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Instrumental music in the House of Worship

Posted by Sen on June 21, 2018


Hymns, music and singing in worship are mentioned often in the Bahai writings. Many examples are brought together in the Compilation on Music. Abdu’l-Baha writes to one Bahai:

Music is regarded as a praiseworthy branch of learning … Chant (or sing) the verses of God in the great congregations and grand oratories, in the most wondrous accents, and raise such a melody in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar that the Concourse on High will resonate.

This is remarkable, given the lack of music and chanting in mosque practice: it appears more Sufi-like, or even Christian. An interesting account of Abdu’l-Baha’s encouragement for the hymn-writing of Louise Waite can be found in Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, Music Devotions and Mashriqu’l-Adhkar pages 34-37.

As for the use of musical instruments in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar (Bahai House of Worship, or meeting for worship), it is often said that this is not permitted. However I have not found any text from the Bahai central figures that forbids it, nor any text that disapproves of music made with instruments, as distinct from vocal music. Nor have I found any authenticated text that assumes or endorses the use of instruments in the House of Worship. But I have found two strong pilgrim’s notes (oral reports) on the subject.

Mahmud Zarqani, who accompanied Abdu’l-Baha in his North American travels, recalls him saying, as regards the planned Mashriq al-Adhkar in Wilmette : “Within the Mashriq al-Adhkar there will be an organ (عرغنون / `orgnoun)…”
(Zarqani, Ketab-e Badayi’u’l-Athar Vol. 1 352; trans. Mohi Sobhani, Mahmud’s Diary 371)

The word `orgnoun looks like a borrowing from English, but the word is also used for pan pipes, which were among the ancient instruments of Iran. So Abdu’l-Baha is not necessarily thinking of a large and permanently installed instrument, although that is the implication of it being in the building, rather than in the worship programme.

Another pilgrim’s note, this time in Shoghi Effend’s diary for June 8, 1919, confirms Zarqani’s recollection. Shoghi Effendi writes:

Abdu’l-Baha said: “The Temple of Ishqabad is unique in that it is the first temple of the kind that has been erected. … When its accessories are completed … when the melody of vocal and instrumental music arises and bursts upon the air with its joyous trends, when the prayers and supplications addressed at dawn and at sunrise ascend to the Throne of the Almighty, then will the effect of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar be made evident ….” Star of the West, Vol. 11, no. 1, (March 21, 1920) p. 15

A third pilgrim’s note, less reliable, says just the opposite. Louise Waite, states that ‘Abdu’l-Baha … “explained to her that in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar itself there would be only voices heard, but that in an adjoining assembly hall singing accompanied by instruments would be permissible.” (Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, Music, Devotions and Mashriqu’l-Adhkar 243, citing Waite Papers: ‘The Magic Wand’).

So we have two rather strong pilgrim’s notes of Abdu’l-Baha’s words endorsing the use of musical instruments in two different temples, one lesser source opposing it, and no authoritative text that I know of that either endorses or excludes the use of musical instruments in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar. It seems illogical to suppose that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, who in other contexts approved of instrumental music for religious purposes, would have excepted the House of Worship or meetings for worship from this general approval. And I add again: unless we find evidence that they did make such a ruling.

There is however a letter to an individual on behalf of Shoghi Effendi that says “… all he can tell you is that from the Master’s instructions it seems there will be no use of any kind of musical instruments in the Baha’i Temples. …” (3 July 1949)

Given that Shoghi Effendi himself gave little weight to letters written on his behalf to individuals (see the “related content” below), that the letter is tentative, and that the instructions referred to are not identified – and might for example be a pilgrim’s note cited by the person who posed the question – I do not consider this creates a general rule, or even necessarily indicates Shoghi Effendi’s thinking. Another letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi is addressed to an Assembly, and says “Vocal music alone may be used and the position of the singers or singer is also a matter for your Assembly to decide…” (on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, April 11, 1947: Insert with Baha’i News, No. 232, June 1950). This is a long letter: taking the letter as a whole, I can’t say it reads to me like an authoritative interpretation of the Bahai teachings. It seems very specific to what is to be done immediately in Wilmette, and cites no scriptural sources regarding the use of music. it’s also indicative, I think, that Shoghi Effendi chose to let the answer be written on his behalf. Generally speaking, when he issued an interpretation of scripture as Guardian, he did so in his own words, usually in a general letter addressed to the community or particular Assemblies. When he leaves the answer to a secretary, I think he is signaling to the reader that this answer is in a different category. I have suggested some signs we can use to distinguish Shoghi Effendi’s interpretative writings from his administrative decisions here, in my response to Fazel and Fananapazir’s work (scroll way down or search on “commentary”).

Short link: https://wp.me/pcgF5-2Yj

Related content
Sermons in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar
Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablet of Meetings as Mashriqu’l-Adhkars
Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablet of Emanuelpi352

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22 Responses to “Instrumental music in the House of Worship”

  1. Gary Matthews said

    Sen, thanks for these fascinating, deeply thoughtful reflections. Based on everything you’ve found, I see no reason why the Guardian’s guidance about instrumental music might not have been intended by him as a temporary ruling, pending further research and future legislation by the Universal House of Justice. And for all I know (which is zilch!), maybe the House of Justice is leaving that status quo in place until a lot more of the original Sacred Texts can be collected, collated, and analyzed by the Research Department. It isn’t as if these precious souls aren’t already overwhelmed by more pressing problems! Someday, Lord willing, we’ll find out.

    I’d also encourage readers to follow the link you give to the Fazel/Fananapazir article, and to your commentary below it. I had previously studied both, finding your observations extraordinarily useful and balanced. But I had forgotten the source, and am grateful to have it once again at hand.

  2. Hi Gary and Sen
    Doesn’t it all depend on whether the Guardian actually signed off vis-a-vis letters written on his behalf by various secretaries over the years? Mahmud’s Diary constitutes more than pilgrims’ notes. If I recall, the House’s letter of 30 April 1984 to the NSA of USA attaches much importance to Mahmud’s Diary (MD) and considers it a reliable account of the Master’s utterances in the West. Sorry, I can’t cut and paste at present and I don’t have the work at hand. Haifa’s explicating is found on p viii of the intro to MD. Baha’i love. Paul (not the Apostle)

  3. tamelisb said

    I inquired about this and was referred to Lights of Guidance here:

    “Vocal music alone may be used and the position of the singers or singer is also a matter for your Assembly to decide; but again, there should be no fixed point, no architectural details marking a special spot. Acoustics should certainly be the main consideration in placing the singers.”
    (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, April 11, 1947: Insert with Bahá’í News, No. 232, June 1950)

    “Music in the House of Worship is to be vocal only, whether by singers or a singer. It does not matter if a guest a capella choir or soloist is used, provided such use is not made the occasion to publicize services of Worship and the precautions you mention are taken.
    (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, March 13, 1964)

  4. tamelisb said

    Adding again – I’ve seen your thinking about Shoghi Effendi’s notes, but the Universal House of Justice’s ruling seems more definitive, at least to me.

  5. Sen said

    The evaluation of letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi is complex: the best that can be said is that each must be judged on its merits. The questions include:
    – What did Shoghi Effendi mean by reading, and sometimes signing, outgoing correspondence? Did it mean “this is just like my own words” (unlikely), or “I just like to be informed of what my secretariat is doing” or something between?
    – Is the letter correctly characterized as written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi? For example, some letters written by Esslemont are published as “on behalf” but contain personal matters between Esslemont and the Australian addressees.
    – Does a postscript in the hand of the Guardian raise the letters’ status? (In my view, not: it shows that the Guardian saw the letter, but there’s no indication he meant those with his postscripts to be treated differently. I think he economized on time and postage by adding a message from himself when a letter from his secretary was going out).
    – Given that the Guardian cannot legislate, one would assume that his secretaries also cannot legislate, and the letters cannot create a Bahai law. But this raises the question of what is Bahai law as distinct from administrative policies (which the Guardian did make) and authorized interpretations – which so far as I know could never be delegated to a secretary, but they might well be reported by or drawn on by a secretary.

    Both the reports of Abdu’l-Baha’s words that I quoted are formally speaking pilgrim’s notes, because Abdu’l-Baha spoke them rather than writing them and did not (so far as we know) check the Persian report as he did with Some Answered Questions. However Persian pilgrim’s notes are in any case more reliable than those where an interpreter intermediates, and these two examples are from our most reliable sources of Abdu’l-Baha’s words. Personally, given my studies of some of the letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi (such as those on the Tablet to Emanuel and on the Immaculate Conception and the saying of Grace), I put more weight on these reports of Abdu’l-Baha’s intentions than on the letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

    I hope that something more substantial may turn up. The point of my problematizing some of the things about the Faith that “everyone knows” is not to create problems, but to soften false certainties and, hopefully, find solutions in the form of texts and historical evidence that give us certain knowledge.

  6. Sen said

    The letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi is already referenced in the posting. I did not reference the letter from the House of Justice because naturally the House of Justice can make a ruling, and it can change its ruling as new information becomes available. It doesn’t give us information at the level of principle, unless it points us to the sources it has used.

  7. Gary Matthews said

    Dear Paul,

    You ask: “Doesn’t it all depend on whether the Guardian actually signed off vis-a-vis letters written on his behalf by various secretaries over the years?”

    Good question! The short answer is, yes, it does depend on that. The longer answer, which raises a number of fairly nuanced further questions, is that he *did* sign off on them — all of them. At least that would be the conclusion we’d reach if we take the following statement, from the Guardian’s own hand, at its face value:

    “Whatever letters are sent on my behalf from Haifa are all read and approved by me before mailing. There is no exception whatever to this rule.” (Principles of Bahá’í Administration: A Compilation. London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1976, p. 89)

    So they’re “all read and approved by” the Guardian, with “no exception”. At least that’s true of any letters “sent on [his] behalf”. Some readers have asked whether there occasionally might have been letters that in the rush of correspondence slipped through and weren’t seen by him. Such letters wouldn’t truly *be* “on his behalf” (or would they?).

    Others can and do ask precisely what being “approved by [him]” implies, with regard to secretarial letters. Does it confer the Guardian’s complete interpretive authority on whatever statement is at issue? Or does it just mean “this is okay, for now, to send out, even though it isn’t worded as clearly or as precisely as it would have been had I composed it myself”?

    Now I mention these caveats just to allow any and all theoretical possibilities. For all I know (which is zip), the House may someday find a letter from the Guardian saying some earlier letter sent via secretary had conveyed the wrong impression, or misconstrued his intent, or whatnot. For me, that wouldn’t constitute a test of faith. But I’ve never seen or heard about any such walk-back! And it seems inevitable to me that over the long span of the Guardian’s ministry, this would sometimes have happened, if Shoghi Effendi had not be ultra-protective about the integrity of his correspondence (including secretarial).

    For me, therefore, this powerful statement from Shoghi Effendi, claiming he read and approved all letters sent on his behalf, carries a lot of weight. In more than 50 years of sifting through these letters, on thousands of issues, I haven’t personally come across anything where the preponderance of evidence convinced me that a secretary had significantly garbled the Guardian’s instruction (much less written up some personal misunderstanding as Baha’i doctrine).

    That said — there are indeed letters in which a secretary uses cringe-worthy grammar, or colloquialisms such as “anyhow”, or personal recollections like “I know this one person who…” (where it clearly is the secretary speaking, not Shoghi Effendi). The Guardian was a gifted communicator; the same was not always true of his staff. We always need to read things cautiously and in context.

    Sen, in my view, performs an important service by raising these kinds of questions and parsing the evidence with such attention to detail. As he says, “The point of my problematizing some of the things about the Faith that ‘everyone knows’ is not to create problems, but to soften false certainties and, hopefully, find solutions in the form of texts and historical evidence that give us certain knowledge.”

    I’m all for softening false certainties! Including my own. Especially my own, in fact. One of the few things I know for sure is that I’ve still got plenty of false certainties I need to let go of. ≧◔◡◔≦

  8. Sen’s wording ‘formally speaking’ vis-a-vis the Master’s locutions appearing in Mahmud’s Diary (insofar as MD’s status, authoritativeness etc is concerned) is officially explained by the Universal House of Justice from sources noted above by this amateur. “…an authentic record of His utterances, whether in the form of formal talks, table talks or random oral statements.” This is unusually high and broad-ranging praise on the part of Haifa. Given said praise, I’d have thought that the Supreme Body would expand vis-a-vis distinctions relating to language(s) (Arabic, English, Farsi) as source material in MD – were it necessary to do so. Wiggle room exists, I suppose, as to distinctions between ‘authentic’ and ‘authoritative’; there’s no paucity of expounding thereto on the part of Baha’i academics, writers, the Research Dept etc.

  9. Sen said

    I too think it is a very strong text – but it falls in the category of “a record” – that is, history — and not scripture. in the Bahai Faith, canonical authority is a historical question, based on objective criteria that are given in the Bahai writings themselves, and that have been interpreted by Shoghi Effendi. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

    Thou has written concerning the pilgrims and pilgrims’ note. Any narrative that is not authenticated by a Text should not be trusted. Narratives, even if true, cause confusion. For the people of Baha, the Text, and only the Text, is authentic” (translated in Lights of Guidance, p. 438)

    and Shoghi Effendi:

    I have insistently urged the believers of the West … to quote and consider as authentic only such translations as are based upon the authenticated text of His recorded utterances in the original tongue.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 5)

    When Abdu’l-Baha authenticated Some Answered Questions, he did not simply look at the book and approve it, which he did for many books, some of them full of errors, rather he looked at the Persian notes of his words and corrected them. When he approved the first volume of Khetabat-e Abdu’l-Baha, he examined it and wrote his imprimatur on the title page, before it was printed. These are then “authenticated text[s] of His recorded utterances,” and they fall in the category of scripture.

    If the words of Abdu’l-Baha quoted in Mahmud’s diary or in Shoghi Effendi’s diary were checked and corrected by Abdu’l-Baha, they would be scripture and we could say definitely that there should be an ‘orgun or other instruments in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar. But if not — and I think it is not — then they are reliable records of what Abdu’l-Baha said, which tells us with confidence that Abdu’l-Baha did not know of any ban on musical instruments, so a search for the ban in the scriptures (which I have done so far as I am able) is likely to be fruitless. But we don’t know with confidence that Abdu’l-Baha intended to promulgate the desirability or of an ‘orgnun in the House of Worship as his authoritative interpretation. We can’t say “the House of Worship is incomplete until its instruments are in place” whereas we can say “the House of Worship is incomplete until its auxiliary institutions of social services are established.” There are authenticated texts that require these.

  10. Sen said

    Thank you Gary, from your mouth to God’s ear.

    I think there are cases of “walk back” that we can study. One is the succession of responses to the claim that the “Tablet of Emanuel” was about the Bab rather than Swedenborg.

  11. Much study has gone into your research and quite interesting analysing dear Sen. It seems questionable though whether a ruling about organs being played in Baha’i temples is a matter that must be based in Scripture. I’d have thought that Haifa’s ruling as is would suffice given the various views and diverse understandings surfacing on this thread. As you say though, the House is entitled to alter its rulings and I’d imagine that it would do so only after scholarship such as yours has been aired and consulted on by your peers. My interest in Mahmud’s Diary centers on the Master’s words about a universal language in the Golden Circle club in Boston. It’s extraordinary that a House sanctioned compilation on the language principle about 3 years ago (‘The Greatest Instrument for Promoting Harmony and Civilization) composed by prof G. Meyjes and published by G. Ronald fails to include the MD excerpt which in the House’s intro to MD constitutes an authentic account of His words.

  12. Gary Matthews said

    I wrote that for all I know:

    “…the House may someday find a letter from the Guardian saying some earlier letter sent via secretary had conveyed the wrong impression, or misconstrued his intent, or whatnot…. But I’ve never seen or heard about any such walk-back!”

    Sen replied:

    “I think there are cases of ‘walk back’ that we can study. One is the succession of responses to the claim that the ‘Tablet of Emanuel’ was about the Bab rather than Swedenborg.”

    With respect, Sen, I see no “walk back” here. You’ve outlined your case in an earlier post: http://wp.me/pcgF5-2JK. There are five documents — the Master’s “Tablet of Emanuel”, and four letters written, over a span of years, on behalf of Shoghi Effendi by a secretary. (I had previously studied all five; but thanks for pulling them together in one essay and refreshing my memory.)

    My first impression, reading these sequential letters, is that they all are strikingly consistent and mutually reinforcing. Closer study just strengthens that perception. Only the first letter (to Willard Hatch, in 1938) directly mentions the Master’s Tablet. That’s the letter where the Guardian, through his secretary, interprets ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s “Emanuel” as the Bab, not Emanuel Swedenborg. The remaining letters talk about Swedenborg, but don’t explicitly mention the Tablet.

    In your post, you state that the second letter written on the Guardian’s behalf “tacitly admits” that the first one was wrong. You’ve lost me: Where does that second letter, or any of the others, admit any such thing, tacitly or otherwise? The second letter doesn’t even *refer* to the first, or to the interpretation contained in the first. To me it isn’t even clear whether it’s referencing the Master’s original Tablet of Emanuel.

    Regarding the larger picture: If letters sent by secretary on behalf of the Guardian were as problematic as you imply (in your Emanuel post), then what was even the point of Shoghi Effendi’s insistence that he read and approved all such letters — with “no exception”? I find it far more plausible that he issued that blanket approval precisely in order to quell the kinds of speculation at issue here.

  13. Sen said

    The tacit admission that the tablet of Emanuel is about Swedenborg is in the words “while ‘Abdu’l-Baha praised the man and his noble efforts for social and religious reconstruction…” Kelsey’s article, and perhaps other correspondence, had made It clear that this tablet was in fact about Swedenborg, as well as raising the issue of whether Swedenborg was a minor prophet (Kelsey’s assertion, not supported by the evidence in my opinion). Without the knowledge that the tablet was really about Swedenborg, by what evidence could the secretary have written “while ‘Abdu’l-Baha praised the man and his noble efforts for social and religious reconstruction…”? The only place he praises Swedenborg is in the Tablet of Emanuel. So (QED) the secretary’s reply assumes that the tablet is about Swedenborg and in doing so tacitly admits that the previous letter from a secretary – perhaps a different secretary – was incorrect as a matter of fact. It was also incorrect as theology, bu that does not emerge in this letter.

    As for your query “what was even the point of Shoghi Effendi’s insistence that he read and approved all such letters — with “no exception”?”, I have discussed this towards the ending of my posting on the Tablet of Emanuel, under “Implications.” Perhaps it would be best to begin with his endorsement and promulgation of Esslemont’s work, which had serious errors. I suggest there that his attitude was to intervene only after an error on the part of a co-worker had created an issue in the Bahai community, and that his reading of outgoing correspondence served three purposes: as an opportunity to correct really serious errors, as an opportunity for him to add a personal postscript to the addressee without burdening himself with too much correspondence, and as a way for him to keep himself informed of what was being said.

    In 1931, he wrote, “I wish to add and say that whatever letters are sent in my behalf from Haifa are all read and approved by me before mailing. There is no exception whatever to this rule.” (published in the US Bahai News). But what was the question or problem that elicited this response? Was it, for example, whether the NSA must implement an instruction in a secretary’s letter? Or was the question asked, whether letters to individuals on his behalf constituted his authoritative interpretation of the Writings? I do not know. All I can say is that generally speaking he did not dictate his letters to secretaries: he either typed them himself or he delegated the composition to a secretary. I know of nothing that would allow him to delegate his unique function of authorized interpreter of the teachings, in the way that he could delegate his function as chairman of the House of Justice to a representative. My theory is that when he delegated a matter to a secretary, he signalled “this does not warrant my intervention as authorized interpreter,” and when he read and approved something, he signalled “this is adequate for administrative and pastoral purposes.” It is more like a nihil obstat than an endorsement.

  14. The Guardian’s endorsement in GPB (not simply a secretary’s letter or the like) of Esslemont’s BNE constitutes much more than a nihil obstat: ‘splendid, authoritative and comprehensive’. What anonymous American authors holding copyright over BNE did to BNEt half a century ago is one very serious error that many Baha’is understandably but erroneously attribute to J E Esslemont. What subsequent copyright holders have failed to correct in BNE, insofar as the language principle therein is concerned, despite irrefutable and clarifying scholarship that exonerates the Guardian and Esslemont while exposing anonymous and blatantly faulty emending circa 1950 to BNE that looks to the reader as though the author penned the nonsensical and damaging additions to BNE after the author’s death – is a disgrace that is now documented for posterity

  15. Roya said

    Dear Sen, You have deep and interesting topics for research.
    I did look at the Persian version of the “Badayi’u’l-Athar : pilgrim memories by Mahmoud Zarqani”.
    The word Arghanoon has a few translations, one of which is “Chorus”, that is many people singing together. So probably Abdul’Baha meant Chorus.
    This is confirmed by another phrase in the same book, page 373, where some visitors asked Abdul’Baha about the Melodies and Sounds in the House of Worship. He answered ” Melodies and Sounds should be in chanting holy verses and prayers in poem or prose, however I don’t interfere in the un-scripted issues. Whenever and whatever the Universal House of Justice rules, that is the standard.”

    Therefore, if Abdul’Baha leaves the matter to the decision of the UHJ, we should do the same.
    I personally feel more spiritual listening to the melodious voice of prayers. Sometimes instruments sound intrusive when one wants to meditate.

  16. Sen said

    I am aware of the numerous changes to BNE, but also of the numerous errors in the 1923 edition, which is online at :
    https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.48231
    Nevertheless, Shoghi Effendi called it splendid and authoritative. And he argued against some of its errors: see page 73 for the “mystic unity”, which Shoghi Effendi demolishes in The World Order of Baha’u’llah p 137 (1974 edition). Yet he took steps to have the first edition translated, without waiting for the corrections. So … this suggests to me that “authoritative” for the Guardian, when approving someone else’s work, did not mean correct and unquestionable, but rather, the best we’ve got for the purpose now. And it suggests to me that he would not let the best be the enemy of the good, that is, he would seize on the best resource available and go with it, not allowing its errors to hold up progress. That’s an approach I share: the drive for perfection and the efforts spent on polishing plans go at the cost of effectiveness now.

  17. Sen said

    A thousand thanks Roya. Perhaps he was meaning that it would have a balcony or elevated section for the choir. That would be in line with the platform for the preaching-chair: he is describing the built-in features of the House of Worship. I will certainly look for instances in the literature of the time where ‘arghanoun means a chorus. I did look extensively for meanings before I wrote the article about sermons in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, which also cites Mahmud’s Zarqani’s diary. As I recall, I only found the word at all as a rare and archaic word in the sense of shepherd’s pipes, which made me think that Abdu’l-Baha might in fact be using the English word.

  18. Sen’s profound knowledge of the errors or ‘errors’ in BNE, notwithstanding the Guardian’s eulogizing of it, is not the main point here imo. Who can say with any authority what is the real standing and authority of BNE when anonymous editors. apparently, with the approval of the USA’s NSA (if the newest intro is valid) emend the work erroneously in such a way that the average reader thinks that Esslemont penned the entire section in question. If BNE can demonstrably be shown to have received such poor treatment in one chapter, who can say what’s going on elsewhere in the book unless the House itself intervenes authoritatively. This is no small criticism given that elsewhere the Guardian has described BNE as ‘the textbook of the Faith’ and that it will move generations unborn. Wow, these praises are unusually high. No wonder then BNE has been translated into hundreds of languages. A mockery is made of scholarship, of meaningful consulting and of the right to criticize when the new copyright holders of BNE took it on to themselves to add untruths to BNE and then do much by way of inaction to shut down consultation re their errors..

  19. Gary Matthews said

    Sen, you still aren’t convincing me of any “walk-back” on the Emanuel Tablet. I’ve shared my reasoning here, at your original post: http://wp.me/pcgF5-2JK.

    Briefly, neither the Guardian nor any of his secretaries ever denied that “this tablet was in fact about Swedenborg”. I see no reason to doubt that they were fully aware of the context: The Tablet was, as you say, revealed to a Swedenborgian in reaction to the latter’s inquiry about Swedenborg. Nothing in the 1938 letter contradicts that point.

    But a Tablet about Swedenborg needn’t be *entirely* about him — and this one is not. It covers a lot of ground, much of it unrelated (or just peripherally related) to Swedenborg. There’s one particular spot, deep in the Tablet, where ‘Abdu’l-Baha refers to “His Highness Emanuel”. Shoghi Effendi (through his secretary) interprets this specific reference as being about the Bab, rather than Emanuel Swedenborg. It’s an extremely narrow, laser-focused interpretation. It says nothing about the Tablet taken as a whole — just this isolated phrase (including presumably the same “Emanuel” mentioned a sentence or two later).

    This might seem implausible were it not for the fact that the name “Emanuel” is rife with multiple meanings. In the Bible (as this Tablet’s recipient certainly was aware) the name is a prophetic reference to the Messianic Christ: It means “God With Us”. In His tactful, circumspect way, ‘Abdu’l-Baha was gently prompting Wrestling Brewster to consider that in this Day, the “real Emanuel” is the Manifestation (the Bab) who embodies “God with us” — i.e., the spiritual or symbolic Presence of God –, and who points the way forward to Baha’u’llah.

    In today’s super-secular times, not everyone relates to multi-layered scriptural exegesis of this sort. But it’s one thing our Baha’i Central Figures all shared with Swedenborg and his followers! Wrestling Brewster understood the biblical inner significance of the name “Emanuel”; he would have recognized its potential application to the Bab (or even Baha’u’llah); and he might well have taken it as a tribute to Swedenborg that ‘Abdu’l-Baha used the name in this way. Whether he ever actually decoded the Master’s hint, I don’t know: Perhaps he never did. But the Emanuel Tablet, by couching the Baha’i invitation in these terms, displays uncanny insight into Swedenborgian thinking.

  20. Sen said

    In the first instance of “Emanuel” in this tablet Abdu’l-Baha says “Emanuel (no title) was indeed the herald (mubasher) of the second coming of Christ” and in the second case “I hope that today you will arise in that of which Mr. (jenaab) Emanuel gave glad tidings.”

    I don’t see either of these as appropriate language for even a minor prophet (as Kelsey said), or a possible reference to the Bab. So if there is a reference to the Bab in this tablet, where is it specifically ?

  21. tamelisb said

    Sen, I noted here: “Music in the House of Worship is to be vocal only, whether by singers or a singer. It does not matter if a guest a capella choir or soloist is used, provided such use is not made the occasion to publicize services of Worship and the precautions you mention are taken.
    (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, March 13, 1964)

    To which you replied: “I did not reference the letter from the House of Justice because naturally the House of Justice can make a ruling, and it can change its ruling as new information becomes available. It doesn’t give us information at the level of principle, unless it points us to the sources it has used.”

    This seems a bit unfair, given your statement (which provoked my initial post): “As for the use of musical instruments in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar (Bahai House of Worship, or meeting for worship), it is often said that this is not permitted. However I have not found any text from the Bahai central figures that forbids it,”

    Whether that ruling can be reversed at some point or not – it is a ruling, and it does specifically declare that music in the House of Worship is vocal only. And of course, the Universal House of Justice is one of the Central Figures of the Faith, yes?

  22. Sen said

    No, the House of Justice is not one of the Central Figures. Its rulings are of a different nature, not just a lesser level, than the teachings given by the Central Figures and interpreted by the Guardian. The term “central figures” is coined by Shoghi Effendi (who is also not one of the Central Figures):

    …that of the Author [Baha’u’lla] and the Forerunner [the Bab] of the Bahá’í Revelation, He [Abdu’l-Baha], by virtue of the station ordained for Him through the Covenant of Bahá’u’llah, forms together with them what may be termed the Three Central Figures of a Faith …. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 131)

    You might say that you can use terms in another way, providing you define them for the reader, which is generally true. However if you wish to include the Universal House of Justice in the Central Figures, it would be appropriate to ask the members whether they consent. It is after all their name.

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