Our Daily Bread: Lord Wisdom

Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008 at 7:41 pm

Zoroaster, that Iranian prophet of note, is recognized by Bahá’ís as one of the great “Manifestations of God”, and one of only three named non-Abrahamic so-called Manifestations. I say “named”, though I don’t know of any case where Bahá’u'lláh actually named any of them. I do know of a case where he mentioned Zoroastrians and Zoroaster, but only in quoting or paraphrasing questions set to him.

What is peculiar about the lack of any mention of Zoroaster by Bahá’u'lláh is that Bahá’u'lláh was a Persian, with some evident reason to concern himself with the ancient faith of his motherland, and did seem to concern himself with the conversion of Zoroastrians to the Baha’i Faith.

In 2006, various letters by Bahá’u'lláh to Zoroastrians and Bahá’ís of Zoroastrian origin were published under the title Tabernacle of Unity. Given the importance of Zoroastrianism to me, I intend to cut a number of slices from that volume. The first letter in that compilation—which I like to think as the superior Lawh-i-Hikmat—is the source and subject of todays’ slice:

The Tongue of Wisdom proclaimeth: He that hath Me not is bereft of all things. Turn ye away from all that is on earth and seek none else but Me. I am the Sun of Wisdom and the Ocean of Knowledge. I cheer the faint and revive the dead. I am the guiding Light that illumineth the way. I am the royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty. I unfold the drooping wings of every broken bird and start it on its flight.

It may be of some importance to note that the name of the Zoroastrian God is “Wisdom” (Mazda), and that, given the Zoroastrian emphasis on freewill, intelligence, and conscience, this is no arbitrary coincidence. From an impartial standpoint, it is hard to know whether Bahá’u'lláh was aware of this fact, but he was Persian, after all, and the foremost scholar in his service, Mirza Abu’l-Fadl, was employed in the service of the Zoroastrian to whom this letter was addressed. If we read the paragraph in this light, we might interpret it as an exaltation of wisdom to the rank of God.

It so happens that we can determine the context of this passage from the second letter of the volume, where the question to which the passage replies is cited:

Some maintain that whatsoever is in accordance with the dictates of nature and of the intellect must needs be both permissible and compulsory in the divine law, and conversely that one should refrain from observing that which is incompatible with these standards. Others believe that whatsoever hath been enjoined by the divine law and its blessed Author should be accepted without rational proof or natural evidence and obeyed without question or reservation, … Kindly indicate which of these positions is acceptable.

Given what I’ve already indicated about the general character of Zoroastrian belief, its comparatively non-scriptural (liturgical) origins, and the fact that much of what it teaches is accompanied by justifications (however outdated, obscure, or absurd), it is reasonable to presume that the former position is the Zoroastrian position. The latter can be presumed to represent the Islamic position.

In light of this, it seems pertinent to observe that Bahá’u'lláh continues as follows (key phrase and Zoroastrian key words in bold):

The incomparable Friend saith: The path to freedom hath been outstretched; hasten ye thereunto. The wellspring of wisdom is overflowing; quaff ye therefrom. Say: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Verily I say, whatsoever leadeth to the decline of ignorance and the increase of knowledge hath been, and will ever remain, approved in the sight of the Lord of creation.

The Zoroastrian mantra, if there is any, is: good thoughts; good words; good deeds. Bahá’u'lláh elaborates, pointing out that acquired knowledge must be applied:

In this day the choicest fruit of the tree of knowledge is that which serveth the welfare of humanity and safeguardeth its interests.

He also says that words have no influence without the support of action:

O people! Words must be supported by deeds, for deeds are the true test of words. Without the former, the latter can never quench the thirst of the yearning soul, nor unlock the portals of vision before the eyes of the blind.

A little paradoxically, he asserts that words have great influence in and of themselves:

The Lord of celestial wisdom saith: A harsh word is even as a sword thrust; a gentle word as milk. The latter leadeth the children of men unto knowledge and conferreth upon them true distinction.

What does he say about “good thoughts”? Perhaps all this talk of wisdom covers that.

I do not believe that we can reasonably conclude that these statements express the fundamentals of Bahá’u'lláh’s religion. The picture, unfortunately, is far from that simple, but letters like this one are encouraging to the Western liberals and Zoroastrians-in-spirit among the Bahá’ís. That should come as no surprise, given that this letter was addressed to a Zoroastrian. Regrettably, the tone of Bahá’u'lláh’s follow-up letter is quite different.

To be continued …

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