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All Palestine their home: a prophecy of Abdu’l-Baha?

Posted by Sen on September 4, 2016

In the older editions of Some Answered Questions (pp 65-66 in the 1985 edition), Abdu’l-Baha says,

In the same way, Israel, scattered all over the world, was not reassembled in the Holy Land in the Christian cycle; but in the beginning of the cycle of Baha’u’llah this divine promise, as is clearly stated in all the Books of the Prophets, has begun to be manifest.

You can see that from all the parts of the world tribes of Jews are coming to the Holy Land; they live in villages and lands which they make their own, and day by day they are increasing to such an extent that all Palestine will become their home.

The question was asked, is this a fulfilled prophecy of the Master, or is it yet to be fulfilled?

The answer – in my opinion — is that this is not a prophecy at all, it describes the conditions in Palestine in Abdu’l-Baha’s time, which he and his listeners could see around them. The 2013 translation of Some Answered Questions, revised by “a committee at the Bahai World Center” reads:

Likewise Israel, which had been scattered throughout the world, was not gathered together in the Holy Land in the course of the Christian Dispensation, but in the beginning of the Dispensation of Baha’u’llah this divine promise, which has been clearly stated in all the Books of the Prophets, has begun to materialize.
Observe how from all corners of the world Jewish peoples are coming to the Holy Land, acquiring villages and lands to inhabit, and increasing day by day to such an extent that all Palestine is becoming their home.

The new translation is better, although the differences are small. In the first sentence, it is just that the terminology has been aligned with Shoghi Effendi’s choices. Cycle is changed to Dispensation for example. The alignment with Shoghi Effendi’s vocabulary is important, because as long as we use translations that are not aligned with one set of preferred translations for key terms, the community will spend some time discussing “differences” that only arise because of different translation choices. Shoghi Effendi adopted a lot of EG Browne’s chosen terms, I assume for the same reason. In his day, Browne’s translations were quite a large part of the texts available in English. Some Answered Questions is not the only text to be revised so as to align with Shoghi Effendi’s vocabulary choices: Tablets of Baha’u’llah revealed after the Aqdas and Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha have gone through the same process.

In the second sentence, “(the) tribes of Jews” in the older translation is what is literally there in the Persian, the revision committee has judged – and I agree – that the word “tribes” gives the probably unintended implication of the 12 tribes of Old Testament history. This is another alignment with Shoghi Effendi’s choices: he translates this word (طوايف) as peoples, kindreds etc.

“Acquiring” villages and lands, rather than the old translation’s “make their own” is more accurate. There is an implication in the Persian of purchase, without that being stated, while “make their own” suggests expropriation.

“To inhabit” is closer to the Persian than ‘they live in.’ I would prefer “they settle.” A more significant difference is that the sequence of events in the old translation is wrong: it is not that the Jews live in villages and make them their own, but rather that, (first) acquiring lands and villages, they (then) settle there.

Finally, the point which prompted the question of prophecy in the first place: “all Palestine is becoming their home” is correct, whereas the old translation had “will become their home.” Abdu’l-Baha’s argument would miss its point if this was a prophecy for the future, because he is expecting his listeners (1904-1906) in Palestine to look at the situation around them, see that this is happening, contrast it to the situation throughout the Christian era, and conclude that something fundamental has changed – the Bahai era has begun. If this were a prophecy, he would be asking people to believe something (a new era has begun) on the basis of what he says will happen! It would not be a persuasive proof. But this is the reading put onto the text by Helen Hornby, the editor of the compilation Lights of Guidance. She introduces the second sentence in our quote with the heading “All Palestine to Become Home”(p. 498). Which, if one forgets the historical context, might lead some to see a prophecy of a state here, rather than an observation about Jewish settlers making Palestine their home.

The Persian text for these two sentences reads:

و همچنين اسرائيل پراکنده در جميع عالم
در دوره مسيحی در ارض مقدّس مجتمع نشدند
امّا در بدايت دوره جمال مبارک اين وعد الهی
که در جميع کتب انبيا منصوص است
بنای ظهور گذاشته ملاحظه

مينمائيد که از اطراف عالم طوايف يهود بارض مقدّس آيند
و قرايا و اراضی تملّک نموده سکنی کنند
و روز بروز در ازديادند
بقسمی که جميع فلسطين مسکن آنان گردد

The last verb, گردد / gerdad, is the present tense of گشتن/ gashtan, to become. Because of the meaning of “become”, the word has to be translated as a present continuous: [all Palestine] is becoming [their home]. Compare to the expression قطره قطره جمع گردد وانگهی سیل شود, meaning roughly “Drops gather one by one, and suddenly become a flood.” In light of this, the change in the new translation to “all Palestine is becoming their home” is justified.

shoghi-effendi-sittingThe next question is, can we assume that Shoghi Effendi, who must have seen the older translation, was satisfied with it? That Shoghi Effendi saw the older translation is certain, although it is impossible that he saw the 1985 edition of Some Answered Questions. The book was first translated into French by Hippolyte Dreyfus, and then into English by Dreyfus and his wife Laura Barney. The 1908 text was edited and corrected in various editions, so in general, when investigating what Shoghi Effendi saw in Some Answered Questions, one has to go back to editions of his lifetime. However with regard to our quote about Palestine, the relevant sentence in the 1985 and 1990 editions is the same as it was in the first, 1908, UK edition (p. 76).

Shoghi Effendi was supervising the publication of The Bahai World when, in 1955 (volume 12, 1951-1954, p. 103), this section was quoted using the old translation. But as we have seen in my previous posting, on Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablet of Emanuel, Shoghi Effendi concentrated on main points and left minor things to be sorted out in the future. He read and approved a great deal, but this does not make all that reading equivalent to his own compositions. He also concentrated on translating Baha’u’llah’s major tablets and rarely made a new translation of Abdu’l-Baha. So all we can say from this citation in The Bahai World is that the older translation, in which this appears to be a prophecy of the Jews taking over all of Palestine, did not draw his dissatisfaction to such an extent that he would put his other responsibilities aside to fix it.

The 1937 pilgrim’s notes of Mary Maxwell also report Shoghi Effendi as citing the text in English, using the wording of the 1908 translation, but no weight can be put on this since, in writing up her notes, Mary Maxwell would naturally go to the book itself to get the exact quote.

Gary Matthews and Michael Sours, and perhaps other Bahai authors, have cited the text in its old translation and built arguments upon the words “will become” and the idea of prophecy. This underlines a point I’ve made previously, that when dealing with texts in translation, and especially in the case of early translations of Bahai texts into European languages, one must never put any great weight on a single word or phrase, for it might be evidence only of the translator’s clumsiness. Although the book has been well loved and intensively used in the Bahai community, the 1908 translation of Some Answered Questions falls in the category of ‘early translations’ that are to be treated with caution.

18 Responses to “All Palestine their home: a prophecy of Abdu’l-Baha?”

  1. Excellent analysis. Judiciously nuanced. A worthy resource.

  2. Sen, many thanks for illuminating these nuances and their context. I agree: The distinction between “will become” (the old translation) and “is becoming” (the new one) is important. Kudos to the translators for refining this and to you for showcasing their work and its background.

    May I suggest, however, that you overstate your case in proposing that “this is not a prophecy AT ALL”? You’re of course correct to observe that it “describes the conditions in Palestine in Abdu’l-Baha’s time, which he and his listeners could see around them.” But does not the newer translation, which you quote, also indicate he’s saying something about the future? Here’s what I mean:

    Referring to the age-old prophecy of Israel’s gathering in the Holy Land, ‘Abdu’l-Baha says “in the beginning of the Dispensation of Baha’u’llah this divine promise, which has been clearly stated in all the Books of the Prophets, has begun to materialize.” Note the expression “has begun” (which you don’t dispute). As I read it, this clearly implies that this process is in an early stage of fulfillment. It is incomplete — there’s more to come. This being the context, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s statement (“all Palestine is becoming their home”) is saying two things: (1) This already has started, so we can see it today, and (2) there’s more to the prophecy: The process will continue.

    In my books (which you kindly mention — thanks!), I indicate that ‘Abdu’l-Baha predicted this continuation of a process already under way. That’s an extremely modest claim! It seems to me that the SAQ text, even in its amended form as you’ve quoted, fully supports my usage. Granted, I should revise my discussion to emphasize the “has begun” rather than the (incorrect) “will become”! This is a tweak I’ll gladly incorporate in future editions.

    My books “Challenge of Baha’u’llah” and “He Cometh with Clouds” do mention such things as the creation of the State of Israel, and the more recent lifting of Soviet restrictions on Jewish migration. But I take care to avoid saying ‘Abdu’l-Baha specifically foretold such events. I mention them only as being consistent with what he did say about the as-yet-unfinished unfolding of a long-ago prophecy.

    We certainly agree that Baha’is should approach such topics in minimal and rigorous fashion. When certain statements make sense as referring only to contemporary events (rather than to the future), then that is how we should read them. (I don’t see that as being the case here.)

    We also must avoid unwarranted deductions — and I strive to do that. My 1993 “Challenge” (for example) was to my knowledge the first Baha’i book to dissect and openly question the long-standing Baha’i assumption that “world peace” (in the form of the Lesser Peace) would fully materialize within the 20th century. To my own admitted dismay, I could find no support in Baha’i authentic scripture for this “prophecy”. Many widely cited proof-texts struck me as relying on inferences of the most fanciful and unwarranted sort. It was actually in early 1989 that I became skeptical of this “consensus of the faithful” (as you’ve aptly termed it). I’m profoundly grateful that I was able to place my caveats on public record by the early Nineties.

    The “gathering of Israel” texts need to be viewed with similar reserve. That strikes me as especially crucial given the tinderbox political climate in the Middle East and elsewhere. You perform a valued service by holding our feet, individually and collectively, to that analytical fire!

  3. Sen, I appreciate very much your efforts to look closely at important Writings which we may gloss over or which contain certain ambiguities, and that you rightly consider history, translation and context in your examination.

    However, in this particular case, if you look at the whole ‘tablet’ of the Master from which the selection you quote is drawn, is it not clear that it is entirely about prophecy?

    The first line begins with the prophecy of Isaiah and covers this subject for the first two paragraphs. The third paragraph talks about that in the cycle of Baha’u’llah “likewise…the earth will be transformed” and discussed the ways in which that will happen. The fourth paragraph talks about how in the cycle of Baha’u’llah science and knowledge will make great progress. The fifth paragraph relates the bringing together of people in the Baha’i Faith to the prophecy of Isaiah. The sixth para talks about “one of the great events which is to occur in the Day of..Baha’u’llah” and mentions among other achievements “that in this cycle Israel will be gathered in the Holy Land”. The seventh para states that this prophecy about Israel was not fulfilled during the Christian cycle but will in this cycle. This seventh and last para ends with the statement “all Palestine will become their home”. In other words, the entire text is about prophecy, and refers from beginning to end with prophecy about the Jewish people as well as the oneness of humanity.

    The amazing thing, for me, is that this prophecy, made by ‘Abdu’l-Baha in a number of passages as early as 1897 and repeated later in Some Answered Questions, when the total number of Jews in Palestine was about 45,000 souls, was fulfilled. One hundred years later, the Jewish population of Israel is 4.7 million, representing more than a hundred fold growth.

    From 1770-1880s, the Jewish enlightenment (Haskalah, hebrew word for reason, intellect) was in full swing. In 1791, the French Revolution led France to become the first country in Europe to grant Jews legal equality. Britain gave Jews equal rights in 1856, Germany in 1871. The cultural historian Fritz Stern called the leap of the German Jews from poverty and deprivation into great prominence in the arts and sciences “one of the most spectacular leaps in European history”. Germany by the late 19th century was “Europe’s most cultivated, certainly its best-educated country. Germany had the world’s finest elementary school system, the highest literacy rate and the best universities. By 1913 more books were published annually in Germany than in any country in the world. The German Jews were among the most assimilated in Europe.

    It is true that pogroms against the Jews in the Pale of Settlement in Eastern Europe, where most of Europe’s 6.5 million Jews lived, had already begun to intensify in the 1880s after the assassination of the Tsar was wrongly blamed on the Jews and reached their peak in the 1901-1914 period. However, the great majority of Jews in Europe were apparently not Zionists, particularly the religious, although the first small Zionist Congress had already been held in 1897. Those who escaped from Europe went not to Israel but to the new world; by 1924, two million Jews had arrived in the United States. Whereas, the first Aliyah (going to the land of Israel) from the Pale of Settlement, which began in 1882 and continued intermittently until 1903, saw only an estimated 25,000-35,000 Jews immigrate to Palestine, half of whom left within a few years The second and third Aliyahs (1904-1914, 1919-1923) brought just 80,000 more Jews to Palestine. Either the interest among the Jews to go to what was then Palestine was low, the attractions of America were greater, or the obstacles to going to Israel were insuperable. Despite these most definite trends, the Master saw that events would transpire to bring the Jews in large numbers to Palestine.

    Who can deny that His prophecy that all Palestine is becoming their home is being fulfilled? Today, Israel, more or less controls all of Palestine and inhabits a significant part of it. The Master did not comment on the legal or ethical aspects of the return of the Jews, the exact extent of their settlement or say that it would be permanent. He looked into the future and proclaimed that a prophecy unfulfilled for 2000? years, would occur — which it has.

  4. Sen said

    Thanks for the feedback Gary, that’s the great thing about blogging as opposed to journal articles and books. You not only get feedback, you get a chance to correct your errors and omissions.

    You are quite right that Abdu’l-Baha says that the prophesied gathering of Israel has begun (the new translation is accurate here). This implies that he expects it to continue. However I see two distinct things here. One is the gathering of those who had been scattered, in accordance with prophecies. This is divine sanction for coming together, but not a divine sanction for territorial claims or a right to live in a territory. The other is “all Palestine is becoming their home.” He observes that Jews are settling throughout Palestine. Now it could be that Abdu’l-Baha believed that the prophesies of the gathering of Israel explicitly or implicitly entailed that all Palestine would be their home, with the implication that they have a right of return: it would be against God’s will to exclude them from the land of Israel (and the boundary definition issues that implies). Because these are two different things, it’s up to those who want to make the claim that Abdu’l-Baha foresaw and endorsed this outcome to produce evidence for it in his writings.

    The issue arose, and my posting was written, because one or more anti-Bahai writers in the last week have pointed to the change in the translation of Some Answered Questions as evidence of a cover-up of Bahai support for Zionism. There are some people within the Islamic Republic of Iran who are quite obsessed about linking the Bahai Faith to Zionism. In this authenticated talk, Abdu’l-Baha does not prophecy that Jews will make all Palestine their home (and not anyone else’s home), rather he observes that Jews (individually) have made their homes throughout Palestine.

    There is evidence in Zia Baghdadi’s pilgrim’s notes, which Kamran Eqbal was working on when he died, showing that Abdu’l-Baha was very concerned about the trend of Jewish settlement in Palestine. He foresaw trouble not because Jews were coming, but because they were forming separate settlements and exercising with arms. I hope that these pilgrim’s notes (in Arabic) may be published, and that they will support Kamran Eqbal’s view of their implications.

    I was (and still am) sorry to observe that the voices warning there was no such thing as a prophecy of the Lesser Peace by the year 2000 were not heard at the time: that meme was like a freight train with no brakes, heading straight down the tracks to an inevitable wreck and great disappointment.

  5. Kaveh Hemmat said

    “The last verb, گردد / gerdad, is formally the past tense of گشتن/ gashtan”

    I was under the very strong impression that gardad IS the present tense of gashtan, and the past (continuous?) tense is gardid (گردید) (and gasht would be the past perfect? I don’t remember the grammatical terms, but am quite sure about the meaning). So the original is already grammatically in the present tense.

  6. Kaveh Hemmat said

    (Actually, I’m 100% sure about this, gardad is definitely present-tense, not past, although I seem to recall that it could be used to describe future events as well, in classical Persian & in ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s writing–I think khvahad [past tense] is a relatively new way of doing the future tense. In any case, I agree with the new translation.)

  7. Sen, I could not agree more with your comment. I don’t believe ‘Abdu’l-Baha in the SAQ passage (or any other authenticated source with which I’m familiar) was endorsing Zionism. Certainly not in anything like its present political forms, with aggressive territorial ramifications.

    Even if the original 1908 translation (“will become”) were correct (and it isn’t), I wouldn’t infer territorial or boundary predictions — much less endorsements! To me it seems entirely conceivable that in the fullness of time, there could be a sovereign Palestinian State alongside a sovereign Israeli State. In a peaceful world, with prejudices abated and interfaith tolerance established, it seems equally conceivable that Jews could live freely throughout Palestine, and Palestinians freely throughout Israel. Just as Americans and Canadians now travel and, with suitable paperwork processing, settle throughout America and Canada.

    If it is risky to extract detailed predictions from vague generalities about unspecified timelines, how much more risky to draw current policy mandates! Thanks for this all-too-timely example.

  8. Herb Dreyer said

    Sen, Could you please elaborate on your last paragraph in response to Gary and concerning the “lesser peace”?

  9. Hooshang S. Afshar said

    Thanks Sen for explaining at the end why you narrowed down on one word, I was a little apprehensive. But you are doing the right thing, thanks.
    It’s the prophecy that the Jews after “abomination of desolation” in Daniel 9:27 and Matt 24 and Luke13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
    13:35 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” As we know a long and horrid persecution ensued and now they returned to the holy land their homeland of since Biblical times. In the Thief in the Night it’s all well written about. For instance in 1844 Ottoman government allowed Jews to visit Palestine and so on.
    مينمائيد که از اطراف عالم طوايف يهود بارض مقدّس آيند
    و قرايا و اراضی تملّک نموده سکنی کنند
    و روز بروز در ازديادند
    بقسمی که جميع فلسطين مسکن آنان گردد

    If I may I want to translate this as Farsi is my native tongue. The 3 words at the end of each line except for 3rd line ازديادند are in future tense. This word is present tense and as you know it means ‘are increasing’. So, “will become” is correct. آيند will come, سکنی کنند will inhabit, مسکن آنان گردد will become their home. بقسمی که جميع فلسطين مسکن آنان گردد in a way as though all Palestine will become their home. Does this mean they will oppress and kick Palestinians out? Of course not. Later migrants to a country don’t deport or exile the earlier migrants! Not in the US or New Zealand or Australia. The Arabs waged a war against the Jews and lost, Moslems always hated them; it’s in Quran. What is happening in the world and Islam is what happened to past religions when a new one was revealed. Moses and all the events and pogroms of Joshua led to the supremacy of the Jews. Jesus and humiliation of Jews and fall of pagan Rome and Christian’s world conquest. Now, humiliating fall of Islam and yet to be fulfilled warnings of Baha: LXI. The world is in travail, and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned towards waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly. Its perversity will long continue. And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake. Then, and only then, will the Divine Standard be unfurled, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its melody.
    (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 118)

  10. Sen said

    Dear Herb,

    I discussed the idea that the Lesser Peace would come in the 20th century in two posts on this blog: Century’s End in and Century of Light. The first recaps the evidence that Bahais of my generation, including the Universal House of Justice and a number of familiar Bahai authors expected universal peace to arrive in the twentieth century. Some of the texts on which this belief was based did not refer to the twentieth century; others did refer to the twentieth century or dates in the 20th century, but were pilgrims’ notes. The fusion of these unauthentic indications of a peace to be achieved in the twentieth century, with authentic statements about things to be achieved in this century, led to an end-of-century hype among the Bahais, particularly in the United States, which did our reputation no good and led to an irrational agenda of things to do by the year 2000. After 2000, the failed prophecy led to disillusion and cynicism on the one hand, and more fervent (but not more effective) efforts to attract the masses on the other. If people could be persuaded to enter the Faith in troops, groups or even small handfuls, the confirmation this would give to the faithful would outweigh the disconfirmation they had just suffered. The problem is, when we ‘teach the Faith’ to someone because we need to receive psychological confirmation from their interest, this is repulsive. What is attractive is when we share what we have, to meet the needs and interests of the other person.

    In Century of Light I looked at the authentic texts that refer to ‘this century,’ and particularly at Shoghi Effendi’s citation and interpretation of Some Answered Questions in The Promised Day is Come, and the Tablet of Abdu’l-Baha known as the “Seven Candles of Unity”, which Shoghi Effendi cites on the same pages of The Promised Day is Come, and also in The World Order of Baha’u’llah.

    Even without examining the Persian texts (which I do), we can see cases in which ‘century’ is clearly not 100 years. Often it means the Bahai dispensation, the period between Baha’u’llah and the next great prophet, which will be at least 1000 years according to Baha’u’llah. For example:

    1. The Spiritual Assemblies to be established in this Age of God, this holy century, have… had neither peer nor likeness in the cycles gone before.
    (Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, page 82)

    2. The teachings of Baha’u’llah are the light of this age and the spirit of this century.
    (Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, page 107)

    3. In every century a particular and central theme is, … confirmed by God. In this illumined age that which is confirmed is the oneness of the world of humanity.
    (Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, page 114)

    In Shoghi Effendi’s writings, when he is translating the words of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, ‘century’ means an age or era, when he is writing in English it is 100 years, sometimes in the Gregorian calendar but usually in the Bahai calendar. However there’s at least one place where he mixes these two uses:

    Such, dearly-beloved friends, is the effusion of celestial grace vouchsafed by the Almighty to this age, this most illumined century! We stand too close to so colossal a Revelation to expect in this, the first century of its era,
    (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 63)

    In the first sentence, this ‘illumined century’ is parallel to ‘age’ and to ‘era,’ meaning the dispensation of Baha’u’llah, but in the second sentence, “the first century” is 100 years, in the Bahai calendar, ending in 1944.

    By looking at the Persian words underlying the text I’ve mentioned above, I show that the same thing is going on in the 7 candles of unity and in Some Answered Questions: the same Persian terms are used, and the meaning is again “the dispensation of Baha’u’llah” not “the 20th century.”

  11. Sen said

    I do not agree ایند و کنند are in the future tense. This is the what is called the present tense in English grammar, and it is translated with an English present tense: they do and they come respectively.

  12. Sen said

    You are right, it is present tense. I will fix that, thanks ~ Sen

  13. Sen, regarding the purported prophecy of universal world peace in what ‘Abdu’l-Baha called “this century” — I hadn’t considered the possibility that “century” in that context might refer to some period of other than 100 years. Your evidence that it does strikes me as quite convincing.

    In “Challenge of Baha’u’llah”, however, I accepted, at least for discussion purposes, the standard Baha’i assumption that “this century” means the 20th century using the Gregorian calendar. And I found that even if we adopt that strict reading, there *still* is no clear prophecy of universal peace within the 20th century!

    Aside from dreadfully unreliable and inauthentic sources, the *only* candidate for this supposed “prophecy” is the Master’s assurance that the “unity of nations” would be securely established in “this” century. In that “Seven Candles” Tablet, however, he clearly shows that by “unity of nations” he means something other than “unity in the political realm”. The Lesser Peace is explicitly defined in our authoritative Texts as unity in the political realm — and it is this political unity (we are taught) that is the condition for ending warfare among nations.

    This being so, what is meant by “unity of nations”? It could mean lots of things other than a complete cessation of military conflict. Shoghi Effendi wrote (in the 1930s? if I recall) that the world’s unity in the economic sphere was already fully established, along with unity in the sense of national interdependence. Interlocking systems of travel and communication already had cemented all nations, well before the year 2000. There were plenty of other highly significant senses in which all nations were fully united. It’s just that political unity wasn’t one of those senses, and there never was any prophecy suggesting it would be. There were only indications to the contrary.

    I’m so often wrong, in so many ways and about so many things, that I more than half expected my doubts about the Lesser Peace timeline to be wrong as well. It would have given me immense satisfaction to watch the Lesser Peace materialize on the standard schedule. Sadly, my reservations turned out, for once, to be uncharacteristically on the mark. Not even I can be wrong with 100% consistency.

  14. Sen said

    Dear Gary,

    Unity of Nations is defined by Abdu’l-Baha, in the 7 candles tablet:

    The fifth candle is the unity of nations [wahdat-e watan] – a unity which
    in this century [qarn, a span of years] will be securely established, causing all the
    peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland.

    An earlier translation by Shoghi Effendi ( Bahai World vol 2 pp 50-
    51) reads:

    The fifth candle is national unity which in this century will be
    securely established, causing all the peoples and nations of the
    world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland.

    Neither “unity of nations” nor “national unity” conveys the connotation of watan, homeland, so the English reader is left groping to see the connection between “unity of nations” (which sounds like an international treaty or confederation) and people regarding themselves as citizens of one fatherland. In fact, wahdat-e watan means “the unity created when people regard themselves as having one homeland.” It’s an attitude, not a treaty or organisation. The “nations” are not states, but the ethnicities and religious communities of the world: compare to the Will and Testament “kull min `ali al-ard mellat wahed wa jens wahed wa watan wahed kardad” = “that all the dwellers on the earth may become one people (mellat, religious community) and one race, that the world may become even as one home.”

    In an earlier translation, the translator has tried to convey this by inserting the word “brotherhood”

    The fifth light is the union of nations. In this century the union of brotherhood will appear in absolute might — at last all the people of the world will consider themselves natives of one country. (Baha’i Scriptures, 444)

  15. Thanks for these details, Sen. Elsewhere, as you know, ‘Abdu’l-Baha says “All will dwell in one common fatherland, which is the planet itself.” Reinforcing what you already said, Shoghi Effendi connects this statement to the Seven Candles “watan”: “This is the stage which the world is now approaching, the stage of world unity, which, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha assures us, will, in this century, be securely established.”

    Although the Guardian clearly is referencing the Seven Candles Tablet, he uses the expression “this century” in English with no context to suggest it means anything other than what it would normally mean in English. I agree with your arguments indicating that in the Persian, the potential meanings are more elastic. However, I can also understand why English-only readers (like me), without knowing the linguistic nuances that are clear to you, might insist “he said century, he meant century!” (I don’t say that, but some might.)

    But this still says nothing about the Lesser Peace in any military/political sense. That has long struck me as projection and wishful thinking. During the 20th century’s first half, the Guardian wrote: “The interdependence of the peoples and nations of the earth, whatever the leaders of the divisive forces of the world may say or do, is already an accomplished fact. Its unity in the economic sphere is now understood and recognized.” So by that time the world’s peoples (races and ethnicities) already were dwelling in a common homeland — and this unity was widely recognized at least in the economic sphere. (That is, an upheaval anywhere could have repercussions everywhere.)

    I would argue that long before the year 2000, this recognition had become far more than just economic. Throughout the globe, there was widespread discussion (and acceptance, even if it sometimes was grudging or resentful) of the reality that we’re all human beings stuck in the same small planetary boat. (Carl Sagan’s “pale blue dot”.) We all knew that people in one part of the world could destroy the planet for everyone (nuclear winter) — or act in ways that would benefit everyone (inventing the Internet). This made the world a profoundly different place from what it was throughout most of human history.

    The Seven Candles Tablet doesn’t say people will like (much less celebrate) their common humanity. To me it simply suggests that this common humanity, along with the oneness of the world as our common home, will be widely understood. The occurrence of riots protesting “globalization” underscored the fact that people knew these changes were occurring. They may not have liked what they saw, but they saw it.

    But this brings us to another problem with taking the Seven Candles “unity of nations” as a prophecy of military peace: The tablet says this unity will in “this century” be established, “causing” all to regard themselves as citizens of a common fatherland. Logically, however, a discrete event can occur at one time — within a defined period. Its causal after-effects may then play out over a very long, open-ended time. Even though this “unity of nations” (in the homeland sense) was cemented during the 20th century, the tablet doesn’t say that the resultant sense of world citizenship will also fully be realized in the 20th century. It places no specific timeline on that flowering.

    Suppose I say, “My dad taught me, when I was 12, to operate a lemonade stand, thereby leading me to develop into a billionaire business tycoon.” This is something a Warren Buffett type might write in a memoir. Something happened by age 12 that caused an outcome that took many more years. We can read the “unity of nations” statement the same way: Things would happen in “this century” that would cause a universal sense of citizenship and brotherhood. But it doesn’t say the latter long-term outcome would happen immediately — only that the cause would be in place.

    Please note, I’m not saying that these ways of reading the Seven Candles Tablet are necessarily the best or most correct ways. I’m just saying they are *available* ways! The wording was flexible enough to allow wide latitude in how it might play out. And it *did* play out in ways easily reconciled with the wording — even if we interpret “century” in its most strict English sense.

  16. Sen said

    Dear Gary,
    I agree that it’s difficult for someone using only the English text to be sure what Shoghi Effendi meant when he cited the 7 candles tablet. That’s why I approached this text on my blog posting (Century of Light) via other texts translated by Shoghi Effendi:

    “This is the Day which past ages and centuries can never rival…” to “Peerless is this Day, for it is as the eye to past ages and centuries, and as a light unto the darkness of the times.”
    (Cited in Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 79)

    Briefly, in every age and century differences have arisen in the days of the manifestation of the Daysprings of Revelation, …
    (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 120)

    Such objections and differences have persisted in every age and century.
    (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 81)

    In every age and century, the purpose of the Prophets of God and their chosen ones …
    (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 120)

    I have already given similar examples in the writings of Abdu’l-Baha. We can see that, most often, Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha use “age and century” (or one or the other term) to mean the dispensation of a Prophet.

    Then for the term used in the Persian, which refers to a unity which “in this century [qarn] will be securely established.” Compare to other translations of this term by Shoghi Effendi: “in every dispensation [qarn], the light of divine guidance …” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah p. 36). He translates the plural, quruun, as ‘past ages’ in the “7 Candles” itself, and elsewhere as “ages” (Gleanings pp. 132, 145), “generations” (The Promised Day is Come, p. 4) and “dispensation.”

    In short, in the “Seven candles” and elsewhere, where Shoghi Effendi translates qarn as century, he expects us to see that it is simply a synonym for age or dispensation. This is very good news twice over: we do not have a ‘failed prophecy’ to explain, and it means that the century [qarn] of light is just beginning.

  17. Michael Sours said

    Hi Sen,

    You raised some important points and I mostly agree.

    I also see no evidence in any Baha’i texts that there would be a homeland exclusively for Jews. And I see no definitive idea of where borders would be established. There is one passage that gives a contexts that could be interpreted to mean specific known borders, but it is not clear:

    “The conclusion of this terrible conflict [War of 1914–18], the first stage in a titanic convulsion long predicted by Bahá’u’lláh . . . marked the extinction of Turkish rule in the Holy Land and sealed the doom of that military despot [Jamál Páshá, the Turkish Commander-in-Chief] who had vowed to destroy ‘Abdu’l–Bahá . . . and enabled, according to Scriptural prophecy, so large an element of the ‘outcast of Israel,’ the ‘remnant’ of the ‘flock,’ to ‘assemble” in the Holy Land, and to be brought back to ‘their folds’ and ‘their own border,’ beneath the shadow of the ‘Incomparable Branch,’ referred to by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His ‘Some Answered Questions’. (God Passes By 305)

    That is, this could be taken to mean the area west of the Jordan that existed then under the British Mandate.

    You are probably already aware of this but in 1919, a reporter, (Marion Weinstein) wrote an article for Globe and Commercial Advertiser (New York, July 17, 1919.) quoting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as declaring that Zionists must work together with other races: “If Zionists will mingle with the other races and live in unity with them, they will succeed. If not, they will meet certain resistance.” (See Weinstein, Marion. “[‘Abdu’l-Bahá] Declares Zionists Must Work with Other Races” Star of the West. Vol. 10, no. 10. Chicago, Illinois: Bahai News Service, 1919; Reprint: Star of the West: Volume 6. (June 1919–February 1921). Kidlington, England: George Ronald, 1984.)

    This seems to indicate that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá believed inclusiveness was necessary for the success of Jews in the region — “live in unity with them.”

    This should (in an ideal world) be feasible because the Qur’an too echos the same biblical teachings and expectations about the land being given to the Israelites (5:21, 7:137, 26:59) and the return to it in the end times (17:103).

  18. Sen said

    Dear Michael,
    Abdu’l-Baha’s reported remarks to Marion Weinstein match with what I recall Kamran Eqbal saying about Baghdadi’s pilgrim’s notes, and are consistent with what we know of Abdu’l-Baha’s ideas about race, religion and community.

    Given that there is no indication that the Bahai central figures envisaged a homeland exclusively or especially for the Jews, the question of borders does not arise, if we are simply asking what the Bahai leaders thought. For them, borders are an administrative detail serving social organisation; neither religious nor nationalistic agendas arise to make borders something sacred. I am cautious about putting any weight on Jeremiah 31:47 as regards the borders of a homeland, because it seems to me that Jeremiah is talking about the returning people crossing the border, not the repossession of land within the border. The King James has “:17 And there is hope in thine end, saith the LORD, that thy children shall come again to their own border.” The New International Version has “there is hope for your descendants,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.”

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