Emmanuel, letters on behalf of the Guardian

z47

Nov 2015
14
Israel
I have two interrelated questions.
First, are letters on behalf of the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice regarded as authoritative interpretation and legislation, or can they be seen as guidance that must be obeyed but is not necessarily divinely protected from error?
I am particularly puzzled about the letter on behalf of the Guardian interpreting "Emmanuel" in chapter 29 of Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha as referring to the Bab, when it seems that Abdu'l-Baha is actually referring to Jesus. Emmanuel is a title of Jesus (Matthew 1:23), but it is never used as a title of the Bab. Furthermore, in the same paragraph Abdu'l-Baha explicitly mentions Christ and the Apostles. Is it possible that the interpretation given in the letter on behalf of the Guardian is incorrect?
 
Sep 2010
1,297
Canada
Hello,

I had that question myself a while ago.

After thinking, my conclusion is, firstly, the Christian text, never actually says, Emmanual is Jesus. This is what the Christians say, not the Bible.
I am not saying that this title is not for Jesus, but simply pointing out, if we carefully examine the text of bible, it does not say so, unless one reads more into the verses than they say.
As regards to the Bab, He is Emmanual. Note that, all Manifestations of God have the same Names and titles. For example 'the Seal' which is Muhammad, is also applicable to all prophets, as not only Baha'u'llah said that, but also imam ali alluded to it in a Tradition.
Likewise, Christ is not only the title of Jesus. Bahaullah and Bab were also return of Christ.
 
Oct 2014
1,829
Stockholm
As a Swede, I cannot resist the temptation to add some quotes concerning the Swedish mystic and seer Emanuel Swedenborg:

"In connection with your question regarding the reference
made by Abdu'l-Bahá to 'His Highness Emanuel' in Vol. III of His
Tablets, this obviously refers to the Bab as the text shows it
clearly and is in no way a reference to Swedenborg."

(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual
believer, May 9, 1938: Bahá'í News, No. 134, March 1940, p. 2)

"...The teachings of such spiritually enlightened souls as
Swedenborg, Emerson, and others should be considered as the
advanced stirrings in the minds of great souls foreshadowing
that Revelation which was to break upon the world through the
Bab and Bahá'u'lláh. Anything they say which is not
substantiated by the Teachings, however, we cannot regard as
absolute truth, but merely as the reflection of their own
thoughts."

(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual
believer, May 6, 1943)

gnat
 
Aug 2010
726
New Zealand mainly
As for letters written on behalf of the House of Justice (those via the secretariat), I do not know of any case in which they constitute legislation. They are also not infallible, as Abdu'l-Baha specifies in Some Answered Questions that it is only when they are consulting together that they are protected from error. Letters on behalf of the House of Justice are drafted by someone and circulated among the members of the House for five signatures (see the source text below). Since legislation by the House of Justice is protected from error, I conclude that only the House of Justice collectively can legislate.

So far as I know, the same considerations apply to interpretations of the Writings in letters on behalf of the Guardian. In most cases the interpretations reference a prior authoritative interpretation or text, and one uses the secretary's letter as a pointing finger: follow it to the source, then you don't need the finger. Where a letter on behalf presents what seems to be a novel interpretation, I would hesitate to regard it as either authoritative or infallible. I would file it in the "to be resolved" pile because there is always the chance that it is based on an authoritative text or interpretation that I don't know about.
~~~~~~~~

“As to whether there is a distinction between correspondence from the World Centre that has been signed "The Universal House of Justice" and that signed on behalf of the Secretariat: In brief, the manner in which each of these letters is prepared depends upon the contents of the letter. Drafts of letters which contain newly formulated policies are consulted upon and approved during a meeting of the House of Justice; correspondence dealing with previously enunciated policies, or with matters of a routine nature, are prepared, as delegated by the House of Justice, by its Secretariat and initialed by at least the majority of the members of the House of Justice before being dispatched. All letters written over the signature of the Department of the Secretariat are authorized by the Universal House of Justice." (From a letter on behalf of the House of Justice, 22 October 1996 - note that procedures may have changed in the intervening 20 years.)

and in the same letter:

"As to whether the materials prepared by the Research Department constitute the authoritative word of the Universal House of Justice on a particular subject, as raised in your third question, the House of Justice indicates that such materials, though prepared at its direction, represent the views of that Department. While such views are very useful as an aid to resolving perplexities or gaining an enhanced understanding of the Bah?'? Teachings, they should never be taken to be in the same category as the elucidations and clarifications provided by the Universal House of Justice in the exercise of its assigned functions. However, the House of Justice chooses to convey the materials prepared by the Research Department to the friends because it wishes them to be thoughtfully attended to and seriously considered."
 
Dec 2009
165
United States
Hi, Sen. If letters written on behalf of the House of Justice are initialed by five to eight members, why would they not be protected from error? To be protected from error, a decision of the House of Justice need only be approved by at least five members.

Should there be differences of opinion, the Supreme House of Justice would immediately resolve the problems. Whatever will be its decision, by majority vote, shall be the real truth, inasmuch as that House is under the protection, unerring guidance and care of the one true Lord.

- 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Makátíb-i-‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, Vol. III, pp. 500–501
Selected Messages of the Universal House of Justice | Bahá
This would be consistent with the idea that "all letters written over the signature of the Department of the Secretariat are authorized by the Universal House of Justice."
 
Aug 2010
726
New Zealand mainly
Hi, Sen. If letters written on behalf of the House of Justice are initialed by five to eight members, why would they not be protected from error?
I say that decisions not consulted on by the House of Justice are not protected from error because Abdu'l-Baha stipulates :

... the Universal House of Justice, if it be established under the necessary conditions that is, if it be elected by the entire community that House of Justice will be under the protection and unerring guidance of God. Should that House of Justice decide, either unanimously or by a majority, upon a matter that is not explicitly recorded in the Book, that decision and command will be guarded from error. Now, the members of the House of Justice are not essentially infallible as individuals, but the body of the House of Justice is under the protection and unerring guidance of God: this is called conferred infallibility.
(Some Answered Questions New Translation)
When each member gets a draft of a letter to initial, they are acting as individuals, and each one is not infallible. Therefore the outcome must be not-infallible, unless I missed something.
 
Aug 2010
726
New Zealand mainly
As for Emmanuel, it is a name as well as a title of Christ. It appears that the tablet of Abdu'l-Baha was written in response to a question about the station of an "Emmanuel," whom Abdu'l-Baha treats as one of the apostles of Jesus. The word "apostles" ( حواريّون /havaariun ) in the language of Abdu'l-Baha is often translated by Shoghi Effendi as "disciples" and when referring to the disciples / apostles of Baha'u'llah, it includes all the Bahais. So when Abdu'l-Baha says ...

Emmanuel [1] was indeed the Herald of the Second Coming of Christ, and a Summoner to the pathway of the Kingdom. ... The Apostles were even as Letters, and Christ was the essence of the Word Itself; ... It is our hope that thou wilt in this day arise to promote that which Emmanuel foretold."
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 59)
... we need not identify Emmanuel with one of the New Testament writers - it could be any Christian writer called Emmanuel who (1) is the subject of a question by an American believer at that time and (2) speaks of the second coming of Christ in spiritual (essence) terms. Emmanuel Swedenborg is the most likely candidate that I know of; I think the letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi is wrong to identify Emmanuel as the Bab. That rests only on bad logic: the Bab and many others are heralds of the second coming of Christ, so while the Bab is a Herald, not every Herald is the Bab.

The Persian text of Abdu'l-Baha's tablet is available in the Persian version of Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, and in two earlier editions here:
مرجع كتب وآثار بهائی - من مكاتيب حضرت عبدالبهاء شماره ١�٬ ص�حه ۲۸۱
and here:
مرجع كتب وآثار بهائی - مكاتيب حضرت عبدالبهاء - جلد ۳٬ ص�حه ۲۴۹ .

The last of these is particularly useful as it names the addressee as a Mr. Rosling Berestevoud (برسته ود رسلینگ) in New York. And there’s a reference that matches: an article in Bahai World volume 6 called 'Glimpses of Sweden by B? Olivia Kelsey says:

“The philosophical and spiritual teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg penetrated the West. In a Tablet addressed to an American Baha'i, E. E. Wrestling-Brewster, Abdu'l-Baha gave to Emmanuel Swedenborg the significance of [a] minor prophet. …. In reality Emmanuel was the forerunner of the second coming of His Holiness the Christ and the herald of the path to the Kingdom. I hope that thou wilt arise to perform all that which His Highness Emmanuel hath predicted.”
(Baha'i World, Volume 6 (publ 1937), p. 703, edited from a poor OCR text)
This tells us that Kelsey knew the addressee was Wrestling-Brewster, which is correct in view of the similarity of his name to the Persian rendition of it, linked above, and she believed it was talking about Emmanuel Swedenborg. The same two statements (addressee and subject) were published in Reality magazine, volume 3, in 1921, which adds that the translator is Mirza Ahmad Esphahani. Since ‘Reality’ is a Covenant-breaker publication, Kelsey may have got her information from somewhere else. We do at least know that the correct name of the addressee and the connection to Emmanuel Swedenborg were “in the air” from an early date. That does not in itself make the connection to Swedenborg correct, but we can look further. The Swedenborgian church in New York is officially "The Association of the City of New York for the Dissemination of the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem." The New Jerusalem is referenced by Abdu’l-Baha in this tablet: this is indicative but not decisive. We also know from bibliographies
Bibliography of the Baha'i Faith
that there was a collection of Tablets entitled “Tablets from ‘Abdu’l-Baha Abbas to E. E. Wrestling Brewster,” published in 1902 and 1907. A 1912 photograph of Bahais at Green Acre, with Abdu’l-Baha, includes someone called Wrestling-Brewster in the caption.
Worldwide Community of Baha'u'llah: August 1912: 'Abdu'l-Baha at Green Acre with a group of Baha'is

Really decisive evidence would be an indication that Wrestling-Brewster had an interest in Swedenborg. The search continues …

If anyone has Baha'i World, Volume 6 or “Tablets from ‘Abdu’l-Baha Abbas to E. E. Wrestling Brewster,” I would be grateful for scans or photographs of the relevant pages. And it would be nice to identify the correct face in the Greenacre photograph
 
Sep 2010
1,297
Canada
Sen,

What would you say abour the Word 'forerunner' in the Tablet
:



"In reality Emmanuel was the forerunner of the second coming of His Highness the Christ and the herald of the path of the Kingdom."

It seems to me, while there could have been many Heralds, but was not the Bab the only forerunner?


I also doubt the possibility of such a big errors, in the letters on behalf of the Gardian.
 
Aug 2010
726
New Zealand mainly
Sen,

What would you say abour the Word 'forerunner' in the Tablet

"In reality Emmanuel was the forerunner of the second coming of His Highness the Christ and the herald of the path of the Kingdom."

It seems to me, while there could have been many Heralds, but was not the Bab the only forerunner?


I also doubt the possibility of such a big errors, in the letters on behalf of the Gardian.
The word "forerunner" has been changed to "herald" in the new translation of the tablet, in Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha. It's a good example to illustrate the general principle: never hang your hat on a single word in a translation. The word in the Persian text is mobasher / مبشّر . Shoghi Effendi translates it variously as Forerunner, herald, harbinger, foreteller ("foretold" in Iqan p64). It's the same root as bisharat, glad tidings: a mobasher is someone who brings glad tidings. Shoghi Effendi's secretary was evidently going on the older English text, and making the mistake of relying on the implications of a single word.
 
Nov 2015
239
United States
I see Sen's conjecture as entirely within the realm of possibility. I personally defer to letters written on behalf of the Guardian, but I would never presume them to be infallible, unless we knew he read and approved each letter and the matter was of religious interpretation.