Authenticity of the Baha´i texts isn´t as simple as one would initially think. After all the assumption is that since the Baha´i Faith is such a young religion and since all of the texts were authenticated personally by the Manifestation, there should be no qualms at all about this issue.
Fortunately, the truth is somewhat different. Fortunate, because it gives scholars an opportunity for some original research and thought. If you are interested in an example of such dialogue, you may want to check out Talisman´s discussion of “The Promulgation of Universal Peace” in the first week of January 2005 (check the archives).
On a different note, but same topic, I read recently an interesting article about scholars working on authenticating Quranic text based on very, very old copies of the Quran. Since the Quran has been transcribed over many generations by hand, there are some errors that have inevitable crept in. These scholars made a find of historical proportions where they unearthed, behind a mosque wall, a Quran cemetary.
That is, a place where old copies of the Quran, worn out from use, were deposited. This is an ancient tradition due to the extreme respect that Muslims place for the physical word of God. It would be unthinkable to simply discard or burn or in any other way dispose of the Quran. Anyway, thanks to this ancient custom these scientists discovered a treasure trove of very ancient Qurans which allowed them to slowly create a timeline and trace back any and all changes over the years.
Needless to mention, such a scholarly work is extremely dangerous because Muslims can be rather prickly when you suggest that their text came through any other form than pure descent or revelation from God (and what religion isn´t?). I found this article extremely interesting because it is a commonly known thing that the Quran is little understood today. Some say this is because it was written in a very ancient version of Arabic. This new theory states that maybe we don´t understand it because some scribe wrote down the wrong letter or word. I´ll try to find it and post it if I can (in the meantime if you know what I´m referring to, reply with the link please and help us all out).
If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.
On with the 70′s class . . .
April 17, 1977
Dear Baha’i Friends –
As part of our class newsletters last December and earlier this year, and then mostly as a side issue, Tony Lee and Denis MacEoin, one of our English correspondents, offered their own classification system of Baha’i Writings. Their reason for compiling these outlines was to rank the relative importance of statements attributed to or written by the Central Figures of the Faith, the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice. Such a ranking is important because, for example, remarks jotted down by Baha’i visitors to Israel when in the presence of Shoghi Effendi have come to be known as pilgrim’s notes and have no authenticity nor binding affect at all.
Lee and MacEoin were careful to point out that the rankings they made separately were their own invention and represented, by no means, the last word in this area. MacEoin further cautioned that his own order of authenticity was formulated several years ago and, where he to do it again, he would make some changes. (At this point, it would be helpful for those who have been with us long enough to have compiled a backlog of past newsletter issues to trot out the ones relevant to this discussion. You more recent arrivals will just have to suffer through.)
When Lee and MacEoin submitted their outlines to the class both invited comments to the proposals. Our Baha’i study class of April 17 heard one such commentary from Dr. Amin Banani. Here is a summary of what he said.
In both outlines, a process of establishing historical authenticity (hence reliability) has been mixed up with the concept of Divine authority as it is reflected in the Baha’i Writings. While authenticity and authority are related, they are not the same. Using one (that is, establishing authenticity) to measure the other (religious authority) is a risky business. For example, the MacEpoin outline lists 13 classifications for the words of the Bab, the most authentic (and authoritative) being those words written by the Bab Himself that are quoted in the Baha’i sources. Ranked 11th in the MacEoin hierarchy are the words of the Bab as quoted by Baha’u’llah. MacEoin has given greater reliability, for example, to utterances of the Bab when they appear in Muslim histories, “neutral” histories and contemporary documents written by non-Babis than it credits Baha’u’llah with having. Dr. Banani said it seems to him Baha’u’llah quoting the Bab is to be regarded as more authoritative than remarks of the Bab cited, for example, in the “neutral” histories MacEoin ranks higher. Continuing his analysis, Dr. Banani went on to say:
The Lee and MacEoin outlines set up gradations of relative authenticity by ranking Baha’i writings in an order of importance. The underlying assumption is that such a hierarchy sets out the authority and importance of each source. While attempts such as those offered by Lee and MacEoin are interesting and thought provoking, it is up to Baha’i administrative institutions, specifically, the Universal House of Justice, to make decisions about how authentic (and therefore reliable) various Baha’i works are. Rating which writings are more valid or less valid is not up to individual Baha’is, no matter how well intentioned and sincere they are.
Efforts to determine authenticity (and thereby judge authority) are not new with the Bah’ai Faith. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all been subjected to this same inquiry. What such efforts boil down to is a question of: How do we distinguish between the Words of God and the words of man? Taking Islam, as an example, the tone and style of the Quran have convinced some Muslim scholars there is, on God’s part, a “Divine preference for the Arabic language.” This assumption has become part of a fundamentalist credo in Islam. Since the Quran was written in Arabic, there are, in Muslim views, prohibitions against translating the Holy Book into other languages. But, this interdiction, rather than hampering the spread of Islam, instead has served to make Arabic the “lingua franca” of the Muslim world. Once knowledgeable in Arabic, a necessity for reading the Quran, the languge becomes the common tongue for Muslims from different areas to communicate with each other.
The whole notion of how God communicates to man through a prophet relates to the twin subjects of classification and authenticity of religious scripture. The history of religion is a history of God revealing His Will through some chosen instrument. Baha’is call this a manifestation. These people must use words to convey God’s message as revealed to them. It is from this transformation (Will of God into words of prophet) that the whole idea of the “creative word” comes into being. (Still with us here gang?) The beginning of the act of divine creation often is described in terms of an oral command, a word or set of words. Verses in the Quran frequently begin with the command: “Say!” (Near the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis I, chapter 3, it reads “And God said, ‘Let there be light:’ and there was light.”) Baha’u’llah affirms this concept of the creative word, saying it is proof of the validity of religious revelation.
FOLLOW-UP DEPT. During our general comment section, Dr. Banani was asked what particular significance the Yazd incident and trial (see April 6 newsletter) played in the Baha’i history of modern Iran. He replied that there was nothing very noteworthy about the entire matter except that it occured at the close of a period of relatice calm that existed in Persian from the 1920′s up through the 1940′s, when the Baha’is were left pretty much alone. But the arrest and 1952 kangaroo-court trial of more than a dozen Baha’is on trumped up charges of murder set off a “realization that, at any time, abridgement of their human rights could take place,” Dr. Banani said.
The original scanned documents can be found here.