Gate of the Heart
Understanding the Writings of the Báb
Publication Year: 2008
Co-published with the Association for Bahá’í Studies
In 1844 a charismatic young Persian merchant from Shiraz, known as the Báb, electrified the Shí’ih world by claiming to be the return of the Hidden Twelfth Imam of Islamic prophecy. But contrary to traditional expectations of apocalyptic holy war, the Báb maintained that the spiritual path was not one of force and coercion but love and compassion. The movement he founded was the precursor of the Bahá’í faith, but until now the Báb’s own voluminous writings—complex, mystical, highly symbolic—have been seldom studied and often misunderstood. Gate of the Heart offers the first in-depth introduction to the writings of the Báb.
Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the author examines the Báb’s major works in multifaceted context, explaining the unique theological system, mystical world view, and interpretive principles they embody as well as the rhetorical and symbolic uses of language through which the Báb radically transforms traditional concepts. Arguing that the Bábí movement went far beyond an attempt at an Islamic Reformation, the author explores controversial issues and offers conclusions that will compel a re-evaluation of some prevalent assumptions about the Báb’s station, claims, and laws.
Nader Saiedi’s meticulous and insightful analysis identifies the key themes, terms, and concepts that characterize each stage of the Báb’s writings, unlocking the code of the Báb’s mystical lexicon. Gate of the Heart is a subtle and profound textual study and an essential resource for anyone wishing to understand the theological foundations of the Bahá’í religion and the Báb’s significance in religious history.
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
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This book is an introduction to the vast ocean of the writings of the Báb, the young and charismatic Persian Prophet and Forerunner of the Bahá’í religion. I spent my undergraduate years in the Báb’s birthplace, the city of Shiraz, where I studied at Pahlavi University. Memorable occasional visits to the House of the Báb (which was demolished in 1979 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards) were the...
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In the middle of the nineteenth century, the world of Shí‘ih Islam was in a state of fervent messianic expectation. Devout believers were awaiting the advent of the holy figure known as the Twelfth Imám, who had been in concealment for a thousand years. According to the prophecies recorded in the Traditions, when the Hidden Imám reappeared he would arise, as the Qá’im, to unleash jihad...
A Short Chronological List of the Báb’s Writings
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This section provides a brief annotated listing of some of the major, or more frequently mentioned, works of the Báb in chronological order. In this study, three stages of the Báb’s writings are distinguished. The first, interpretive, stage comprises works written up to the middle of the first month of a.h. 1262 (a.d. 1846). This stage corresponds to the period covered in the Báb’s own listing of His...
PART I: The Interpretive Revelation
1. The Mode of Interpretation
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In many ways, the religion founded by the Báb was unprecedented in sacred history. One of its most unusual and distinctive features concerns the Scriptures that record the Báb’s revelations. Historically, the primary form in which revelation was communicated was the spoken word. Subsequent generations of believers had to rely on the indirect record of that revelation, transmitted first through the oral...
2. The Divine Chemistry of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth
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As we saw in the previous chapter, the fundamental purpose of the Báb’s hermeneutics is to uncover the signs of that Divine Reality which is the supreme Origin, foundational Cause, and ultimate end and goal of phenomenal reality. Thus in His writings the Báb ceaselessly engages in both the interpretation and construction of various spiritual symbols. The heavily symbolic nature of His discourse...
3. The Remembrance, the Gate, and the Dust
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No discussion of the early writings of the Báb can fail to address the question of the nature of the claim to spiritual authority that He makes in those works. In those texts, written during the first three years of His ministry (May 1844–May 1847), the Báb claims to be the Gate to the hidden Twelfth Imám. He also frequently refers to Himself as the “Remembrance of...
4. The Structure of the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’
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In this and the next chapter we will explore in more detail one of the Báb’s major interpretive works, the Commentary on the Súrih of Joseph, or Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’. We begin by comparing this text to three other interpretive works by the Báb. In addition to several smaller works, four of the major existing books of the Báb are commentaries on súrihs of...
5. The Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’ as Interpretation
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In this chapter we will focus on the substantive message of the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’, the Báb’s commentary on the Súrih of Joseph, as the unveiling of the hidden mysteries of that Qur’ánic súrih. Identifying the message of the Báb’s commentary, however, has proved an elusive goal for some readers, who have been baffled by the way it defies expectations that it should conform to the standard features...
PART II: The Metaphysics of the Primal Will and Divine Action
6. The Sanctuary of the Heart and the Path to Truth
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e have seen that the Báb interprets all the phenomena that are mentioned in the Holy Scriptures ultimately as references to their supreme Beginning and End, seeing in all things only the signs and traces of the divine Effulgence that permeates and constitutes all creation. The mode of interpretation was based on the perspective of unity that is attained in the sanctuary of the heart.
7. The Primal Will as the Unity of Subject and Object
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In the báb’s metaphysics, a central role belongs to the concept of the Primal Will of God. In this chapter, we investigate the concept of the Will, its relation to God, and the stages of divine creative Action. As we have seen, in the Báb’s writings the Primal Will is also referred to by such terms as the “Point,” the “Tree of the Will,” the “Mystery,” the “Word,” and the “Remembrance.” In the texts that...
8. The Stages of Divine Creative Action
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One of the most notable features of the writings of the Báb is their emphasis on the seven stages of divine Action through which all creation comes into being. As we have seen, the phenomenal world is the mirror of its supreme Origin, but more specifically it is a reflection of divine attributes and of the divine creative Action which unfolds through a sequence of stages comprising...
9. The Epistle of Justice and the Root Principles of Religion
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Although many writings of the báb discuss His metaphysics of the Primal Will, the Epistle of Justice: Root Principles (Sahífiy-i-‘Adlíyyih) is entirely devoted to that topic and can thus .. be considered to exemplify the second stage of the Báb’s writings. This chapter will briefly introduce the basic structure and discuss the content of this representative and important text.
PART III: The Primal Point and Progressive Revelation
10. Resurrection and Historical Consciousness
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In part 1 we saw that the interpretive logic of the Báb was essen- tially a logic of unity, interpreting all the statements in the Holy Scriptures as pointing toward a unified reality—the Primal Will— as the Origin and Cause of all things. In part 2 we discussed the pivotal role of the concept of the Primal Will in the Báb’s metaphysics and cosmology, which defined the entire universe as the effects and..
11. History and the Perspective of Unity
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In the last stage of the báb’s writings, many concepts that had been expressed in His earlier writings in allusive, symbolic, or coded language are now openly expounded in the most unequivocal and direct manner. It is also in this, the final stage of His Revelation, that the full import of the foundational principle of the heart, or the sanctuary of unity, becomes unveiled. This chapter will discuss the...
12. Community and the Primal Unity
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Throughout the writings of the báb, we have seen the implications of the principle of beholding all reality with the eye of unity. Every aspect of reality, from nature to society and history, becomes an embodiment of the logic of unity. The Báb’s writings and laws are structured in such a way that both their content and their form also express the same principle. The dialectic of form and content...
13. Ethics and Laws in the Bayán
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The same fundamental unific principle that we have seen expressed in the Báb’s approach to the interpretation of Holy Scriptures, in His metaphysics of the universe, in His concept of progressive revelation, and in His epistemic perspective of unity also informs His laws and moral teachings. The laws and ordinances of the Báb, however, represent a somewhat paradoxical structure. As we shall...
14. The Law of the Sword and the Twin Revelations
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No discussion of the laws and ethics of the Bayán can be complete without reference to two other key principles that are closely related to the six discussed in the previous chapter. The first of these two principles is the primacy of Him Whom God shall make manifest. The second is the paradoxical nature of the law of the sword in the Báb’s writings. As we have seen, He Whom God shall...
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Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2008