LA Study Class Newsletter [#2]

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My Notes:

In the second newsletter the group discusses an interesting mystery within the Baha’i community: where are all the Writings, documents, Tablets, cablegrams, letter and other texts? The most glaring absence from this list, are the Writings of the Bab, Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha; most of which have yet to be translated or even made available. I’ve already touched on this point in my introduction but it bears repeating since it is such a pivotal issue.

As it is mentioned in the newsletter, most Baha’is are aware (even proud), there has been a tremendous outpouring of Revelation in the Babi and Baha’i Faiths. Unfortunately, most of these documents are yet to be translated and the originals are locked up and kept away from the masses. Only a trickle is released every now and again as the slow translation work proceeds at the Baha’i World Centre (Gems of Divine Mystery and The Summons of the Lord of Hosts are two recent additions). Along with the Writings of the Twin Figures of the Faith, innumerous amounts of ancillary correspondence, Tablets and historical documents are also inaccessible. The most famous of these is probably the Afnan Library, administered by the NSA of UK, which holds scintillating bits and pieces of the early history of the Faith.

As well, the bulk of the communications from the Guardian to the NSA of US and Canada (at the time led by Horace Holley) is ‘missing’. One scholar’s hypothesis is that those particular cablegrams of the Guardian to the US are not released because generally the instructions they contained were ignored back then. Controversial, but interesting nonetheless.

It is important to note that although ‘authoritative’ translations of the Texts are rather slow in coming out, there is nothing wrong with using and studying provisional translations – as long as they are designated as such. In fact, many provisional translations are widely available. These are translations done by Baha’i or non-Baha’i scholars which do not have the weight of the approval of the House of Justice. But they can, nevertheless, be just as good. It is these provisional translations which should be encouraged by the wide dissemination of the contents of the Baha’i library and archives. If you are interested in learning more about provisional translations, you can google “Juan Cole”, check this out, or go here.

Finally, there is an anecdote shared by a non-Baha’i scholar (you can find it in “The Baha’i Faith and Islam” , p.25-55) where he describes the difficulty he had in accessing documents dealing with early Babi and Baha’i history. He recounts that at each stage, he would have to interview with a “gatekeeper” at the World Baha’i Centre and prove to them that he knew more than they did! Only then would he be passed on to the next level – to be then submitted to the same grilling by this next person. I confess to finding this archaic process rather strange for a Faith which has as one of its principles the individual investigation of truth and universal education. With the marvel of today’s technology, I can’t understand why the UHJ just doesn’t make all our texts (officially translated or not) available to scholars. I do console myself, however, that this particular scholar did not succumb to frustration and in the end was given the access he sought.

Before proceeding you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70′s class . . .

[START DOCUMENT]
[Ed. home address]
November 16, 1976
Dear Baha’i Friends,

The second meetings of the new class which we began two weeks ago was held on November 13th [Ed. date erroneously appears as 30th in text]. Only five people attended, however. All were disappointed that, because of illness and work-schedule conflicts, so many others were unable to attend.

[Ed. corrections are made for previously mentioned home addresses and phone numbers for Mehrdad Amanat and Joel Suffens]

(In addition to those listed last time, this letter is being sent to the following Baha’is:

Payam and Navid Afsharian [Ed. home address and phone number follow for each]
Gerry Ludwin
Farsheed and Mona Nourani

Unfortunately, Shahin Carrigan was ill and could not be present to make her presentation on the question of “value-free” science and its relationship to the Baha’i Faith. So, this subject was postponed until a later date (perhaps at the next session). The group decided simply to hold an informal discussion.

Soheil Sohrab lead the group by raising two points of personal concern to him. First, he explained that a non-Baha’i once complained to him that Baha’is commonly [Ed. illegible word, best estimate:] talk of the “100 volumes” which Baha’u’llah supposedly wrote. However, only a very few works of Baha’u’llah are available in English and most Baha’i literature tends to cite the same few quotations from Baha’u’llah over and over again. There may be many Baha’i books on the shelf, but their content is very repetitious — even Baha’u’llah Himself often uses quotations from His earlier Writings in later works. Soheil wondered how best to answer this question.

Everyone contributed to the discussion that followed and all comments cannot be summarized here. However, one of those present suggested that all the talk about the “100 volumes” may just be a smug way for some Baha’is to excuse themselves from studying the Writings for themselves. (i.e. “All knowledge is in the books anyway so I don’t have to know anything myself.”) Does the Manifestation of God come to reveal all knowledge and answer all questions? Of course not. And what is a “volume” supposed to be, anyway?

Someone noted that the primary emphasis which some Baha’is place on the volume and even the content of the Revelation is misplaced. The Manifestation does not come from God to deliver a set of books. (for instance, Jesus wrote nothing down and all of his recorded words would only fill ten or twenty pages of print.) The Prophets, it was argued, come primarily to affect a transformation in human society through the power of their own Person. Baha’u’llah has indicated that His Writings are only a tertiary proof of His Mission:

“Say: the first and foremost testimony establishing His truth is His own Self. Next to this testimony is His Revelation. For whoso faileth to recognize either the one or the other, He hath established the words He hath revealed as proof of His reality and truth. This is, verily, an evidence of His tender mercy unto men.”
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah p. 105

Soheil next raised the problem of explanations of progressive revelation which are usually heard at firesides. He was especially annoyed by the facile statement that Moses brought the harsh rule of Law, then Jesus brought Love, and now Baha’u’llah brings Justice. All agreed that an appalling amount of misinformation is continually being distributed at firesides. One person observed that false information about progressive revelation can also be found in some English pamphlets which are still distributed by the Baha’i Publishing Trust. (For example, can Krishna really be considered the Founder of Hinduism? Is Sabeanism the earliest known religion, with an unknown Founder? Is there any good reason why only nine Manifestations are listed in pamphlets and diagrams which explain progressive revelation? The answers are all, “No!”

After briefly discussing a few other topics, we came to the question of what to schedule for next time. As before, here is where we ran into trouble. After a while the group agreed that we would discuss Denis MacEoin’s article, “The Concept of the Nation in Islam”, which just came out in summer 1976 issue of World Order magazine. Everyone should read this article and be prepared to discuss it next time. No, Shahin Carrigan, was not forgotten. We still hope to hear from her next time, too.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Another personal note: since we are having a lot of trouble settling on subject matter to study and discuss, I am going to take the liberty of proposing four subjects (with the accompanying assignments) for the group to vote on next time. The two subjects with the highest number of votes will be the topics for the following classes:

SUBJECT #1: Baha’i history — the Conference at Badasht (everyone would read Nabil’s account in the Dawn Breakers)

SUBJECT #2: Attacks on the Faith — The Vacant Guardianship (All would read the letters of the House of Justice on this subject)

SUBJECT #3: The Baha’i Teachings — The Kitab-i-Aqdas (everyone would read atleast the introduction to the Synopsis and Codification)

SUBJECT #4: Guest speaker — I understand that Vahid Rafati has been doing some work on the concept of infallibility in the Faith. Perhaps he can be persuaded to address our goup.

NOTE: THE NEXT SEMINAR WILL BE HELD SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 27th AT 3pm AT THE HOME OF MEHRDAD AMANAT. [Ed. personal home phone number, home address and directions follow]

[END DOCUMENT]

Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.