Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Y2k and all that

One of the friends asked me:

> So what is the status you assign to the citation I gave from WOB/
> SWAB? Are you saying Shoghi Effendi was wrong and this is actually
> based on a pilgrim’s note?

No XXX, the text is an authentic tablet. If you read the “7 candles”
carefully, you will see that it does not refer to the 20th century.
It refers to “this century.”

The five pilgrims’ notes I listed [here] refer to the 20th century, or to
specific dates in the 20th century. I do not think that either Abdu’l-
Baha or Shoghi Effendi thought in such terms; in fact when he was asked
(in 1946, presumably about the 1957 and 1963 dates) Shoghi Effendi said we
do NOT know of a date for the Lesser Peace or the Most Great Peace. Shoghi
Effendi and Abdu’l-Baha were not in the business of setting timetables for

So where did the “twentieth century” business come from?

Do you remember the New Testament story about the birth of Jesus in
Bethlehem, and the three wise men that came? If you read that
carefully, you will see it doesn’t say “three”. It just says:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod
the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen
his star in the east, and are come to worship him. (Matthew 2:1-2)

So where does the “three” in the 3 wise men come from? Well, 3 is one of
those magic numbers that crops up in stories. “There was once a miller,
and he had three sons … “(and the youngest gets the cool cat for a
portion). But also from the needs of the Christmas card designers, who
have “they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.”
and find it easiest to give each wise man one gift.

In much the same way as “three” creeps into that story, I think the
Bahais heard what Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi were saying, but
understood from it what they themselves expected to hear. People read what
the “7 candles” text says, but see what they expect to see, not what is
there. So we have the Research Department asserting that Abdu’l-Baha
promised “both orally and in writing, that the unity of nations will be
established during the twentieth century” and the UHJ saying that
“‘Abdu’l-Bahá made statements linking the establishment of the unity of
nations to the twentieth century” and citing the ‘7 candles’ tablet as its

I’ve been asked a couple of times which language I think young Bahai
scholars should learn first, Persian or Arabic? When asked in France, I
replied, “French;” when asked in England I replied, “English.” By that I
mean that a study of the literature of your mother tongue is the best
training for “close reading” of a text, and close reading is the most
important skill for scholarship of all kinds. No amount of esoteric
knowledge can substitute for the simple ability to read what a text says,
and notice what it does not say, and draw sensible conclusions


Related content:
Y2K: Lesser Peace, unity of nations
Century of light
Century’s end – my two cents
The Lesser Peace, coming when

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