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In search of spiritual democracy

Posted by Sen on September 14, 2018

In the 30’s and 40’s, Shoghi Effendi was encouraging the Bahais to establish the various organs of the Bahai Administrative Order, while some Bahais, notably in the Bahai community in North America, were resisting. They put forward an alternative vision, in which Baha’u’llah’s “Houses of Justice” were thought to refer to democratic governments, and the Bahai community was inclusive and had no permanent organization at all. Three ‘quotes’ from Abdu’l-Baha were central to this vision of what a Bahai community could be: “you cannot organize the Bahai Movement, the Bahai Movement is the spirit of the age” “There are no officers in this Cause” and “The foundation of this Cause is pure spiritual democracy.”

I have already written extensively on ‘You can never organize the Bahai Cause’ on this blog. In brief, it seems to originate with Percy Woodcock’s 1909 pilgrim’s notes, mistakenly taken up by Star of the West magazine in 1914, and then into various other publications. The same posting includes a historical survey of anti-organisational sentiment in the Bahai community in the United States, which was opposed by Louis G. Gregory, Agnes S. Parsons, Mariam Haney and, from 1920, by Mason Remey. Peter Smith has outlined the resistance to organization, and the election of precursors to the Local Spiritual Assemblies, in ‘The American Bahai Community.’ I will only repeat here one point I’ve made in ‘You can never organize’ : the power of such memes comes not from their credibility as texts, but from an already existing distrust of organization in religion, with which such texts meshed, and from the particularly anti-episcopal character of religion in the United States.

Here I would like to deal more briefly with the “no offices” and “spiritual democracy” memes. The most influential of the early publications in which these words appear is Bahai Scriptures (pp 499-450), a compilation that mixes authentic and dubious texts. It is no longer printed or distributed in hard copy, but it has given a new lease of life by being digitized. The words attributed to Abdu’l-Baha are:

Meekness and humility are the hallmarks of faith. As soon as a believer feels himself the least degree superior to others, the beginning of his spiritual decline has set in, all unaware to himself. There are no offices in this Cause. I do not and have not “appointed” any one to perform any special service, but I encourage every one to engage in the service of the Kingdom. The foundation of this Cause is pure spiritual democracy, and not theocracy. The difference between me and others is this: I confess and acknowledge my own inability, weakness and humility, and know that all these outward confirmations are the favors of the Blessed Perfection. There are some who imagine, and little by little come to believe, that their spiritual successes are by and through themselves.

My particular focus here is on the highlighted words. They are obviously implausible, as Abdu’l-Baha did appoint people to perform special services, and he knew Baha’u’llah had done the same. Moreover if at that time there were Persian terms for “democracy” (as distinct from “republic”) and for “theocracy,” Abdu’l-Baha did not use them in his writings, but his interpreters and editors did. For example, “democracy” appears three times in the English report of a talk Abdu’l-Baha gave at the Orient-Occident-Unity Conference (translated by Amin Farid, notes by Joseph Hannen) on April 20, 1912, but not in the Persian notes of the same talk (see here).

It’s unlikely that Abdu’l-Baha ever said “the foundation of this Cause is pure spiritual democracy.” The source is probably Ahmad Sohrab, since the same words are found in Sohrab’s I Heard Him Say, page 120, published in 1937. While Bahai Scriptures was published 14 years earlier, in 1923, it is very likely that Sohrab had communicated the words in a private letter or a letter to be published in a Bahai newsletter, before he included it in I heard Him Say, which is a retrospective compilation. As we will see, in 1914 he had inserted a quote about “spiritual democracy” into his translation of a tablet from Abdu’l-Baha. Sohrab is very free in attributing his own ideas to Abdu’l-Baha, so where he is the only known source of words, they must be regarded as especially doubtful.

It is a fair assumption that the Bahai Scriptures example of the “spiritual democracy” meme is a bit of western egalitarianism and anti-clericalism, championed by Ahmad Sohrab, and put into the mouth of Abdu’l-Baha. This iteration says “The foundation of this Cause is pure spiritual democracy, and not theocracy.” This is interesting because “theocracy” here evidently means a hierarchical religious organization with authority, whereas today we use it to mean a state ruled by the religious authorities.

The alert reader will notice that quotes of this text sometimes says “there are no offices” and sometimes “there are no officers.” Which is the authentic form is a moot point, since the quote is not authentic in any form.

These words, first published in 1923, are probably not intended by Sohrab as a rejection of the Guardianship, which was established in Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament and became public early in 1922. I doubt that there is enough time between Sohrab’s learning of the Will and Testament and the typesetting for Bahai Scriptures for these words to have been written in response to the Will. Holley’s ‘Introduction’ to the volume is dated February 12, 1923. However the quote about having no officers was loved by Ruth White and Hermann Zimmer, who led campaigns against the Guardianship, and it is used today by groups or individuals who oppose the Administrative Order of the Bahai community, groups such as “Free Bahais,” “Reform Bahai,” “Orthodox Bahai Faith” and the like.

Another form in which the idea of “spiritual democracy” is found is a talk by Abdu’l-Baha that is reported in The Promulgation of Universal Peace, where it is dated November 23 1912 and located at the Great Northern Hotel in New York. The relevant part reads:

The effect of such an assembly as this is conducive to divine fellowship … By it the very foundations of race prejudice are uprooted and destroyed, the banner of spiritual democracy is hoisted aloft, …(p. 447)

There are no Persian notes to check the authenticity of the report, and no indication of the source: the report was not first published in Star of the West. The editor of Promulgation says the source is notes taken by Edna McKinney. Because there are no Persian notes of this talk, we know it only via an interpreter, whose words were recorded or later remembered by Edna McKinney, who presumably passed her notes to Howard MacNutt, an editor who in other instances has been shown to have a very free hand in embellishing his texts. In one case I’ve discussed on this blog, he frankly interpolated the text.

The phrase is also attributed to Abdu’l-Baha by Ahmad Sohrab in a diary entry for 23 May 1914, published in Star of the West, Vol. 7 nr. 18, February 7, 1917.

The Bahais must be always on the alert, so that they may not fall into this pit. They must keep the religion of God pure and uncontaminated, a haven of rest for the despondent souls, a safe harbor for the shipwrecked, a divine antidote for the ailing ones, a torch of light for those who are groping in the darkness, and a spiritual democracy for the down trodden and the outcast.(p. 180).

Sohrab kept a diary in Persian, and translated parts and sent them to friends and Bahai magazines, but there is reason to think that he also wrote some recollections in English, some time after the event, and claimed that he had taken the words from his Persian diary, to give them more credibility. I have commented on this previously on this blog. In the same diary report he says that Abdu’l-Baha said “The religion of God is the leveller of all social inequalities and the destroyer of sacerdotal distinctions. In the court of the Almighty there are no offices or positions.” This is the germ of Sohrab’s later rejection of the Guardianship, and refusal to obey the Spiritual Assembly of New York. In the Bahai community there are indeed offices and positions. Moreover Abdu’l-Baha wrote explicitly of the preservation of ranks in society, and the dignity and rights of each: “The justice of God requires the observation of mutual rights, and the divine law proclaims the preservation of reciprocally related ranks.” (The Art of Governance)

Our search for the term “spiritual democracy” has found three unreliable oral sources for the ‘spiritual democracy,’ but it is not yet ended: the term also appears in a letter from Abdu’l-Baha to Miss Beatrice Irwin in London, and translated by Ahmad Sohrab. The paragraph says, in Sohrab’s translation:

My spirit is aflame and burning; my heart is broken, mournful, heavy and despondent; my eyes are weeping and my soul is on fire. Oh! I am so bowed down and sorrowful.

O people! Weep and cry, lament and bemoan your fate. Then hasten ye, hasten ye, perchance ye may become able to extinguish with the water of the new born ideals of spiritual democracy and celestial freedom, this many flamed, world consuming fire, and through your heaven inspired resolution you may usher in the Golden Era of International Solidarity and World Confederation. (translation dated October, 1914, printed in Star of the West Vol. 5, p. 245).

However there is nothing that could be translated “O people!” “spiritual democracy and celestial freedom” or “the Golden Era of International Solidarity and World Confederation” in the tablet, which has been published in Persian. Sohrab has simply made all this up. That section says, in fact:

My soul is burning and melting, my heart, inflamed, is grieving; my eyes are weeping and my liver on fire! Will you [i.e., the various kinds of world leaders previously addressed] then talk and moan and cry rivers, that you may pour water on this many-flamed fire? Nay rather let this world-consuming fire be extinguished by your efforts.

In a number of other places in his translation, Sohrab has embellished and expanded on what Abdu’l-Baha wrote, but in this section he has gone beyond embellishment to interpolation.

Short link: https://wp.me/pcgF5-31w
Related content:
‘You can never organize the Bahai Cause’
Bahai lore (tag)

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28 Responses to “In search of spiritual democracy”

  1. Maury Miloff said

    An illuminating piece of historical research and analysis. Thank you!

  2. Paul Desailly said

    Hi Sen. Great article. Your essays are under appreciated, I feel. Coincidentally (on purpose?) Baha’iTeachings.org has presented today a similarly themed article (http://bahaiteachings.org/international-day-democracy-spiritual-perspective) to which I’ve tried to comment as follows, but, I’m sorry to say, my comments are often blocked there or, as appears in red on my screen “delivered to spam”.:

    Sen McGlinn’s blog today – https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/in-search-of-spiritual-democracy/ – includes the same SoW extract attributed to Abdu’l-Baha in Ahmad Sohrab’s diary entry, 23 May 1914, published in Star of the West, Vol. 7 nr. 18, February 7, 1917. “The religions of the past have fallen into decay on account of self-seeking leaders who in the course of time appropriated all the rights and powers unto themselves and looked down contemptuously upon the rest of their co-religionists as ignorant and deprived of the knowledge of God. THE BAHA’IS MUST BE ALWAYS ON THE ALERT, SO THAT THEY MAY NOT FALL INTO THIS PIT.”
    The editor in charge at BT.org (David L) should advise readers that Ahmad Sohrab was a Covenant breaker

  3. Sen said

    Hi Paul,
    I don’t coordinate my postings with Bahai Teachings, so this is a charmed coincidence.

    So far as I know, David Langness is no longer editing at Bahai Teachings .org. However the site has chosen no to differentiate between authentic and unauthentic sources, from the outset. There’s something to be said for this, since it serves to introduce an audience of — mainly — Americans to the Bahai community in America. It would be counterproductive if its message was not closely in line with the common approach to the Bahai teachings and Bahai life in the community.

    Sohrab became a Covenant-Breaker after along disputing Abdu’l-Baha’s wisdom in creating the Guardianship and appointing Shoghi Effendi to it; and also refusing to follow the instructions of the New York Local Spiritual Assembly (ironically, he felt his understanding born of long association with Abdu’l-Baha was superior, and he “looked down contemptuously upon the rest of their co-religionists as ignorant and deprived of the knowledge of God.” In 1917, when these words were published, Abdu’l-Baha’s *Will and Testament* was unknown, and Sohrab’s dispute with the New York Assembly had not yet arisen, but we can already see in the words that Sohrab puts into Abdu’l-Baha’s mouth here that he has a strong distrust of hierarchy in religion.

  4. Paul Desailly said

    The interactivity on Sen’s Blog wherein in-depth commenting is welcomed, definitely leads to true consultation. Up until a couple of years ago BahaiTeachings.org deployed the same policy and welcomed a clash of opinions. Bt’s questionable new policy of limiting the comments section to a couple of sentences leaves little space for more than congratulating the authors whose splendid articles appear there.

  5. Sen said

    The length limit on Bahai Teachings can be solved by breaking up the points, which is actually good for consultation, as each point may start a new thread of discussion. The “spam folder” message probably comes up for any message containing the dreaded sequence www. . Perhaps BT intends to individually approve messages containing a URL: it is at least good that they give a warning that the message will be treated as spam.

  6. Paul Desailly said

    Other factors such as censorship, proprietorial control and curtailing consultation or limiting it to preferred topics are assertions requiring an equal amount of evidence as “actually good for consultation”.

  7. Paul Desailly said

    “Awaiting moderation” for days and days is hardly consultation.

  8. Sen said

    There’s no need to talk about BT in that way. So they have a low word-limit per comment. They do allow multiple comments. So don’t grumble behind their backs, cut your comments into bite-size pieces, remove the URL’s, and see what happens.
    If they are not managing moderation and the rules are not facilitating consultation for your style of writing, go to another forum. In the age of internet, no organ is duty bound to provide for all comers writing all ways about everything. My comments section included – it’s not about the BT site.

  9. Paul Desailly said

    Let’s start with an easily accepted rebuttal coined in polite terms: You’ve assumed that BT rules out all URLs. That’s simply wrong. BT has allowed URLs, including mine at times. Perhaps BT has not allowed some of yours? What BT has definitely not allowed is ongoing discussion regarding its policies. That attitude probably resembles your own, given your latest laconic reply

    Your first sentence is prima facie admirable in that it defends BT but it’s not taking into account that criticisms are welcomed in the Writings provided they are constructive, more informed than the position that you have stated here, and not insultingly phrased. You have no right to privately or publicly accuse me of ‘grumbling’ about BT’s comments ‘behind their backs’. What you should have done is inquire at BT or with me as to how many times already I have reasoned with BT to alter its policy.. Furthermore, even my ‘bite-sized comments’, in line with BT’s current MO, are sent to spam or censored anyway.

    Your point about multiple comments just doesn’t stack up. Given that point by point commenting in separate posts was available for years at BT and that no one responded in that cumbersome way – for obvious reasons – you should have inquired as to why BT started to deploy it a couple of years ago. The answer is that the proprietor didn’t appreciate questions and explanations that very demonstrably proved that he and all of the friends as individual believers should be actively obeying the House’s instructions in the ‘Promise of World Peace’ about a universal auxiliary language and Abdu’l Baha’s directives about Esperanto. He reacted by cutting down the comments section, by selectively responding only to points he preferred (I can point to many questions raised by me that you too have simply ignored) by censoring (blocking is used against coarse language etc, censoring is a non-Baha’i M O), and worst of all – by countenancing no further consultations

    My points are raised forcibly as a counter to the treatment I’ve received at the hands of David and you, but they are not raised falsely or acrimoniously for I don’t intend that BOTH of us be wrong.

    Baha’i love

    Paul

  10. Sen said

    I apologize for my tone previously. I appreciate that you have a history with BT and its comments editors, but it still seems a side issue here.

    As for Esperanto, I have wondered how that once prominent part of western Bahai life fell by the wayside. It is a subject to be researched one day. When I search the huge Bahai Reference Library collection of Persian and Arabic Bahai texts for Esperanto (اسپرانتو / اسپرانتو) I get 26 hits, but I can see at a glance that many from Abdu’l-Baha are duplicates in various collections, and many of the others are letters from Shoghi Effendi reporting or encouraging the translation of the Writings into Esperanto. A first step would be to collate and translate these, because in the English literature the majority of the references from Abdu’l-Baha to Esperanto are in unauthenticated sources. Exceptions are “Our hope is that among the people the Esperanto language may hereafter have a powerful effect.” (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 308) and “Thou hast written regarding the language of Esperanto. This language will be spread and universalized to a certain degree, but later on a language more complete than this, or the same language will undergo some changes and alterations and will be adopted and become universal. I hope that Dr. Zamenhof become assisted by the invisible confirmation and do a great service to the world of humanity.” (Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v3, p. 691)

  11. Paul Desailly said

    I doubt that Sen sees it the way I have just described but he’s certainly the brave one to air forcible views he’s probably gonna rebut.

    A couple of years ago or so the BahaiTeachings.org site enjoyed really valuable consulting at length when certain subject matter arose.
    The interactivity produced most meaningful consultations, particularly when the auxiliary language principle was under discussion, as you can discern in these examples, to list only two: : http://bahaiteachings.org/bahai-principles-a-universal-language http://bahaiteachings.org/advancing-global-communication-with-a-universal-language?comment_typed=1)
    Opining that limiting consultation to a couple of sentences produces much by the way of consultation seems to me invalid or of limited value given examples provided here from around the time BT’s new policy kicked in. It sometimes pans out in pursuit of truth, when for example a complex or contested topic is under discussion that a single point of interest requires much more expanding than a couple of sentences.

  12. Paul Desailly said

    Your apology is accepted. I must admit,even here in the last couple of days, that I’ve voiced things in a way that may be construes as overly forcible at times. I’m working on it and can assure you that in face to face discussions my M O is ‘as mild as milk’

    baha’i love

    Paul (not the Apostle)

  13. Paul Desailly said

    Excuse my typos and ambiguities. What I mean in comment 11 is that the earlier BT policy on consulting produced meaty consultations, as in the 2 examples listed. I’ve got a couple of young sons who’ve been cooped up inside due to the weather

  14. Paul Desailly said

    Sen wrote at comment 10: “A first step would be to collate and translate these, because in the English literature the majority of the references from Abdu’l-Baha to Esperanto are in unauthenticated sources.”

    Professor (or Dr?) Greg Meyjes’ splendid (but shockingly ignored) compilation on the language principle appeared about three ago at George Ronald Publishing. It astoundingly included recently translated material in Farsi from 1 of Abdul Baha’s letters that urge the friends to study Esperanto as a ‘religious incumbency’. Of course the Farsi Tablet that he composed a century is authentic and is presumably extant. That the Universal House of Justice sanctioned Greg’s English rendition and granted him permission to publish it is also astounding, I feel

    I am the sole commentator at this stage
    .
    Baha’i love

    Paul

  15. Sen said

    Thanks Paul, I had not seen that publication

  16. Paul Desailly said

    Hi again Sen. Re-reading the comments section, I see in yours at number 10 a misconception still held by many of the friends in the west: “As for Esperanto, I have wondered how that once prominent part of western Bahai life fell by the wayside.”

    While it’s sadly true that in the last couple of years the Baha’i Esperanto League – for obvious reasons given that no one Baha’i leader alive today, as far as I can discern, can utter a coherent sentence in Esperanto – has regrettably halved from a meagre 400 members to a mere 200. As you suggest, this was far from the case in the west during the interbellum nor, I should add, in the immediate wake of the 1979 revolution in Iran, nor was it so vis-a-vis opening Iron Curtain countries to the Faith shortly before the Berlin Wall was breached a decade later. Of special note for Baha’is, as chronicled by the media of various countries at the time, is the Iranian regime’s initiative in 1980 and 1981 to Esperantize foreign language pedagogy throughout the country by officially undertaking the training in Esperanto of 675 professional Iranian teachers as teachers of language teachers.

    This amateur scrivener has chronicled for posterity a long chain of events as to how this misconception came about; it’s a tad boring, I feel, in that detailing evidence often by definition is a rather lengthy process: ‘From Babel to Baha’i’ – https://gum.co/gDehr

    Far less boring imo is part 2 of the same work: https://gumroad.com/l/TbtCp ‘FROM BABEL TO BAHA’I’ part 2

    While both books are available inexpensively on a professional platform in San Francisco various synopses and flyers in English and Esperanto can be had gratis on request to pauljdesailly@gmail.com

    Baha’i love

    Paul

    PS Four tears ago I attended in Tehran a most moving event: the first national congress of Esperanto in Iran. I’m happy to announce here that I have today accepted an invitation to attend in Kashan early in 2019 a similar Esperanto gathering organised for the Middle East.

  17. fpvrcmower said

    Hi Sen
    I am translating Maaori into Norquay Script at the moment.
    James Norquay 2000 printed his script in a Bahai publication
    From that point I was interested.
    So you mention Espiranto
    But I feel Norquay script has more legs

    your feelings

    rod young
    new zealand

  18. fpvrcmower said

    https://tibachimu.blogspot.com

    I enjoy reading your thoughts

    it gives me access to the purer word

    fellow Chatham Island pioneer (3 year plan and 4 year plan)

  19. fpvrcmower said

    The above URL and his one are to the Norquay Script. James Norquay as a Bahai came up with what may become the international auxiliary language

    https://worldlanguageprocess.org/essays/scripts/norquay.htm

    your thoughts sen

    kind regards
    Rod

  20. Sen said

    Script reform is part of Baha’u’llah’s message, and often overlooked. It is particularly necessary in English, because script reform does an endrun around the thorny question of spelling reform. One transfers English as it is spoken into a new script, and honor/honour be dammed. But what about tomato/tomato? Whose pronunciation is to be the basis of the new script and its spellings? Is suggest her Majesty, because few would object, and it would give a new dimension to the concept of “the Queen’s English.” As for the Norquay script itself, I would begin with the assumption of keyboard and spoken inputs, and screen or aural presentation, meaning that economy of paper use is not a consideration. Those two assumptions suggest using fewer letters, with groups of letters for the less common sounds, just as we use sh and ou in contemporary spelling. But ooiy! Now it looks more like spelling reform.

  21. Paul Desailly said

    From page 95 of ‘Abdul Baha in London’, citing Him: “The love and effort put into Esperanto will not be lost but no one person can construct a universal language. It must be made by a Council representing all countries, and must contain words from different languages. It will be governed by the simplest rules, and there will be no exceptions, neither will there be gender, nor extra and silent letters. Everything indicated will have but one name. In Arabic there are hundreds of names for the camel. In the schools of each nation the mother tongue will be taught as well as the revised universal language.”

  22. Sen said

    The quote cannot be authenticated Paul; for authentic talks of Abdu’l-Baha in London see https://abdulbahatalks.wordpress.com/category/london/

  23. Paul Desailly said

    As Christopher Buck states, it’s impressive work you’ve undertaken Sen.

    Relatively few of the Master’s talks and utterances translated into English that are yet referenced all over the world in works published and re-published by reputable Baha’i publishing houses can be considered fully authenticated.. Nevertheless, as one would imagine given the reputations of Baha’i scholars in decades passed who compiled them and the confirmations uttered by the Guardian vis-a-vis ‘Abdul Baha in London’, ‘Paris Talks’, ‘Promulgation of Universal Peace’ and so on, one rarely finds a tout court down playing of said volumes when for example one considers His guidance therein re (1) the unicity of God and the oneness of humankind (2) equality of rights for men and women (3) harmony between science and religion, to list a few of the Faith’s fundamental principles.

  24. Sen said

    Thank you. It is true that the unauthenticated material matches authentic works by Abdu’l-Baha on some central teachings, but we know that because we have the authentic words of Abdu’l-Baha in good translations, in Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, and in World Centre compilations where they are referenced as “from an newly translated tablet.” If we are interested in those central teachings, there is no need to rely on the English records of talks. The procedure to be adopted — and this applies also to the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi — is to always use the strongest sources available. The weaker sources alert us to the key words to search for, or give us the date or the name of an addressee. They serve as signposts towards what we are actually seeking: the authentic words of the Faith’s founders.

    However the reported talks sometimes contain things contrary to what we find in the authentic sources. This may be because (1) the interpreter or translator has a bias, as in the case of “spiritual democracy” and “the great American democracy” :
    https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/great-american-democracy/
    or the Tablet on Women on the House of Justice that is printed at the end of Paris Talks:
    https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/email-archive/paris-talks-on-women/

    It can also be because an editor has willfully interpolated his own ideas into the text, as in “the consummate union and blending of church and state” ( https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/2009/05/22/consummate-union/ ).

    Caveat lector – not everything in a Bahai book can be relied upon. I have some general thoughts about these older reports and translations from Abdu’l-Baha here:
    https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/email-archive/authority-and-authenticity-and-some-old-translations/

  25. Paul Desailly said

    You’re absolutely right. It must have entailed enormous research in getting to the bottom of all that. I’ve read all of your URLs above and I’ll do the same to the one on your last line at 24. What do you see as the best possible outcome re the missteps and adulterated translations in PUP, PT, ABL etc?

    One of the most egregious examples of tampering occurred imo when certain editors fooled around with ‘Baha’u’llah and the New Era’. In due course I believe that BNE will be fixed up in full given that in GPB the Guardian has described it as ‘authoritative’ [Paul’s posting has been drastically truncated ~ Sen]

  26. Sen said

    The solution to the problem posed by the Promulgation of Universal Peace, Paris Talks and Abdu’l-Baha in London is not to try to fix them, but rather replace them with translations from the authenticated Persian/Arabic records of his talks, published in the Persian sections of Star of the West and in the three volumes of Khetabat-e Hazrat-e `Abdu’l-Baha dar safr-e-Europa (Talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha in his European travels). I have made a start on my Abdu’l-Baha Speaks blog:
    https://abdulbahatalks.wordpress.com/

    Shoghi Effendi was enthusiastic about Baha’u’llah and the New Era but he also participated in correcting some of its errors that led to misunderstandings. So if you want to fix it — which version would be your starting point, and why is that version preferable to an earlier or later one? When he says that this or The Dawnbreakers is authoritative I do not believe he meant either that the work is free of objective error, or that it becomes part of the canon of Bahai scripture. In relation of Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablet of Emanuel I have said, of Shoghi Effendi:

    He praised JE Esslemont’s Baha’u’llah and the New Era and according to Esslemont’s preparatory note to the 1923 edition (p.8) he “read through the whole of the manuscript (in English) and [gave] it his cordial approval.” But he could not have been unaware that it relied at some points on pilgrim’s notes, a source that Shoghi Effendi had warned against from his earliest days as Guardian. He must have known that Esslemont believed in the “mystic unity” of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha (p 68 of the 1923 edition), yet he did not refute the idea until February 1934, in ‘The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah,’ and in the interim he had urged and guided translations into 33 different languages. Why did he not correct the English text regarding this ‘mystic unity,’ in a corrigenda if not in a new edition, before he had it translated? The simplest explanation is again, that he was not a controlling personality, and was content to let others have their opinions and bear responsibility for them, intervening only after a problem had resulted for the Bahai community.

  27. Paul Desailly said

    Grammatically speaking shouldn’t it read: ‘mystical unity’? Grammar ain’t my forte.

    Dictionary.com does however list ‘mystic’ as both a noun and an adjective. In the latter its 3 definitions seem to this amateur sufficiently varied to accommodate many a meaning ranging from something akin to progressive revelation to more prosaic meanings
    ————————————————————————————————————————————–
    MYSTICAL:
    involving or characterized by esoteric, otherworldly, or symbolic practices or content, as certain religious ceremonies and art; spiritually significant; ethereal.
    of the nature of or pertaining to mysteries known only to the initiated:
    mystic rites.
    of occult character, power, or significance:
    ———————————————————————————————————————————-
    In 1937 the Guardian himself directed the revision of ‘Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era.’ In 1950 the
    Bahá’í Publishing Committee stipulated that any future revision of its text is to be subject to approval by Shoghi Effendi.

    Some of your questions and suggestions vis-a-vis the status of BNE and the Guardian’s appraisal of it in GPB require immense research. ‘The simplest explanation’ in your final sentence might be right, might be wrong too, were the views of other writers on the topic put thru intensive examination.

    Given that at this stage I and many like me are content enough with the Guardian’s appraisal of BNE in GPB as ‘splendid, authoritative and comprehensive’ (which even surpasses in praise ‘authoritative’) your case needs to be incontrovertible; mine rests on the Guardian’s wording for now.

    Your evidence must be deeply researched, air-tight and well documented before any contradiction of him, downplaying of his praise of BNE or surmising as to his use of ‘authoritative’ will be accepted by ordinary readers such as this amateur or imo by your scholarly peers in Haifa or by those who would necessarily need to or want to bring out some sort of new or ‘corrected’ edition of GPB in the wake of your nevertheless worthwhile analyses and hypotheses. Given that they could hardly revise GPB, maybe fixing up BNE is not out of the question?

    Part of my last post heavily truncated by you cites chapter and verse PROVING that certain editors who tampered with BNE damaged it for decades. If a middle talent such as my pen can demonstrate a strong case exposing what happened to BNE in two instances when copyright moved to the USA imagine the outcomes were several scholars of your ilk working together on BNE’s authoritativeness with a mindset that the Guardian’s view of it as authoritative were correct.

    In brief, aren’t we reaching a stage where BNE and GPB both need to be fixed, altered or something if your analyses are correct?

    Baha’i love

    Paul

  28. Sen said

    As for God Passes By, the last statement I have, from the secretariat at the Bahai World Centre, says that the House of Justice “does not want to initiate a process of piecemeal correction.” ( http://bahai-library.com/uhj_bible_errors_gpb ) I agree: the text should stand as it is, a product of its time and the mind of its author, not be updated to keep pace with the latest discoveries.

    As for Baha’u’llah and the New Era, if the purpose of a fix is to create an authoritative text, this is not possible because nobody has that kind of authority. If the purpose is to go around the various editorial changes, no fix is necessary: simply go back to using the edition of your choice. They are online at the web archive, Guttenburg and other sources. ( https://archive.org/search.php?query=esslemont%20era )

    Personally, I think the time for that approach to knowledge generation and sharing has passed: we are in the age of wikipedia and evolving etexts that interract with the users. These present us with a system of knowledge production, dissemination and use that combines democratic practices with wider possibilities for consultative dynamics in the application of knowledge. In the unlikely event that a source was in some sense established as authoritative, it would stand in the way of a more democratic open approach.

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