrued to the Blessed Figure of His Holiness, but at the third volley three bullets struck him.” Haji Mirza Jani Kashani was martyred in 1852, making this a very early source, but the work he wrote seems to have been lost (Browne mistakenly identified it with the work known as the Nuqtatu’l-Kaf, which also quotes from this lost account in places). Supposing that the New History quotes him accurately, the citation indicates that in Iran at least, before 1852, the story did not explicitly say that the whole regiment was the firing squad, and the detail of only three bullets striking the Bab would imply to hearers that the firing squad was of a fairly normal size. This is not to say that Haji Mirza Jani gave an accurate account: all it tells us is where the detail of 750 rifles did not come from.

In short, early accounts, and those closest to Tabriz, do not say that a whole regiment, or 750 men specifically, constituted the firing squad. Rather they imply a normal size firing squad. Kazem Beg’s account specifies a platoon, while Polak says a small group. Perhaps the platoon became 750 as the story was told and retold, by incremental exaggeration, but I think there is a more direct explanation. Persian has fewer prepositions than English, with the result that each preposition has to serve many purposes. ‘Az’ for example can mean from, out of, than, with, belonging to and so on. So suppose that A tells B: a firing squad from (az) Sam Khan’s regiment was drawn up to execute the Bab. B understands, and tells C: a firing squad consisting of (az) Sam Khan’s regiment was drawn up to execute the Bab. C tells D, Sam Khan’s regiment was the firing squad, and D wonders, how many soldiers make a regiment? Oh, 750 … then they must have been drawn up in lines. But whoever it was who added the idea that the lines fired in turn, was not thinking this scenario through.

As I’ve noted, early reports such as that of Kazem Beg in 1865 say or imply that a platoon from the regiment was the firing squad for the first attempt to execute the Bab. Where was it first reported that it was the entire regiment, of 750 men? In The Babi and Baha’i Religions, Moojan Momen records a letter from Reverend L. Rosenberg, a British Missionary in Adrianople, to the Evanglical Alliance in London, bringing the persecution of Baha’u’llah and the Bahais to their attention. No date is given for the letter itself: Momen quotes a copy of the letter that Rosenberg sent to the British Consul in Adrianople, John Blunt, on August 13, 1868. The letter begins with an account of Rosenberg’s meeting with Baha’u’llah, and a confused account of the origins of the new religion. In the course of this he says,

Having received the word of God [i.e., the Bible] as the rule of faith and practice, and as test of all other religious books and religions as far back as 25 years, Mirza Hussein Ali Ishan [Baha’u’llah] and Mohammed Ali [Ali Muhammad, the Baba] began to preach in Iran before the Shah of Persia to all the Moslems, and during seven years they bore the ‘cross of the gospel’ under heavy persecutions till at last Mohammed Ali was apprehended, tied to a tree and 750 soldiers discharged their guns at him; thus he fell a martyr to the truth by the order of the Persian Government.

This must reflect what Rosenberg was being told by Bahais in Edirne (Adrianople), in 1868: he does not indicate having any other source, and the oddities in his account (Baha’u’llah and the Bab preaching together, Baha’u’llah called Ishan) do not match any written source I know of. One might even guess that Rosenberg was the source of the mistake, perhaps because of a mistake in translation. But that is hardly possible, since Abdu’l-Baha was in Edirne, and he says that the firing squad was a regiment or division of a regiment in three files. We can hardly suppose that Abdu’l-Baha knew nothing of this story and learned it from Reverend Rosenberg around 1868. The idea that the firing squad was larger than normal, must have circulated among Bahais in or before 1868. Perhaps the story he heard specified 750 soldiers firing, or perhaps this is Rosenberg’s addition or misunderstanding.

Please feel free to use the comments section to add any earlier sources, or credible sources from Tabriz, that I have missed.


Reducing the size of the execution squad to something that is physically possible does not minimise the miracle, it only increases its plausability. A miracle is an unlikely event that happens at a time and in a way that makes it highly significant, especially in a religious context. Execution squads have missed, airmen have jumped from a burning plane without a parachute and survived, sailors have drifted for months in a little boat with no supplies and survived. But when the founder of a new religion, proclaiming the beginning of a new age for humanity, survives his own execution, that’s a sign. It’s the timing, not the scale, that makes us read it as a miracle. To give a fictitious example: suppose a plane full of pilgrims is struck by lightening as it is coming into land, and a wing comes off. Yet it manages to land on a wing and lots of prayers. If you add to that story, that there were 750 pilgrims in the plane, it is no more miraculous. And a practical man will come along and say, there’s no aircraft on the market that seats 750 passengers. Adding an obviously impossible exaggeration makes the story less credible, not more significant.

Whether you like such stories, or have no time for things that just can’t be true, it is clear that miracles cannot be part of the essential verities, the root principles, of Bahai belief. Abdu’l-Baha says:

For if we consider miracles a great proof, they are still only proofs and arguments for those who are present when they are performed, and not for those who are absent.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 100)

Something that is valid for some people, and not for others, cannot be one of the essential verities that define Bahai identity. It follows that the Bahai community must have room to include those who don’t believe in miracles, or don’t believe this one or that one, or, like me, believe in miracles but don’t believe the impossible.

As long as you are here, you might like to know that Abdu’l-Baha wrote a tablet commemorating the Martyrdom of the Bab, which is available in a provsional translation by Adib Masumian and Joshua Hall. It is suitable for use on the Holy Day, and it says that the breast of the Bab “was pierced by innumerable bullets.”

~ Sen McGlinn

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27 Responses to “750 muskets”

  1. Barney said

    Thanks for doing the maths, Sen. I’ve often wondered if a firing squad of 750 men made sense in this physical world. And I’ve often wondered about the severing of the cords holding the Báb and his companion. I have long been sceptical about miracles and prophecies – neither of them do anything for my faith – and stories that seem to be “too good to be true”.

    For me faith has to be based on something else…

  2. Darrell said

    I, on the otherhand can believe the written account, but I’m still open to the possibilty that it may have been less than 750 who actually fired. A few years ago I participated in a “staging” (short of a re-enactment) of a 750-man firing squad. We used pin flags to mark the spot assigned to each soldier. It was a LONG expanse of about 125 meters. After reviewing some other documents and speaking with some local “gun club” historians, our host Joseph Sheppherd (anthropologist and author)determined how such a massive over-kill could have been carried out. In those days, the firing squad members would stand very close together (still encompassing a span of about 125 meters if arranged in a stright line). (I do not know if such a span was possible for the city square at Tabriz in 1850 – even with the Bab in the corner.) Although they fired one row at a time, all three rows would take aim at the outset, and try to hold their aim while rows in front fired first. With each volley, the row that just fired would drop to a knee to get out of the way of the row behind them. By the time the third row fired, they were firing blidly, because of the smoke. And of course with un-rifled muskets, it was really a crap-shoot. I know from experience that even 20 muskets can create an impressive cloud of smoke if all are fired simultaneously. But it would still take a significant number to make the area as dark as Nabil described.
    After an earlier “staging” was reported on the local news (in Bend, Oregon, USA), one of the local gun-enthusiasts recognised it as a miracle that all bullets had missed (even had the shooters aimed to miss). He was moved to investigate the Baha’i Faith and enrolled some time later.
    ///Darrell Rodgers
    Singer, Songwriter, Performer, Humorist

  3. Diana said

    Fascinating. This questioning of the stories we are told takes courage. My husband has it and through it exposes what some pretty big bloopers in historical stories of the Faith and what the accounts say, making the whole Faith susceptible to criticism re it being Divine. Most don’t bother to question bc we follow blindly and it is comfortable to be spoon fed. But it’s nice to see some people break out of their comfort zones to check logic, reason and sensiblility.

  4. Diana's Husband said

    Let me articulate what Diana tried to say on my behalf:

    That the author doesn’t believe the story is reasonable. Now, the problem he pretends doesn’t arise is the logical conclusion of not believing the story, which is either does not believe:

    1. Abdul-Baha OR
    2. someone else is lying on behalf of Abdul-Baha

    In either case, the accounts that reached us are exaggerated (or, to be more accurate, contaminated with lies). Thus, the author must confront the fact that the people who carried the religion to him are not 100% reliable. Then the problem that faces “moderate, non-literal religious” people becomes: how do you tell the divine parts from the human parts? How do you tell it’s an opinion, exaggeration, mistake, lie, or genuinely good idea? The problem is that believers will take what they like and call it divine, and leave what they don’t like and call it anything else (in this case miracle to believe in but not to believe, whatever that means). Then simply brush it off, and pretend a huge hole in the argument for that religion wasn’t created.

    Religious people cannot cherry-pick and expect to be considered reasonable in their belief. They either are logical or they suspend their logic for religion. In case of the former, you need to confront the fact that the sources of your religion are poisoned. In case of the latter, the whole article is unnecessary, because you can suspend your logic and simply believe the miracle.

    1. @Barney: you cannot be an honest carrier of religion if you strike out parts of your religion that you know are harmful to its persuasive force. Honesty trumps, so keep your inaccuracies as the founders did, and confront them with your new knowledge. If it is the truth, it will prevail. If not… well, give future generations a chance to find the truth for themselves.

    2. @Darrell: so, instead of considering the possibility the story is inaccurate (i.e. a lie), you went through all of this trouble, figured out it is not possible to miss (i.e. it was a miracle) and still ignored that and believed it happened? See, I can live with people who are honest with themselves and say: when it comes to my religion, I take it on faith and not reason. And, Darrell, you seem to be one of those. At least you’re honest, if mistaken.

  5. Sen said

    I’m sure I’ve seen somewhere a letter from Shoghi Effendi in response to someone noting a historical error in one of Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to martyrs in Iran. It said something like – Abdu’l-Baha’s account is based on the sources available to him. You should correct the story in light of the facts.

    I am preparing to fly from New Zealand to Europe, so with one thing and the other it will be a few days before I can pursue that memory. I for one do not think that ever historical event mentioned by Baha’u’llah or Abdu’l-Baha must have happened just the way they report it.

    I think it misleading to introduce the word “lying.” When stories are passed from person to person they are prone to misunderstanding and alteration. In this case, while the best evidence is that a platoon from the regiment formed the firing squad, and all missed their target, the story that reached Abdu’l-Baha was that the regiment formed the firing squad, and all missed. The first of these is a remarkable and wonderful event, and a sign for those who care to read it: that is, a miracle. The second is more so, but is geometrically impossible and supposes the commander of the regiment was a lunatic.

    I will be offline for most of the next few days, my apologies for any delays

  6. Diana's Husband said

    No worries re delay. Take your time.
    I will specifically address this sentence you wrote because it is, in my opinion, the most important. You wrote: “I for one do not think that ever historical event mentioned by Baha’u’llah or Abdu’l-Baha must have happened just the way they report it.”

    It’s problematic to accept that God’s representative on Earth is allowed mistakes in historical accounts. After all, much of what they are supposed to teach is within the context of historical “facts”. Imagine the messenger of God telling you that Noah’s flood is true. Then you discover it is impossible. As a reasonable woman/man, you must reject the reliability of that “Messenger of God”. You cannot pretend it didn’t happen. You have to think: was the “Messenger of God” lying to me? Or was he ignorant? There’s no alternative. He either knew it was false and told it as if it were true (i.e. the very definition of lying) or he honestly did not know (i.e. he was ignorant). You mean to tell me you believe the messenger of God can be either lying or ignorant and you will be OK with that and still follow that person?

    As for Abdul-Baha, the standard is a little lower. But he introduced his book with this:

    “A summary of facts” collected “with the utmost diligence” and “whereon the disputants are agreed”. That’s how he presents his book, deliberately for the those who are “athirst after the fountain of knowledge and who seek to become acquainted with all events.” This is a book written for the specific purpose of teaching factual historical events to his followers. If you can’t rely on Abdul-Baha achieving the task of telling the history of the faith without errors, how can you possibly rely on his work in the more challenging task of interpreting the writings of the messenger of God? If you admit Abdul-Baha’s writings are not perfect, you must admit the parts of your religion that are reliant on his work are not pure.

    I think I wrote enough for now. Wishing you safe travels and a pleasant trip.

    PS: it is not misleading to use the word “lie” in my sentence: “In either case, the accounts that reached us are exaggerated (or, to be more accurate, contaminated with lies).” Here’s the logic of my use: the first exaggeration must have been a lie. I do not know who did it, but whoever it was s/he lied. Hence, an account that contains exaggerations, is more accurately described as containing lies.

  7. Sen said

    There’s another explanation that doesn’t involve anyone telling lies, or deliberately exaggerating:

    Az’ for example can mean from, out of, than, with, belonging to and so on. So suppose that A tells B: a firing squad from (az) Sam Khan’s regiment was drawn up to execute the Bab. B understands, and tells C: a firing squad consisting of (az) Sam Khan’s regiment was drawn up to execute the Bab. C tells D, Sam Khan’s regiment was the firing squad, and D wonders, how many soldiers make a regiment? Oh, 750 … then they must have been drawn up in lines.

    Fundamentalists in every religious community take an all-or-nothing approach, in which religion trumps every other kind of knowledge, on some points (though they are seldom consistent in applying it to everything). I’m not a fundamentalist. I’m not at all disturbed by the historical errors in Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of Wisdom, or Abdu’l-Baha’s Traveller’s Narrative, or Shoghi Effendi’s God Passes By. I’m not even mildly disturbed to find Shoghi Effendi apparently classifying homosexuality as an illness, or Baha’u’llah saying that every planet has its creatures. I don’t expect them to teach me history, or medicine, or astronomy, I turn to them to find out about the Kingdom of God and the principles underlying the Bahai community. I consider them inspired, but as I understand it inspiration does not generally take the form of God dictating the words, but rather of God inspiring, and the author finding the words, the stories, the references that together will convey something of that inspiration to an audience, using their language and drawing on what the audience can be expected to know.

  8. Diana's Husband said

    Your explanation regarding the motive of including the stories is plausible, but certainly less likely than my explanation. It is more likely that someone made up the details of the story than it being like you say. I’ll hold you to that. Show me where your leader went wrong and that he was justified in making that error. To say that he’s going to relay “facts” agreed upon by all disputant and then tell a fabricated/exaggerated story? That reasonable presumption is suspicion, and not making up unlikely excuses to save face.

    Here’s what I draw from your response:
    1. You are OK learning about the “Kingdom of God” (and dare I say take instructions on how to live your life?) from someone whose “utmost diligence” is incapable of relaying basic historical facts, and still that person calls his book a “summary of facts”… not stories; facts. You mean to tell me that someone who cannot possibly master the skills of telling anything accurate about this world (in which he lived) is capable of teaching us about other worlds? Do you see how absurd this is?

    2. The leader of your faith was not as diligent as some Muslim scholar whose approach was: when in doubt, either don’t tell the story or don’t call it a fact. Your faith seems to lower the bar from the previous one rather than raise it. I think Baha’is would disagree with you on that.

    3. You do not believe your religion has any substantive knowledge it can contribute to human knowledge. After all, inspiration is something many (perhaps most?) humans are capable of. Your claim of your first three leaders being inspired by a god is baseless, except for their own word, which according to you, cannot be relied upon 100%. Further, even if their inspiration were from a god, it still led them astray (e.g. on homosexuality). Tell me now, why should anyone, including yourself, follow them as a substantive source of any kind of knowledge more than any other humans? (e.g. Joseph Smith, Sigmund Freud, the masons, or the Babis.) There doesn’t seem to be any reason why these people are different: they make an effort, yet they make the same kind of errors that others make. Thus, the content of their writings should not be held as more special than that of any other thinkers.

  9. Sen said

    > “You are OK learning about the “Kingdom of God” (and dare I say take instructions on how to live your life?) from someone whose “utmost diligence” is incapable of relaying basic historical facts, …

    Absolutely. Anyone who has done any history, even recent history, knows that 99.99% of the data is lost, even with best methods and utmost diligence. Gaps and errors in the historical record are completely unavoidable, so making the absence of them a prerequisite for trust, would make all trust of all people impossible. My approach is rather to look critically at relative reliability and relevance: is a source reliable in comparison to others? Are the gaps and errors in it relevant to my purpose? A historical error in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is not relevant, if my purpose is to read the work as literature. Astronomical errors in the Quran or the Bahai Writings don’t affect their religious message. I don’t expect an academic paper on child mortality to guide me on ethics. A discussion of ethics is not vitiated if it turns out that a case study used as illustration is historically inaccurate. In short, knowledge and the discussion of it is not one field, but multiple fields, and one must read the literature of each field in terms of its own purposes and norms, and read each piece of literature in terms of the knowledge and context of the author, and of the intended audience.

    The religious value of the life of a religious teacher, or of a body of religious teachings, is self-evident by religious criteria, in the same way as the literary value (or lack of value) of a work is self-evident by literary criteria. Such criteria may be systematised and critically discussed by those who apply them, but they cannot be made evident to someone who has no interest in religion, or literature, as the case may be. The difference between, for example, Jesus and Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, and other well-meaning people, is not that the former are better historians, but that they are religious teachers who very persons serve as inspirations to us in the spiritual life.

    If Abdu’l-Baha had known about the early account I have found, which states that a platoon from the Christian regiment constituted the firing squad that executed the Bab, I am sure he would have given it unbiased consideration and would very likely have preferred it to the more fantastic accounts available to him.

    A similar case is reported in the following letter from the Universal House of Justice (July 25, 1974:

    One of the friends in Yazd wrote to him stating that the account given by ‘Abdu’l-Baha 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-Baha Himself had prefaced His recording of the events in His Tablet with a statement that it was based on news received from Yazd.

  10. Diana's Husband said

    > Absolutely. Anyone who has done any history, even recent history, knows that 99.99% of the data is lost, even with best methods and utmost diligence. Gaps and errors in the historical record are completely unavoidable, so making the absence of them a prerequisite for trust, would make all trust of all people impossible. My approach is rather to look critically at relative reliability and relevance: is a source reliable in comparison to others?

    You are kidding me, right? You were not thinking that I will buy this? The loss and non-inclusion of a historical fact is NOT what we are discussing. We are discussion the deliberate inclusion of “facts” that are completely inaccurate (and actually claiming they are facts!!). I’m not asking for 99% of all facts (e.g. I’m not asking for the colour of someone’s shoes), I’m asking when you tell about the 1%, to tell it accurately.

    We both agree that your “reliable” source cannot even handle the 1% of history. We disagree if it can handle any percentage regarding the “Kingdom of God”. I think they’re making it up from what they hear people saying (e.g. members of other religions), just like they did with historical events, as you believe is the case. You, some how, think that this cannot be the case. You believe they make it up with everything except when they tell you about the “Kingdom of God”. I think that’s wishful thinking.

    I think continuing this discussion will not be productive for two reasons:
    1. You consider them reliable, I do not. You have your “reasons”, I have mine. My standards of reliability are much, MUCH higher than yours. This is not a play about Caesar; this is a claim of the utmost importance: to be carrying a message from a god. I would not accept Shakespeare to carry such a message; you would.

    and, most importantly,

    2. You started moderating comments. This creates a power imbalance. I only participate in discussions where I am exact equal to all others.

    All the best.

  11. April King said

    Please excuse me for asking, but…. do you guys suppose that 750 angels could dance on the head of a pin? And pray do tell please, has any advancement in anyone’s understanding come about due to this debate (make sure you answer this correctly — any advancement/anyone –)?

  12. Sen, I agree with your logic and graphic. But, don’t you think that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi knew basic geometry? They could imagine the same panorama (even better than you or me). Even so they said 750. Why? I don’t know.

  13. Sen said

    I also do not know why they did not see that it would be impossible for an entire regiment to be the firing squad. One factor to consider is that the death of the men in that regiment was seen as a divine punishment, which is even harder to accept as divine justice if only 50 of them fired the shots, and the remainder restrained the crowd. Personally I do not believe that God administers justice in this world: quite the opposite — the good generally have only their virtue as reward, while the wicked and the selfish prosper.

  14. Hasan Elías said

    The wicked and the selfish “prosper”, but the current notion of this and of “success” is a material one.

  15. desir0101 said

    All the comments at that time on BAB’s martyr.

    I read from this source that Anis was felt dead at the first volley even as told by Mirza Jani.
    Why in Bahai history it was said that Anis was left unharmed.

  16. Sen said

    The sources differ in many ways. There is no point in classifying them as “Bahai” and “not-Bahai.” Each has to be examined on its merits and we may well have to say that it is not clear which is more accurate. As for the 750 rifles, however, we can use the standard of reason: clearly that did not happen. So an account that says it did (and this includes Bahai and not-Bahai sources) must have undergone some development during transmission.

  17. dale ramsdell said

    You could ask a dozen people ten years after the Super Bowl what they remember and get ten variations, each from the perspective of their position in the audience, blurred by both spectators and players on the field. Accuracy will never be 100% and what is gleaned will consist of normal human error. Still, they all agree that a game was played which caught their excitement and each had certain “snapshots” in their own individual memories.

    Unless a professional reporter was present who was assigned objective duties for historical accuracy, the usual human element will be present and basic recollections passed on. It is reasonable that some misunderstandings and inaccuracies are to expected, as most people do not have photographic memories.

    The general consistencies include a “regiment” was assigned which, if it consisted of 750 soldiers, does not necessitate that all participated in the actual shooting of the Bab and Anis. What is important is that the execution took place in Tabriz and that, similar to the crucifixion of Jesus, an historic Figure was put to death. Then, one should ask, “Why did this take place?”, and investigate His Writings which so infuriated the religious leaders of the day.

    For me, the Writings of the Bab are unlike any normal human works. They flow as do the verses of the Quran, widely acknowledged as a literary masterpiece in the Arabic language. Both tend to confound the learned, who are unable to reproduce similar constructs no matter how much time they are given, let alone by means of spontaneous outpouring, without pause of the pen or having to reference any Book.

    Until one gains the ability to appreciate the Writings of the Bab and see in them the Word of God being written, one fails to see the central point of the story of the execution, which is that the religious leadership of Iran so feared Him that they found it necessary to destroy the Pen which produced such an overpowering outpouring of Divine Knowledge. This is the very same reason Christ was crucified.

  18. John said

    In the discussions above, no mention has been made of the effect of hundreds of musket balls striking two individuals that were tied together as the Bab and Anis were. As I recall, both Nabil and ‘Abdu’l-Baha described the bodies as being so riddled by bullets that they were enmeshed together and inseparable. That is not consistent with merely 10s of bullets, but may be with hundreds of bullets.

    I hesitate to even say this, but the last remaining physical evidence that could prove one way or another the number of bullets that struck them may be buried in Mount Carmel.

    In the comment above by Darrell, he said they did a staging of 250 firing positions, so it is physically possible one way or another to do so, although not of you assume they were standing 10 or 15 meters away. I have imagined that they formed an arc, and if so, they could have been equidistant between 50 and 100 meters away. Obviously, it would have been insane to do that, but many of the other execution methods that were used at the time seem completely irrational and intended to mark the perceived gravity of the “crime” by outdoing all other executions.

  19. Sen said

    The early accounts, and Abdu’l-Baha according to a pilgrim’s note (Latimer) state that Anis was killed in the first volley, but the Bab was unharmed. Kazem Beg’s account, which is the earliest I know of which is likely to be based on “insider” information (as distinct from Sheil’s account, where one must allow for the fact that he is a foreigner in Iran), states that Anis was executed first, and then the Bab. So the bodies could not be fused together. (French translation published on page 380 of the Journal Asiatique, April-May 1866).

    However in A Traveler’s Narrative, Abdu’l-Baha had said that Anis and the Bab were killed in the same volley. And in one tablet, Baha’u’llah refers to their bodies being mingled.

    For parallel accounts of the execution, see David Merrick’s collation.

    The Springfield 1842 musket, illustrating the best technology of the day, had an effective range of 50 to 75 yards (for a mass of soldiers, firing in the general direction of an opposing mass of soldiers). But soldiers in Tabriz would hardly have the latest guns. They might well have Russian muskets, or local products modelled on Russian ones, and in the Crimean war the short range of the Russian muskets was a factor. So I don’t think it is plausible that an officer would tell soldiers to fire at a single target from 50 metres, let alone 100 metres.

  20. John said

    The great diversity of accounts shown in Merrick’s site are probably to be expected with such a dramatic and impact fuel an event with so many eye witnesses (and no video.)

    Based on this discussion, I will not be describing it in the future as a full regiment of 750 all firing as a literal fact. I agree with you that a miracle occurred even if fewer than 50 actually fired.

    With regard to Baha’u’llah’s tablet that refers to Muhammad-Ali (Anis) “whose flesh was mingled with that of his Master, his blood with His blood, his body with His body, and his bones with those of his Lord, the Exalted, the Bountiful.” That is both literally true and has incalculable spiritual significance.

    Regardless of whether Anis was shot first, resuspended or was killed with the Bab, both bodies were thrown by the moat, were retrieved together and placed in the same coffin, and are buried together in Mt Carmel. They will remain there for untold millennia in the future.

  21. David Merrick said

    In “Persien das Land und seine Bewohner” (1865) by Jakob Eduard Polak (the person who witnessed Tahirih’s execution), at the bottom of p350 (p379 in the Google PDF) he interestingly refers to the execution squad for the martyrdom of the Bab as “a small party of soldiers” –
    Bei der Execution, welche in Tabris stattfand, wurde der Delinquent gegen eine Mauer gestellt, und eine kleine Abtheilung Soldaten hatte aus Commando zu schießen.

  22. Sen said

    Wonderful, thank you. I will have to check to see whether this is an independent source, or a translation from the French I quoted.

  23. There’s also another passage which, although a little out of place from what the rest say, may instead (perhaps) reflect the smallness of one of the squads where Gobineau writes that they “ended his [i.e. the Bab’s] life with their rifles at point-black range”. – d

  24. Sen said

    David, I have looked for Gobineau’s account, and found “Religions et philosophies dans l’Asie centrale” pages 270-271 (which show as pages 210-211 in the txt version):

    but there is nothing there to indicate the size of the firing squad. That suggests that it was not remarkable, but the “point blank” detail is not there.

  25. It’s the bit at p197 “à bout portant” (do a search for those 3 words) – ” de quelques coups de fusils tirés à bout portant, l’achevèrent”.
    I was wondering if this was perhaps a distorted memory deriving from a small squad.

  26. Sen said

    That bit comes after the first attempt, David, while the question at hand is how many soldiers from the Christian regiment made up the firing squad.

  27. Hello Sen! I think we are reading it differently. The Bab is shot, released from his ropes, and when recovered they execute him “à bout portant”; that makes it Gobineau’s version of the second volley; but either way, it’s a close-up firing indistinctly remembered, perhaps from the first volley but depicted as the second volley. I can’t see how else it can be read 🙂
    (My original page number was incorrect as the phrase appeared twice)

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