Baha'i Library Online

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COLLECTIONPublished articles
TITLEThe Story of Joseph in the Babi and Baha'i Faiths
AUTHOR 1Jim Stokes
DATE_THIS1997-98 Winter
ABSTRACTThe story of Joseph describes the eternal process by which the most profound kind of new knowledge comes into the world, simultaneously describing, in story form, its interrelated human, physical, and metaphysical dimensions.
NOTES See also Story of Joseph in Five Religious Traditions.
TAGS- Interfaith dialogue; - Metaphors and allegories; - Symbolism; Fragrance; Haft Vadi (Seven Valleys); Joseph (Prophet); Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Most Holy Book); Qayyumul-Asma (book)
CONTENT THE first installment of the story of Joseph in five religious traditions (online at followed that story through its successive appearances as a mystical narrative within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, showing how the story has been repeatedly used to symbolize the life and mission of the Manifestations of God—the great and mysterious beings Who successively brought those religions into being.[1] While all three faiths arose uniquely in different times and historical situations, the story of Joseph, when retold, seems to encapsulate a process that, while unique in its particulars, is the same in its essential features. Guided by superior spiritual knowledge, the new Manifestation always brings teachings that aim to purify religion and revivify humanity. He is attacked by those who fear, envy, or otherwise oppose Him, seeking His death and the death of His Cause. After much suffering and apparent defeat, He and His followers prevail, and a new and vital religion emerges that eventually changes the course of civilization. It is a story and a process with numerous literary and historical analogues in other cultures as well.

In Judaism, because of its antiquity, the story of Joseph survives as a biblical narrative, the literal connection of which with a specific historical figure is shrouded in the mists of time. In early Christianity, the story was seen to parallel and prefigure the story of Christ. In Islam, Muhammad Himself invested the story with special importance by personally identifying it with His own spiritual mission. Today the story has taken on a new and contemporary significance in that it also occupies a place of great importance in two related religions—the Bábí and Bahá'í faiths—that appeared within a nineteen-year period in Persia (modern day Iran) during the last century. In these two religions the extraordinarily resilient story of Joseph retained its character as a mystical narrative, and, in the case of the Bábí Faith, it also figured in historical events associated with the very creation of that Faith.

Historical Context

To understand how the story of Joseph came to be so prominent in the Bábí and Bahá'í religions requires some background, especially concerning the question of spiritual authority within Shí'ah Islam. As explained in the first installment of the story of Joseph, Shí'ah Islam, the principal religion of Iran, differs from Sunni Islam (the other major branch of Islam) in its belief that, after the death of Muhammad, legitimate spiritual authority devolved not to the caliph (an elected ruler), as the Sunnis believed, but to Muhammad's son-in-law 'Alí (the first Imam) and thereafter successively to eleven other Imams chosen from 'Alí's lineal descendants.[2] Shí'ah Muslims believe that, to prevent his assassination, the Twelfth Imam, while still a boy, was taken by God in the year A.H. 260 (874 C.E.) into "occultation," a state of being alive but veiled from the world, and that he would return as the Promised Qá'im after a thousand years had passed.[3] Words of Muhammad in the Súrá of Adoration made similar reference to the importance of a date that Islamic scholars had reckoned as A.H. 1260 (1844 C.E.). Thus during much of the nineteenth century a millennial fervor pervaded some religious groups within Iran, as it did in other religions throughout the world.

But there was also an historical conflict about spiritual authority and the interpretation of reality within Shí'ah Islam itself, reflected in a long struggle for dominance between two approaches known as the Usúlís School and the Akhbárí School (or School of Isfahán), a struggle essentially won by the Usúlís. Since the seventeenth century, Shí'ah Islam in Iran has been dominated by conservative `ulamá of the Ursula School, clerical classes of men trained in philosophy, theology, and especially religious jurisprudence, whose approach favors the scholarly use of reasoning and technical commentary to adjudicate matters of religious law and interpretation.[4] The approach favored by the conservative `ulamá tends to focus authority and status in the most learned among them and to make deductive logic the dominant mode of thought (similar to the approach in the scholastic Christianity of the European Middle Ages).

In contrast, the School of Isfahán, a movement with ancient roots in Islam, was characterized by the belief that learning should combine both rational and intuitive knowledge and that spiritual understanding could come to one not just through analytical thought but also through a mystical quest or search for illumination, preceded by a regimen of spiritual purification and discipline. It is an approach similar to that of the Sufis but different in that its goal is not so much to achieve ecstatic feelings of mystical union with God as to uncover esoteric meanings that lead one toward spiritual understanding of God's will.[5] Well before the nineteenth century the Akhbárís had been effectively marginalized by the Usúlís, who found some of their beliefs heretical.

But in the early nineteenth century Akhbárí beliefs gained new prominence with the appearance of a movement called the Shaykhí School, in which many of the millennial expectations of Shí'ah Islam began to crystallize. The founder of the Shaykhí movement was Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsá'í (1753-1825), a widely respected spiritual thinker. Born in Bahrain (a center of Akhbárí belief), he eventually settled in Iran where he attracted the intense devotion of numerous followers and the opposition of important conservatives among the `ulamá. Shaykh Ahmad appointed as his successor one of his distinguished followers, Siyyid Kázim-i-Rashti (1793-1844), who promulgated the teachings of Shaykh Ahmad but introduced an element of intensified urgency, arguing that with the approach of the year 1844 the reappearance of the Hidden Imam was imminent and that every soul should seek him by undertaking a mystical and a literal search. The story of Joseph was to become central in that collective quest.[6]

In the differing responses to the Shaykhí beliefs are crystallized the most compelling religious questions of the age: Should one expect the literal "return" of the Hidden Imam, or did the veiled prophecies of Muhammad and those from tradition have a different meaning? Would the Hidden Imam return as his former physical self or as an essential spirit manifested in a new physical person? Most important, did the power to recognize Him and confirm His legitimacy rest in the hands of the `ulamá as a class or within the individual heart of every seeking soul to be discovered independently of mediation by the clergy?

For conservative `ulamá—the Usúlís—the Shaykhí response to these questions represented a great threat to their authority. For the Akhbárís, who believed in the imminent return, the words and traditions of the Prophet on that subject and related mysteries took on a personal urgency. Prophecies concerning the date of the return were clear enough: It would occur in 1844. And since Muhammad Himself had invested the story of Joseph with uniquely important status, calling it the "fairest" of stories, the Shaykhís assumed that it must bear upon that greatest of mysteries, the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam.[7] But its precise relevance was profoundly unclear. Even Siyyid Kázim, when asked for a commentary on the Súrá of Joseph, could only say: "`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."'[8] It is obvious that Siyyid Kázim saw a direct link between the story of Joseph and the return.

The Bábí Religion

THE Bábí religion emerged from the matrix of Shaykhí thought with the story of Joseph being central to the events of its dramatic birth. The Founder of the Bábí religion—its Manifestation—was a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, a young man named Siyyid 'Alí-Muhammad, born on 20 October 1819 in the city of Shiraz in Persia. At the inception of His Faith on 22 May 1844, when He was twenty-five years old, He assumed the title of the Báb (meaning the Gate) and announced to His first follower His claim that He was the Qá'im, the Promised One of Islam.[9] But He also taught that He was the forerunner of a second Manifestation with an even greater mission than His own, Who, He said, would become known to the world shortly after the Báb's own mission had been completed.[10]

Several of the Báb's close relatives, as well as His tutor, were disciples of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kázim. Clearly the Báb Himself was familiar with and sympathetic to this heterodox group of millennialists who firmly rejected the belief of the orthodox Muslims that the Hidden Imam would reappear as his former physical self (much as Christ Himself was expected by some Christians to appear literally in the clouds). But most of them believed just as firmly, with growing intensity, that the Promised One—Who Siyyid Kázim had said was already present among them—would soon be "made manifest."[11] Indeed, an incident related by Nabíl in The Dawn-Breakers strongly suggests that for Siyyid Kázim and one of his followers the Báb arranged a meeting purposefully intended to evoke images from the story of Joseph as a veiled way of confirming His own station as the Promised One. According to the follower, Siyyid Kázim unexpectedly summoned him one day at dawn and asked him to accompany him to the dwelling of a visitor—the as yet undeclared Báb—Who welcomed them into "a chamber bedecked with flowers and redolent of the loveliest perfumes" and then presented them with a filled silver cup, quoting from the Qur'án as he did so, "A drink of pure beverage shall their Lord give them." Given the Jewish and Islamic tradition associating Joseph with fragrant aromas metaphorically reflecting his moral beauty, and recalling the moment when Joseph ushered his unsuspecting brothers into His presence, the Báb appears to have been using the story of Joseph to make an announcement in dramatic but veiled terms that Siyyid Kázim would have understood and taken literally but that the follower would understand once the Báb made a public declaration of His mission. Three days later, when the Báb attended a class conducted by Siyyid Kázim, Siyyid Kázim fell silent. When his students begged him to resume his lecture, a ray of light fell upon the Báb's lap. Siyyid Kázim pointed to it and said, "What more shall I say? Lo, the Truth is more manifest than the ray of light that has fallen upon that lap!"[12]

With increasing awareness that the time of the return was imminent, Siyyid Kázim had exhorted his followers to prepare themselves to undertake a literal and mystical search for that Promised One, a search that must begin, he said, immediately upon his own passing, which occurred on 31 December 1843.[13]

With the death of Siyyid Kázim, his followers fell into confusion and inertia, but in late January 1844 one of the most distinguished of them, a young scholar named Mullá Husayn Bushru'í, who had been absent at the time of Siyyid Kázim's death, returned. After preparing himself with forty days of prayer and fasting, he set out, in accordance with the commands of his late master, upon a quest to find the Promised Qá'im. He traveled (with two companions) first to Bushru'í, thence to Shiraz, where he was met outside the city gates by the Báb Himself, Who welcomed him with an embrace and an invitation to His home. It is clear from the reported words of Mullá Husayn that he did not, at that point, know the Báb, though the Báb certainly seems to have recognized him, indeed to have been waiting for him. Mullá Husayn reports that, having accompanied the Báb to His home, he was received with the utmost courtesy and hospitality.[14] During the course of that evening the Bábí Faith was born, and Mullá Husayn became the first person to believe in the Báb. Not only was the story of Joseph a factor in that event; it was the vehicle by which the Báb, having inaugurated the new religion, offered proof of His claim.

About an hour after arriving at the house of the Báb, according to the reported words of Mullá Husayn, the Báb revealed to His visitor the station that He claimed. Thrown into confusion and doubt by this overwhelming announcement, Mullá Husayn remembered having earlier vowed to himself that, should he meet One Who claimed to be the Qá'im, he "`would ask him to reveal, without the least hesitation or reflection, a commentary on the Súrá of Joseph, in a style and language entirely different from the prevailing standards of the time,"' a task that Siyyid Kázim had been unable to perform. While Mullá Husayn was silently pondering his vow, the Báb offered observations on several other topics. Then, unbidden, He said, "`Now is the time to reveal the commentary on the Súrá of Joseph,"' whereupon, in a short time, without once stopping, He revealed the first chapter—the Súrá of Mulk—of His Qayyúmu'l-Asmá, His Commentary on the Súrá of Joseph, a work that would eventually cause many Persians to declare their belief that the Báb was, indeed, the Promised One for whom they had been waiting.[15]

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.[18]

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 Báb 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 fresh 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.

The Báb's involvement with the world as His brothers (echoing the story of Joseph), and His ascendancy as the Younger Brother over the older ones through God's inscrutable Will, can be found everywhere in the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá'. Speaking with the Voice of God in chapter 3, and addressing the "children of men," He says, "We, of a truth, choose the Messengers through the Potency of Our Word, and We exalt Their offspring, some over others," in this case the unlearned knowledge of the Báb over the learned mullás and other religious leaders and interpreters. Here the Báb universalizes that problem so that all who hear His message should be warned against acting as Joseph's brothers did by denying the Báb's claim and, therefore, imposing human standards on the Manifestation. In chapter 58 He says, "Verily God hath inspired Thee with divine verses and wisdom while still a child," just as Joseph the child had been inspired. In Chapter 9 He warns them: "Do not say, `How can He speak of God while in truth His age is no more than twenty-five?"' In chapter 17, again speaking in a divine voice, He counsels the "peoples of the world" to bear allegiance to the Báb, Whose "knowledge embraceth all things." In chapter 21 He cautions the "peoples of the East and the West" to be "fearful of God concerning the Cause of the true Joseph and barter Him not for a paltry price," as was done to the "martyred Husayn, Our forefather" (the third Imam, who was a grandson of Muhammad and an ancestor of the Báb). In chapter 25, an indirect allusion to Joseph's brothers (Muslim divines and others who would later set out to destroy Him). He asks:

"Are ye wickedly scheming, according to your selfish fancies, an evil plot against Him Who is the Most Great Remembrance of God?" Since each chapter in the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá' is explicitly a commentary on a specific verse of the story of Joseph in the Qur'án, any reference to scheming must refer, however indirectly, to the similar scheming by the brothers and other conspirators in the story of Joseph. It is important to remember that the Báb was saying this at a time when His revelation was not yet known to anyone except the first few of His followers and nearly ten months before He was attacked by the very ones who claimed to be the most faithful to God and the most knowledgeable—the 'úlamás. In chapter 96, in one of the work's most stirring passages, the Báb summons the peoples to "Become as true brethren in the one and indivisible religion of God, free from distinction, for verily God desireth that your hearts should become mirrors unto your brethren in the Faith..."[23] As He does so many times, the Báb universalizes and reinterprets the Joseph story, reinforcing the point that He is as Joseph and all the people who encounter His message are as Joseph's brothers. If they can overcome their flawed, prideful preconceptions and character, they can attain the unity, love, and peace that came to Joseph's brothers at the end of the story when they recognized Joseph's true station and his love and knowledge.

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.[27]

A 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. "O 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."[28]

These few examples of the imagery that the Báb uses provide but a sampling of the richly various ways in which the story of Joseph and the teachings of the Báb are interwoven in His Qayyúmu'l-Asmá'. The Báb completed the remainder of the lengthy work in forty days during the few months following His declaration of His mission. During this same period seventeen other individuals (including one woman), most of them followers of Shaykhí teachings, declared themselves followers of the Báb and were designated His "Letters of the Living."[29] Thereafter ensued six tumultuous years in which the Báb's religion attracted both thousands of followers in Iran and concerted attempts by orthodox `ulamá to destroy it and the Báb Himself. On 9 July 1850, in the market square at Tabriz, the Báb was put to death, but His fame and the influence of His teachings continued to spread. The work that is inextricably linked with His declaration of His mission—His Commentary on the Súrá of Joseph—continued to inspire new followers. Even more extraordinary is the fact that for all its greatness, the work, and the Báb's own dramatic ministry, were ultimately the opening episode in a larger theophany in which the story of Joseph continued to figure in a profound way.

The Bahá'í Faith

THE DEATH of the Báb in 1850 was a catastrophic loss that plunged the besieged Bábí community into disarray. The Báb had written and spoken repeatedly of a second Manifestation, cryptically referred to as "He Who shall be made manifest," Who would emerge shortly after the Báb's own mission to complete the unique appearance of twin Manifestations in a single age. In the anxious period after the Báb's death, several Bábís put themselves forward, claiming to be the Promised One, but were quickly rejected when they proved to lack the essential qualities of spiritual eloquence, the ability to unravel mysteries, and the power to unify and revive the grievously wounded Bábí community. With the passage of time it became increasingly clear that the one person among the Bábís Who possessed these qualities was Mírzá Husayn-'Alí (Who later took the title of Bahá'u'lláh, meaning the Glory of God), the person to Whom the Báb had bequeathed His writing implements and His seal and to whom the Bábís had repeatedly turned for leadership during crises even when the Báb was still alive. But not until 1863, nineteen years after the inception of the Báb's Faith (thirteen since the Báb's death), did Bahá'u'lláh feel that the time was appropriate to announce publicly His own station and mission, which He did on 22 April 1863, thereby bringing the Bahá'í Faith into being.[30]

With the rise of the Bahá'í Faith the story of Joseph reached its culmination in a way that is unique in history—as a defining mystical narrative in two related but independent religions arising within nineteen years of each other. Though the Báb was a Manifestation of God and the founder of a great religion, He also perceived Himself to be a forerunner. He wrote tablets addressed humbly to "Him Who Will Be Made Manifest" and repeatedly cautioned His followers to recognize and accept that Figure when He should appear.[31] Though boldly identifying Himself with Joseph in the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá, the Báb also repeatedly used references to Moses and the Burning Bush (as discussed earlier) in ways that made Him appear to be placing His own Revelation within a larger theophanic context then unfolding in mysterious ways.

When Bahá'u'lláh declared His own mission in 1863, His announcement was stupendous in its scope. Not only did He claim to be the One promised by the Báb (the successor to the Báb and an independent Manifestation of God) but, indeed, to be the Promised One of all Ages (that is, the one expected in the millennial traditions of all major religions and the Figure representing the culmination of a great cycle of religions). Bahá'u'lláh refers to Himself as "the Divine Joseph" and, like the Báb, uses that story as one of the metaphors by which He defines His own Mission.[32] The motif recurs in many of His major works.

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.

Bahá'u'lláh uses metaphors drawn from the story of Joseph (some explicit, some in the form of subtle allusions) as ways of expressing the gravity and meaning of His mission and its power to revivify the deadened hearts of modern humanity. In The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, His book of laws, Bahá'u'lláh describes the laws and ordinances revealed by a Manifestation as the greatest source of protection and order for peoples and says that from them, if followed, "the sweet-smelling savor of My garment can be smelled." One who follows His laws out of love for Him will have "inhaled the divine fragrance of his Best-Beloved from these words, laden with the perfume of a grace which no tongue can describe," an allusion, according to the note on the verse in The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, "to the story of Joseph in the Qur'án and the Old Testament, in which Joseph's garment, brought by his brothers to Jacob, their father, enabled Jacob to identify his beloved long-lost son. In another verse in The Kitáb-i-Aqdas Bahá'u'lláh refers to "the fragrance of inner meanings from the traces of this Pen through whose movement the breezes of God are wafted over the entire creation. . . ."[33] Associating Joseph with a fragrance is a frequent theme in Jewish and subsequent traditions and one that Bahá'u'lláh's readers would instantly have associated with Joseph. Biblical scholar Alan Jacobs explains that rabbinical commentators emphasize Joseph's status as an ideal of humanity, in which his physical beauty matched his moral beauty. Moreover, "Talmudists report that the odor emanating from Joseph's body was so fragrant as to overwhelm the exotic spices carried by the Midianites."[34] In the story of Joseph in Genesis the merchants are carrying spices and balms. In the Qur'án, Jacob perceives Joseph's scent just as the caravan ordered by Joseph to bring his father to him leaves Egypt.[35] Thus fragrance associated with Joseph is a metaphor for higher communication.

In Kitáb-i-Íqán, The Book of Certitude, written to demonstrate the unity of religions and the common mystical symbolism used by the Manifestations, Bahá'u'lláh compares the brothers' refusal to recognize Joseph to denials made against the Báb and Himself by people attempting to judge the Manifestation by their own limited standard of knowledge.[36] In the same work Bahá'u'lláh cites an Islamic tradition that the Qá'im (the Báb) would reflect four signs—those of Moses, Jesus, Joseph, and Muhammad: "The sign from Moses, is fear and expectation; from Jesus, that which was spoken of Him; from Joseph, imprisonment and dissimulation; from Muhammad, the revelation of a Book similar to the Qur'án."[37] In one selection in Gleanings, a collection of His writings, Bahá'u'lláh, echoing phrasing by the Báb, admonishes those who attack His Cause
for having bartered away the Divine Joseph for the most paltry of prices. Oh, the misery that resteth upon you, ye that are far astray! Have ye imagined in your hearts that ye possess the power to outstrip Him and His Cause?[38]

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.

The most sustained references to the story occur in a mystical treatise by Bahá'u'lláh entitled The Seven Valleys, a work long recognized as a masterpiece of spiritual composition, indeed as "the summit of achievement in the realm of mystical composition." Bahá'u'lláh wrote it before His public declaration of His mission, during the period of His exile in Baghdad and after His return from the mountains of Kurdistan where He had been living as a hermit, having temporarily absented Himself from the Bábí community. Bahá'u'lláh composed it in response to a letter from a Kurdish judge who was "a student of Sufi philosophy" and a seeker, though its ultimate audience is universal.[41]

The Seven Valleys is a classic description of the stages of the soul's progress as it undertakes a journey seeking reunion with God. As Bahá'u'lláh Himself says, the use of stages or cities or valleys is a frequent metaphor in Persian mystical literature used to describe such a journey.[42] Sufis often used it as part of their belief that the soul could make its way to reunion with God unaided by anything but its own conscience and effort. With immense subtlety and magnificent poetry, Bahá'u'lláh transforms this motif to show how the only true and sure path to God comes from recognizing the Manifestation for the age and following His teachings.[43]

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.


TRACING the story of Joseph through its life as a recurring mystical narrative within five great religions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths—that span nearly four millennia (and with analogues in other literary and religious tradition) shows it to be one of the most resilient, meaningful stories in the canon of the world's religious literature. As a symbolic narrative it appears to encapsulate a series of events, originally tragic but ultimately transcendent, that inevitably play themselves out each time a new religion appears in the world. The founders of those religions certainly saw the meaning of the story in that way. In addition, the story's perpetual appeal also illustrates the common heritage shared by a family of religions, the followers of which all too often dedicate themselves to emphasizing the differences between them but which collectively represent an incrementally unfolding force for good of incalculable worth to humanity. Part of the compelling quality of the story of Joseph is that it describes the eternal process by which the most profound kind of new knowledge comes into the world, simultaneously describing, in story form, its interrelated human, physical, and metaphysical dimensions. In so doing, it dramatizes humankind's most fundamental dreams, hopes, and beliefs and gives continuing meaning to human history.

JIM STOKES is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. In 1996 the University of Toronto Press published his Somerset, a two-volume work including records of early English drama. In preparation are Lincolnshire, records of early English drama (also with the University of Toronto Press) and "The Effects of the Reformation on Traditional Culture in Somerset, 1532—1642." His examination of the story of Joseph, the first installment of which appeared in the Spring 1997 issue of World Order, grew, in part, from teaching comparative literature and literature of the ancient world.

Copyright (c) 1998 by Jim Stokes. For their generous assistance in suggesting sources and offering encouragement in this project, I would like to thank B. Todd Lawson, Ahang Rabbani, and Habib Riazari.

[1] See Jim Stokes, "The Story of Joseph in Five Religious Traditions," World Order 28.3 (Spring 1997): 35-46.
[2] See Stokes, "Story of Joseph" 45-46.
[3] C.E. (of the common era) is an alternative designation equivalent to A.D. (Anno Domini, in the year of the Lord). Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi'i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism (Oxford: George Ronald, 1985) 161-71.
[4] Momen, Introduction to Shi'i Islam 117-18, 185-89.
[5] Momen, Introduction to Shi'i Islam 112-13, 216- 19, 222-25. In its attempt to harmonize Islamic texts, deductive reasoning, and intuitive spiritual illumination, the School of Isfáhán "drew upon several interrelated strands: the revival of Zoroastrian angelology, Neo-Platonic cosmology, and in particular the metaphysical works of Ibn Sina" as well as gnostic mysticism and the writings of the great Sufi poets Rumi and Jami (Momen, Introduction to Shi'i Islam 217).
[6] Momen, Introduction to Shi'i Islam 225-31; for a discussion of the ministries of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kázim, see Nabíl-i-A'zam [Muhammad-i-Zarandí], The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Revelation, trans. and ed. Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1970) 1-46, and B. Todd Lawson, "The Qur'án Commentary of Siyyid 'Alí Muhammad, the Báb," unpublished diss. (Montreal: Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill U, 1987) esp. chapter 3, "The Shaykhí School," which summarizes that school and cites numerous useful sources for its study. As summarized by Bahá'í scholar and Islamicist Moojan Momen, in An Introduction to Shi'i Islam, 226-28, 231, the essential beliefs of the Shaykhí movement (those relevant to this discussion) are: that God's essence is unknowable but that His Will, as encoded in the Manifestation's teachings, can be learned through mystical communion with the Imams; that an intermediary world" (227), "a world of archetypal images" (227), exists "between the physical world and the spiritual world" and is inhabited by the spiritual or subtle body of everyone, including the Hidden Imam who is capable of "initiating the seeker into the divine mysteries"; that the interworld is real (227), "preserving all the richness and diversity of the sensible world but in a spiritual state" (Henri Corbin, "Visionary Dreams," 406-07, quoted in Lawson, "Qur'án Commentary" 35) and is called "imaginal" because it is accessible only through the "faculty of imagination" (Lawson, "Qur'án Commentary" 35); that Muhammad's ascension or night journey was by His spiritual not His physical body and that, similarly, the spirit (rather than the corporeal body) of the Twelfth Imam would return (that is, the Qá'im would return as a new person). Both Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kázim asserted that much of their own spiritual understanding had come to them via dreams or visions from that higher world, thereby elevating and reaffirming the status and legitimacy of the dream as a form of knowledge (Lawson, "Qur'án Commentary" 36; Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers 42-45). Moreover, as the year 1844 approached, Siyyid Kázim stressed that the return of the Hidden Imam was imminent.
[7] A. J. Arberry, trans., The Koran Interpreted (New York: Macmillan, 1955) 266.
[8] Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers 59.
[9] Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, intro. George Townshend, new ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974) 4.
[10] For a detailed description of events surrounding the inception of the Bábí Faith, see Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers, chapter 3, "The Declaration of the Báb's Mission." The description of the events in the paragraphs below draw on this chapter. For a biography of the Báb, see H. M. Balyuzi, The Báb: The Herald of the Day of Days (Oxford: George Ronald, 1973).
[11] Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers, 24-25, 44.
[12] Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers, 25-30. For a fuller discussion of Joseph and fragrances, see page 34, column 2, and page 35. I would like to thank Dr. Betty J. Fisher for the observations about this episode.
[13] Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers, 47-48.
[14] Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers, 51-56.
[15] Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers, 59, 61; for another description of this opening episode of the Bábí Dispensation, see Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Bábí Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1989) 166-70.
[16] Lawson, "Qur'án Commentary" 250; see also Moojan Momen, ed. Selections From the Writings of E. G. Browne on the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions (Oxford: George Ronald, 1987) 210-17.
[17] Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 23; for another assessment of the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá', see Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal 201-07. For Bahá'u'lláh's initial reaction to the Báb's writings, see Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers 106-07. The Báb had directed Mullá Husayn to share epistles and tablets with those who were receptive. Surely that must have included the commentary, which was consciously modeled on the revelatory style of the Qur'án (Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers 85).
[18] Lawson, "Qur'án Commentary" xiv, 262, 273- 76, 251.
[19] The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, comp. Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, trans. Habib Taherzadeh et al. (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1976) 45.
[20] Lawson, "Qur'án Commentary" 281.
[21] Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal 202; Lawson, "Qur'án Commentary" 281-82.
[22] The Báb, Selections 41; see also Stephen N. Lambden, "The Sinaitic Mysteries: Notes on Moses. Sinai Motifs in Bábí and Bahá'í Scripture," in Studies in Honor of the Late Hasan M Balyuzi, ed. by Moojan Momen, Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, 5 (Los Angeles: Kalimat, 1988) 65-183.
[23] The Báb, Selections 45, 64, 47, 48, 49, 51, 56.
[24] The Báb, Selections 41, 50.
[25] The Báb, Selections 52, 55.
[26] The Báb, Selections 72.
[27] The Báb, Selections 46, 49, 60.
[28] The Báb, Selections 50-51, 48, 49, 50, 56, 61.
[29] Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers 67-72.
[30] See Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By 28-34; for a biography of Bahá'u'lláh, see H. M. Balyuzi, Bahá'u'lláh: The King of Glory, (Oxford: George Ronald, 1980).
[31] The Báb, Selections 3-8; Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By 29-31.
[32] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, trans. Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983) 208.
[33] Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book, ps ed. (Wilmette, Ill: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1993) para.4, n1, para.158.
[34] Alan Jacobs, "Joseph the Patriarch," in A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, ed. D. L. Jeffrey (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1992) 415.
[35] Gen. 37:25; Arberry, Koran Interpreted 264.
[36] Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, 1st ps ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983) 212-14, 254-55.
[37] Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán 254.
[38] Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings 208.
[39] Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh: Mazra'ih & Bahji 1877-92 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1987) 80-81. See also Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By 163.
[40] Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf trans. Shoghi Effendi, 1st ps ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1988) 41-42.
[41] Robert L. Gulick, preface, The Seven Valleys by Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1952) xi-xiii.
[42] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 4.
[43] For discussion of the idea of the path or steps in the mystical journey toward reunion with God in Persian literature and of the history of Sufism, see Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: U of North Carolina P, 1975), especially chapter 3, "The Path"; and Leonard Lewisohn, ed., Classical Persian Sufism: From Its Origins to Rumi (New York: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi, 1993). Schimmel explains in Mystical Dimensions of Islam (98) that the idea of steps or stages in the mystical path or journey toward God is common to every religious tradition and that its origins (and the origins of Sufism) come from the Qur'án and from Muhammad Himself, Whose knowledge came not from book learning but from mystical communion with God. But the tradition of stages in the journey toward God goes back further — to Neo-Platonism and to the Old Testament (the story of Jacob's ladder) and even earlier to Babylonian literature. It is central to the great early Persian poets. Throughout The Seven Valleys Bahá'u'lláh cites Persian poets from the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
[44] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 3, 9, 2-3.
[45] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 1, 32.
[46] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 5, 6, 7, 7-8.
[47] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 8, 9.
[48] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 11.
[49] Bahá'u1láh, Seven Valleys 12-13.
[50] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 12-13; Gen. 43:18, 45:5-8.
[51] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 17. Bahá'u'lláh quotes JaIálu'd-Din Rumi, the greatest of the Persian Sufi poets.
[52] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 11, 17-18.
[53] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 19, 20, 21-22.
[54] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 30, 31.
[55] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 32, 33.
[56] Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys 36, 37, 38, 39, 41. Images of food as spiritual sustenance and the Manifestation of God as the Being empowered to distribute that spiritual food recurs in versions of the Joseph story and elsewhere, emphasizing the real meaning of food imagery. Joseph's brothers come to him during the famine in Canaan (Gen. 42:5, 7-12; see also Amos 8:11). Christ referred to Himself as "the bread of life," promising that "he that cometh to me shall never hunger" (John 6:35). Other references to spiritual food in the New Testament include Luke 24:13-31, 39-44, and Mark 14:22. The Bahá'í writings stress the metaphorical nature of belief as attendance at a spiritual banquet (See `'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, comp. and trans. Laura Clifford Barney, 1st ps ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1984) 98, and on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, in High Endeavors: Messages to Alaska, comp. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Alaska (np.: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Alaska, 1976) 69-70. For these references I would like to thank Brent Poirier. The story of Joseph contains a rich array of symbolic imagery, only a fraction of which is discussed in this article.
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