Kitab al-asma' I - The Book of Names

كـتـاب الأسـمـاء

Opening text from INBMC 29

The Kitab al-asma' (Book of Names) I

or Chahar Sha`n (The [Book of the] Four Grades)

of Sayyid `Ali Muhammad, the Bab (d. Tabriz 1850). 

Stephen Lambden UC Merced,

IN PROGRESS and being revised and corrected 

Last updated January 24th  2018.

The Kitab al-asma' (The Book of Names).

This massive and complex, though  centrally important late work of the Bab, has been little studied and has had some unfortunate negative appraisals by a few academics who had never seen the whole, complete reorganised  text (e.g. E. G. Browne and D. M. MacEoin). Today there are no critical or even semi-critical editions of this largely (if not wholly) Arabic text. Only twenty pages of the original have been published with English translation from a few adjacent Wahids (Vahids) (Unities) though with no indication of the mss. or mss. translated (see PDf. below). The extant mss. (see below) need comprehensive collection and an effort to produce a critical edition or perhaps editions. A good many extant mss. seem  confused though a very important testimony to the late Arabic style of the Bab's revelations. These mss. should be regarded as among the most theologically weighty or important writings of the Bab; rich, for example,  in messianic urgency and predictions of the theophany of  man yuzhiru-hu Allah (Him whom God shall make manifest), in invocatory depth and the intricacies of the secrets of the many Names of God (asmā' Allah) sometimes relating to high-ranking Babi believers. Many lines of the Kitāb al-asmā' are rhythmic in intensity and should be heard as powerful expressions of revelatory disclosure. Recited in the original Arabic  verses or phrases within the Kitab al-asma' were probably meant to be experienced through listening. They are  often Dhikr-like or of invocatory, rhythmic intensity.

In his The Sources for Early Babi Doctrine and History: A Survey (Leiden: Brill, 1992), Denis MacEoin writes :

"One of the most puzzling of the Bāb's works is his lengthy and tortuous Kitab al-asma', also known as the Tafsīr al-asmā' or Kitab asma'i kulli shay'i. This huge book consists mainly of lengthy variations of invocations of the names of God. Its aim, according to [Mirza Muhammmad Fadil-i] Māzandarānī, is to enumerate each divine name of which a specific believer is to be regarded as a manifestation.65 The same authority holds that the book was written during the last days spent by the Bāb at Chihrīq.66 This makes it roughly contemporary with the very similar Kitāb-i panj sha'n, and it is in fact sometimes referred to by the alternative title of Chahar sha'n [Four Grades].

The Kitāb al-asmā' was originally thought by Clement Huart 68 and Edward Browne 69 to be one of the two 'Arabic Bayāns' referred to by Gobineau... I know of twenty-six manuscripts, and I am sure many more exist. Normally found in two volumes, the entire work consists of nineteen wahids [Unities], each of nineteen abwab [gates] , each bāb containing four 'grades' or species of writing. Defective copies appear to be more or less standard." (MacEoin, Sources, 91-2).

_____________

  • 65 Asrār al-āthār, vol. 1, p. 126.
  • 66 Ibid.
  • 67 `A. F., A'ln-i Bāb (n.p., n.d.), p. 12.
  • 68
  • 69

The Date and Size of the Kitab al-asma'.

If written while the Bab was imprisioned in Maku (from March 1847-8) and  Chihriq (between Khoy and Urumia or 20 kilometers to the southwest of Salmās),  Adherbayjan (Persia), the date would be most likely be between 1264/1848 and July 1266/1850 CE. It is well-known to be very lengthy but until a complete, reconstructed ms. is complied, its exact length cannot be precisely determined. It very probably dates to early-mid. 1850. Taken to consist of 19 Wahids or Unities  each with 19  Babs or Gates/Sections  then it would be  have 361 divisions. Then if each of the 361 divisions has 4 subsections the total portions of the work would be 1444, Then, If each of these subsections were 2 pages long the length of this volume would be  approximately 2,888 pages; If these subsections were 3 pages long the length would be  well over 3,000 pages.

Kitab al-asma' :  Wahids [Vahids] (Unities) x 19  each with 19 Babs (Gates, Sections) x 19  and  Four sh'an ( Grades, Modes of Revelation), Thus 19x19 = 361 x 4 = 1444 - with each grade or mode being 2 pages = 2,888; if 3 pages long = 4,332. Hence roughly 2,000-3000 pages is probably on the right lines. The length of each mode or section (sha`n) might be guaged from the Kitab-i Panj Sha`n, though this would be approximate - note the very differing length of the Persian and much shorter Arabic Bayans.

The Kitab al-asma' and the Kitab-i panj sha'n. 

The Kitab-i Panj sha'n (Book of the Five Grades) and the Kitab al-asma; as the [Kitab-] Chahar sh'a (The Book of the Five Grades). Some idea of the Length and nature of the Kitab al-asma' can be gathered by comparing it with the Kitab-i panj sha'n, the Book of the Five Grades in which the 5 modes of revelation (sha'n) are given as :

  • (1) Āyāt  = Qur’anic style verses
  • (2) Munājāt = Devotional pieces, prayers, supplications;
  • (3) Khuṭbah = Literary Sermons, Orations, Homilies :   or alternatively  
  • (3) Suwar-i `ilmiyya = "Surahs expressive of divine knowledge”;
  • (4) Tafāsīr [sing. Tafsīr] = “Commentaries”, and
  • (5) Fārsī  =  Persian language revelations.

This pentadic (five-fold) configuration is clear from the Persian Bayān and other writings, especially Persian Bayan  III:17;  VI:1 and IX:2.  It is on account of this five-fold division of the Bāb’s writings that the Kitāb-i Panj Sha`n (KPS) gets its name. Panj means “five” and  sha`n  (pl.  shu`ūn) means “mode”, “category”, “grade”, etc. The KPS and related works and compilations are sometimes also referred to by the slightly abbreviated Persian equivalent Shu'ūn-i khamsa  (= “Five Modes”).The Four Grades of the Kitab al-asma' might thus be the four primary  Arabic modes of revelation within the Kitab-i panj sha'n (Book of the Five Modes of Revelation) though it seems likely that the Arabic Kitab al-asma; is earlier than the Kitab-i panj sha'n which added the fifth Persian category. ,

Select Manuscripts of the Kitab al-asma'.

In his sources, MacEoin states that he knows of 25 mss and adds that there are likely  "many more" (Sources 91-2)" He lists the following mss in Appendix One  p.188:

Fn. 35 (p. 188) here reads : "The B.L ms. Or. 5481 listed by Browne (Materials, p. 206) as a ms. of tbe Kitab al-asma', is not a Babi work at all.. Another ms. there (Or. 6255) contains, apart from a copy of the Kitab al-asma'  (ff. 1-265), twenty prayers (several of them titled), written mostly for the days of the week or for recitation after noon or for morning devotionals".(Sources, p. 188 fn. 35).

Select further ms. of the Kitab al-asma'.

  • Ms. St. Petersburg, National Library, Khanykov  (Russia's consul in Tabriz) collection. Very important early ms.  in the hand of an amanuensis of the Bab. cf. E. G. Browne, Catalogue and Description of 27 Babi MSS.  Identified by Youli Ioannesyan,
  • Ms
  • Ms

"Oct 10, 2010 - Sayyid `Ali Muhammad the Bab Shirazi. Kitab-i-Asma' ('The Book of Names' of All Things) Ms., private hands. This is a partial manuscript of 481 pages" :

 

The Kitab al-asma' - English Translations.

  • Section 5 from `Selections From the Writings of the Bab Haifa: Baha’i World Centre, 1982 129-49.  Slightly reformatted January, 2017. 

There is no complete critical or even non-critical edition of the complete text of the Kitab al-asma'.. Almost nothing has been translated from this weighty and lengthy book save a few passages (twenty or so pages)  in English within the Baha'i published (Persianized)  Kitáb-i-Asmá in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, Haifa: BWC., 1978.

The twenty or so pages of translations from the Kitāb al-asmā’ (Per. Kitab-i-Asma) set down here  (from the above named compilation,SWB, pp.129-149 see PDf) were apparently done by Habib Taherzadeh and others at the Baha’i World Centre, Haifa. Israel. No identity of the original manuscript or manuscript translated is given. These extracts in English translation all come from the sixteenth XVI /16), seventeenth (XVII/17) and eighteenth (XVIII/18) vahids (Unities) only constituting a very small proportion of the perhaps 2000-3000 page original.

The original text translated here has also been published in the volume:

  • See PDf. Section 5. Kitab al-asma' SWB. Original Texts.

 

Kull Shay' : Three Hundred and Sixty One - 361 (19x19).  

Three Hundred and Sixty One, the number of Kullu shay' ("All-Things").

SOME KEY QUR'ANIC PASSAGES

"God is Powerful over kulli shay'i (everything / All-Things)" (Q. 65:12b).

"We enliven the dead and write down what they leave behind and leave unrealized. We keep an account of  kulla shay'in (All-Things")  in an Imamin Mubinin, a"Lucid Register" or "Manifest Imam" (Qur'an 36:12b). 

"We inscribed for him in the Tablets (al-alwah) something of kulli shay'i (everything/ "All-Things"), instructions [admonitions] and a clear explanation for kulli shay'i (everything / "All-Things"). So take hold thereof with power and order (bi-quwwat wa amr) such that thy people might take hold of the very best thereof. Then will I show thee the adode of the  wayward" (Q. 7:145).

The fairly frequent qur'anic Arabic expression kullu shay', basically meaning  "everything" or "all things" (perhaps at times, "pleroma", here translated for emphasis  "All-Things"), occurs  approximately 121 times in the Qur'an (= Q.). These qur'anic references, within forty-eight (out of 114 surahs)  both Meccan and Medinan verses, are :

Q. 2: 20, 29, 106, 109, 148, 231, 259, 282, 284; Q. 3: 26, 29, 165, 189; Q. 4: 32, 33, 85, 86, 126, 176; Q. 5: 17, 19, 40, 97, 111, 120; Q. 6: 17, 44, 80, 101 (x2), 102 (x2), 111, 154, 184; Q. 7: 89, 145 (x2), 156; Q. 8: 41, 75; Q. 9: 39, 115; Q. 11: 4, 12, 57; Q. 12: 111; Q. 13: 8, 16; Q. 15: 19; Q. 16: 77, 89; Q. 17: 12; Q. 18: 45, 84; Q. 20: 50, 98; Q. 21: 81; Q. 22: 6, 17; Q. 23: 88; Q. 24: 35, 45, 64; Q. 25: 2; Q. 27: 16, 23, 88, 91; Q. 28: 57, 88; Q. 29: 20, 42, 62; Q. 30: 50; Q. 32: 7; Q. 33: 27, 40, 52, 54, 55; Q. 34: 21, 47; Q. 35: 1; Q. 36: 12, 83; Q. 39: 62 x 2; Q. 40: 7, 62; Q. 41: 21, 39, 53, 54; Q. 42: 9, 12; Q. 46: 25, 33; Q. 48: 21, 26; Q. 49: 16; Q. 51: 49; Q. 54: 49, 52; Q. 57: 2, 3; Q. 58: 6, 7 Q. 59: 6; Q. 64: 1, 11; Q. 65: 3, 12 x 2; Q. 66: 8; Q. 67: 1, 19; Q. 72: 28; Q. 78: 29; Q.  85: 9 (Total = 121).

A few key verses are cited above but see also, for example, Qur'an  6: 44, 80, 101-2,154, 164; Q . 7:89, 145, 156; Q.13:8; Q.16:89; Q. 36:12; Q.39: 62; Q.48: 21, 26; Q. 54: 49, 52; Q. 72: 28-9; Q.78: 29 and Q, 82:5. Kullu shay' has an abjad numerical value of 361  (k=20 +l =30 + Sh = 300 + y = 10 + hamza = 1: Total = 361), Certain of the Qur'anic verses such as Qur'an 65:12b; 36:12b and 7:142 cited above, are highly theologically suggestive.

 

Ibn al-`Arabi among other earlier and later Islamic mystics, Sufis and philosophers considered kull shay -" All-Things".a Qur'anic phrase  numerologically, exegetically and cosmically meaningful.

Ignaz Goldziher (d. Budapest, 1921).

  • 1921. `Kleine Mitteilungen und Anzeigen, Verhältnis des Bäb zu früheren Sufi -Lehrern' in Der Islam, Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Kulter des lslamischen Oriens, Volume 11 (1921) pp. 252-4. See PDF with trans. Walker and Lambden in BSB

Western Scholarship on the Kitab al-asma' and the kullu shay' "All-Things".

The British orientalist Edward G. Browne (d. Cambridge 1926) was perhaps the first westerner to comment upon the ms. texts of the Kitab al-asma' and the phrase kullu shay' "All-Things". In his JRAS article on Babi Manuscripts written 1888: he

 

+ JRAS. 1888. p.

+ JRAS. 1892. p.494

In his edition of the NQ (p. LXXXVI).

In his Matetials for the Study of the Babi Religion (Cambridge 1918) Browne, rather dismissively, writes :    

"(10) Books of "Names " or " Names of All Things."
Of all the Bib's writings no category is so unintelligible, and, to the ordinary reader, so tedious and so unprofitable as this. It is represented in the British Museum by the MSS. Or. 5278, Or. 5481, Or. 5487, Or. 5488, Or. 5489, Or. 5490, Or. 5869 and Or. 6255; and in my library by BBF. 9 and BBF. 10 (see J R. A. S. for 1892, pp. 648-659), and two other volumes, corresponding to these, each to each, copied in 1330/ 1912. and sent to me in June, 1913, by the Babi copyist in Persia mentioned on p. 198 supra.  The titles of these volumes differ a little (                                 ), and I cannot say positively how far they represent identically the same work, but they are at least very similar, and are all intolerably monotonous. The six lines cited on p. 649 of the J.R A.S. for 1892 are, mutatis mutanids (i.e. substituting a new "Attribute"  or "Name " of God in each section) a fair sample of the whole. I doubt if anyone, even the most enthusiastic believer, could read or understand them, and I am certain that no one could translate them" (Materials,106).  

 

For further details see Goldziher, 1921.

Select Bibliography relating the the Kitab al-asma' and the Qur'anic kullu shay' ("All-Things"),

Alexander Kazem Beg wrote on the religon of the Bab from c. 1865

Bernard Dorn, or (Russ.) Boris Andreevich (1805-1881), the third head of the Asiatic Museum, St. Petersburg (founded 1818).

Viktor R.  Rosen (1849-1908).

  • Add

Edward. G. Browne (d. Cambridge, 1926)

  • 1888.
  • 1889.
  • 1892. `Catalogue and Description of 27 Bábí Manuscripts' in `The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland' [= JRAS.], Cambridge University Press, vol.      (1892), pp. 433-499.
  • 1910. `Kitab-i-Nuqtatu'l-Kaf [The Point of the Letter "K"]. (Gibb-Series XV). Cambridge : CUP., 1910. 
  • 1918. `Matetials for the Study of the Babi Religion'. Cambridge : CUP., 1918.

Ignaz Goldziher (d. Budapest, 1921).

  • 1921. `Kleine Mitteilungen und Anzeigen, Verhältnis des Bäb zu früheren Sufi -Lehrern' in Der Islam, Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Kulter des lslamischen Oriens, Volume 11 (1921) pp. 252-4. See PDF with trans. Walker and Lambden in BSB

Reynold A. Nicholson (d. Chester, 1945).

  • 1932. `A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental MSS. Belonging to the Late E. G. Browne', Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932. Rep. 2010.

The Kitab al-asma' of the Bab, as noted above, was sometimes referred to as the Kitab asma'i kulli shay'i. (The Book of the Names of All-Things). This in part because of its division into 19 Wahids and 19 Gates or Sections which, when multiplied yield 361 total divisions,.the abjad numerical value of Kullu shay' or All-Things (see image above). In the evolution of early or middle Babism (1844-1850s) there existed for a while a group of Babis who called themselves Kullu shay'is (loosely), "All thingers" or "The Pleroma" (Fullness). In many of his writings, especially his Kitab al-asma', Kitab-i Panj sha`n and Persian and Arabic Bayans, the phrase kullu shay' is especially important. Among hundreds of other examples, the following verses or lines may be cited here in illustration of this:

He assuredly raised up the creation of  "All-Things" (kull shay') from nothing  (shay') through Thy Power (qudrat). Then He divulged His Glory (tajalliat) unto "All-Things" (kull shay') through "All-Things" (kull shay') by virtue of Thy Might (`azimat)! Thus, whomsoever was transfigured (istijlla) through Thy Glorious Self-Revelation (tajalliyat) did so by virtue of empowerment through His Logos-Self (nafs)! (Kitab al-asma', ms. INBMC 29:6),

A Note on the Names of God and the Kitab al-asma'.

There are numerous Islamic traditions (hadith/ akhbar) about the number and nature of the Names and Attributes of God. The theology of the Names of God is of central importance in Islamic theology and mysticism.

The Babi-Baha'i Calendar and the Kitab al-asma'.

The Guardian or head of the Baha'i religion (from 1921-1957), Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (d. London, 1957), set down some details regarding the Badi` (New, Revolutionary, Wondrous) Babi-Baha'i Calendar rooted in the Kitab al-asma' of the Bab, the Persian Bayan and select other writings.  Some details were first set forth by the aforementioned Guardian in the first half of the 20th century, in certain of the annual `Baha'i World Volumes'  (from vol. 5 1932-1934, p.360ff see below) . He and/ or his Zarandi source, did not, however, give precise details about where the calendral materials were located in the Kitab al-asma' or in which specific ms. or mss of the Kitab al-asma' of the Bab. He published some calendral details about the Badi` calendar in summary form and  largely derived from the detailed historical-doctrinal notes compiled by Muhammad Nabil-i Zarandi (d. 1892) in versions of his so-called Tarikh-i Zarandi (History of Nabil-i Zarandi, c.1888-89). These bulky and still unpublished volumes  in their original  Persian (and Arabic), have long been unavailable (save for a few extracts); details have only partially become available in a redacted form in  English translation, in the large volume entitled  The Dawn- Breakers: Nabíl's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Revelation (1st English ed. and trans. Shoghi Effendi, 1932). In  The Baha'i World  Volume. 5 (1932-1934, p.360ff), within the section headed `Additional Materials  Gleaned trom Nabil's Narrative (Vol. 11), Regarding the Baha'i Calendar' , we find the following details (the inserted maps have been removed) :

 

The mss, texts of the Kitab al-asma' and the Names of God.

The Kitab al-asma'  I:1f.

The Kitab al-asma' INBMC 29

Lambden Translation from INBMC 29.

[The Kitab al-asma']

It has four levels (maratib). The First [Gate] of the First [Unity]:

[or The First [Mode] of the First [Unity]:

In the Name of God,

the Supremely Guided (al-arshad), the Supremely Guided (al-arshad).

[R-Sh-D to Guide]

God, no God is there save Him., the Supremely Guided (al-arshad), the Supremely Guided (al-arshad). Say: God proffers a Guidance (arshad) beyond every possessor of Guidance (irshad). It cannot be reckoned that He would withold from anyone, whether in the heavens or upon the earth or whatsoever lieth between them, the Ruler (malik) who is the Sovereign of His Guidance (malik sultan irshadihi). He createth whatsoever He willeth through His Command (amr). He, verily, was One Guided through Guidance (rashad an rashid) to the end tht all might be strengthened. Glorified be whomsoever is prostrate before Him whether they be in the heavens or upon the earth or whatsoever lieth between them.

Say: All are upstanding before Him. And Praised be unto God! before whom all do utter glorification be they in the heavens or upon the earth or whatsoever lieth between them.

Say : All are prostrate before Him. God testifieth that He, no God is there except Him, the King and the Kingdom (al-mulk wa'l-malakut), the Mighty and the Omnipotent (al-`izz wa'l-jabarut), the Powerful and the Divine (al-qudrat wa'l-lahut), the Powerful and the One Empowered, the Gemstone [Sapphire] (al-quwwat wa'l-yaqut), the One Sovereign and the mundane realm (al-sultan wa'l-nasut). He it is Who bringeth Life and causeth to die, then He causeth to die and bringeth Life. He is indeed One Living (hayy) who dieth not, the King (malik) who fadeth not, the Just One (`adl) never tyrannical, the Sovereign (sultan) never disempowered, the One Unique (fard) for nothing escapeth from His grasp be it in the heavens or on the earth or between them. He creath whatsoever He willeth through His Logos-Command (amr) for He is indeed One Powerful over All-things (kull shay').

For further excerpts in translation see Kitab al-asma' II : http://hurqalya.ucmerced.edu/node/3701

T

The Kitab al-asma' INBMC 69

Lambden Translation from INBMC 69.

 

Translation from VIII.1 an unidentified (from Marzieh Gail Coll ?) ms.

The Kitab al-asma' VIII: 1.

Opening lines  in ms. text of Kitab al-asma from VIII:1,
Trans. Stephen Lambden.

The first Gate (al-bab) from the eighth Unity (wahid) of the eighth month of the year on the gnosis of the Name al-murshid (   ) which consists of four [sub-] sections (maratib). .

In the Name of God, the Supremely Guided (al-arshad), the Supremely Guided (al-arshad).

God, no God is there save Him., the Supremely Guided (al-arshad), the Supremely Guided (al-arshad). Say: God  proffers a Guidance (arshad)  beyond every possessor of Guidance (irshad).

On the Page preceeding the Kitab al-asma' VIII. 1 (above),

The page partially set down below  preceeds that of  the Kitab al-asma; VIII. 1 translated above . It may be an unrelated work of the Bab or perhaps the end of Kitab al-asma' VII. 19 or a kind of prolegomenon to VIII. 1. In this unidentified ms,.  I shall here translate this possible page from the  Kitab al-asma on this Website at Kitab al-asma' II  : 

For the page preceeding the first [wahid] (of Kitab al-asma; VIII:1 = end of VII. 19??) :