BAHAI THINKING IX
Bahá'í International Archive and Dome of the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa
On 23 May 1844, two hours and eleven minutes after sundown, in an upper room of a modest merchant’s home in the Persian city of Shiráz, a window opened to heaven. The owner of the house, called the Báb, revealed to a stranger, whom He had met outside the city wall, that He was the One whom the stranger had been seeking with so much zeal. God had sent Him, He said, to close the door to yesterday and to open the door to tomorrow. He was the Mahdi, the return of Elijah, the Herald of the Days of Days.
The Báb radiated a lofty, spiritual authority; spoke inspiring words with a voice of melodious power; revealed the deepest knowledge with a flowing, calligraphic pen. His visitor nearly fainted under the impact of his closeness to a Herald of the Unseen.
Later the Báb would announce His mission many more times in mosques, palaces and in the streets of Persia, until he was arrested, exiled to faraway prisons in the mountains and finally executed in a hail of bullets, six years after that celestial evening in spring of the year 1844. Half a century later, his holy remains were secretly carried to the Holy Land to be interred under the golden dome on Mount Carmel in Haifa.
The events that coincided with the year of the Báb's coming and the breakthroughs started by the theophany He manifested, are still enigmatic today.
According to the mystic and prophet, Abbot Joachim of Fiore (1130-1202), in the year 1260 an end would come to the power of the Church, and a peaceful, universal regime would arise with all the good religions together. Joachim called this New Jerusalem “the Third Age” under the global sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, after the lost Age of the Father (the realm of the Old Testament) and the declining realm of the Son (the world of the New Testament). But life on earth did not radically change in 1260 AD.
The numeral 1260 is mentioned in the Revelation of John, and is therefore called "apocalyptic". It refers to the return of Christ and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. A chronological reference mark for the event is not given. But coincidentally the year 1260 in the chronology of Islam is identical to the year 1844 of the Christian era when in Persia a new era sprung forth.
In the Bahá'í Writings the "New Jerusalem" is described as the new era of mankind that began at the time of the Declaration of the Báb, in 1844: "The heavenly Jerusalem is none other than divine civilization, and it is now ready. It is to be and shall be organized, and the oneness of humankind will be a visible fact. Humanity will then be brought together as one." (‘Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace)
On the morning of 24 May 1844, the day after the announcement of the new age for mankind by the Báb, the first telegram was sent from Baltimore to Washington. For the first time man was, in principle, able to nullify the blocking effect of the horizon and the sound absorption of the air. The inventor of this breakthrough technology, Samuel Morse, in this historic cable asked an intriguing question. It was telegraphed in dots and dashes and read: “What hath God wrought?”
The answer was given in the language of new realities. Within decennia, telephony, transcontinental cable networks, international news agencies and mass media printing were added to the first ticker tape of 1844. Soon thereafter, man-made electromagnetic radio waves began to manipulate the ether under the ionosphere of the planet. Within a century after the perplexing events of 1844, man discovered the technique of watching the whole world on a television screen. Another fifty years later, hundreds of million human brains were interconnected by a worldwide web of data processors. Large quantities of facts and figures filled the most resourceful brain pool the world has ever seen. No stars fell from a collapsing heaven. Instead, at the beginning of the new millennium, about ten thousand midget-moons and space objects were circling in satellite orbits.
In the field of transport and mobility – by land, sea and air – man had revolutionized the physical conditions of civilization. The globalization of being on earth that began in the 19th century had touched politics, economy, international law and, of course, science, technology, and the arts. But only a few understood the purpose concealed within this development, the making of a new world under the guidance of man's Creator. According to the Bahá'í Revelation, God provides mankind all the material means by which peace and tranquility can be established in the world. Since 1844 there is a divine magic in the air for all eyes to see.
In 1820 Joseph Smith had a vision of the Father and the Son and a Kingdom of God arising in the New World. He founded the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. In June 1844 this religious teacher was killed, and no Kingdom came from heaven to America. Instead even before the end of the 19th century, Americans were playing a pioneering role in the spread of the message of Bahá’u’lláh Who prayed: God grant that the light of unity may envelop the whole earth, and that the seal, “the Kingdom is God’s”, may be stamped upon the brow of all its peoples.
In the beginning of the 19th century a long trek of Bible-lovers, who called themselves "Templers", moved from southwestern Germany eastwards into Russia, to receive the Messiah who would come from the East. Since Adventism was in the air all over non-Catholic Europe, the government of the Czar granted them permission to settle in the Christian regions of the Caucasus.
According to Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752), a renowned Lutheran theologian from the University of Tübingen, the return of Christ and the end of the world would take place on 18 June 1836. Bengel had determined this date after much research and a complicated calculation based upon the Revelation of St. John. Still 1836 ended with the first of a series of disappointments which the Adventist movement had to absorb in the 19th century.
A generation later another vanguard of Templers, from the Stuttgart region, left once again for the east, but this time not eastwards in a geographical sense. Instead, they headed for the Orient, the Holy Land. With the recommendation of the Emperor in Berlin, the Sultan in Constantinople permitted them to first settle in Haifa at the foot of Mount Carmel. In their belief, the return of the Lord was near, and the mountain that stood above their red-roofed houses was the perfect biblical location for the great Day of Days. The Prophet Isaiah had greatly praised Carmel and the surrounding Sharon Plain as the Mountain of the Lord. When He arrived, then – the Templers hoped – perhaps “ten million good, German Christians” would follow their example and move to Palestine.
Two month before the first Templers arrived in the harbour of Haifa, the Austrian steamship company brought a mysterious Exile to the shore of the Carmel. The passenger and his company had been transferred to the citadel of nearby Akka, the state prison for political and criminal enemies of the Ottoman Empire. People in town gossiped that the stranger who walked the streets so imposingly, was “a God of the Persians”. His company called Him Bahá’u’lláh, the Glory of God.
Meanwhile in Haifa and elsewhere in Palestine, the Templers waited in vain for years for the Day of Days, building and maintaining model houses, gardens and businesses until, after two generations, some of them changed their minds. In their eyes, Adolf Hitler was the redeemer sent by heaven who would cleanse the human race with fire and sword and march his columns of Aryan supermen to the dawn of a new age. So, in the late thirties, apostate Templers at the foot of Mount Carmel hung the flag with the swastika from their houses in the Holy Land.
During the Second World War, the Palestinian Germans were interned by the English and, after 1945, sent out of the country. Their descendants now live for the most part in Australia and Germany and work for world peace and vegetarianism. Their website includes a reference to the opening of the Bahá'í Terraces on Mount Carmel in 2001, where they quote from the prophetic book of Isaiah:
The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God.
The Templers twice approached the goal of their quest: Their Caucasian settlements lay within reach of the Persian forts of Mákú and Chihríq , where the Báb was imprisoned until He stood accused by the clergy of Tabríz in 1850. Mákú itself lies close to Mount Ararat, where the Ark of Noah stranded after the Flood, where a new Covenant of God with mankind was made.
Later, in Haifa, the Templers were neighbors to the Persian community surrounding ‘Abbas Effendi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son and heir of Bahá’u’lláh. At His direction the hidden Remains of the Báb were interred in a tomb on the northern flank of Carmel, in a garden directly above "Koloniestraβe" (now Ben Gurion Avenue), above the German colony.
“The construction of a garden is always an expression of faith, and so the Persian Garden in Haifa was, for the Templers, an item close to their hearts,” states the Haifa website of the descendants of devout Protestants who did not find what they looked for.
The beautiful Bahá'í Terraces, with the Shrine of the Báb at their heart, are one of the most visited and least understood places in Israel. Above the door of one of the restored German houses at the foot of the slope of Mount Carmel, a message is written on a sign: “Der Herr ist nahe”, the Lord is near. Around 1891, on the paths of the mountain, the Templers must have encountered this mysterious Exile from Persia. At the end of His life Bahá’u’lláh repeatedly camped on the Mount. High above blue Haifa Bay, Bahá’u’lláh declared Mount Carmel the spiritual midpoint of the emerging world civilization of fulfillment.
From 1859, after a series of constitutional reforms in the Ottoman Empire, Jews regained full citizenship in their lost fatherland. For the first time since their expulsion by Rome, Jews could own land and property. The symbolic end of the Diaspora seized most rabbis by surprise. It took Jewish home-comers another nineteen years until they started to take their chances in the Promised Land. In 1878, Jews from Jerusalem built the first agricultural settlement after eighteen hundred years and called it “Petach Tikva” which means "Door of Hope". Its name came from the prophecy of Hoshea ("I shall give her vineyards from there and the Valley of Achor for a door of hope"). The city now had a substantial religious community and boasted one of the country's leading schools of Jewish learning. Nevertheless, no rabbi was able to sense any relevance between the greening wonder of Israel that began in 1878, and the coming of Bahá'u'lláh to Achor, Akka, ten years before the opening of Door of Hope in what then were malarial swamps. On the other hand, "Judaism in all its forms and expressions has always held fast to the idea of liberation as an event that will occur in public, on the stage of history and within society. It is an event which will take place in the visible world and can never occur without a visible appearance." (Gershom Scholem, “The Messianic Idea in Judaism”) Therefore, a Bahá'í may wonder why the Jews still long for the advent of the Messiah who would bring them home. Are they not at home in the end?
While the member states of the United Nations, convened in New York on 27 November 1947, were voting on the partition of the British protectorate of Palestine between Jews and Arabs, the archeologist Eliezer Sukenik was deciphering an old Hebrew song of praise, which was part of what would be called the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the living room that evening, as in all Jewish homes, the radio was on.
The translation work of the archeologist took many hours. In the meantime the fateful voting in New York went on. When two-thirds of states agreed, Israel would be able to rise again as a state, within the borders that the world would set. Suddenly from the living room of the small house of the Sukeniks, a rousing shout could be heard. The decisive number of votes had been reached!
At that moment Eliezer Sukenik radiantly entered the room. In the silence that followed he read to his wife and children his new translation, the words written two thousand years ago: “I was driven out of my house like a bird from his nest; I was thrown down but stood up again.”
The end of the dispersal of the 19th century, and the rebirth of Israel under the auspices of the 20th century United Nations posed a dilemma for traditionally-minded Jews. Only the Messiah was expected to make these predictions of the return of the Jewish people come true. When, on a Sabbath evening in Tel Aviv in May 1948, the signatures were put onto the independence declaration of the State of Israel, it happened clearly “with trust in God”. Still orthodox rabbis hang posters on the ledges in the cities of Israel to announce again and again: “The Messiah is coming!”
An exposition on the Messianic Age by rabbi David S. Ariel states on the internet that the prophet Elijah will announce the arrival of the Messiah from Mount Carmel in the Land of Israel [Jerusalem Talmud Pesahim 3:6]. Coincidentally, the Báb whose crowned tomb is on the Carmel in Haifa, is considered by the Bahá'ís to be, essentially, the reappearance of Elijah.
One of the commentaries from the time of the ancient rabbis describes the era leading up to the Messiah in the darkest terms of societal corruption, Ariel states: "In the footsteps of the Messiah, arrogance will increase; prices will rise; grapes will be abundant but wine will be costly; the government will turn into heresy; and there will be no reproach. The meeting place of scholars will become a bordello; the Galilee will be destroyed; the highland will lie desolate; the border people will wander from city to city and none will show them compassion; the wisdom of authors will stink; sin-fearing people will be detested; truth will be missing; young men will humiliate the elderly; the elderly will stand while the young sit; sons will revile their fathers; daughters will strike their mothers, brides will strike their mothers-in-law; and a man's enemies will take over his house. The face of the generation is like the face of a dog. ! Sons have no shame in front of their fathers; and on whom can one depend? Only upon our Father in heaven". [Sotah 9:15].
According to rabbinic tradition, two messianic figures will appear in the history of Israel and the world: the Messiah from the House of Joseph “who will fight and lose” and whose death “will mean the destruction of history”, and, the Messiah from the House of David “upon whom all the utopian expectations will be concentrated” (Gershom Sholem). The Báb fought and lost his life. He declared himself to be the “Gate” which closed the era of prophecy and opened the cycle of peace. His tomb adorns Mount Carmel in Haifa as a golden crown. Bahá’u’lláh revealed the spiritual blueprint of God for the coming world order. His tomb lies on the other side of the Bay of Haifa in the silence of the sanctified gardens of Bahji, outside the city walls of Akka. This Most Holy Sanctuary is the focus of the Bahá'í world in prayer.
le the Church of Rome, after previous eschatological errors, declared that it saw no truth in the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth, a Protestant theologian, Gerrit Jan Heering, claimed that a golden future was “the crowning promise of the Evangel”. In the New Testament, Matthew 24, Christ had given a number of indicators ("signs") for his second coming "and of the end of the age" of which "not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son" knew "the day or hour". When time passed, groups of inquisitive believers began searching the Bible for any adventist clue.
Since the 18th century, the extrapolation of the Day of Days – mainly from the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament and the Revelation of St. John with which the Bible concludes – was considered an Anglo-Saxon, intellectual hobby. Even Isaac Newton, in 1733, published “Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John”. But the exegesis of William Miller, veteran of the Second War of Independence , was the most remarkable of all of them. In 1832, Miller announced: “He is coming; He is coming!” Thousands of Americans came under his spell. The Messiah was at the door; the world would end soon. Miller dated the supreme moment as the beginning of Spring in the year 1844, March 21.
Great crowds waited that day, dressed appropriately, for the heavenly fireworks that were never lighted. The result was the “Great Disappointment” of Adventism. But until his death in 1849 William Miller was convinced that something great occurred between heaven and earth in that year.
Later it appeared that March 21, 1844, was the first day of the first year of a new era, the beginning of the chronology of the Bahá'í Faith. This calendar had been given by the Herald of the "Day of the Lord", the Báb, who, in the spring of that year had come into the house of the world “as a ”thief in the night” through a Persian back door that was not mentioned in 2 Peter 3:10.
Within four years after the coming of the Báb, the Herald of a New Day, in 1848 in Brussels, a world peace conference took place, an event that was new in history, and which could be seen as the first signs of a waking world awareness. There followed pacifist conferences in Paris (1849), Frankfurt (1850) and London (1851), which confirmed that awakening. And in the last summer of the 19th century the delegations of 26 states came together in The Hague to start a project for sustainable peace through international law. Simultaneously the upwards movement of a new religion, which proclaimed the evangel of world peace, arevealed the structures for the firm establishment of peace and unity on earth. The creed of Bahá’u’lláh came from the depth of God’s wisdom: “We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations – that all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that all bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease and differences of race by annulled – and so it shall be; these fruitless strife’s, these ruinous wards shall pass away and the most great peace shall come. Is not this that which Christ foretold? Let not a man glory in this that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.”
The Revelation which, from time immemorial, hath been acclaimed as the Purpose and Promise of all the Prophets of God, and the most cherished Desire of His Messengers, hath now, by virtue of the pervasive Will of the Almighty and at His irresistible bidding, been revealed unto men. The advent of such a Revelation hath been heralded in all the sacred Scriptures. Behold how, notwithstanding such an announcement, mankind hath strayed from its path and shut out itself from its glory.
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah
The year 1260
In the Revelation John the time of the coming of the Promised is set at 42 months. Daniel speaks of three times and a half time, which also comes to 42 months or 1260 days. In another passage of the Apocalypse 1260 days are clearly stated. In the Holy Writings one day always stands for one year. Both prophecies are, thus, the same. The Báb appeared in the year 1260 numbered from the beginning of the Islamic era. In no other Holy Book is there a clearer prophecy for the coming of a new Messenger.
“In the Apocalypse, the appearance of the Promised One is appointed after forty-two months, and Daniel expresses it as three times and a half, which is also forty-two months, which are twelve hundred and sixty days. In another passage of John’s Revelation it is clearly spoken of as twelve hundred and sixty days, and in the Holy Book it is said that each day signifies one year.
Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions