The `Tablet to a Christian Priest of Constantinople’ (Lawḥ-i qissīs-i naṣrānī)

Orthodox Church,

Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 1863-1866.

 

The `Tablet to a Christian Priest of Constantinople’ (Lawḥ-i qissīs-i naṣrānī).

Stephen Lambden UC Merced.

IN PROGRESS

These notes and translations were put together twenty or more years ago and are now being revised and updated,

The early (-mid.). Edirne [Adrianople] (c. 1864-6?) Tablet of Bahā'-Allāh written in response to one of the قسيسين نصارى "Priests of the Christians" of Constantinople [Istanbul]) (referred to as the madīnat al-kabīra “Great City”) may have been addressed to a western Christian Missionary resident in Constantinople ; perhaps,  for example, be  Add Names, It is cited in the Tablet printed in the 1893 compilation Iqtidarat va chand lawh-i digar… (Powerful Realities and select other Tablets…), pp. 78-104 and in the Kitāb-I badī` and elsewhere. Cole has translated and entitled the Iqtidarat Tablet the "Tablet to the Son" (Lawḥ-i Ibn ) though this phrase would seem to occur  in the `Tablet to the Priest of Constantinople’ cited therein, not in the Tablet he translated.

Manuscripts

  • Add
  •  

Printed Texts and partial citations

  • Iqtidarat va chand lawh-i digar (Powerful Realities and select other Tablets…), pp. 78-104
  • Kitab-i Badi`

Select Articles and References

Juan Cole

  •  

This `Tablet to a Christian Priest of Constantinople’ includes two well-known passages relating to the crucifixion of Jesus which have close parallels or recensions in the Kitāb-i badī` as well as other Arabic and Persian Tablets of Bahā'-Allāh from the Edirne and later West-Galilean (`Akkā = Acre) periods; including, for example, his early Edirne Kitāb al-asmā' (Book of Names) ADD refs. (pp.91-95 in Persian). These paragraphs relating to the crucifixion of Jesus are found in Iqtidarāt, 91and ADD (and INBA 38: [328], etc). and versions of these texts were included in English translation in Gleanings XXXVI and XLVII. What follows are the texts translated by Shoghi Effendi (as identified and printed in the Persian-Arabic 1984 original language edition of Gleanings entitled Muntakhabātī az athār-I ḥadrat-I Bahā’-Allāh = section 36 and 47 pp. 62 and 72) which is followed by the often paraphrastic English translation of Shoghi Effendi along with a few added transliterated additions:

First Gleanings XXXVI (36)

In the slightly rewritten-paraphrased translation of Shoghi Effendi this text reads as follows (as printed in Gleanings XXXVI):

"Know thou that when the Son [of Man or Mary or God] (al-ibn = Jesus) . . . yielded up His breath to God the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things. Its evidences, as witnessed in all the peoples of the earth, are now manifest before thee. The deepest wisdom which the sages have uttered, the profoundest learning which any mind hath unfolded, the arts which the ablest hands have produced, the influence exerted by the most potent of rulers, are but manifestations of the quickening power released by His transcendent, His all-pervasive, and resplendent Spirit" (Baha'u'llah GWB XXXVII / 85-86; 1892: 93). Cf Cole trans. Add URL

This important passage does not interpret the effect of Jesus' crucifixion as an act of atonement. It does not focus upon the forgiveness of “sin”. Rather, it presents Jesus' selfless sacrificial death as an event of supreme cosmic importance generating earthly capacity for creativeness on many levels. It is not merely focused or centered on tokens of individual salvation but on the consequences of the global empowerment and regeneration of all things; through the power of inspiration in both the areas of the arts and sciences. For Bahā'-Allāh Jesus died a regenerative sacrificial death, a kind of martyrdom, the redemptive power of which regenerated all things. The "death" of the Son of Man-Mary-God on the cross so diffused the divine grace that a greater capacity for progress was universally realized in accordance with human capacity.

And secondly Gleanings XLVII (47)

 In the again slightly rewritten-paraphrased translation of Shoghi Effendi this text reads (as printed in Gleanings XLVII) as follows:

O Jews! If ye be intent on crucifying once again Jesus, the Spirit [ تصلبواالروح ] of God, put Me to death, for He hath once more, in My person, been made manifest unto you. Deal with Me as ye wish, for I have vowed to lay down My life in the path of God. I will fear no one, though the powers of earth and heaven be leagued against Me.

Followers of the Gospel! (malā’-al-injīl) If ye cherish the desire to slay Muhammad, the Apostle of God, seize Me and put an end to My life, for I am He, and My Self is His Self (lit. `This is his essence (dhāt-ihi). Do unto Me as ye like, for the deepest longing of Mine heart is to attain the presence of My Best-Beloved in His Kingdom of Glory. Such is the Divine decree, if ye know it.

Followers of Muhammad! If it be your wish to riddle with your shafts the breast of Him Who hath caused His Book the Bayán to be sent down unto you, lay hands on Me and persecute Me, for I am His Well-Beloved, the revelation of His own Self, though My name be not His name. I have come in the shadows of the clouds of glory, and am invested by God with invincible sovereignty. He, verily, is the Truth, the Knower of things unseen. I, verily, anticipate from you the treatment ye have accorded unto Him that came before Me. To this all things, verily, witness, if ye be of those who hearken. O people of the Bayán! If ye have resolved to shed the blood of Him Whose coming the Báb hath proclaimed, Whose advent Muhammad hath prophesied, and Whose Revelation Jesus Christ Himself hath announced, behold Me standing, ready and defenseless, before you. Deal with Me after your own desires." (GWB XLVII pp. 100-101 trans. SE [original added])

Bahā’-Allāh clearly identifies himself as the return of Christ ready to suffer as Jesus did the first time.

■ The Sūrat al-rūḥ (The Surah of the Spirit) ( c. 1866).

This medium length Arabic epistle of Bahā'-Allāh to an as yet unidentified `Alī was written from Edirne (Adrianople) around the spring of 1866. It takes its name from the mention of Jesus, al-rūḥ (the Spirit) towards its beginning. Bahā'-Allāh mentions that which personified "Satan" (al-Shayṭān = Mīrzā Yaḥyā ?) had cast into the hearts of such as had opposed God, most likely meaning antagonistic (Azalī inclined) followers of the Bāb. It appears that he responds in the Sūrat al-rūḥ to Muslim-Azalī notions about the fate of Jesus twisted  so as to imply that Bahā'-Allāh would be "forgotten" after his death.

"And among the polytheists are such as assert, `When the Spirit (al-rūḥ = Jesus) died was his name perpetuated in the [earthly] dominion? for it was reckoned that there existed only a set number of those who believed [in him] and were possessed of manifest certainty. Say: By God! The Spirit (al-rūḥ = Jesus) never died! Nay, rather he bestowed immortality on all such as entered beneath his shadow. Thus indeed was this matter if you are among such as [truly] comprehend. He [Jesus] never prided himself about anything of whatsoever he created betwixt the heavens and the earth. For all this was created through his Logos-Speech (qawl) [as you would realize] if you be among such as judge aright. If he prided himself over anything it was his pride over his own Logos-Self (nafs); not in anything aside from it. All who dwell within the kingdoms of the heavens and of the earth and within the Omnipotent realm of the Command and of creation (jabarūt al-amr wa'l-khalq) took pride in it (Jesus' Logos-Self, as you would realize) should you be numbered among the truly wise." (Athar-i qalam-i a`lā, 4:124).

■ The Sūrat al-mulk (The Surah of the Dominion) (1866) AQA-K: 1-70.

In the course of an address to the `Inhabitants of Constantinople' [Istanbul] and elsewhere in his Sūrat al-mulk (Surah of the Dominion) Bahā'-Allāh expresses his Christ-like desire to sacrifice himself for the sake of God:

"I have offered up my soul (rūḥī) and my body (jasadī) [as a sacrifice]  before God, the Lord of all the worlds" (S-Muluk, 24 GWB LXVI: XX adapted). Cf. S-Muluk: 30

■ The Kitāb-i Badī` (“Wondrous [Revolutionary] Book”, 1867 CE).

Arguing against an Azalī-Bābī view of the legitimacy of dissimulation on the part of Jesus and other messengers of God in his lengthy Persian Kitāb-i Badī` (1867 CE), Bahā’-Allāh includes the following Arabic words pertinent to Jesus and the cross that his opponent might progress “from the Kawthar (Fount) of the Bayān of the Beauty of the All-Merciful to the [Bahā’ī] Orchard of Splendours” even specifically mentioning Jesus’ being nailed upon his beloved cross:

“When he [Jesus] saw the cross (al-ṣalīb), he [willingly] bore it through his own self (bi-nafsihi) (cf. NT ADD). Then he embraced it, saying 'Come hither, O my dear cross! I have awaited thee for thirty and three years, diligently enquiring after thee for I desire to  fastened [upon thee] with nails (mufattish an `alayk) out of love for my sheep (ḥubb an li-aghnāmī).” (K-Badi`, ms. 209)

In his Kitāb-i Badī` Bahā’-Allah states that “the specific text of the Book” (naṣṣ-i kitāb = Bible-New Testament) has it that every day in the [Jerusalem] Temple the Christian “Cause of God” (amr-Allāh) was publicly taught by a fearless Jesus. In saying this he was evidently attempting to counter those who were happy with Mīrzā Yaḥyā as one  fearfully hiding away from society. Mīrzā Mihdī Gilānī, Bahā’-Allāh’s Azalī opponent, as specifically noted in the Kitāb-i badī`, held that Jesus was secreted away in places of retreat (maqarrhā). This Bahā’-Allāh regards as a supremely unjust estimate of Jesus. Hence his writing the above Arabic paragraph about Jesus and his welcoming of the cross. In a subsequent paragraph Bahā’-Allāh also continues by paraphrasing the Arabic into Persian as follows:

“Give ear unto that which he [Jesus] said at the moment when all the Jews had gathered to kill that Holy One [Jesus]. When the cross was presented and the blessed eye fell upon it he [Jesus] said, `Come! Come! For thirty and three years I have awaited and yearned for you”  (ms. 209-210).

In the light of this the Azalī apologist Mīrzā Mihdī Gilānī has not been able to comprehend the true, elevated station (maqām) of Jesus. There have been differences of opinion regarding the implications of the Gospel and other accounts of the last days of Jesus. Bahā’-Allāh argues that the Gospels-Injīl have it that Jesus, “that Ancient [Pre-Existent] Guileless One (sādhij-i qidam), was hung on the cross and that Jesus, “the Spirit” (al-rūḥ) was resigned to the Will of God. After 36 (3X12 hours or loosely 3 days) Bahā’-Allāh further summarizes and adds that Jesus “came alive” (zindih shud) and was lifted up to heaven (ascended to heaven). Islamic tradition of the “people of the Furqān [=Qur’ān]” (Muslims) he also notes, assert that Jesus was taken up to heaven before all of this; before his suffering on the cross. Bahā’-Allāh claimes that God had informed him of the reality of this matter. Most of the people, however, remain unaware of the truth of these

events.

In the Kitāb-i badī` Bahā'-Allāh also shows his close relationship with the ascended, celestial Jesus when he represents Jesus as addressing him so to underline his fervent eschatological, sacrificial yearning:

`And at this moment this Spirit (al-rūḥ = Jesus) addresseth thee [Bahā'-Allāh] and says [speaking as you]: `Come! Come ye hence!

O Concourse of deniers [of the truth of Bahā'-Allāh] with your swords, your spears and your arrows! I indeed do ardently yearn [for death, the cross] just as He [Jesus] had ardently yearned. By He in whose hand is the Self of Ḥusayn! Nay My very Being! exceedingly strong is my yearning and great indeed is my expectation [for sacrificial death] but you fail to comprehend" (K-Badī`ms, 210).

It is important to note that in the above passage, Bahā'-Allāh equates his Logos-like Being as the Person-Self of Ḥusayn, a component of his own personal name like that of the martyred third (Twelver) Imam. Like Jesus Ḥusayn wa a major Shī`ī Islamic paragon of  sacrifice or martyrdom. Like Jesus and the third Imam Ḥusayn who was martyred at Karbala in 680 CE., Bahā'-Allāh yearned for sacrifical martyrdom, for "death" upon the cross of this transient, mortal world. In many scriptural Tablets Bahā'-Allāh equates himself with Imam Ḥusayn whose eschatological "return" he claimed to be. In the Kitāb-I badī` we also read of Bahā'-Allāh's claim to be the return of Jesus and 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 in his Kitāb-i badī` Bahā'-Allāh also addresses to 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.' (Mss. 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).

ADD PASSAGES

"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  Bahā'-Allāh 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 Vineyard" (Matt. xix 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 cometh what will He do unto those husband men "They say unto him, he 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

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.