The Tafsīr Sūrat al-Baqara (Commentary on the Surah of the Cow) of the Bāb.
Stephen Lambden UCMerced.
In progress and under revision 1980s+2019.
The Islamic background.
PDF. Arabic Qur'an II:
PDf. Translation Qur'an II:
The Sūrat al-Baqara (Surah of the Cow) is the lengthy second Surah of the Qur'ān. It derives its name from the episode of Moses and the Israelite fashioning of the `Golden Calf' which to some degree is rooted in the biblical account (see ). Islamic traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and others laud the greatness of this opening major chapter of the Qur'an.
The Tafsīr Sūrat al-Baqara (Commentary on the Surah of the Cow) of the Bāb.
The Tafsir Sūrat al-Baqara (Surah of the Cow = TSB) of the Bab is an incomplete or unfinished commentary. It dates to 1259 AH or Nov- Dec. 1843 some six months before the Bab 'declared his mission' before Mullā Ḥusayn Bushrū'ī on May 22nd [23rd] 1844 CE. This is clear from its occasionally detached prolegomenon sometimes found before the Bab's closely associated Tafslr on the Sūrat al-Fātiha (Q.1) or Tafsir al-Hamd which is extant certain mss. (including INBA 6004C, 6012C, and 6014C). This early, 1843 date is also implicit in its contents as well something mentioned in various secondary historical sources including the Babi-Azali Nuqtat al-kāf (Book of the Point of the Letter "K") ascribed to Mlrzā Jāni Kāshānī (d. 1852) and Tārīkh-i Jadīd (New History) which was written around 1297/1880 by Mirza Husayn Hamadani (d. / ) (T-Jadid, 34-9 esp.35; MacEoin, Sources 153ff).
On the date of the Tafsir Surat al-Baqara refer to MacEoin, Sources, 46 -7 which is worth citing in full:
... According to the opening passage 18. the text [of the Tafsir surat al-Baqara] was begun in the month of Dhū 'l-Qa`da 1259/ November to December 1843, when the Bāb was in Shlraz. In this section he relates how he dreamt that the city of Karbalā' (al-ard al-muqadassa) rose up in pieces (dharrat an dharrat an ) and came to his house to stand before him, at which moment he was informed of the imminent death of Sayyid Kazim Rashtl, an event which took place in the early hours of 11 Dhū '1-Hijja 1259/2 January 1844.19 The tafsīr , the Bāb says, was begun on the day following this dream.
Fn. 18. This opening passage generally occurs before the tafslr of the Sūrat al-fātiha, which precedes that of the Sūrat al-baqara; but it can be found in other positions or is entirely absent (as in the Cambridge ms.). The mss. used by me for references to this passage are found in INBA 6004C, 6012C, and 6014C.
Fn. 19 Al-Qatll ibn al-Karbalāl, 'Risāla' in Māzandarānl, Zuhur al-haqq, vol.3, p. 509; Ibrāhīml, Fihrist, p. 122. See also MacEoin, 'From Shaykhism to Bābism', p. 115. In a letter written from prison to an uncle, the Bāb says that Rashtl 'died nineteen days before the revelation of the mystery' and indicates that the beginning of that revelation was the start of the year 1260 (letter quoted Māzandarānl, Zuhūr al-haqq, vol.3, p. 223). Zarandl gives the date of Rashti's death as the day of 'Arafa 1259, which is 9 Dhū 'l-Hijja/31 December 1843 (Dawn-Breakers, p. 45).
According to a majority of the manuscripts consulted by me [MacEoin], this work was completed up to the first juz of the Qur'an (verse 141 of the sūra) in Muharram 1260/January to February 1844,20 INBMC 69, however, contains an additional thirty-eight pages, taking the commentary as far as verse 133. This means that the first part of this tafslr was completed by the time Bushru'i arrived in Shlraz in Jumādā I 1260/May 1844, in time for him to find a copy in the Bāb's house as related. The second half was finished in the course of the same year and was among the works in the Bāb's possession when he travelled to Mecca some months later. It was, as we shall see, one of several manuscripts stolen from him while en route.
[Mirza Muhammad Fadil-i] Māzandarānī states 21 that several manuscripts of the first volume exist, although he does not reveal their location. It may be that he is referring to those copies held at the INBA. Thirteen complete and two partial manuscripts are known to me (see Appendix One).
Since this tafslr is the only extended work of the Bāb's written before May 1844 and still extant, it is of unique importance as a source of concrete evidence for the development of his thought in the six months or so that led up to the initial announcement of a prophetic claim.22
20 Thus INBA 6004C and 6012C, as well as a copy in Haifa (originally in the possession of Nicolas. INBA 6014C bears the date Dhū 1-Hijja 1260/December 1844 to January 1845. This is almost certainly corrupt, since there is evidence that the second part of ihe tafslr must have been completed before then.
21 Asrār al-āthar, vol.2, p. 61.
22 For a discussion of this work within the context of Islamic tafslr literature, see B. Todd Lawson, 'Interpretation as Revelation: The Qur'an Commentary of Sayyid 'All Muhammad Shirazī, the Bāb (1819-1850)', in Andrew Rippin (ed.), Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Qur'àn (Oxford, 1988), pp. 233-42.
Mss. Tafsīr Sūrat al-Baqara (Commentary on the Surah of the Cow).
In his Sources MacEoin lists the following 15 partial or complete mss (p.201):
Tafsir surat al-baqara,
- I. Cambridge, Browne F.8
- 2. London, BL Or. 5277
- 3. Paris, BN 5780 (hand of Ridvan 'All; dated 1897)
- 4. Paris, BN 5805 (hand of Ridvan 'Ali)
- 5. Paris, BN 6610 (hand of Ridvan 'Ali)
- 6. Haifa. IBA (originally Nicolas 102)
- 7. Princeton, University Library, 'Babl CoJJcction'
- 8. PrinceLon, University Library, 'Bab1 Collection'
- 9. Baghdad, al-Mu'assasa al-'Amma Ii'1-Athar wa'l-turath 10824, item1 (hand of Muhammad Husayn ibn 'Abd Allah). [fn.51-2 from the collection entitled Majmu`fi'l-aqa'id al-babiyya wa;l-baha'iyya).
- 10. Tehran, INBA 6004C, pp. 2-178.
- 11. Tehran, INBA 6012C, pp. 60-257.
- 12. Tehran, INBA 6014C, pp. 1-296.
- 13. Iran, INBMC 69, pp. 156-410 (pp. 372 to the end contain an extension of the commentary to verse 133).
- 14. Iran, INBMC 86, pp. 65-09 (introductory section only).
- 15. Iran, INBMC 98, pp. 23-27 (introductory section only),
The Tafsīr Sūrat al-Baqara
Trans. Stephen Lambden - in progress ...
The first few paragraphs may be translated here of the opening, preliminary khutba (literary oration) as found in INBMC 69: 156f = II:2‑3 :
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
 Praised be to God Who manifested himself (tajalla) unto the spheres of existent Being (al‑mumkināt) through the ornament of the disengaged Point (bi‑ṭaraz al‑nuqṭat al‑mumfaṣilat) [sprung] out of the Abyss of Origination (lujjat al‑ibdā’) ‑‑ unto, in and towards Existent Being...  Through it He created Dual modality (zawjiyya) and He created "I‑ness" [Individuality] (al‑aniyya).  And the Divine Will (al‑mashiyya) was mentioned through the Dhikr of the Eternal [cosmic] alphabet, (bi‑dhikr al‑handasah al‑azaliyya) which is other than God Himself.  And it, it is indeed (fa‑hiya hiya) the Primordial Eternity (al‑azaliyya al‑awwaliyya) without any termination of eternality.  Nay rather! It, it is [indeed] the Dawning Place of the Sun of the Divine Oneness (shams al‑ahadiyya) glistening forth from the Eternal Perpetuity (al‑ṣamadāniyya al‑bāqiyya) through the Eternity of the Divine Ipseity (bi‑baqā’ al‑huwiyya) [which is] of the Empyreal domain (al‑jabarūtiyya).
 So Oh! Truly wondrous Ornament (fa‑ya na`ma al‑ṭarāz) of the Snow‑white [letter] "A" (alif al‑bayḍā’) coming into being subsequent to the [primordial phenomenon of the] differentiated Point [itself sprung] out of the Creative Reality.  Thus, it, it is indeed of the Ornament of Bahā’ ("Glory‑Beauty") (al‑ṭarāz al‑bahā’) in the Pillar of Laudation (rukn al‑thanā’)!  Then indeed it, it is assuredly the Yellow Ornament (al‑ṭarāz al‑safrā’) in the Snow‑White Pillar (rukn al‑baydā’)!  Wherefore indeed it, it is the Ornament of Origination (al‑ṭarāz al‑badā’) in the Green Pillar (rukn al‑khuḍrā’)!  Then [also] it is assuredly the Ornament of Origination (al‑ṭarāz al‑badā’) in the Soul of the Crimson Pillar ( fī nafs al‑ḥamrā’)!  Shouldst thou say Crimson (al‑ḥamrā’) then would it be ornamented [coloured as] Yellow through the [effect of the] Snow‑White (al‑safrā’ bi’l‑bayḍā’).  And shouldst thou say Green (al‑khuḍrā’) it would [indeed] be ornamented [coloured as] Snow‑White (al‑bayḍā’) through the [effect of] the Crimson (bi’l‑ḥamrā’).
 So Oh! Blessed be this [Reality] for it, it is [the power] of pre-eternal reddenning (muḥammirat azaliyya), the [power] of perpetual whitening (mubayyiḍat ṣamadiyya), [the] originative greenness (mukhaḍḍirat a[i]badiyya); and the [power] of heavenly yellowing (muṣaffirat malakūtiyya).  Again, It, it is assuredly the reiteration of the Point in the outstretched [letter] "A" through the pre‑existent creative Power. And "no God is there except Him" ...