The Bab's Qayyuma'l-Asma Notes

Jul 2017
Kettering, Ohio USA
Unit 1 The Báb’s Artistry in His Commentary on the Súrih of Joseph

The Qayyumu’l-Asma [QA] is actually not the first work by the Bab. There was an earlier work in homage
to Siyyid Kazim Rashti on the Suratu’l-Baqara which He began after Rashti’s passing. He referred to
Rashti as his “beloved teacher.” It appears the Bab intended to write a commentary on all 114 surihs of
the Qur’an. Typically such a commentary runs around 30 volumes. But the plan was interrupted by a
series of events. One was a vision where he was informed of Siyyid Kazim Rashti’s death and the entire
holy land (of southern Iraq) came to Shiraz, to His house. This probably occurred in January 1844.
Another was when He dreamed of the severed head of the Imam Husayn and He drank a few drops of
his precious blood. This vision occurred in April or early May; He began the commentary in January
1844. The Bab said the second vision gave Him a new set of abilities.

The Qayyumu’l-Asma is difficult to translate literally. It means “He who is beyond all names and
attributes.” Qayyum has the same numerical value as Joseph in Arabic, so the title itself is connected to
the story of Joseph.

The QA is responsible for the birth of the Babi dispensation. It inspired Mulla Husayn; it inspired the
other Letters of the Living as well to arise. Siyyid Kazim did not appoint a successor; he told his students
to go out and find the Hidden Imam. The young men who came to Shiraz were all deeply learned men of
Islam. They were utterly overwhelmed by the QA; they were profoundly and eternally impressed. They
were quite sure of themselves; Nabil’s narrative makes this clear. The Bab’s announcement He was the
Promised One shocked Mulla Husayn, who was incredulous. The disciples of Siyyid Kazim asked him to
write a commentary on the Surih of Joseph but he refused and said it was beyond him. That was
surprising in itself. He said the Promised One will produce such a commentary unasked. This is what the
Bab did.

Everything in the QA is quite familiar to learned Muslims. It has no new information. But it has a brand
new approach to the Qur’an, however. There is nothing like it in the history of Arabic literature. It stands
completely alone in the history of Arabic letters. It does not enunciate any new laws. So, what captured
the hearts and souls of the Letters so profoundly? It was its artistic intricacy and power.
Todd shows a talisman, a five-pointed star, a symbol of the human being made out of the text of a
prayer. It is an intricate piece of artistry by itself. The QA is an artistic work as well, though not in the
form of calligraphy. It is a work of literary art. That was why they recognized Him as the Return of the
Hidden Imam.

The Qur’anic Surih of Joseph has a beginning, middle, and end, because it talks about the story of
Joseph. Todd recounts the entire story and stresses its importance. The Bab focuses on Joseph’s
forgiveness of his brothers as a revisioning of the entire Qur’an. He puts the story of Joseph at the heart
of the Qur’an message.

The Qur’an is a book of over 6,000 verses. The Bab uses these verses as if he were playing a piano with
6,000 keys, recombining that which was familiar, but in utterly new ways. Much of the Qayyuymu’lAsma consists of passages from the Qur’an, but combined and used in utterly new ways. In a sense, it is
a re-revelation of the Qur’an itself. Many people were never able to make sense of the QA; they thought it was utter nonsense. They missed the incredible artistry it represented. The Bab’s work is comparable to the spontaneous
recombinations of jazz. An apt comparison is with James Joyce, who took the story of the Odyssey and
utterly rewrote it to produce Ulysses. At first it was criticized, but eventually Joyce came to be
recognized as the founder of modernist literature. That was true of the Bab from the point of view of
the Letters of the Living, who gave their lives for Him. But the rest of society rejected the Bab’s artistry
and He was executed


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Edwardsville, Illinois, USA
Thank you! This is from the Wilmette Institute course, right?
Jul 2017
Kettering, Ohio USA
Unit 2 part 1

The Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' is not a "commentary" in the academic sense of the word, proceeding as a scholarly treatise in the manner of the Islamic schools. Rather, as explained by Islamicist Todd Lawson, in his study of the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá', it is unique in that "it purports to be both a commentary on the Qur'án and a new Qur'án," rewriting and reinterpreting the Qur'án in a way that is similar to Muhammad's reinterpretation of biblical stories and Christ's reinterpretation of Jewish law, as reported in the Gospel of Matthew.[16] In short, the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' is a new holy book, the first revealed text of a new revelation. And it was received as one. Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, observes that "It was this Book which the Bábís universally regarded, during almost the entire ministry of the Báb, as the Qur'án of the people of the Bayán [the Bábís]." Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, described it as "`the first, the greatest, and mightiest'" of the Báb's works. When Bahá'u'lláh first read one of the Báb's writings (whether it was the commentary or another tablet is unclear), He is reported to have recognized what he read instantly as being divinely inspired.[17] Yet even today the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' remains virtually unknown in the West, and only partial translations into English are available.

Structurally, the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' is composed of 111 súrás (chapters), each one a commentary on a successive verse of the Súrá of Joseph in the Qur'án. Each chapter is composed of forty-two verses of rhyming prose. The work is 234 pages long in the oldest available manuscript. Every chapter begins with an invocation of God's name followed by the relevant verse from the Súrá of Joseph in the Qur'án; a series, in all but four chapters, of disconnected letters chosen for their mystical meaning; and the text of the chapter itself—the commentary on a verse from the story of Joseph in the Qur'án. Using language that echoes the style of the Qur'án, the Báb's work paraphrases the Súrá of Joseph and other parts of the Qur'án, altering words and emphases in the Qur'ánic verses in a way that "reveals" the ultimate significance of the Qur'án—its previously hidden allusions to the Báb's own prophetic mission.

The work has a variety of audiences—Mullá Husayn (in the first instance), the other followers of the Báb, the Shah and his officials, the Muslim divines, and the people of Iran; but its ultimate audience clearly is the peoples of the world. The opening sentence announces that this work has been sent from God through the Báb to "serve as a shining light for all mankind," making it obvious that from the very moment of His declaration, the Bah perceived Himself to be a universal Manifestation and the Founder of a new religion. In a subsequent sentence He describes the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' as "the Path which God hath laid out for all that are in heaven and on earth." It is, He says, the same truth given to Moses, and He describes it as "the Mother Book," the same words later used by Bahá'u'lláh to describe the commentary.[19] Because the Báb so boldly enjoins all people to use this work as a spiritual guide and to judge its truth for themselves, it is not difficult to see why the Orthodox Shí'ah priesthood would have considered it the greatest threat to their own authority.

The literary effect of the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' is also unique. As Lawson observes, the Báb is "patently not presenting himself as a systematic theologian," nor, one might add, as a mere poet.[20] He "saw `the best of stories' as the allegorical account of his own prophecy," and in the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá'
the message of the commentary is proclaimed by an invocation of images and symbols, which when combined, paint a kind of annunciation. The absence of any discursive argumentation renders the work more a verbal "painting" or "carpet," than a normal expository attempt at adducing proofs in a structured manner for the Báb's spiritual rank.[21]

Within the Báb's mystical narrative, references to the story of Joseph are everywhere, some direct and obvious, many others subtle, allusive, and indirect. The effect is that of a kaleidoscopic motif, present wherever one turns in reading the Báb's words, as if the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' were both an analytical response to and a new creative revelation of meanings about the story of Joseph. The Báb uses verbal echoes that cause His own mission to resonate with that of earlier Manifestations and to present entirely new meanings in episodes within the story. For example, at one point the Báb refers to Himself and His words as the same light that was "raised up from the midst of the Burning Bush."[22] The historical allusion is not used merely to lend authority to His claim; rather, His wording has the effect of infusing freA third important motif from the story of Joseph, and one consistent with Shaykhí doctrines, concerns the Báb's numerous allusions to knowledge in its relationship to Himself and to humanity in general. Just as Joseph's knowledge was innate, a power given to Him by God and expressed through dreams, so is the Báb's. Consistently He refers to Himself as the standard of truth, as a light or a flame burning within the world of being. But it is a truth that is hidden or concealed in two senses: by God's command until the appropriate time, and from people in general, until they exert effort to find it. In one of His most striking images, the Báb is "God's Holy Voice" Whom God has empowered to "Unravel... secrets" from an ocean that God has now caused to be "surging high." In another passage, while counseling the Báb to remain silent for a while longer, God says that He has "enabled Thee to truly see in Thy dream a measure of Our Cause." This knowledge can only be gradually unfolded, and it is a knowledge of "the very secrets of hearts"—that is, just as Joseph knew his brothers better than they knew themselves, so does the Báb know the needs of human hearts in this age. "0 peoples of the world," the Báb says, His "knowledge embraceth all things." The Báb's own heart has been "dilated" (opened and made able to convey knowledge forth from the spiritual realms). Angels circle around Him, and His knowledge is as a "dawn." The ultimate purpose of His knowledge, as was Joseph's, is that people should "Become as true brethren" and that their "hearts should become mirrors unto your brethren in the Faith," thereby being "guided aright to the ways of peace."[2sh and deeper metaphorical meaning into an old image: the Burning Bush (from the story of Moses) becomes a symbol for the world of being, a world now infused with the light (the revealed knowledge) of a new and contemporary revelation. The boldness of the Báb in using this reinterpretive technique shows both the artistic and the conceptual power of the Báb's writing.

One of the Báb's most striking uses of the Joseph story, and one that illustrates His technique, concerns Joseph's relationship with his brothers. The problem in both the biblical and Qur'ánic versions of the story is that the older brothers cannot accept that the younger one would be favored (inspired) over them by God. Nor can the older brothers accept the mystical standard of knowledge given to their younger brother. As the Báb typically does in the commentary, He universalizes the meaning of that filial relationship in the Joseph story and connects it with His own mission. Just as Joseph's older brothers had challenged his innate knowledge and the station given by his father, so does the Báb predict the future challenges that will be directed at Him and the Manifestation Who will shortly follow Him. The Báb is as Joseph, and all the people are as his brothers, a reality presented as a psychospiritual drama in which the greatest challenge facing the people will be in overcoming their own limited vision to recognize Him in spite of His youth and "unlearned" learning. Since the Báb has been mystically chosen as the Mouthpiece of God, everyone is accountable to God for his or her response to Him.

In addition to the motif of Joseph's relationship with his brothers, the Báb frequently uses another motif—a combination of imagery from the stories of Joseph and Moses to create the impression of a dual revelation or of a revelation with dual aspects. That is, He consistently refers to Himself in terms of Joseph and as a "shining light for all mankind." But it is the same light "raised up from the midst of the Burning Bush." In chapter 24 the Báb is "God's holy Voice proclaimed by this Arabian Youth," but He has been "entrusted with this Mission from the midst of the Burning Bush."[24] In chapters 28, 31, and elsewhere the same combination of imagery appears.[25] In fact, in chapter 53, speaking with a divine voice, the Báb says that God's conversation with Moses from the Burning Bush merely "revealed an infinitesimal glimmer of Thy [the Báb's] light upon the Mystic Mount...."[26] The effect is to suggest that all revelation is part of a single unified theophanic process but also that an essential spiritual duality exists in the present age—that Moses and Joseph are to be understood in terms of each other. Indeed, in other places the Báb also alludes to the ministry and trials of Muhammad, the Imam Husayn, and the Hidden Imam in ways that associate their missions with His own as part of a larger, unified divine process.

Comparing Bahá'u'lláh's use of the story of Joseph with that of the Báb's shows both the harmony and the nuanced differences between the two dispensations. While the Báb addressed His message to all peoples, much in His writing necessarily focuses on the conflict between Himself as the Standard of Knowledge and the rulers and divines of Islam (with Himself as Joseph and them as the wayward brothers). The writings of Bahá'u'lláh, while addressing these same misguided leaders and, indeed, all the rulers of the earth, are more generally the voice of the later Joseph, the universal teacher, Who is speaking to, guiding, and counseling all people as wandering Jacobs searching for the True Joseph. The immediate audience in many of Bahá'u'lláh's writings is the human heart itself—its condition, its needs, its knowledge of itself (or lack thereof), its ultimate goal as a spiritual entity. Often He writes to a universal audience in terms that are intimate, personal, and loving, offering counsel, guidance, warnings, admonitions, and reassurances. He is the Brother of infinitely greater capacity Who is glimpsed in the Old Testament, filled with compassion for His brothers and determined after His ascendancy in Egypt to guide them to reunion in spite of themselves. The world in which people wander is often presented as a desert, and they are portrayed as spiritually parched and malnourished in an age of spiritual famine. Their collective experience is the anguish of spiritual separation and, though He refers to them as brothers, the spiritual suffering of individuals is more often likened to the natural grief of Jacob.

In a tablet to Mírzá Muhammad-Husayn, a young man known as "the Beloved of Martyrs," Bahá'u'lláh describes betrayals by His own half-brother in terms of the story of Joseph and, according to Adib Taherzadeh, author of a four-volume study of the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, "refers to Himself allegorically as the One who has been thrown into a deep well by reason of the envy of those who had been among his servants."[39] In His Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Bahá'u'lláh, in much the same way that the Báb associates His ministry with that of Moses, describes the mysterious way in which Manifestations are inspired with references to the Word that Moses heard coming from the Burning Bush—a form of knowledge unlike the limited knowledge of those who opposed Him—most frequently the `ulamá.[40] Clearly the story of Joseph is a recurring metaphor in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh used as one way of describing aspects of His reality. While specific references to the Joseph story do not appear on every page of His writings, Bahá'u'lláh says that Joseph is one of the four signs reflected in the promised One. Hence, to understand Bahá'u'lláh's station and mission, it is important to look for both obvious and subtle references to the story of Joseph, both of which provide insights into Bahá'u'lláh's revelation.
Jul 2017
Kettering, Ohio USA
What has not been generally noted is that The Seven Valleys is also a profound meditation on the mystical content of the story of Joseph, which appears to be one of the work's central metaphors. As an exposition of the hidden meanings of the Joseph story, The Seven Valleys parallels and moves beyond even the Báb's Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' in its spiritual originality and insights, thereby completing the two Manifestations' mystical elucidation of the contemporary significance of the story.
Addressing the Kurdish judge in the Prologue as "friend" and "My Brother," and saying that because He [Bahá'u'lláh] has "inhaled the pure fragrances of the garment of thy [the judge's] love," Bahá'u'lláh promises to "reveal" to him "sacred and resplendent tokens from the planes of glory." They shall, He says, "draw thee to a station wherein thou shalt see nothing in creation save the Face of thy Beloved One" and that "there shall appear upon the tablet of thine heart a writing of the subtle mysteries; . . . and the bird of thy soul shall recall the holy sanctuaries of preexistence."[44]
Bahá'u'lláh's persona here is of a Brother giving a loving gift, but it is also that of a Universal Teacher offering guidance so that in this age "every man may testify, in himself, by himself, in the station of the Manifestation." In this respect Bahá'u'lláh takes the Joseph story far beyond the Old Testament or the Qur'án, saying, in effect, that not only will He interpret the dreams but—as he eventually does in the Valley of Wonderment—that He will teach every soul a spiritual vocabulary that will enable it to recover its ability to dream, to envision a higher spiritual world.[45] In so doing He takes the spiritual enfranchisement of humankind (and the implications of the Joseph story) to an entirely new level.
References to the story of Joseph become more explicit as the work moves into the valleys themselves in the way that Bahá'u'lláh portrays the universal seeker's quest. In the first valley, the Valley of Search, the seeker (every heart attempting to return to its spiritual home) seeks "the beauty of the Friend." The seeker in this valley is as a traveler, wandering in a desert, and is surrounded by other equally lost and disoriented wanderers: "How many a Jacob will he see, hunting after his Joseph?" Though seeking even in the dust, he must cleanse the heart and turn away from imitation if he is "to drink of the honey of reunion with Him." If persistent and true in his quest, he will inhale "the fragrance of the long-lost Joseph from the heavenly messenger," and, revivified, step into the Valley of Love.[46]
The landscape of the Valley of Love continues that described in the first valley; it is as a desert of existence, in which the lover is caught between two worlds—the world of the spirit and the world of being—and filled with yearning for "the Friend." This valley is filled with pain and torments but, "My Brother," Bahá'u'lláh says, addressing the traveler, "Until thou enter the Egypt of love, thou shalt never come to the Joseph of the Beauty of the Friend." The seeker cannot escape this valley, Bahá'u'lláh counsels, "until, like Jacob, thou forsake thine outward eyes" and "open the eye of thine inward being" and "commune" with the object of his longing—God through the Manifestation.[47]The Seven Valleys, it bears repeating, is a treatise on how to make one's way back to God. The longing to do that (and the sense of painful separation) is like being in an emotional and spiritual desert. Bahá'u'lláh appears to be using the several literal journeys across the desert in the biblical story—notably Jacob's painful search for Joseph—as a metaphor for every soul's painful quest for reunion with the Source of truth, the Holy Manifestation Who is the path to God. The struggle of the traveler in the Valley of Love seems to be about giving up (departing from) the love of one thing for another, higher, one. The idea of being caught between two worlds (an opening and closing of different eyes) seems to be a metaphor for two kinds of love and knowledge—the one of this world, the other of the higher world. Egypt, then, becomes a symbol for the landscape of longing, the place where the spiritual traveler (everyone) seeks a higher harmony and understanding (as it was for both Joseph and his family); Jacob's blindness is given new meaning as a symbol not of infirmity or age or vanity, but of wisdom (as it was for Greek poets and seers).
If the seeking lover persists and the fires of love burn away "the veils of the satanic self," he or she can enter the Valley of Knowledge. This paradoxical valley, the lengthiest in the work, subtly alludes to the story of Joseph. The seeker in this valley is presented as standing at the door of a dwelling, a place of reunion and certitude: "His inner eyes will open and he will privily converse with his Beloved; he will set ajar the gate of truth and piety, and shut the doors of vain imaginings."[48] In this valley his perception of the world and its mysteries has been utterly changed, infused, as his heart now begins to be with the divine wisdoms. In another Mosaic symbol, his certitude is described as an ark, seemingly an allusion to the ark of the covenant that the Jews carried with them during their forty years of wandering in the desert and a symbol of fidelity to their covenant with God.[49] Prior agonies and fear remind one of the terrors that Joseph's brothers experienced as they entered his house in Egypt, followed by a new ability to perceive providential design behind Joseph's ordered pursuit and accusations as they had attempted to leave Egypt.[50] This valley is also described as "the last plane of limitation"; beyond it are worlds, now available, that had been inaccessible even to Moses:
Veiled from this was Moses
Though all strength and light;
Then thou who hast no wings at all,
Attempt not flight.[51]
Bahá'u'lláh appears to be saying that an infinitely greater degree of spiritual knowledge is now available than was present in the time of Moses. But He also says, in effect, that the reunited seeker (the human heart) can be taught to see with new eyes, the eyes of Oneness—something that is spiritually revolutionary. Bahá'u'lláh is the divine Joseph not only revealing and interpreting dreams but inviting the traveler into the world of the dream, teaching the recipient how to dream too; He is opening the door to an order of knowledge hitherto inaccessible except to "the Friend"—and "the Loved One"—traditional references to Muhammad and, by extension, to other Manifestations of God. But the ultimate Friend, of course, is God, attained through recognition (Bahá'u'lláh seems to be saying) of the Manifestation in our own age—as Rumi's poem about Moses makes clear. It is important to keep in mind that Bahá'u'lláh is conveying information in veiled terms, since He has not yet declared His own mission. Indeed, the final four valleys of this work are presented not as stages in a search but as explorations of a new world and, beyond it, other worlds. All of this occurs within an immensely subtle fabric of allusion to the story of Joseph, each element of which reveals new meanings in the details of that story.
Having approached the "gate of truth and piety" in the Valley of Knowledge, the traveler now steps into the Valley of Unity—"the sanctuary of the Friend, and shareth as an intimate the pavilion of the Loved One. He stretcheth out the hand of truth from the sleeve of the Absolute; he revealeth the secrets of power." In this valley, having been given new eyes, the traveler is being taught how to use them, how to look "on all things with the eye of oneness."[52] In addition to the motif of loving reunion, two other motifs in this valley also seem to evoke the story of Joseph—allusions to fragrance and to many-colored objects, both of which evoke the limitations of the senses (sight and smell), suggesting the limited perceptions of Joseph's brothers and the high perceptions of Jacob. In cautioning the traveler, Bahá'u'lláh says that what one sees is determined by the quality of his or her own vision. Those enclosed "within the wall of self and passion" see only "many-colored globes" (symbols for any object capable of catching and reflecting light), just as (one could argue) the brothers of Joseph could see only the many colors of his coat rather than the oneness of the light falling upon the coat. Likewise, "the man sick of a rheum" cannot smell the "sweet fragrance" of the Word of God. This valley also expresses a paradox relating to authority as presented in the story of Joseph. It describes the human heart as a "throne" in which, when the traveler has spiritually prepared it, "the Master of the house hath appeared," causing it to be "ashine with His light."[53]
Of the final three of the seven valleys, Bahá'u'lláh says that "The tongue faileth in describing" them and "speech falleth short." Their reality (since it is about meaning) can be properly expressed only if whispered "from heart to heart." But Bahá'u'lláh does describe them and, in so doing, finishes revealing the inner significance of the Joseph story. The Valley of Contentment is short, differing from the Valley of Unity in that the experience of a transforming vision is intensified, "For on this plane the traveler witnesseth the beauty of the Friend in everything. Even in fire, he seeth the face of the Beloved."[54]
In the Valley of Wonderment, Bahá'u'lláh focuses on the importance of the dream. If one recalls that the story of Joseph in Genesis is built upon three sets of dreams as higher knowledge—the child Joseph's dreams of his father and brothers, the dreams of the two prisoners in Egypt, and the Pharaoh's dreams of famine and plenty—it appears that Bahá'u'lláh is alluding implicitly in this valley to the Joseph story. Addressing the traveler—the Sufi judge—as "Brother," He describes the nature and importance of the dream as a mode of knowledge and as "One of the created phenomena" in which secrets, wisdoms, and even many worlds are deposited, accessible to everyone, yet freed from space and time. Only people who have entered this valley are capable of comprehending the truths conveyed in those dreams. God has placed the faculty of the dream within people, Bahá'u'lláh says, to protect them from those philosophers who would "deny the mysteries of the life beyond" and who would try to define reality within the narrow limits of their own reason.[55] In so doing, He asserts an important place for the mystical dream as a universal mode of knowledge in a world that wants to disregard it in favor of materialistic and rationalistic ways of investigating reality.
In the Valley of Wonderment, Bahá'u'lláh makes no explicit references to the Joseph story, but the content—its focus on the dream—invites comparison with the uses of the dream in the story of Joseph, leading one to think that Bahá'u'lláh is subtly and indirectly continuing his allusive reinterpretation of the spiritual meaning of the Joseph story as a way of giving spiritual insight to the Sufi judge. In the Joseph story, whether in Genesis, the Qur'án, or the Báb's commentary, the importance of the motif of dreams is obvious; Joseph's ability to interpret his dreams and those of others is the proof of his spiritual knowledge and authority. The judge, who was the first audience of The Seven Valleys, would have been steeped in the Sufi traditions of the mystical journey and the mystical dimension of the Joseph story. For him the allusions in Bahá'u'lláh's work would have been obvious because Bahá'u'lláh had ended the previous valley by saying that the mystical traveler would see the beauty of the Friend in everything. Since He had already likened the universal traveler to a wandering Jacob, the Joseph story was already part of this valley. In addressing the judge (and all his future audiences) as "Brother" (in other writings Bahá'u'lláh refers to Himself as "the divine Joseph") He appears to be drawing a connection between himself as Mystical Dreamer and his readers as potential dreamers, who are endowed by God with the capacity to commune with and learn from the higher spiritual realm, as guided by the Manifestation, if only they will abandon their own limited and error-inducing standards of knowledge. He is, in effect, teaching them a new spiritual vocabulary and opening the door to a higher level or degree of spiritual awareness than was available to people in previous ages. Without overtly mentioning Joseph and the dreams of that story, he is enacting the same process of spiritual education as did Joseph to his brothers; but in this case it is a different and higher standard of knowledge offered to the entire world-as-family embodied in the teachings of the new Manifestation. It is a spiritual enfranchisement far beyond that offered by Joseph or any other of the earlier Manifestations. The effect and the content of the Valley of Wonderment are, therefore, extraordinary. Bahá'u'lláh is teaching humanity how to dream again, ennobling people by teaching them about their own nature, and how to recognize and comprehend the meaning of spiritual dreams. In so doing, He takes the meaning of the Joseph story to an even higher level than He has already done.
In the final valley, the Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness, Bahá'u'lláh guides the traveler to the summit of mystical communion with God. This valley describes a condition in which all "save the Friend" is burned away by the fires of love. Again Bahá'u'lláh quotes Rumi: "`Then the qualities of earthly things did Moses burn away."' But at the heart of this valley is a series of metaphors about time, seasonal change, and bounty giving way to loss that, together with a caution to the traveler, seems clearly to be built on an allusion to the pharaoh's dreams of the cattle and the ears of corn, which Joseph had interpreted as seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. In this valley Bahá'u'lláh likens the years of plenty to the time when the Manifestation walks upon the earth and reveals the verses of God, and "the clouds of spring" rain down "heavenly wisdom.., on the earth of men's hearts." Quoting the Qur'án, He says, "`no one thing is there, but with Us are its storehouses; and We send it not down but in settled measure."' But "The other seasons have no share and barren lands no portion of this favor." Thus, in the context of our own age, Bahá'u'lláh offers an entirely new interpretation of the real meaning of the pharaoh's dreams. The seven valleys themselves are like the seven years of bounty, and He cautions the Sufi judge to listen carefully to their full import. Should the judge (and by implication all readers) do so and be obedient to divine law, Bahá'u'lláh says, he (and they) will glimpse and catch the fragrance of an everlasting city. The judge will have come to "the sea of the Life-Bestower"; in ecstasy he will enter a mystic "garden land." But even this state, Bahá'u'lláh cautions, is but "the first gate of the heart's citadel, that is, man's first entrance to the city of the heart."[56]

Many readers consider The Seven Valleys to be the summit of mystical composition of the kind that describes the stages of the soul's journey toward God. But, together with the Báb's Qayyúmu'l-Asmá', it is also a sublime reinterpretation of the meaning of the story of Joseph: the mystical journey of the soul in this luminous and special age toward discovery of and reunion with the true Joseph, the Manifestation of God. As such, it also completes an unfolding series of interpretations of the story that were collectively more than seven thousand years in the making.
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Jul 2017
Kettering, Ohio USA
Unit 2 part two

The Old Testament

In barest summary, the principal events of the story in Genesis are as follows. Joseph was the second youngest of the twelve sons of Jacob. His mother, and the mother of his younger brother, Benjamin, was Rachel. When young Joseph incurred the wrath of his brothers by telling them, with innocent honesty, of two symbolic dreams portraying his eventual dominion over them, they conspired to kill "this dreamer" (Gen. 37:19-20) and to discredit his dreams by murdering him. His brother Ruben persuaded them, instead, to cast him into a well. Eventually they sold Joseph to traveling merchants who brought him into Egypt where they, in turn, sold him to Potiphar, the Captain of the Pharaoh's guard. Through Joseph's virtues and gifts he eventually rose to a position of great favor and responsibility; but, when Potiphar's wife, having failed in her efforts to seduce him, claimed that it was he who had tried to seduce her, Joseph was cast into prison. Even there, however, through his innate capacities, he rose to a position of favor (Gen. 39-41).

Then begins a sequence of two sets of twin dreams that Joseph successfully interpreted. In the first set, the Pharaoh's butler and baker, having been cast into prison, sought Joseph's interpretation of their respective dreams. He complied, telling them that the butler would live and be restored to the Pharaoh's household but that the baker would die, both of which predictions came to pass. In the second set of dreams the Pharaoh dreamed first of seven fat cows and seven lean cows that came out of the river, then of seven good ears of corn that consumed seven bad ears. Joseph interpreted both dreams as a single imminent prophecy warning of the approach of seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine. He counseled the Pharaoh to take steps to prepare for these events. For these feats Joseph was made overseer of all the Pharaoh's land and goods (Gen. 39-41).

The next episode--the central one of the tale--relates Joseph's forgiveness of his brothers when they came to Egypt seeking relief from the famine and Joseph's eventual reunion with his family. Through a series of stratagems he compelled the brothers, in stages and by degrees, to see the errors of their ways. He ordered them to return to Canaan and bring to Egypt their entire family (the eventual tribes of Israel), including their father. Before the brothers' returned to Egypt with their father after this second trip into Canaan God spoke to Jacob in a dream, assuring him that he had nothing to fear and counseling him to go into Egypt as bidden by Joseph (Gen. 42-47). The episode illustrates Joseph's true purpose--to awaken remorse in his brothers for their earlier misdeeds, and it dramatizes the forgiveness, generosity, compassion, and love that Joseph shows to his brothers, standing in transcendent contrast to their own earlier actions against him.

To someone for whom the story is a symbolic dramatization of the life and mission of a Manifestation of God, leaving out any detail in summarizing it is potentially problematic. But it seems safe to say that two motifs-- dreams and garments--seem to be more important than others as symbols because of the way they recur, unify the story, and illustrate the station of Joseph. It is Joseph's own dreams and his ability to interpret dreams that sets him apart, whether his clear vision of his own eventual ascendancy or his ability to interpret the dreams of the prisoners and the Pharaoh. Further, the dream motif also demonstrates Jacob's spiritual station when God, in a dream, reassures Jacob and tells him to go as bidden into Egypt (Gen. 46:2-3); and though not a dream, Jacob's final act--a ceremony in which he places his hand on Ephraim, the younger of Joseph's two sons, thereby selecting him for ascendancy over Joseph's first born son, Manassah, contravening the principle of primogeniture on behalf of innate worthiness--seems a mystically informed act (Gen. 48: 13-20). Obviously the dream motif illustrates a superior knowledge based on mystical union with God. Joseph is the source of guidance and protection for everyone he encounters, even when separated from everyone while he was in the darkness of the well or in the prison where he has been cast. In Jacob's dying words, he lauded Joseph's having received "blessings of heaven above" and "blessings of the deep that lieth under" and blessings of the womb (Gen. 49:25), seeming thereby to be saying that Joseph's knowledge transcends all place and time.

The second major motif--garments--also seems to symbolize the rank of a Manifestation of God or divinely inspired teacher and His suffering. At the beginning of the story it is Joseph's coat of many colors (emblematic of his special rank) that his brothers strip from him and dip into the blood of a freshly slaughtered goat, telling Jacob that it is the blood of Joseph. Chapter 38, a digression that tells the story of Judah, the brother most bent on killing Joseph, seems to be about those who would usurp the Prophet's station. It uses imagery of garments as a negative symbol, specifically when Tamar, wife of Judah's deceased son put off her widow's garments and replaced them with those of a harlot to entrap Judah, by which means she conceived twins. In Egypt, when Joseph is summoned back from prison to interpret the Pharaoh's two dreams, he first changed his "raiment," and when the Pharaoh, in gratitude, elevated Joseph to a position second only to that of his own son, Pharaoh "arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain around his neck" (Gen. 41:14, 42). Finally, Joseph was described by his dying father as "a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall" (Gen. 49:22). Though not an overt image of garments, the bough can be seen as a metaphor related to the garments treated throughout as emblematic of blessings. All these images, like the dreams, seem designed as ways of repeatedly defining Joseph in terms of a spiritual ruler.

On a literary level, the story of Joseph can be interpreted in many ways: as a tale of the separation of a lost child miraculously protected and eventually found; as a story of reunion; or as a story of forgiveness and reconciliation. As a religious text, each of these aspects can also be seen as metaphors illustrating the healing mission of a Manifestation of God. Whether viewed in literary or religious terms, Joseph is presented in The Old Testament as a chosen soul, gifted with special powers. His bond with the higher source of these gifts is never seriously threatened or questioned by Joseph or by the narrator. It is simply manifested in stages that successively and increasingly reveal his wisdom and love and the unquestionable primacy of his station. Moreover, he is the link in the chain of authority between Jacob and Moses. It is the other characters who suffer and grow in more traditional human ways, relative to their treatment of and attitudes toward Joseph. They are redeemed by him in spite of themselves.

The traditional modes of interpreting the significance of the story within Judaism are too richly various and complex to present adequately, even if the author were able to do so. But several of the typical traditional approaches can be noted. One approach sees the biblical story as a form of evidence about Jewish history. Scholars generally agree that numerous details in the story resonate convincingly with what is known of Egyptian culture during the early to mid-second millennium B.C.E.--from the trafficking in slaves, to Egyptian names in the story, to the structure of Egyptian bureaucracy and the forms of titles, to the famine cycle, to details of clothing.[6] The biblical story, scholars say, seems clearly to be rooted in memory of an actual historical encounter by the Hebrews with the Egyptian empire.[7] Even some motifs in the story have analogues in contemporaneous Egyptian stories, notably one known as the "Tale of the Two Brothers," built on the core incident of a wife's attempt to seduce her brother-in-law, though the purpose, focus, tone, and moral climate of the two stories are thought to be so utterly different as to preclude direct influence.[8] But from an historical perspective, scholars have convincingly shown that the biblical author seems to be drawing brilliantly on the cultural matrix of his time to recast the material into a transcendent story exemplifying God's mysterious but benevolent design for the Jewish nation, a design that God chose to unfold through the interpretive powers of His chosen human vessel, Joseph, and the device of the dream.

Earlier rabbinical commentators were generally less interested in pinning down historical details. Instead, they tended to view Joseph as an exemplar, an idealized model of human conduct who combined physical beauty and moral excellence.[9] The incredibly rich Jewish tradition of midrash (interpretation) mines every detail of the story for "object lessons in rabbinic homiletics" concerning "various social, religious and political aspects of life," sometimes critical of actions byJoseph and Jacob, more often filled with praise for his wisdom, righteousness, and loyalty.[10] In fact, after Genesis Joseph quickly fades from view in the Bible and is but fleetingly mentioned in the Old Testament, though he remains a symbol of righteousness.[11] The beginning of his decline seems to have coincided with the fall of the Northern Kingdom (associated with the descendants of Joseph) to the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C.E.[12] And the subsequent story of Moses, which tends to overshadow Joseph, is an overwhelming saga of liberation. Whatever the reason, in Jewish midrash Joseph, generally speaking, evolved into a permanent symbol of the wise man rather than remaining a clear and sustained symbol of a Manifestation of God.

Finally, because the biblical version of the story is a uniquely articulated masterpiece of narrative, many modern Old Testament scholars want to see much of the story's meaning in the shape and features of the story itself. They search for redactions, analogues, and borrowings from folk traditions. Such features as the parallel dreams and the disappearance into the well and the prison lend themselves to symbolic interpretations. The classic collection of midrash by Louis Ginsberg, includes many symbolic and mystical interpretations for parts of the story.[13] For example, when the wolf who is blamed for the supposed death of Joseph is brought before Jacob, God causes it to speak and deny the killing of Joseph. Jacob's grieving for the loss of Joseph becomes a rumination about the loss of the Covenant with God; in fact, the underlying theme of God's plan for Israel recurs as an interpretation throughout the midrash.[14] Most striking is the treatment of the dreams in which Joseph consistently finds dual levels of meaning and prophecies--those concerning the fate of the dreamer and those bearing a message about the destiny of Israel, which only he perceives.[15] But in spite of this unifying recurrent symbolism, the effect of the midrash is not to interpret the story of Joseph as a perfectly articulated divine allegory but as a combination of historical narrative and religiously charged canonical text the ultimate signification of which remains mysterious and inchoate but spiritually attractive to many.


While the story of Joseph was a major part of Genesis in the Old Testament, it is mentioned only three times in the New Testament (Mark 14:51-52) which may echo the episode of the cloak and Potiphar's wife in Genesis 39:11-12); Acts 7:9-17, which summarizes his career; and Hebrews 11:22, which lists him as a hero of faith. Yet the story had a prominent place in the development of early Christian theology as a symbol for the Christian Savior, and it continues to be both spiritually significant in Christianity and a rich imaginative source for artists.

To understand the early Christian response to the story of Joseph it is necessary to understand something of the way in which the theology of early Christianity developed. During its formative stages, the Christian Faith was faced with two great issues (among others) for which it needed to develop responses. The first was the need to explain the relationship of the New Testament to the Old Testament. Was the earlier Jewish text wrong, or was it now superseded by the Christian Gospels? Or did the two instead share a continuing interrelated life of sustained and spiritual significance as divinely revealed texts? Implicit in that question was the more urgent one: How was Christ to be understood in relation to spiritual figures who had come before him? The answer would determine Christians' understanding of the shape and meaning of history. The second of these issues arose out of the encounter of the early Church with the Neoplatonism of Greek Hellenism, the dominant culture within which early Christianity developed.[16] Was the Church to agree with the Platonist view that this physical, temporal world is little more than illusory, an insubstantial shadow without reality? Or does the world, though admittedly lower than the higher spiritual kingdom of which Christianity teaches, somehow partake to some extent in the larger reality?

The answer, the early Church fathers held, must be found within the New Testament, the portion of the Bible considered most important by Christians since it arose immediately from the life and teachings of Jesus. But both the New Testament and the Old Testament contained material that was by turns obscure, contradictory, at cultural odds with the emerging Christian culture, or otherwise confounding to those turning to it for guidance. The method of the early Church fathers in making sense of the Bible was to define it as an occult text--that is, a text in which the real meaning (or at least important parts of that meaning) lay beneath the surface of the mere letters and words themselves and which was, therefore, in need of interpretation.[17]

The technique developed by the Church Fathers was a complex form of allegorical interpretation.[18] Allegory itself--the interpretation of episode-within-text as elaborately articulated mystical metaphors standing for something else--was a legacy of the ancient world, but their biblical source was St. Paul, who interpreted several biblical cruxes in allegorical terms. For example, in explaining the significance of the two sons of Abraham in Galatians (4:21-31), Paul said unequivocally that the two sons "are an allegory" standing for the two covenants associated with Abraham (4:24). From that foundation there developed a system for interpreting divine text allegorically that has come to be known as the fourfold exegetical method.[19]

Essentially the method argues that religious texts have four equipresent levels of meaning. The first is the literal or historical. The next three are allegorical meanings of several kinds: the typological, the moral or tropological (from the word trope or figure of speech), and the metaphysical or anagogical.

In the first of these three allegorical meanings--the typological--the thing described prefigures or stands for something else. This level gave Christianity the means to reinterpret everything in the Old Testament as a kind of prefiguring or rehearsal of events in the coming theophany of Christ. The tropological level interprets the event as a moral teaching directed toward improving the spiritual life of the individual Christian. In the anagogical or metaphysical level the event stands for a corresponding reality in a higher spiritual realm (which reflects aspects of Platonism). This fourfold scheme accounts for past, present, and future; for individual and institutional spirituality; for the relation of the physical and the nonphysical worlds; and for the relationship between successive religious dispensations.

For example, the word "Jerusalem," literally and historically, could mean the city itself; typologically it could signify the Church of Christ (the New Jerusalem); tropologically it could signify the human soul made new in Christ; anagogically it could signify the heavenly City of God.[20] The fourfold method could be endlessly replicated and applied to every story and every detail in the Bible, allegorically knitting the Old Testament to the New Testament.

The story of Joseph was interpreted by the early Church fathers in terms of the exegetical method as a way of better appreciating Christ as Savior. Of all the Church Fathers, St. Ambrose--described by St. Bernard as one of "the two pillars of the Church"-- endeavored in the fourth century to articulate the fourfold exegetical method in its greatest detail, and he was the one "to popularize the allegorical method in the West."[21] Allegorical allusions to Joseph occur in a number of his letters, but it is his exegetical treatise on Joseph that systematically presents a comprehensive allegorical interpretation of the entire story.[22] To Ambrose, Joseph, the model of purity and chastity, was a typological figure representing Christ. In him "the resurrection of the Lord Jesus that was to come was revealed."[23] Ambrose then meticulously shows that every incident and detail in the Old Testament life of Joseph prefigures a corresponding episode in the life of Christ. For example, the significance of Jacob's sending Joseph to inquire of his brothers whether the sheep were well is that of God sending His son, Christ, to inquire after the lost sheep of the house of Israel.[24] Joseph was sold for a number of pieces of silver; the same was done to Christ. Joseph was stripped of his garment and cast into a dark, dry pit as if dead; in like manner Christ was stripped of His mortal flesh and cast into hell, but nothing in that attempt to destroy Him and His message could kill His divinity and immortal life. Ambrose likens the dryness of the pit to the dryness of the Jews who had "abandoned the fountain of living water."[25] It must be noted that in this comment can be seen a strand of the incipient antisemitism in early Christianity that, unfortunately, endured into much later times. Ambrose was the master of the fourfold allegorical method, and some of his interpretations are elegant. Indeed, he quotes from some biblical passages that, in the context he gives them, seem veiled allusions to the story of Joseph--for example, in Psalms 88:6: "Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps."

Of the famine in Egypt that Joseph foresaw, Ambrose says that it signifies Christ "taking pity on the hungers of the world" by opening the granaries of divine mysteries that would nourish mankind.[26] When Joseph saw his brothers again and spoke mildly to them, it was the Hebrews being seen by Christ, "who is the true Joseph," teaching them lovingly.[27] When Joseph told his brothers not to grieve but to go to their father and report that Joseph had been made master of Egypt, it is the resurrected Christ directing His followers to go into Galilee where they shall see Him.[28] When the brothers did so, they were like the apostles entering the synagogue and preaching of Christ to the Jews.[29] In the living Joseph reunited with his father is the resurrected Christ, "the interpreter of the Godhead."[30] This sampling illustrates but a small part of the meticulous working out of typological relationships, some of them much more subtle and ingenious than these. It was a method that won the European West with a rhetoric based on allegory.
Joseph is one of seven topics chosen by Ambrose as subjects of his major exegetical works, thus reinvesting the story with a significance that it seems to have lost in later Jewish midrash. While not the central story of Christianity (that could obviously only be the story of Christ Himself), it was allegorically made to mirror that story. And it has continued to be explored by Christian mystics, philosophers, and artists into the twentieth century. As one source says, "Few biblical figures have inspired more extensive and more universal literary treatment than Joseph."[31] Notable among them are twelve English plays before 1560 and many continental dramas, Thomas Mann's novel cycle Joseph and His Brothers (1934-44), paintings by Rembrandt and other artists,[32] and the 1968 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Joseph and the Technicolored Dreamcoat. To appreciate the importance of the story of Joseph is to appreciate the particular contribution of Christianity by way of its spiritually inspired interpretive model of reality and to understand the nature and role of Christ as Christianity's universal Savior.
Jul 2017
Kettering, Ohio USA

With the advent of Islam in 622 C.E. the story of Joseph moves once again from the periphery to the center of religious text in a most extraordinary way--by the words of God as revealed by the Manifestation of God Muhammad.[33] In the Qur'án, the holy book of Islam, Muhammad signals the importance of the story of Joseph with words variously translated as "the fairest" or "the best" or "the most wonderful" of stories. To appreciate the profound significance of that appellation, it is necessary to understand something of the nature of the Qur'án itself.

The Qur'án is divided into 114 súrihs or chapters variously revealed to Muhammad in either Mecca or Medina (and so identified in each case), arranged by length, and each given a name related to a motif within the chapter. The Qur'án's most striking feature is the dramatic nature of the súrihs.[34] In form they are dialogues between Muhammad and the Voice of God or, more properly, monologues by God as reported by Muhammad, along with His own responses, in which God delivers guidance via Muhammad to the world--guidance ranging from laws and injunctions, to interpretations, to warnings, to consolations. in short, for Muslims (and for Bahá'ís) the Qur'án is nothing less than the authentic Voice of God cutting through a contemporary welter of confusions and corruption with an uncompromising and healing message of renewal to humankind. As such, the Voice of God in the Qur'án is rhetorically intense, decisive, clear, and commanding.[35]

Hence in the Qur'án the story of Joseph is framed by the Voice of God speaking to Muhammad. That Voice defines the story's nature and meaning. It opens by affirming that the Arabic Qur'án is itself but a sign of "the Manifest Book" (that is, it reflects a timeless original that is in Heaven) and that Joseph is the fairest of stories within that book (12:254). Just as impressively, the surih closes with the emphatic reiteration that the story is not "a tale forged" (that is, a human fable) but "a confirmation. . . a distinguishing . . . a guidance . . . a mercy. . . . sent again here as it has been before (12:264). At the end of the surih, speaking again to Muhammad, God once more affirms that the story is meant as a gift to bring understanding. Thus the Voice of God bestows on the story an emblematic, inherently symbolic status, making it a spiritual template of the first order and thereby giving it an enduring literary and spiritual significance in Islam. In fact, His words give narrative itself, and the symbolic mode, significance too. Above all, the Qur'án appears to say that the story signifies the nearly despairing experience not only of earlier messengers of God but of Muhammad Himself, to Whose teachings His people were not yet listening. In that sense, the Qur'án seems to be saying that Joseph is to be understood as a model for Muhammad in a way that is reminiscent of the earlier Christian typology that interpreted Joseph as a type of Christ (although Islam does not follow the fourfold exegetical model of early Christianity).\

As was the case in the Old Testament, the story of Joseph is the most detailed, narratively coherent episode in the Qur'án. But while the essential incidents of the story are the same in both holy texts, the presentation, the emphases, and the effect in the Qur'án are utterly different based on differences in the nature of the book itself A Western reader expecting to encounter a mirror of the biblical narrative may initially be shocked, even a little disappointed by the differences and by the lack of concern in the Qur'án for traditional Western literary devices and signposts. But seen on its own terms, the Qur'anic story is a masterpiece of reinterpretation of Jewish and Christian law comparable to that of Christ's reinterpretation of Jewish law in the Gospel of Matthew and part of a text so spiritually potent that it generated a new religion and civilization.

In literary terms, the Qur'anic version of the story of Joseph strips away those elements of the Old Testament story that gave it a Hebraic focus, presenting it, instead, as a universal "tidings of the Unseen" (12:265) meant to quicken and awaken the hearts of all human beings and bring them to the straight path of belief. Aside from the names Jacob and Joseph and references to Egypt, the story is presented in the Qur'án as a kind of drama, a contest unfolding on a universal stage devoid of specificities that would tie it to one culture. Even the brothers of Joseph are never named; that would detract from the point of the story and from its focus on Joseph himself.

In the Qur'anic version, the need to teach monotheism to the polytheistic peoples of Arabia (and to acknowledge and accept Muhammad as their Guide in this process) is the structural principle underlying the story. Each incident that is retained is shaped to illustrate that grand theme; every action by Joseph is intended to demonstrate the unwavering fidelity to the one true God that not only Joseph but Muhammad Himself and His followers must maintain in the face of the perfidies of Joseph's brothers (themselves seemingly symbolic of all unbelieving peoples--the universal "brotherhood" of humanity in its response to the Manifestation of God). A brief example will illustrate this unique focus in the Qur'án. When Joseph is imprisoned and two young fellow prisoners relate to him their dreams and ask him to interpret their meaning, Joseph does so (as in the Old Testament). But the incident becomes an opportunity for him to teach them about monotheism: "I have forsaken the creed of a people who believe not in God... . And I have followed the creed of my fathers. . . . Say, which is better, my fellow-prisoners--many gods at variance, or God the One, the Omnipotent" (12:258). His "sermon" to them continues, condemning the errors of judgment leading to polytheism. The meaning of the two prisoners' dreams of food, in the Qur'án, is that the one prisoner has chosen life-giving spiritual sustenance (by following the command to serve only one God) while the other prisoner has chosen spiritual death (the result of polytheism). The ultimate meaning of the dreams of the Pharaoh, and of Joseph's dealings with his own brothers, is interpreted in the same way--to illustrate the primacy of Joseph's knowledge and God's guiding hand. Awareness of this kind of reinterpretation helps one to appreciate the bold originality of Muhammad's thought.

The metaphors of dreams and of garments are still present in the Qur'anic version, but are no longer the central metaphors of the story. Instead, the Qur'anic version emphasizes the unity of understanding and purpose shared by God, Jacob, Joseph, and his unnamed younger brother, in opposition to the other, also unnamed, brothers and the assorted Egyptians. Jacob, though still a figure of great suffering, has mystical insight throughout, similar to but more limited in its application than the mystical knowledge of Joseph. He understands the meaning of Joseph's childhood dream; he sees through the lies of the brothers who have sold Joseph into slavery. When the brothers return to Egypt as bidden by Joseph, Jacob counsels them to enter by separate gates, and the Voice of God comments that "he [Jacob] was possessed of a knowledge for that we had taught him" (12:262). When the brothers berate Jacob for grieving so deeply after the loss of Joseph and his younger brother, Jacob responds, "I know from God that you know not (12:263) and sends them out to search for the two lost brothers. At the moment when Joseph in Egypt gives his shirt to his brothers and instructs them to cast it over Jacob to restore his sight, Jacob (far away in Canaan) says, "Surely I perceive Joseph's scent (12:264), signifying his own mystical union with Joseph. Once reunited with his parents (in this version his mother is still living), Joseph explains to Jacob the meaning of the childhood dream and affirms that the author of his powers of understanding and interpretation was God (12:265). In the Qur'anic version it is not the literary symmetry of the succession of dreams that counts. Rather, the story is a drama of the testing of one's spiritual character and insight and one's ability to remain firm and united with God, Who here assumes the role of Teacher, Narrator, Supreme Interpreter. The Qur'anic version brings a major change to the story. Before the Qur'án, the value and meaning of the story could be variously understood--as fascinating tale, as veiled religious symbolism, as historical narrative. But its primary message--to Muslims--was now fixed and clear: It represents the Manifestation of God and His most urgent teachings.

Because Muhammad gave such obvious signals of its importance, the story of Joseph subsequently assumed great importance in both the literature and the religious history of Islam. The literature of Islam is vast, encompassing numerous languages and cultures and developing in stages that mirror the growth and expansion of Islam itself. Floating on this vast sea of Islamic literature, like so many ships, are innumerable works exploring, retelling, or interpreting the story of Joseph. "Persian and Turkish literatures alone have produced close to a hundred" versions of the story, fifty by Persian poets, twenty-eight in Ottoman Turkish, and six in India.[36]

The story of Síyávush from Zoroastrian sacred texts, told in a work entitled The Books of Kings, by the Persian epic poet Firdowsi (c. 940-1020 C.E.) was seen to parallel the Story of Joseph in the motif of "the Chaste Youth and the Lustful Stepmother with a philosophical worldview which transcends the individual and is directed toward the future."[37]

The great Sufi poet Rumí, drawing on this earlier epic, wrote the most important of the literary retellings of Joseph, the long mystical romance, Joseph and Zulaykhá (1484 CE.). It was the first to so thoroughly interpret the story allegorically as a contest between uncontrollable human passion and idolatry (symbolized by Zulaykhá, the wife of Potiphar) and divine or mystical love (symbolized by Joseph) and to dramatize how the two are resolved and eventually harmonized in perfect union. He also treated the story as symbolically parallel to the mystical story of Majnun and Layli. From this seminal work by Jámí sprang "an impressive number of imitators" exploring this new theme.[38]

Many of the works associated Joseph not only with Muhammad but with John the Baptist and, more important, with Imám Husayn, the martyred grandson of Muhammad. The Joseph story more than any other has also crossed and recrossed religious and cultural boundaries in recent centuries as Jewish and Islamic commentators have studied it, drawing on each other's traditions.[39] For millennial Muslims, the motif of return has been an inescapable component--and the most compelling one--of the diverse associations generated by the story, making it "the most popular of the biblical stories in Muslim Persia."[40] The inclination of the storytellers within that tradition is commonly to identify with Jacob, whose heart was lost in sorrow, seeking reunion with his Joseph, his Muhammad, his Husayn, and often to turn the story back into a romance (in the medieval literary sense). It stands at the very core of Islamic literary heritage.

On the theological level, the story of Joseph has been particularly important in the eschatology (the branch of theology dealing with last things) of Shi'ah Islam, where the religious significance has remained close in spirit to that given it by Muhammad, and where it eventually culminated in historic events played out in the towns and countryside of nineteenth-century Iran. Soon after the death of Muhammad, Islam split into what eventually became two branches of the Faith--Sunni and Shi'ah which arose out of controversy concerning questions of succession and authority.[41]

Both groups accepted the spiritual authority of the Qur'án and collections of hadith (the body of the sacred traditions of the Muslims), but Sunnis also accepted the authority of the Caliph, a temporal ruler chosen by other Muslim leaders but lacking prophetic or spiritual status, while Shi'ah Muslims believed that legitimate spiritual authority resided in `Alí, nephew and son-in-law of Muhammad, known to them as the first Imam (spiritual leader), and subsequently in the hands of his chosen descendants.[42]

After `Ali was assassinated in 40 A.H./ 660 CE., eleven further Imams chosen from `Ali's immediate descendants successively assumed the mantle of spiritual leadership within Shi'ah Islam. Eventually Shi'ism became centered in Iran, first as an underground movement running counter to the ruling Sunni dynasty of the Abbasids, and eventually as the dominant sect of Islam within Iran.[43]

The basic tenets of Shi'ah Islam took shape during the tenure of the twelve Imams. It is an article of Shi'ah belief that each of the first eleven Imams were murdered, and that, to escape being murdered, the twelfth Imam (known at various times as The Mahdi or The Qá'im or The Awaited One, or The Lord of the Age) went into "occultation"-- a state of being alive but veiled from the world and "miraculously prolonged until the day when he will manifest himself again by God's permission."[44]

Thus, inherent in Shi'ah Islam is a millennial dimension similar to that in some branches of Christianity and other religions, a belief that at the time of the end or Judgment Day, the Savior (in this case the Mahdí or Twelfth Imam) will return to assert His rightful authority, thereby returning God's justice onto the earth. Based on the words of Muhammad in the Surih of Adoration, Shi'ah scholars reckoned that time as the year 1260 A.H. or 1844 CE. Indeed, a great wave of millennial expectation, especially within the Shaykhi School founded by Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsá'í, pervaded some elements of Shi'ah Islam during the first half of the nineteenth century.[4

In the context of Shi'ih beliefs and expectations, it is obvious why, after more than a thousand years of literary, philosophical, and theological influence in Islam, the story of Joseph would assume special urgency and significance in the 1840s within the millennial communities of Shi'ah Islam. Muhammad had clearly designated the story a key, if not the key, repository of spiritual mystery; Joseph's lengthy disappearance into Egypt in the face of mortal danger could be interpreted as an occultation in its own right; the chief threat to Joseph, as it was with Muhammad and the Imams, was from envious members of his own family. Though he was the youngest of the brothers (the Twelfth Imam, too, was a child), Joseph was the one mysteriously anointed with intuitive, higher spiritual knowledge; and his return had harmonized spiritual and temporal power and authority just as would the return of the Mahdí. Yet the operative historical meaning and ultimate significance of the story remained a mystery that defied definitive interpretation. It is reported that, when Siyyid Kázim-i-Rashtí the successor of Shaykh Ahmad, was asked sometime before 1844 to write a commentary on the Súrih of Joseph, he declined, saying, "This is, verily, beyond me. He, that great One, who comes after me will, unasked, reveal it for you. That commentary will constitute one of the weightiest testimonies of His truth, and one of the clearest evidences of the loftiness of His position."[46]

Thus he linked the story of Joseph to the appearance of a new religion, thereby clearly indicating the importance the story held for members of that element within Islam but also its difficult mysteries.

Shortly thereafter, in 1844, the Bábi religion arose in Persia, followed nineteen years later by the Bahá'í Faith, together ushering in perhaps the most tumultuous religious episode of the nineteenth century. From the moment of the inception of the Bábi religion, the story of Joseph held central importance in it and, in fact, became part of its historical development. The story has no less importance in the Bahá'í Faith that followed. The role of the story in both those religions, and what makes it spiritually significant in our own times, is explored in the second part of this study.
Oct 2018
Heartfelt thanks, dear Duane. I'm always eagerly looking forward to your notes. There is so much I like to learn.
Greetings from Germany.
Jul 2017
Kettering, Ohio USA
Unit 3

Mullá Husayn was born in 1813 near Boshruyeh in the South Khorasan province of the Persian Empire to a wealthy and established family of the town. His name at birth was Muhammad Husayn; the honorific Mullá became associated with him at a young age, perhaps in recognition for a leadership role he took on as a child. It is not part of his given name. His father Hajji Mulláh Abdullah was a dyer; his mother was a poet known for her piety and knowledge. They had five children, of whom three would become significant Bábís.[2]

Like most young boys of the era[3] he received a minimal grammar school education at the local maktab (school) where he studied the Quran, reading, writing and basic arithmetic. Although he would later distinguish himself as a military leader, and traverse the entirety of Persia on foot multiple times, Mullá Husayn is reported to have been in poor health from a young age.[4] Contemporary reports indicate that he received treatment for epilepsy and heart palpitations. A critic of the Bábí movement suggested that he received early training in swordsmanship, while childhood friends deny this, indicating he often had difficulty even with the physical exertion involved in lengthy writing sessions as a student and in his later work as a scribe and copyist.[5]

At the age of twelve he left school and pursued higher education in the madrasa (seminary) of Mashhad and Isfahan–which included lessons in Persian literature and the Quran–while working to master the art of debate. Scholars have suggested that his family members practiced Isma'ili Shi'ism, but in Mashhad and Isfahan he studied Muslim theology and jurisprudence under prominent teachers from the Usuli school.[6] In Mashhad he studied at the madrasa of Mirzá Jaf'ar, which exists to this day as one college of the larger Razavi University of Islamic Sciences.[7]

By 21, he had been licensed as an Usuli mujtahid (cleric), granting him the publicly recognized right to preach in mosques, take on students of theology, and issue fatwas (authoritative legal opinion). During his studies in Mashhad he became attracted to the teachings of the Shaykhi school of Shia Islam, founded by Shaykh Ahmad Ahsá'í and led at the time by his successor, Siyyid Kázim Rashtí. His interest in Shayki teachings seems to have emerged in Mashhad, but the exact origin of his interest in unknown; an early mystical bent and a desire to fuse scholarship with "inner knowledge" may have attracted him to the intuitive hermeneutical techniques used by the Shaykis.[8] On the completion of his studies he was offered a position of religious leadership in his hometown, but declined.[9] After a brief period in Tehran, in 1835 he traveled to the Shia shrine city of Karbala in the Ottoman Empire to study directly under Siyyid Kázim.[10] His father had passed away by this point, but all the surviving family members except one sister—already married—chose to move with him to Karbala. [11]

Siyyid Kázim taught his students to expect the fulfillment of the messianic expectations of Twelver Shi'ism in their lifetimes, particularly emphasizing that the Qa'im, or Mahdi, was already living.[12] Mullá Husayn studied under Siyyid Kázim from 1835 until 1843, during which time he was often asked by his teacher to travel to Persia to debate publicly with orthodox Shia ulama to gain more widespread Persian support for Shaykism.[13][14] During this period he wrote at least two books and gained a reputation as a significant student of Siyyid Kázim, being asked on occasion to answer questions on his teacher's behalf and gaining permission to supervise students of his own.[15][9] He received a stipend from the school of Siyyid Kázim for work as a scribe and copyist.[16] Bahá'í sources traditionally suggest that Siyyid Kázim entrusted Mullá Husayn with secret teachings which he did not share with the larger body of Shaykis—a claim which is evocative of his later role in Bábism, but difficult to verify.[17]

Near the end of his life, Siyyid Kázim repeatedly instructed his followers to disperse throughout Persian and surrounding lands in search of the Mahdi. Siyyid Kázim died on 31 December 1843. In the days following Siyyid Kázim's death, a significant number of Shaykis recognized Mullá Husayn as the only worthy successor to Siyyid Kázim and he decided to take up the challenge to search out the promised Mahdi. Some among the followers of Siyyid Kázim expected that Mullá Husayn would declare himself to be the Mahdi, or at least take up leadership of the Shaykis; he forcefully refuted both suggestions.[18][19]

Mullá Husayn, accompanied by his brother Muhammad-Hasan and nephew Muhammad-Baqir, set off from Karbala to Najaf and spent forty days in the Great Mosque of Kufa sequestered in a state of prayer and fasting. The Mosque in Kufa was chosen as the site of their retreat due to its association with the martyrdom of the Imam Ali; Shakyis often engaged in prolonged retreats as a method for developing discernment.[20] After a number of days they were joined by thirteen Shaykis, including Mullá Aliy-i-Bastami, who accompanied them in spiritual preparation for their journey.[21][22]

Near the end of the retreat, Mullá Husayn received a letter which appeared to have been written by Siyyid Kázim before his death; while his companions assumed that the letter contained an appointment from Siyyid Kázim naming Mullá Husayn as his successor, it contained only veiled instructions for the coming journey. Mullá Husayn is reported to have publicly burst into tears upon reading the posthumous instructions of Siyyid Kázim and realizing the enormity and uncertainty to his task.[23]

After celebrating the Muslim holiday of Mawlid, marking the completion of forty days spent at the Great Mosque of Kufa, Mullá Husayn and his companions visited the Tomb of the Imam Ali in Najaf and proceeded toward Búshihr, on the Persian Gulf. After some time there, at Mullá Husayn's urging, they continued to Shiraz in the Province of Fars.[24] At this point they had traveled on foot for approximately 600 miles with no clear intended destination and no guide for their journey except Siyyid Kázim's dying advice to Mullá Husayn.[25] Upon their arrival in Shiraz, Mullá Husayn instructed his companions to proceed to the Vakil Mosque where he would join them for evening prayers.[26]

In Shiraz, on 22 May 1844, he encountered Sayyed ?Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the Báb, who invited Mullá Husayn to his home. On that night Mullá Husayn told him that he was searching for the Promised Mahdi and shared with him some of the characteristics expected of the Mahdi which he had learned from Siyyid Kázim. The Báb declared that he manifested all of the characteristics of the Mahdi. Mullá Husayn remained uncertain until the Báb had replied satisfactorily to all of Mullá Husayn's questions and had written in his presence, with extreme rapidity, a long commentary on the Surah of Joseph, which has come to be known as the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' ("Maintainer of the Divine Names") and is considered the Báb's first revealed work.[27] Siyyid Kázim had apparently—when requested by Mullá Husayn to do so himself—predicted that the Mahdi would reveal, unasked, a commentary on this Surah. Nabil's Narrative records Mullá Husayn's account of the signs he had been given by the dying Siyyid Kázim to recognize the Mahdi and indicates that Mullá Husayn was quickly convinced that the Báb satisfied these conditions.[28][29] While the Báb had already revealed his religious mission to his wife, Khadíjih-Bagum and his household servant, Mubarak about a month previous,[30] Mullá Husayn became the first person to independently recognize him as the Mahdi and the prophet-founder of a new religion, and was appointed as the first member of the Báb's "Letters of the Living" (?urúfu'l-?ayy in Arabic).[29] The anniversary of this declaration is observed as a holy day by Bahá'í communities around the world and the beginning of the religions of Bábism and the Bahá'í Faith.[31][32]
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After his recognition of the Báb, Mullá Husayn was appointed as the first member of the Letters of the Living. The Báb forbade Mullá Husayn from actively spreading his newfound religion, and instead explained that seventeen others would have to independently recognize him as the Mahdi before he would allow the Bábi Religion to be openly spread. During his time in Shiraz, Mullá Husayn took up a teaching position in the Vakil mosque, where he gathered a large number of students which included notable clerics in Shiraz.[33] During his lectures in Shiraz, he never directly referenced the Báb, but his regular meetings with the Báb inspired the content of his lectures.[34] Within five months, seventeen other disciples of Siyyid Kázim had recognized the Báb as sent by God and joined Mullá Husayn among the ranks of the Letters of the Living.[35] Among these first to convert to Bábism were Mullá Husayn's companions on his journey from Karbala to Shiraz: Mu?ammad-?asan Bushrú'í, Mu?ammad-Báqir Bushrú'í and Mullá `Alí Bas?ámí.[36] The Báb addressed an epistle to each of the Letters of the Living and tasked them with spreading his religion throughout the country and surrounding regions. [37]

When the Báb determined to leave Shiraz on pilgrimage to Mecca, he instructed Mullá Husayn to travel to Isfahan, Kashan, Qom, Tehran and Khorasan Province, spreading Bábism as he traveled.[38] Nabil indicates that Mullá Husayn was displeased when Quddús, the 18th Letter of the Living, was chosen to accompany the Báb on his pilgrimage rather than himself. The Báb is recorded to have indicated that Mullá Husayn would discover an important secret in Tehran, and would be able to effectively defend Bábism against opposition in the other cities of his journey.[39]

In Isfahan, Mullá Husayn began teaching in the Nimavar school and used his authority as a mujtahid and his reputation as a disciple of Siyyid Kázim to spread the new teachings of Bábism.[40] He preached his new religion publicly and was reported to have drawn significant public attention:

In crowds they gathered to hear the teacher. He occupied, in turn, all the pulpits of Isfahán where he was free to speak publicly and to announce that Mírzá 'Alí-Muhammad was the twelfth Imám, the Imám Mihdí. He displayed and read his Master's books and would reveal their eloquence and their depth, emphasizing the extreme youthfulness of the seer and telling of his miracles.[41]

He was opposed by some Shaykis and orthodox Shias in the city, but won the tacit support of the most prominent Mullá in the city and was able to continue preaching for the duration of his stay.[42] A number of residents accepted the message of the Báb and converted to Bábism as a result of Mullá Husayn's teaching.[43] In the writings of the Báb as well as later Bahá'í hagiography, the example of the first Isfahani Bábí, a wheat sifter of modest means, is often used as an example of the diversity of those who accepted the Báb's teachings and the corruption of the Persian religious elites:

In the land of Sád [I?fahán], which to outward seeming is a great city, in every corner of whose seminaries are vast numbers of people regarded as divines and doctors, yet when the time came for inmost essences to be drawn forth, only its sifter of wheat donned the robe of discipleship. This is the mystery of what was uttered by the kindred of the Prophet Mu?ammad—upon them be the peace of God—concerning this Revelation, saying that the abased shall be exalted and the exalted shall be abased.[44]
—?The Bab, The Persian Bayán

In addition to the wheat sifter, a few prominent Siyyids in Isfahan were converted by Mullá Husayn.[45]

After his time in Isfahan, Mullá Husayn visited Kashan and Qom, spreading the teachings of the Báb in both cities. From Qom he continued on to Tehran, where he again made use of his mujtahid's license to take up residence in a local madrasa. As in Isfahan, he was opposed by members of the remaining Shayki community who felt he had abandoned his role as a leading follower of Siyyid Kázim to take up membership in a heretical sect.[46] At the request of these Shaykis, he did not take up a formal teaching role in Tehran as he had in Isfahan, and spent little time in the madrasa itself during his stay. Gobineau reports that in spite of not preaching publicly in Tehran, Mullá Husayn was received by a number of prominent residents, including the king Mohammad Shah Qajar and his prime minister and shared the teachings and writings of the Báb with them in these private meetings.[47]

In Tehran he befriended Mullá Muhammad-i-Mu'allim, a student of one of Mullá Husayn's leading opponents among the Shaykis in Tehran. Through Mullá Muhammad, he learned of the presence of Mírzá ?usayn-`Alí Núrí—the son of a prominent nobleman—in Tehran. At Mullá Husayn's request, Mullá Muhammad delivered a scroll containing some of the writings of the Báb to the home of Mírzá ?usayn-`Alí Núrí. Both Mírzá ?usayn-`Alí Núrí and his brother Mírzá Músá converted to Bábism as a result of this exchange.[48] Nineteen years after the declaration of the Báb to Mulla Husayn, Mírzá ?usayn-`Alí Núrí pronounced himself to be the prophet-successor to the Báb, took on the title Bahá’u’lláh, and founded the Bahá'í Faith.[49] Bahá'ís regard Mullá Husayn's exchange with Bahá’u’lláh to have been a fulfillment of the Báb's promise that Mullá Husayn would discover a secret of great importance in Tehran. After receiving news of Bahá’u’lláh's conversion, Mullá Husayn departed from Tehran for Mashhad, in his home province of Khorasan.

As news of his preaching spread and the number of converts to Bábism continued to grow throughout the country, Mullá Husayn no longer arrived unexpected in new cities. In Mashhad, public debate about the religion of the Báb was already ongoing when he arrived, and the clergy had organized to debate and oppose him. He preached from the pulpit of the Goharshad Mosque in Mashhad and succeeded in converting a number of prominent ecclesiastical leaders of Mashhad through public debates and private audiences. From Mashhad, Mullá Husayn wrote to the Báb, sharing news of conversions in Isfahan, and Tehran, with particular emphasis on the conversion and subsequent evangelism efforts of Bahá’u’lláh.[50]

In the spring of 1845 Mullá Husayn received news that Bábís wishing to visit the Báb after his return from pilgrimage had been instructed to gather in Isfahan. Mullá Husayn, currently en route to Karbala, met with a group of pilgrims and in Isfahan. After only a few days, he received news that Quddús and another prominent Bábí had been arrested in Shiraz after their pilgrimage with the Báb and publicly tortured and banished, while the Báb was under house arrest in the home of his uncle Hajji Mirza Sayyid 'Ali.[51]

Along with his brother and nephew, Mullá Husayn made their way into Shiraz overnight in disguise. After making contact with that uncle of the Báb, the three of them were able to take up temporary residence in Shiraz and received permission to invite the Bábís gathered in Isfahan to gradually make their way into the city.[52]

As the number of Bábís in Shiraz grew, opposition to the Báb and Mullá Husayn increased, particularly when the Báb began to give public addresses and sermons, and was engaged in debates by local clerics. The Báb eventually dismissed all the Bábís resident in Shiraz, including Mullá Husayn, whom he directed to return to Khorasan.[5

After being directed by the Báb to return to Khorasan, Mullá Husayn continued spreading Babism in Mashhad and throughout the province. During his time in Mashhad, a rebellion against the government of the Shah broke out in Khorasan, involving an alliance between local Kurdish tribes and the sheriff of Mashhad. Mullá Husayn learned that the leader of the rebellion hoped to secure his support as a representative of the growing Bábi community, and decided on leaving Mashhad to avoid entangling the local Bábís in the chaos expected to result when the forces of the Shah eventually arrived.[54] About the same time news arrived that the Báb had been arrested and imprisoned in the mountain fortress of Maku near the Turkish border,[55] following the increased controversy surrounding the Báb who was sent from Shiraz to Isfahan and then being ordered to Tehran by the Shah. In early 1848 Mullá Husayn embarked on foot from Mashhad—on the eastern edge of Persia–to Tehran, with the intention of continuing on to Maku—located in the far northwest. On his journey he was solely accompanied by a Bábí servant named Qambar-Ali. In Tehran he was received by Mírzá Músá, half-brother to Bahá'u'lláh, and a group of local Bábís and met briefly with Bahá'u'lláh in a private interview. No known record of that meeting survives.[54]

He arrived in Maku in March 1848, having walked over 2000 miles in no more than three months. In Maku, the Báb had originally been held under very strict guard, but after two weeks the government appointed frontier officer, ‘Alí Khán-i-Máh-Kú’í, converted to Bábism.[56] At the Bab's instruction ‘Alí Khán continued to carry out the Báb's imprisonment order, but allowed pilgrims to visit him and himself visited regularly. When Mullá Husayn arrived in Maku, he was welcomed by ‘Alí Khán, who reported having foreseen his arrival in a dream. On the first day of his time in Maku, the group of Bábís celebrated the holiday of Nowruz with the Báb.[57]

Mullá Husayn stayed in Maku with the Báb for nine days,[58] during which accounts report that the two cherished each other's company in the relative peace of imprisonment in a remote province. Mullá Husayn slept in the Báb's quarters and received pilgrims alongside the Báb during the days. Eventually the Báb ordered Mullá Husayn to depart for Mazandaran Province, reportedly offering parting instructions to Mullá Husayn and Qambar-Ali. In his parting address the Báb praised Qambar-Ali, comparing him to the groom of the Imam Ali, and lauded Mullá Husayn's courage and heroism; Nabil reports that the Báb promised Mullá Husayn that in Mazandaran "God's hidden treasure" would be revealed to him and Mullá Husayn's most important task would become clear. Mullá Husayn and Qambar-Ali left Maku carrying copies of significant works of the Báb which had been written during his stay in Maku, which they shared with Bábís during their journey to Mazandaran. [59][60]

A few days after Mullá Husayn departed from Maku, he received news that by order of the Prime Minister the Báb was to be transferred to the castle of Chehriq.[61]

On his way to Mazandaran, he stopped briefly in towns with resident Bábis, sharing news of the Báb and encouraging the Bábis, who were facing increasing public opposition. In Tehran he again had a chance to meet with Bahá’u’lláh, who encouraged him in turn.

Mullá Husayn was received on his arrival in Barforush, Mazandaran, by Quddús, the 18th Letter of the Living. Although the two had met previously, they had never spent much time together and their last interaction had been tinged with Mullá Husayn's disappointment when Quddús was chosen to accompany the Báb on pilgrimage rather than himself. During his stay in Barforush he was a guest in the house of Quddús and was able to consort with the large number of converts and admirers Quddús had in that city.[63]

Nabil reports that Mullá Husayn shared with Quddús the Báb's promise that in Mazandaran he would find a "hidden treasure which shall be revealed to you, a treasure which will unveil to your eyes the character of the task you are destined to perform."[58] After reading some of the writings of Quddús, Mullá Husayn became convinced that Quddús himself was the hidden treasure that the Báb had referred to. [64]Previously many of the Bábís had thought of Mullá Husayn as the most significant figure in the movement after Quddús; after this interaction Mullá Husayn constantly deferred to Quddús, going so far as to serve his meals and obey his instructions with a reverence previously reserved for those of the Báb. Quddús's role as the chief of the Letters of the Living was later confirmed by the Báb.[65]

In Barforush Mullá Husayn engaged the leading Muslim cleric of the city in a public debate with the goal of either converting him or convincing him to reduce his public denunciation of the Bábis. After failing to convince him, Mullá Husayn–at the instruction of Quddús–left Barfurush to return to Mashhad once again.

In Mashhad, following the instructions of Quddús, he set out to increase the capacity of the Letters of the Living to engage in systematic preaching and conversion efforts. With the assistance of local Bábís he purchased a plot of land and erected a building intended to serve as a permanent residence for himself and Quddús as well as a center of Bábí preaching and community life. Shortly after its completion, Mullá Husayn and Quddús took up residence in the center–christened the Bábíyyih of Mashhad. The number of Bábís in Mashhad grew substantially in the next few months, and the Bábíyyih served as a center of organization for evangelism efforts throughout the region. [67] Some sources suggest that the Bábíyyih may have been set up as early as 1844, but it does not seem to have come into use as a center of organization until 1848.[68]

This period yielded a great deal of success for Mullá Husayn and Quddús, Bábí communities sprouted throughout Khorasan Province, including converts from a wide array of economic backgrounds. In Mullá Husayn's hometown of Boshruyeh, a group of 60 active Bábís had emerged, with thousands turning out to attend Mullá Husayn's sermons or pray with him. Widespread Shakyi sympathies among the local clerics seem to have laid a fertile ground for the growth of Bábism.[69]

A few months after the construction of the Bábíyyih, a large number of Bábís gathered in the village of Badasht for the purpose of seeking consensus on the core spiritual beliefs of Bábism and making plans for how the Bábí community should respond to increasing persecution and the continued imprisonment of the Báb. The Conference of Badasht was largely organized and funded by Bahá'u'lláh, and Quddús and Táhirih were also major players in the conference — an event that would mark the declared independence of the Bábí religion from Islam.[70] During the weeks before the conference, large numbers of Bábís travelled to Mashhad from around the country, angering city authorities to the extent that Mullá Husayn's personal attendant was arrested and publicly tortured in an effort to drive Mullá Husayn from the city.[71]

Quddús left Mullá Husayn in Mashhad during the conference with the mandate of maintaining the work of the Bábíyyih in his absence.[72] As the number of converts in Mashhad began to grow, opposition from secular and religious authorities increased to the point that Mullá Husayn was forced to leave the city before Quddús could return from Badasht.[73]

Before departing from Mashhad, Mullá Husayn received large groups of visitors, along with approximately two hundred Bábí men who committed to traveling with him. Before they were able to leave the city, Mullá Husayn received a message from the Báb containing new directions. The Báb informed him that Quddús had been imprisoned in his hometown of Barfurush, and ordered Mullá Husayn and his companions to come to his aid. Further, Mullá Husayn was, in apparent fulfillment of Islamic eschatological predictions, to don the Báb's own green turban, and lead his companions under a black flag. The Báb also granted Mullá Husayn a new name: Siyyid `Alí. The granting of a new name was significant because the wearing of a green turban was forbidden in Shia Islam to anyone but a siyyid—a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah.[74]

Mullá Husayn and his two hundred Bábí companions departed from Mashhad for Barfurush on 21 July 1848, and gathered additional followers along the way. On the third day, after a warning from Mullá Husayn about the danger of their mission to free Quddús, twenty members of the party left the group to return home. The group marched under a black banner prepared by Mullá Husayn which they raised in reference to the Black Standard, an element of prophecy in Islamic eschatology about the end of days.[75][76]

The march was rebuffed outside the town of Barfurush by an armed group of residents led by the chief cleric. Mullá Husayn reportedly ordered his men to discard their possessions and at first made them withhold from engaging in battle, saying:

Leave behind all your belongings, and be content with your horses and swords, so that all may see that you have no interest in earthly things, and that you have no desire to guard your own property, much less to covet the property of others! [77]
—?Mullá Husayn, quoted in Nabil's Narrative

The first casualty of the encounter was Siyyid Ridá—Mullá Husayn's attendant—who was shot in the chest from a distance. After Siyyid Ridá's death, Mullá Husayn allowed his followers to begin defending themselves. [78

Although most sources agree that Mullá Husayn was physically weak and suffered from chronic illness, narratives of the battle depict him as an almost insurmountable combatant.[4][79][80] One popular story from Nabil's Narrative describes him engaging the soldier who shot Siyyid Ridá and with a single blow of his sword cutting through the trunk of an intervening tree, the man's musket, and the soldier's body.[81] A combatant in the Barfurushi force sent half of the severed musket by messenger to the Prime Minister as evidence of the Bábis' ferocity—attempting to allay criticism from the Prime Minister for failing to defeat an informal militia.[82] The encounter was elegized by a number of poets throughout Persia.[83]
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After the encounter at Barfurush the group constructed defensive fortifications at the nearby Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi, a local saint. Upon arriving at the shrine, the Bábís, numbering a little over 300 according to Bábí and Bahá'í sources and according to court historians, were now under imminent attack from government forces, yet their numbers swelled to between 540 and 600 people as Bábís from the region streamed to their defense. [75] The Bábí combatants represented almost every social class, including clergymen, merchants, craftsmen, and representatives of the landed nobility; the youngest was a twelve-year-old boy.[84] The distribution of urban and rural participants has been shown to be roughly identical to the makeup of Persian society at the time, demonstrating the wide array of respondents to the religion of the Báb. Unlike at later Bábí upheavals where women would play a significant, or even majority role, all of the participants at Tabarsi were male.[85]

At Tabarsi Mullá Husayn instituted a degree of martial order, centralizing food production, construction, and defensive duty. He appointed his nephew Muhammad-Baqir as his lieutenant. During their first day at Tabarsi they gained the patronage of a wealthy man from a nearby village who converted to Bábism and provided them supplies. With so many people to feed, the makeshift fort attracted a small collection of merchants from the region.[86]

After the completion of the fort, the gathered Bábís were visited by Bahá’u’lláh, who inspected the fort and expressed his pleasure with the construction and organization. He advised Mullá Husayn to send a group of men to Sari, where Quddús was now imprisoned, to bring Quddús to the fort. Before leaving Bahá’u’lláh consulted with Mullá Husayn on some matters of strategy and expressed his desire to return to assist the gathered Bábís. [87] Mullá Husayn sent seven men to Sari with instructions to return with Quddús; they did so with the willing consent of the cleric in whose home he was held. During the mission to retrieve Quddús, Mullá Husayn instructed the Bábís at Tabarsi that after Quddús's arrival they should regard Quddús as the commanding officer of the company, and Mullá Husayn only as his lieutenant. [88] Upon his arrival, Quddús instituted a missionary element to the fort, sending representatives to the villages in the area and attracting a stream of new converts, many of whom took up residence in the fort. [89]

As conversions in the area increased, the chief cleric of Barfurush wrote to the Shah, indicating that a rebellion was underway in the region. Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, then only 17, had just taken up the throne after his father's death, and responded quickly to news of commotion in Mazandaran. He issued an edict authorizing a government official in Mazandaran, `Abdu'lláh Khán, to gather an army and quell the forces gathered at Tabarsi. [90]

`Abdu'lláh Khán besieged the fort with twelve thousand men, and cut of their supply of water and food. Three days of heavy rain and snow followed his arrival, providing water for the Bábís and decimating the army's earth fortifications. `Abdu'lláh Khán and his officers took up residence in a nearby village to avoid the weather, and were absent when, on the fourth day of the siege, Quddús ordered the Bábís to disperse his army. The outnumbered Bábí's took the army by surprise and pushed them back to the village where `Abdu'lláh Khán was living, where they engaged and killed `Abdu'lláh Khán and every officer of his army. At this point Quddús ordered a retreat. Four hundred of the Shah's soldiers were killed, and around 100 of their horses captured by the Bábís. Upon returning to the fort, Quddús warned the Bábís that a larger, better organized army would come next, and ordered them to expand the fort. [91] After this point, the fort walls reached ten meters tall, with a deep ditch surrounding it, a well for water, and tunnels and storehouses dug underground for refuge and storage.[92]

After the defeat of `Abdu'lláh Khán, the Shah ordered a member of the royal family, Prince Mihdí-Qulí Mírzá to exterminate the Bábís of Mazandaran province. His edict to Mihdí-Qulí Mírzá is significant, because it ordered the death of the Bábís at Tabarsi, not only on the grounds of alleged rebellion, but also heresy:

It is true: Mihdí-Qulí Mírzá, you must exert yourself to the utmost in this affair. This is not a trifling amusement. The fate of our religion and Shi'i doctrine hangs in the balance. You must cleanse the realm of this filthy and reprobate sect, so that not a trace of them remains. Devote your utmost diligence to this [...][93]
—?Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, Edict to Mihdí-Qulí Mírzá, Governor of Mazandaran

In addition to authorizing Mihdí-Qulí Mírzá, the Shah ordered tribal chiefs and princes in Mazandaran to join their forces to Mihdí-Qulí Mírzá. He headquartered his forces in Vaskas and ordered `Abbás-Qulí Khán, the governor of Amol County, who was a distinguished general, to join him there with an army. He sent envoys to Barfurush and other villages to gain intelligence about the Bábís, and sent a messenger to the fort with instructions to speak with Mullá Husayn and Quddús.[94]

The messenger was received by Mullá Husayn, and asked what grievances had caused the Bábís to rebel. Mullá Husayn repudiated the accusation of rebellion and claimed that they had no intention except to oppose the corruption of the ecclesiastical order of the country through debate and preaching the message of the Báb. Mullá Husayn then invited Mihdí-Qulí Mírzá and area clerics to visit the fort and hear his arguments for themselves before deciding to bear arms. The messenger was apparently moved by Mullá Husayn's description of the Bábí cause and agreed to carry his invitation back to the prince.[95]

On 21 December 1848, three days after the messenger's visit, Mihdí-Qulí Mírzá's forces set out to attack the Bábí encampment. Nabil reports that he came with at least five regiments of infantry and cavalry.[96] Quddús ordered every horseman among the Bábí's to rush forward and meet the Prince's forces before they could reach Tabarsi.

In the ensuing battle Mullá Husayn engaged the prince directly, after which the prince fled the battle, taking up residence in a nearby barn before retreating to Sari.[97] At least two other royal princes died in the attack, and some prisoners held by the princes forces were released. Quddús was injured in the battle, but was not incapacitated.

After the defeat of the Shah's forces at Vaskas, Abbás-Qulí Khán, governor of Amol County, took up primary responsibility for the eradication of the Bábís from the area. He solicited additional men from Mazandarani tribes and surrounded the fort. A more skilled commander than Mihdí-Qulí Mírzá's, he had barricades and artillery set up surrounding the fort, as well as again cutting off the water supply of the Bábís.

Mullá Husayn, inside the fort, oversaw the construction of a well within the walls. On 2 February 1849, he again donned the Báb's green turban, and—along with Quddús—launched an attack against the forces of Abbás-Qulí Khán. Eyewitness accounts record that the war-cry of the Bábís was "Yá ?á?ibu'z-Zamán!" or "Oh Lord of the Age", a reference to the Báb.[99]Initially the Bábí thrust was successful in sowing confusion in the ranks of Abbás-Qulí Khán's troops, and a significant number of their tents and barricades were burnt to the ground. Mullá Husayn in particular is recorded running from side to side challenging enemy soldiers himself. His aptitude with the sword led Abbás-Qulí Khán to later compare him to the Imam Ali, traditionally regarded as the perfect swordsman, and his sword Zulfiqar, while Khán compared his martial leadership in the face of overwhelming opposition to that of the Imam Husayn:[100]

The truth of the matter is that anyone who had not seen Kerbala would, if he had seen Tabarsi, not only have comprehended what there took place, but would have ceased to consider it; and had he seen Mullá Husayn of Bushraweyh he would have been convinced that the Chief of Martyrs had returned to earth; and had he witnessed my deeds he would assuredly have said 'This is Shimr come back with sword and lance.'[101]
—?Abbás-Qulí Khán, Quoted by Mirza Husein in the Tarikh-i-Jadid

During the battle Mullá Husayn's horse lost its footing, tangled in rope, and Abbás-Qulí Khán, perched in a tree, shot him through the chest. He survived long enough to be brought into the fortress, where he and Quddús spoke before he died. His last recorded words to Quddús were: "May my life be a ransom for you. Are you well pleased with me?" [102] His nephew, the Letter of the Living Muhammad-Baqir was also present at the moment of his death. He was buried by Quddús—who dressed him for burial using one of his own shirts—in a grave to the south of the shrine, while thirty six other Bábís were buried to the north. Quddús gave a brief sermon at the burial calling all Bábís to see Mullá Husayn and the other dead as martyrs of exemplary character and bravery.[103]

Mullá Husayn died during battle on 2 February 1849,[75][104] and news of this reached Turkey in a French language newspaper.[105][106] He was buried within the grounds of the Shrine of Shakyh Tabarsi.[107] Mullá Husayn is regarded by Bábís and Bahá'ís as a martyr, and his conduct in the battle is characterized as an example of bravery and heroism in the face of insurmountable opposition in Bahá'í literature. Seven other members of the Letters of the Living are believed to have been killed at Tabarsi as well as the majority of the Bábí combatants.[108]

His brother Muhammad-Hasan, survived until the end of the battle of Tabarsi, and was executed along with Quddús by the clergy, even though he was supposed to see the shah. His nephew Muhammad-Baqir survived until the end of the battle, although his fate after that point is unclear. Mullá Husayn's mother and sister had converted to Bábism at some point after the Báb's declaration—becoming close companions of Táhirih—and learned of his death at Tabarsi. They returned to their home town of Boshruyeh where they cared for the wives and children of men who had died at Tabarsi. After his mother's death, his family home was destroyed by a mob, and his sister was forced to move to Ashgabat. She became a Bahá’í and was given the title Leaf of Paradise (Varaqatu'l-Firdaws) by Bahá’u’lláh.[109]

Mullá Husayn's role as the first to accept the Báb as the Mahdi and founder of an independent religion grants him a special place in Bábism and the Bahá'í Faith.He was granted the title of Bábu'l-Báb ("Gate of the gate") by the Báb, referring to this role.[110] His expertise as a licensed member of the Shia mujtahidun and a well-regarded disciple of Siyyid Kázim is seen as giving greater weight to his acceptance of the Báb, seemingly confirming that the Báb fulfilled the traditions of Shia Islam regarding the coming of the Mahdi.[103]

Mullá Husayn's role as the first member of the Letters of the Living give him added significance in Bábí and Bahá'í thought. The Letters of the Living did not have specific administrative roles in Bábism, but played a role somewhat analogous to that of the Apostles of Christ: companions of the prophet, refiners of doctrine, and early martyrs.[111] The Letters of the Living were described by the Báb as the return (Arabic: ?????? raj`a) of the Shia Infallibles:

The Eighteen 'Letters of the Living' manifested themselves in the last, i.e. the Muhammadan Manifestation in the persons of the Fourteen Holy Souls (i.e. the Prophet himself, his daughter Fatima, and the Twelve Imams of whom the first, 'Ali, was her husband, and the remainder of her descendants) and the Four Gates (or Bábs) who successively acted as channels of communication between the Twelfth Imam, or Imam Mahdi, and the faithful, during the period of his 'Lesser Occultation' …. The terms 'Point' and 'Letter; were originally suggested by the formula Bi'smi'llahi'r-Rahmani'r-Rahim (In the Name of the Merciful, Compassionate God), which contains 19 letters, the first (B) distinguished by a point or dot beneath it; and by 'Ali's alleged saying, 'All that is in the Qur'an is ... in the Bi'smi'llah ... and I am the Point beneath the B.'[112]
—?Edward Granville Browne, quoted by Moojan Momen in Selections from the Writings of E.G. Browne on the Bábi´ and Bahá'i´ Religions

Mullá Husayn himself is described in the writings of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh as the return of the Prophet Muhammad,[113] and in other early Bábí sources variously as the return of the Imam Husayn or even described as the "Qa'im of Khorasan".[114] While Mullá Husayn is seen as the symbolic return of these historical figures, he is not seen by Bahá'ís as a prophet or Manifestation of God. His raising of the Black Standard prior to the battle of Fort Tabarsi is seen as the fulfillment of Shia eschatological predictions, and further cements his station as an important part of Bábí and Baha'i claims of Mahdi-hood for the Báb.[75]

The Báb describes Mullá Husayn with reference to the station known in Shia Islam as the "viceregent" or "silent one", similar to the role of Aaron in the time of Moses, and Ali in the time of Muhammad—one whose authority is great but entirely derived from a greater Prophet, in this case the Báb himself.[115] He is further described as the first perfect Muslim, or the "first fruit of the Tree of Islam".[116] In Bábí theology, it is the emergence of the first perfect follower of a religion which triggers the emergence of the next religion. In this way, Mullá Husayn is seen not only as the first Bábí, but in some sense the cause of the abrogation of Islam and its replacement with Bábism.[116] The Bahá'í Writings refer to this role of Mulla Husayn:

Among them was Mullá Husayn, who became the recipient of the effulgent glory of the Sun of divine Revelation. But for him, God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy, nor ascended the throne of eternal glory.[117]
—?Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán

Bahá'u'lláh also wrote a tablet of visitation for Mullá Husayn, which was included in an epistle written to Mullá Husayn's sister Varaqatu'l-Firdaws. In this tablet he plays on the common name of Husayn held by himself, Mullá Husayn, and the Imam Husayn, symbolically intermingling their identities and invoking their shared loneliness and suffering in the "path of God".[118]

Beauty in the Quran

Reference to three kinds of beauty is discernible in the Qur?an. The first characterizes the signs (q.v.) of God in creation (q.v.): awesome, delightful, instructive or useful, but ultimately transitory. The second describes the ornaments produced by human beings: attractive and enticing but also meaningless and even deceptive. This, too, is transitory. The third kind of beauty is not of this world but rather is sublime and eternal. Each of these three categories will be discussed in sequence.

The Arabic word most often translated as “beauty” (jamal) occurs only once in the Qur?an and in that instance it has an aesthetic denotation: “And livestock… you find beauty in them when you bring them home in the evening and when you put them out to pasture” (Q 16:5-6). Yet other forms and effects of beauty are frequently cited. Humans delight in their children (q.v.; Q 28:13); fair winds (Q 10:22; 30:46; see AIR AND WIND ); rain (Q 30:48) and the earth (q.v.) afterward (Q 57:20) and seed that grows (Q 48:29); fine animals (Q 2:69) and fertile pairs (Q 22:5; 26:7-8); and nice clothes and pure things (Q 7:31-2; see BLESSING ). God has made things beautiful on purpose, as seen in the phrase “the creation of God, who has perfected (atqana) all things” (Q 27:88; cf. 22:6; 95:4). “We placed constellations in heaven and made them beautiful (zayyan naha) to the beholders” (Q 15:16; cf. 37:6-7; 50:6; 67:3-5). “It is God… who has formed you and made your forms beautiful (a?sana ?uwarakum)” (Q 40:64).

Earthly beauty, however, can be a temptation and a test. Q 18:7 asserts: “What is on earth we have made a [mere] decoration for it (zinatan laha), so that we might test which of them is best in his actions” (cf. Q 57:20). Q 2:221 notes that beauty must not be the overriding criterion: “A believing slave-woman is better than an unbeliever, however much the latter pleases you (a?jabatkum).” Other verses remark that humans deceive themselves and others with superficialities (zina). Significantly, the calf of gold (q.v.) is made from “the people’s ornaments” (zinat al-qawm, Q 20:87). We hear of unbelievers dazzled by their own stratagems (Q 13:33) and of him “whose evil act is made to seem fine to him (zuyyina lahu su?u ?amalihi)” (Q 35:8; cf. 9:37; 10:12; 47:14). Forms of natural and man-made ornamentation (zukhruf) can be assessed as both positive and negative: “The earth takes on its ornament (akhadhat al-ar?u zukhrufaha) and is adorned (azzayyanat)” (Q 10:24) but humans deceive each other with “fancy talk (zukhruf al-qawl)” (Q 6:112).

The delights of paradise (q.v.) are sometimes evoked by the mention of beautiful objects, e.g. luxuries such as gold (q.v.) and silk (q.v.; e.g. Q 35:33) or couches and rich drinking cups (e.g. Q 56:12-18; see CUPS AND VESSELS ). More often, however, the pleasures of paradise are described in terms that would appeal particularly to desert dwellers: trees, gardens, shade, and water (q.v.; see GARDEN ). The Qur?an itself is more often described in terms that mark its connection to the divine. The jinn (q.v.) who hear the Qur?an do not call it “beautiful” but “a wonder” (Qur?anan ?ajaban, Q 72:1), while humans break out in goose-flesh (Q 39:23). God himself is the subject of an extended metaphor in the Light Verse (Q 24:35; see VERSES ) from which the listener infers his beauty, though he is never called “beautiful.” Aspects of divinity are awesome rather than beautiful (see GOD AND HIS ATTRIBUTES ). Yet a ?adith says what the many qur?anic references to beauty seem to imply: “God is beautiful and loves beauty” (Muslim, ?a?ih). Beauty was certainly a factor in the later theological concept of the “miraculous inimitability” (i?jaz) of the Qur?an