Dimensions of Abrahamic and Babi-Bahā’ī Soteriology

Dimensions of Abrahamic and Babi-Bahā’ī  Soteriology:

Some Notes on the Bahā’ī theology of the Salvific and Redemptive role of Bahā'-Allāh.

Stephen Lambden UC Merced.

1980s and under revision 2017-8.

IN PROGRESS - Last Updated 11-01-2018

Turn to me and you are saved, all ends of the earth!
As I am God and God alone, I swear by myself. . . that every knee
shall bow to me, and every tongue swear loyalty (Isa. 45:22-23.)
. . . the rules of my religion I send forth to light up every nation (Isa. 2:4.)

I now appoint you to bring light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the world's end” (Isa. 49:6.)

The word soteriology (Gk. sozein = "to save"; soter = "saviour", "deliverer"; soteria, "salvation") indicates the theology of the redemption and salvation of human beings. In Christian terms it is that part of systematic theology which "seeks to interpret the saving work of Jesus Christ" (Hopper, 1992:452). While Christology indicates the doctrine respecting that Galilean messianic claimant viewed by millions as Jesus the Christ (fl. 1st cent CE) and variously estimated as being human yet "God"-divine, soteriology has to do with the saving work, status and influence of Jesus Christ.

Soteriology encompasses such doctrines as atonement (loosely), the salvific consequences Christ's death on the cross and its effect on the past and future status of "sinful" individuals. This is related to the doctrine of justification which has to do with God's act of declaring or making somebody "righteous" through the "righteousness" of Christ" and to that of sanctification (Lat. sanctificare) the making of someone pure or holy. Closely related are questions include those of “repentance”, "sin" and the "forgiveness of sin", the means of grace and man's final individual destiny which constitutes personal eschatology.These above and related concerns and teachings are central to the faith and attendant theology of many Christians. Bahā'īs, in ommunicating their own religion, their own "theology" of the (Per.) maẓhar-i ilāhī (“Divine Manifestation” / “Divine Theophany”), have done little to articulate Bahā’ī soteriological teachings. In Bahā’ī dialogue the relationship of the seeking individual to God is often completely bypassed in favour of a listing of socio-economic perspectives and global solutions to world problems which (important though they are) bypass the very rich soteriological and related Bahā’ī doctrines. The latter doctrines pertain to and highlight the importance of the abiding search for individual spirituality and intellectual integrity within and without the universe of Bābī-Bahā'ī discourse.In presenting their religion to the general public, contemporary Bahā’īs have generally neglected soteriological scriptural texts. The personal relationship of the individual with God through Bahā’-Allāh and the interior dimensions of the Way to God, are not often in the forefront of Bahā’ī religious proclamation. What Baha’-Allāh has accomplished for collective or individual salvation, for the redemption of humankind is not frequently articulated even though Baha’-Allāh himself frequently voiced these teachings in innumerable scriptural alwāḥ (“Tablets”) addressed to a wide variety of individuals, groups and nations. For several decades, presentations of Bahā’ī doctrine have frequently been impersonal and socio-economically oriented; somewhat soulless and lacking in the mystical. Varieties of the `twelve principles’ (important thought they undoubtedly are) are often selectively set forth in a depersonalized manner. [1] This is unfortunate.Bahā’ī theological issues need much more scholarly attention.Bahā’ī dialogue sometimes appears too cerebral or impersonal. The desire not to appear "evangelical" or to act like "born-again" Christian preachers has consciously or unconsciously left many western Bahā’ī communities unable to highlight the theology of the inner path of the individual. There is, a good deal in Bahā’ī sacred scripture that bears upon the question of individual and collective salvation. The purpose of these notes will be to highlight and in a tentative manner explore some neglected soteriological-theological areas of Bahā’ī scholarship. Bahā’īs need not be intimidated by the `born-again’ style, the salvation-soteriological language of evangelical Christians. As it is the case that "In, Protestantism, salvation is conceived basically in terms of a restoration of a broken personal relationship [with CHRIST / GOD]" (Harvey 1964:192), Bahā’īs would do well to assure their audience of the claim to a renewal of personal relationships with God through Bahā’-Allāh. He, like Christ, offered personal salvation to his devotees though servitude to humanity in faith and spirituality. Bahā’ī soteriology is closely related to Islamic – especially Shī`ī-Shaykhī -- theology and soteriology Islamic soteriology Bahā’ī soteriology has its most central roots in Islam or more specifically in Shī`ī-Shaykhī Islam as it was expressed in 19th century Qajar Iran. Concern with "sin" and personal salvation are not very marked in Islam though the Qur'ān does include soteriological terminology and Shī`ī Muslims make much of the salvific importance of the immaculate persons of the (Twelver) Imams who are the loci of salvation. The doctrine of 'original sin' which became central to Christian thought from the early centuries via the thought of Tertullian (d.c. 180 CE), Augustine (d. 430 CE) and others, was never adopted within the Qur'ān or mainstream Islamic thought Muslims adopted and sometimes articulated a concept of fiṭrah (a qur'ānic term see Q. ADD) meaning (loosely) "innate nature", the pristine, individual proto-faith infused status of humans at the genesis of their existence. This concept was generally adopted in line with various Qur'an texts and ḥadīth statements attributed to the Prophet or the Shī`ī Imams. ADD refs.

From the Arabic triliteral root N-J-W comes the verb نجا najā / (II) najjā = "to escape, be delivered" while from the verb is formed
the noun نجاة najāt = "deliverance”, “salvation". This verbal noun najāt ("salvation") occurs only once in the Qur'ān. God, through the Prophet Muhammad, calls the people "to salvation" while they call him "to the Fire" of hell (Qur'ān 40:41[44]). The verb najjā ("to deliver, rescue…), however, is quite common occurring around 40 times (see Kassis, 837-839). This doubtless reflects the Christian rooted concern with issues soteriological.

Shī`ī Soteriology

In Imami Shī`ī Islam, the recognition of the divinely appointed Imam is viewed as fundamental to the wellbeing of humanity and to the attainment of individual salvation. Individual salvation demands recognition of the locus of Reality in the person of the successors of the Prophet Muhammad who are known as the Imams; for twelver Shī`ī Muslims the line of twelve Imams extending from the first Imam `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661) up till the awaited twelfth messianic Imam or Qā’im (“Ariser”), named Imam Muhammad al-Mahdī believd to have been born in the mid 8th century CE and existing today in ghaybat (“occultation”) pending his Christ-like eschatological second coming or “return”. In the oration ascribed to the first Shī`ī Imam and fourth Sunnī Caliph, `Alī son of Abū Ṭālib known as the Khuṭbah al-ṭutunjiyya (“Sermon of the Gulf”), a distinctly Shī`ī soteriology is expressed in the following third paragraph:

O People! turn ye repentantly unto my party (shi`ah, Shī`ī Islam) and adhere to a pledge of fealty unto me. Be persistent in the [Imami Shī`ī] religion (al-dīn) with the excellence of certainty (bi-ḥusn al-yaqīn). Adhere steadfastly to the successor [legatee] (waṣī) [= Imam `Alī himself] of your Prophet (nabī, Muhammad) through whom is your salvation (najat). By virtue of his love (ḥubb),on the [eschatological] Day of Assembling (yawn al-hashr), is your safe haven  [place of salvation] (manjāt)” (K-ṭutunjiyya cited Rajab al-Bursī, Mashāriq anwār, 166).

Having said this `Alī, as the locus of salvation, makes numerous elevated claims. They include a Christ-like `I am’ saying rooted in the Gospel of John:

فأنا الامل والمأمول

“I am the hope and I am the One hoped for (cf. Q. 15:3; 18:46).

انا الواقف على الطتنجين

I am the one who is stationed over the two Gulfs (wāqif `alā al-ṭutunjayn)

I am the one who beholds the "two Easts" and the "two Wests"

(al-maghribayn wa'l-mashriqayn) (cf. Q. 55:17)….

اناعليوثوثا

“I am the Truth”

 `-L-Y-U-TH-U-TH-A

= Gk. Έγç ..[ή] άλήθgια , ego eimi aletheia ) (John 14:6a).

 

The continuing  Salvific Potency of pre-Babi-Baha'i Religions

 

 

Early Qajar dialogue and Christian soteriology.

In the early-mid Qajar period a number of European Protestant missionaries and orientalists wrote anti-Islamic tracts in which Muhammad and the Qur’an were denigrated and the need for salvation through Christ alone underlined. Henry Martyn (d. 1812) the English translator of the New Testament into Persian and the German polemicist Carl Gottlieb Pfander (c.1805-1865) in particular, penned several works in which evangelical Jesus-centered Christian perspectives about sin, salvation and judgment, were propagated amidst anti-Islamic polemic. Translated early into Persian (1831) and other languages, the latter’s Miftāḥ al-asrār (“Keys to the mysteries”) was very much on these lines and called for Shī`ī responses as did Pfander’s better known Mīzān al-ḥaqq (The Balance of Truth) (Persian, 1836,1839…). Shī`ī mujtahids responded with treatises about the taḥrīf (“corruption”) of the Bible and the importance of imamocentric faith and salvation through the Islamic wilāya (“providence”) centered in the Prophet Muhammad and his infallible successors the rightly guided Imams.
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Bābī-Bahā’ī Soteriology.

This word نجات "salvation" (Ar. najat) and related Arabic and Persian words are very much present in the voluminous Arabic and
Persian Bābī and Bahā’ī scripture. In fact the presence of weightly soteriological concepts consonant with a new era of judgment and
divine guidance are common. A few examples from the writings of the Bāb and Bahā’-Allāh will follow with occasional notes.

■ The Bāb QA 68:275.

"God hath written salvation (al-najāt) for such as ride the Ark (al-fulk) with you…" (cf. Qur'ān 7:62[64];10:73 [74];26:119),

In Persian Bayān V:5 we read,

"Seek ye refuge in God from whatsoever might lead you astray from the Source of His Revelation and hold fast unto His Cord, for whoso holdeth fast unto His allegiance, he hath attained and will attain salvation (najāt) in all the worlds" (Per. 58-9; trans. SWB: 85)

The Persian Bayān of the Bāb has clear soteriological dimensions…

ADD EGB Index LXXXIX Salvation

"action in accordance with the precepts of the Bayān suffices to secure --  [salvation] of the Day of Resurrection, VI,8; what ----is VI,15; how good ----is, VII,2." ibid,p.LVII on Bāb:"salvation is obtained by belief in him V,11.

“Now consider the Revelation of the Bayan. If the followers of the Qur'án had applied to themselves proofs similar to those which they advance for the non-believers in Islam, not a single soul would have remained deprived of the Truth, and on the Day of Resurrection everyone would have attained salvation” (the Bab, SWB: 119)

In the above extract, as elsewhere in his writings, the Bāb makes acceptance of his person and revelation the key to eschatological salvation.

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■ Alwāḥ (Scriptural Tablets) of Bahā’-Allāh

In part due to Shī`ī and Christian influences, soteriological language and motifs are quite common in the numerous Arabic and
Persian alwāḥ (scriptural Tablets) of Bahā’-Allāh. In his Lawḥ-i iḥtirāq “ (The Tablet of Conflagration”), popularly known as the  “Fire Tablet”, for example, Bahā’-Allāh utilizes the motif of the “Ark of salvation” when he supplicates God during a period of extreme difficulty (the during the early Acre or West Galilean period c. 1871-2):

“Bahá is drowning in a sea of tribulation: Where is the Ark of Thy salvation (ADD) O Savior of the worlds?”

The Lawḥ-i Haft Pursish (Tablet of the Seven Questions).

O [Zoroastrian] HIGH priests! Ears have been given you that they may hearken unto the mystery of Him Who is the Self-Dependent, and eyes that they may behold Him. Wherefore flee ye? The Incomparable Friend is manifest. He speaketh that wherein lieth salvation. Were ye, O high priests, to discover the perfume of the rose-garden of understanding, ye would seek none other but Him, and would recognize, in His new vesture, the All-Wise and Peerless One, and would 106 turn your eyes from the world and all who seek it, and would arise to help Him. (Baha'u'llah, The Proclamation of Baha'u'llah, p. 105)

In his Lawḥ-i Haft Pursish (Tablet of the Seven Questions)

addressed to the Zoroastrian Ustād Javān Mard, "salvation" (najat) is related to that "wisdom" which is born of spiritual insight. In response to a fourth question about his latter-day advent as the expected Zoroastrian messianic Shāh Bahrām, Bahā’-Allāh states that it is "insight" (bīnā'ī) which leads to "wisdom" (dānā'ī) and results in that true faith which is salvation. "Keenness of wisdom (dānā'ī-yi khirad; lit. `the wisdom of wisdom') he further teaches, derives from "insightful vision" (bīnā'ī-yi baṣar) (see Daryā-yi -Danish, 68f).

Similar statements are found, among other places, at the end of Bahá'u'lláh's first Ṭarāz (Ornament) where we read,

"in the estimation of men of wisdom (sāḥibān-i ḥikmat) keenness of understanding (again, dānā'í-yi khirad) is due to keenness of vision" (see Tablets of Baha’u’llah 35 and the Persian original)..

In the Kitāb-I badī` we also read of Baha'-Allāh's claim to be the return of Jesus. In this connection he invites the Jews to crucify him ( تصلبوه ) once again:

"He [Bahā'-Allāh] at every moment addresses the concourse of the Jews (malā' al-yahūd) [saying]: `O Concourse of vipers! By God! The Promised One (al-maw`ūd) hath come unto you. This is assuredly the Spirit (al-rūḥ = Jesus). If ye be intent on crucifying him [yet again] then accomplish that which ye desire and be not of those possessed of patience'

In similar fashion inthe Kitāb-i badī`, Bahā'-Allāh also addresses Christians and Muslims:

The he [Bahā'-Allāh] addresses the Concourse of the Gospel [Christians] (malā' al-injīl) and says: `If ye be intent on disputing with Muhammad, the Apostle of God. then this is assuredly Muhammad among you. So carry out what you desire to do to him for he hath indeed laid down his spirit [life] in the path of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.' (Ms. K-Badī`, 93).

■ The Lawḥ-i Sultān addressed to Naṣir al-Dīn Shāh
 
In his largely Persian Lawḥ-i Sultān (c. 1868 [70]) addressed to the Qajar ruler Nāṣir al-Dīn Shāh (d. 1896), Bahā'-Allāh at one point dwells on the rejection of past prophets. He makes mention of his suffering and yearning desire for sacrificial crucifixion:
"I have seen, O Sháh, in the path of God what eye hath not seen nor ear heard.... How numerous the tribulations which have
rained, and will soon rain, upon Me! I advance with My face set towards Him Who is the Almighty, the All-Bounteous, whilst
behind Me glideth the serpent. Mine eyes have rained down tears until My bed is drenched. I sorrow not for Myself, however. By God! Mine head yearneth for the spear out of love for its Lord. I never passed a tree, but Mine heart addressed it saying: `O would that thou wert cut down in My name, and My body crucified upon thee, in the path of My Lord!' (text AQA-K: 195 trans. SE cited PDC:42).

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"The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty" (GWB:XX).

Among the many soteriologically oriented themes in the writings of BA* is his identification with the crucified Jesus. Like Jesus he was “crucified” by the peoples of the world and their corrupt rulers for the sake of humankind and its attaining salvation or true eternal life.

The following passages from diverse alwāḥ (scriptural Tablets) express aspects of this typological soteriology and its present day, eschatological implications:`Abd al-Bahā’ taught that all the messengers or manifestations of God sacrificed themselves for the sake of humanity. They accepted the  “cross” of sacrifice and persecution for progress and salvation of humankind:
“Consider to what extent the love of God makes itself manifest. Among the signs of His love which appear in the world are the dawning points of His Manifestations. What an infinite degree of love is reflected by the divine Manifestations toward mankind! For the sake of guiding the people They have willingly forfeited Their lives to resuscitate human hearts. They have accepted the cross. To enable human souls to attain the supreme degree of advancement, They have suffered during Their limited years extreme ordeals and difficulties. If Jesus Christ had not possessed love for the world of humanity, surely He would not have welcomed the cross. He was crucified for the love of mankind. Consider the infinite degree of that love. Without love for humanity John the Baptist would not have offered his life. It has been likewise with all the Prophets and Holy Souls. If the Bāb had not manifested love for mankind, surely He would not have offered His breast for a thousand bullets. If Bahā'u'llāh had not been aflame with love for humanity, He would not have willingly accepted forty years' imprisonment… all the divine Manifestations suffered, offered Their lives and blood, sacrificed Their existence, comfort and all They
possessed for the sake of mankind.

■ Crucifixion = Martyrdom

“Consider how all the Prophets of God were persecuted and what hardships they experienced. His Holiness Jesus Christ endured affliction and accepted martyrdom upon the cross in order to call men to unity and love. What sacrifice could be greater? He brought the religion of love and fellowship to the world. ..” ( AB cited SW, Vol. 17, p. 285)
“Martyrdom makes the spirit of utter dedication to the service of God so real that it ignites in other hearts a like flame of divine devotion. The martyrdom of Christ on the cross conquered and changed the hearts of untold millions.” (From an Essay of Faḍil-i Mazandarani in SW, Vol. 14, p. 173)

APPENDICES AND MISCELLANY

“What an infinite degree of love is reflected by the divine Manifestations toward mankind! For the sake of guiding the people they have willingly forfeited their lives to resuscitate human hearts. They have accepted the cross. To enable human souls to attain the supreme degree of advancement, they have suffered during their limited years extreme ordeals and difficulties. If His Holiness Jesus Christ had not possessed love for the world of humanity, surely he would not. have welcomed the cross. He was crucified for the love of mankind.
 
Consider the infinite degree of that love. Without love for humanity, John the Baptist would not have offered his life. It has been likewise with all the prophets and holy souls. If His Holiness the Bab had not manifested love for mankind, surely he would not have offered his life for a thousand bullets. If His Holiness Baha'u'llah had not been aflame with love for humanity he would not have willingly accepted forty years' imprisonment.” (AB* cited from SW, Vol. 17, p. 39).
“In the parable of "The Lord of the Vine yard" (Matt. xis 33) Christ spoke of the prophets of God who were rejected by the world. He spoke of the coming of 'The Son" who would be rejected and slain. (Here Jesus was prophesying of His own rejection by the world and of His crucifixion. Then Jesus speaks of this "Latter day" coming, saying: "When the Lord, therefore, of the vineyard carne th what will He do unto those husband men "They say unto him, lie will miserably destroy those wicked men and will let out His vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render Him the fruit in their seasons." This is one of the holy prophecies wherein is promised the coming of the Mighty Manifestation of God to the Earth, and the establishment of His Kingdom triumphant upon earth.” (SW, Vol. 4, p. 269).

FROM AN ADDRESS BY 'ABDU'L BAHA IN NEW YORK

"THE DIVINE prophets came to establish the unity of the Kingdom in human hearts. All of them pro claimed the glad tidings of the divine bestowals to the world of mankind. All brought the same message of divine love to the world. His Holiness Jesus Christ gave his life upon the cross for the unity of mankind. Those who believed in him likewise  sacrificed life, honor,  possessions, family, everything, that this human world might be released from the hell of discord, enmity and strife. His foundation was the oneness of humanity. Only a few were attracted to him. They were not the kings and rulers of his time. They were not rich and important people. Some of them were catchers of fishes.” (Star-West, 15:254)

■ APPENDIX

`Abd al-Bahā’ on the discovery of the cross
Several books have recently been written about the claimed discovery of the `true cross' of the crucifixion by Helena, the Christian mother of converted Roman Emperor Constantine (275-337). In a number of talks and tablets AB* commented on this tradition.
ADD TABLETS AND TEXTS

“…But at the time of the departure of the Blessed Beauty there were at least a hundred thousand souls who would sacrifice their lives for him. These same thoughts that you have now were also prevalent in Christ's time and so little did they care for him that it is not even known where he was buried. And three hundred years later, when St. Helen [the mother of Constantine the Great] went to the Holy Land, some people, thinking of their own personal benefit, went to her and said, 'We dug the ground here and found the cross on which they crucified his holiness, Christ This was the foundation of the tomb of Christ. It is not even known where the tombs of Mary and the disciples are. The Catholics say that the tombs of Paul and Peter are in Rome. Others say that they are in Antioch. (AB* in SW, Vol. 9, p. 23)

Select Bibliography

Harvey, Van A

  •  1964 A Handbook of Theological Terms. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Hopper, Jeffery,

  •  1992 `Soteriology' in Musser, Donald, W. & Joseph L. Price eds. A New Handbook of Christian Theology' Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 452-456.

Kassis, Hanna.

  • 1983 A Concordance of the Qur'an. University of California Press : Berkeley, Los Angeles, London.