The evolving claims and titles of Mīrzā Ḥusayn `Alī Nūrī Bahā'-Allāh (1817-1892) : Introduction and Abrahamic Background.
The Evolving Claims and Titles of Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri, Baha'-Allah (1817-1892 CE) : Introduction and Abrahamic Background.
Stephen Lambden UCMerced,
In progress 1980s+ 2017
Last uploaded : 23-04-2017.
Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri was the fourth son of Mirza `Abbas Nuri known as Mirza Bururg (d. 1839) and his second wife Khadijah Khánum (b.1822 near Takur in the Mazandaran province, d. September 15, 1882) who were both of Persian Shi`i descent. The father was a vizier ("governor") to the royal prince Imam-Virdi Mírza, the twelfth son of Fath `Ali Shah (d. Isfahan 1834 r. 1797-1834) the second Qajar ruler, king, or Shah of Persia. Baha'-Allah's date of birth was November 12th 1817 his parentally conferred name being the twofold Husayn `Ali, both names rooted in those of two of the most important Twelver Shi`i Imams.
Baha'-Allah's claims range from humble expressions of servitude before God and the rest of humanity, to claims which are expressive of his manifesting or representing God in his position as a mediator between the apophatic Unknowable or Ultimate Godhead, the Wholly Beyond, and the rest of humanity or the worlds of creation. His humanity as a Persian born man is never overuled, though His claimed Divine, Pre-Existent Reality, a manifestation of the (Arabic-Persian) nafs ("Logos-Self") or Personna of the Godhead, is countless times celebrated in his extensive Arabic and Persian writings spanning the forty year period c. 1852 to the year of his passing at Acre in May 1892. His expressions of Divinity are always that of a divinity subordinate to the incomprehensible Divinity Beyond everything. Like earlier messengers of God and an array of spiritually intoxicated Sufis and sages, He may claim "I am God" but this never implies that he is He Himself, the Ultimate Reality. One can discern something of an evolution in Baha'-Allah's claims though many are implicit from the earleist days of his coming forth as one comissioned by God.
Many of the claims of Baha'-Allah expressed as titles or epithets, are rooted in Jewish, Christian and/ or Islamic or Abrahamic religious traditions. He sometimes claimed in the context of equality or eschatological "return", levels of spiritual "identity" with past founder prophets, philosophers or theologians, with great religious figures and thinkers of past ages. In attempting to attract followers from the Abrahamic religions, he found it necessary to make claims which echoed, matched or went beyond those of occupying the centre of the faith and devotion of whatever community was addressed. There are hundreds of claims to be the eschatological "return" of past prophets of messengers of God. Baha'-Allah often claimed that aspects of his life such as rejection, exile and suffering, echoed the lives of such past luminaries as Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and others.
The Baha'i theology of the claims.
In his persian Kitab-i Iqan ("Book of Certitude" , c. 1861 CE), Baha'-Allah set forth an apophatic theology of the transcendent unknowability of the Absolute Deity, and articulated the dual status of His-Hers-Its Messengers (rasul) or Manifestations of God (mazhar-i ilahi). They all occupy both a human position of `ubudiyya (servitude) and a divine status of ilahiyya (Divinity). All, furthermore, have an "essetial unity" such that they can claim "oneness" with each other or to be the "return" of each other. Each having an indivualized name, personna and cultural background they, at different times, utter claims on these seemingly incompatible, though actually unitative lines : claims, that is, within the spheres of humanity and servitude or of divinity and omnipotence. This also in the light of their diverse religious missions and the limitations of human language at the times and places of their advent. Other related factors, such as their recipients vocabulary, intellectual capacity, and geographical location come into play, "they have voiced an utterance that would conform to the requirements of the occasion" (Kitab-i iqan, 198) :
We have already in the foregoing pages assigned two stations unto each of the Luminaries arising from the Daysprings of eternal holiness. One of these stations, the station of essential unity, We have already explained. “No distinction do We make between any of them.” 14 The other is the station of distinction, and pertaineth to the world of creation and to the limitations thereof. In this respect, each Manifestation of God hath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission, a predestined Revelation, and specially designated limitations. Each one of them is known by a different name, is characterized by a special attribute, fulfils a definite Mission, and is entrusted with a particular Revelation. Even as He saith: “Some of the Apostles We have caused to excel the others. To some God hath spoken, some He hath raised and exalted. And to Jesus, Son of Mary, We gave [p. 177] manifest signs, and We strengthened Him with the Holy Spirit.” 15 (Kitab-i iqan, pp. 176-7)
In this same work, Baha'-Allah speaks of the elevated divine position of the messengers in the following way:
"It hath ever been evident that all these divergences of utterance are attributable to differences of station. Thus, viewed from the standpoint of their oneness and sublime detachment, the attributes of Godhead, Divinity, Supreme Singleness, and Inmost Essence, have been and are applicable to those Essences of being, inasmuch as they all abide on the throne of divine Revelation, and are established upon the seat of divine Concealment. Through their appearance the Revelation of God is made manifest, and by their countenance the Beauty of God is revealed. Thus it is that the accents of God Himself have been heard uttered by these Manifestations of the divine Being" (Kitab-i iqan, pp. 177-8).
Of their secondary human status he writes,
"Viewed in the light of their second station—the station of distinction, differentiation, temporal limitations, characteristics and standards, —they manifest absolute servitude, utter destitution and complete self-effacement. Even as He saith: “I am the servant of God. 16 I am but a man like you.” 17 (Kitab-i iqan, p.178).
As regards Baha'-Allah's own position of servitude in his Kitab-i iqan, he at one point refers to himself as "this unlearned and humble Servant". Similar lowly claims of humility and self-effacement are scattered throughout hundreds of Persian and Arabic writings as indeed are claims the divinity, Lordship and the like. Some thirty years after the writing of the Kitab-i iqan in his Lawh-i Ibn-i Dhi'b (Epistle to the son of the Wolf, c.1891), Baha'-Allah responds to his being referred to in very exalted terms in the following manner:
"In truth I say, and for the sake of God I declare: This Servant, this Wronged One, is abashed to claim for Himself any existence whatever, how much more those exalted grades of being!" (ESW: Add).
A few Notes on the claims and titles of founders of religions of the Abrahamic line.
The followers of Moses who accord him very elevated titles include certain initiates of the Merkabah and Qabbalistic mystical traditions along with, for example, the members of the ancient Israelite faction known as the Samaritans.
Select Titles of Moses from the Hebrew Bible and other Jresh and related Literatures.
- The Prophet Heb.
The New Testament pictures Jesus in a multitude of ways or life situations and directly or indirectly accords him a range of titles and powers expressive of the divine, religious purpose. A multitude of books have been written about the claims, titles and divine status of Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of the originally Galilean Jewish movement that became Christianity, now one of the major religions of ther world. For practically 2,000 years followers of Jesus and more recently modern academics, have been trying to understand the human and divine status of Jesus. This quest has led to a multitude of Christologies or estimates of the status of Jesus relative to God and humanity, none of which has ever been wholly accepted by the Christian world. Modern academic New Testament scholars differ as to the ststus Jesus claimed for himself, to what degree, if at all, he should be regarded as divine.
Select Titles of Jesus from the New Testament.
- Jesus / "The Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).
- The Prophet (Luke 24:19).
- The Son of David (Matthew 1:1).
- The Christ = the Messiah.
- The Holy One of God (Mark1:24).
- The Son of Man (Matthew 8:20) = Aramaic = Gk.
- The Nazarene (Matthew 2:23) cf. KI.
- The Son of God = Gk.
- The Only Begotten Son ( John 1:18)
- The Word = Gk. Logos see John 1:1 cf. Gen 1:1 Rev. 19:3).
- The Good Shepherd (John 10:11).
- The Lamb of God ( John 1:29)
- The Light of World (John 8:12)
- The Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6- all three).
- The Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14).
- The Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5)
- The Resurrection (John 11:25).
Muhammad and Qur'anic Prophetology.
The Qur'an assumes Muhammad was a human being with an expraordinary relationship to God, a rasul Allah or `Messenger of God'. This is perhaps his key qur'anic Islamic title or designation. Yhere is nothing like patrisyic or later Christology in the Qur'an. The Qur'an has it that it was a rasul (messenger) of God, or a divinely comissioned or sent messenger (mursal), who has come to all peoples or religious communities of past eras of human history:
وَلِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَسُولٌ
And for every community (li-kull ummah) there is a Messenger (rasul) (Qur'an, 10:47)
وَلَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِي كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَّسُولاً
"We did indeed send a messenger [of God] (rasul an) unto every community (ummah)" (Qur'an, 16:36).
وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا رُسُلًا مِنْ قَبْلِكَ مِنْهُمْ مَنْ قَصَصْنَا عَلَيْكَ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ لَمْ نَقْصُصْ عَلَيْكَ
And, indeed We have sent a Messenger (rasul an) before you [Muhammad] of some of We have related for you their story and of some We have not related to you their story... (Qur'ân, 40:78)
The Qur'an uses, as is well known and apart from angelic mesenger figures (mala'ikat), two major terms for messengers of God: (1) nabi meaning Israelite type prophet and (2) rasul or rasul Allah, indicating a Messenger of God, cf. also the closely related synonymous qur'anic Arabic term mursal meaning (lit.) `sent messenger'). The Arabic rasūl (pl. rusul), has often been variously translated, `messenger’, `envoy’, `apostle,’ etc. It is a term which is most probably rooted in Jewish Christian (Elchasaite) and / or Manichean terminology (Ar. rasūl = Syr. šĕlīḥa, Fossum, 1993149f). Rasūl occurs over 300 times in the Qur'an and is also implied by mursal (lit. `sent one’; Q. x 36 in 14 sūrahs ; Kassis, 807f; 1032-3). Aside from Muhammad himself, eight figures are specifically designated rasūl in the Qur'an :  Noah,  Shu`ayb,  Hūd,  Ṣāliḥ,  Lot,  Ishmael,  Moses and  Jesus.
From the creation until the time of Muhammad, the Qur'an directly or indirectly references around twenty-eight prophet-messenger figures though Islamic tradition knows of many more, acknowledging that divine guidance was sent to every religious community (see Qur'an citations above), a matter confirmed by Baha'-Allah in his Tafsir surat al-shams (Commentary on the Surah of Light). According to the explicit text of the Qur'an. "Every ummah (community) has its rasūl" (Q. 10:47) though we do not known the extent or location of these past nations, communities or peoples (ummah).
Select Titles of Muhammad from the Qur'an and Hadith Literatures.
- The Messenger Ar. Rasul (see above.
- The All-Praised Ar. Ahmad.
Imamology and the position of the Shi`i Imams
The word imam has a number of meanings in Arabic one of which is indicative of the successors (up to twelve or so) who were descendents and members of the foundational ahl al-kisa; or fivefold `people ofthe cloak'; namely,  Muhammad,  `Ali,  Fatima, and her two sons  Hasan and  the maytyred Husayn. They thus include Muhammad the founder prophet of Islam and his daugher Fatima al-Zahra (the Pure One) and two of her sons believed by Imami Shi`i Muslims to be the first two Imams as successors of the Prophet. As leaders of the Islamic community the first Imam `Ali was succeeded by his son Hasan and then the 3rd Imām Ḥusayn ( d. 61/680] after whose maryrdom in ten successors were designated Imams as leaders of the twelver Shi`i community.
As heads of the Islamic community, these Imams were accorded special titles, powers and levels of infallibility. Certain works attributed to them have it that they made very elevated claims, A perhaps or quasi- ghuluww (heterodox, "extremist") example, being the Arabic semi-ghuluww (“extremist”), Shī`ī khuṭba al-ṭutunjiyya (loosely, `"Sermon of the Gulf") attributed to Imam `Ali ibn Abi Talib (d.40/661) where the first Imam is reckoned, for example, to have claimed:
- I am the one who presideth over the two gulfs (waqif `alā al-ṭutunjayn)..
- I am the Lord of the first flood (ṣāḥib al-ṭūf ān al-awwāl);
- I am the Lord of the second flood [of Noah?];
- I am the one who raised Idrīs [Enoch] to a lofty place [cf. Q.19:57]
- I am the agent whereby the infant Jesus cried out from the cradle [Q.19:29, etc]
- I am the Lord of the Mount [Sinai] (ṣāḥib al-ṭūr) ..
- I am the one with whom are the keys of the unseen (mafātīḥ al-ghayb)..
- I am Dhū’l-Qarnayn mentioned in the primordial scrolls (ṣuḥuf al-awwālī)
- I am the bearer of the Seal of Solomon (sāḥib khātam sulaymān)
- I am first First Adam; I am the First Noah... I am the Lord of Abraham, (ṣāḥib ibrahīm),
- I am the inner depth of the Speaker [Moses] (sirr al-kalīm)...
- I am the Messiah [Jesus] = al-rūḥ ] (al-masīḥ) inasmuch as no soul (rūḥ) moves nor spirit (nafs) breathes without my permission...
- I am the Speaker who conversed (mutakallim) through the tongue of Jesus in the cradle...
- I am the one with whom are one thousand volumes of the books of the prop