For Baha’is, and for the world, as well, a major event occurs when newly-discovered passages from the Baha’i teachings come to light.
Think of it this way: what if someone discovered – and then authenticated and translated – an original Bible verse? A new passage from holy scripture always adds to our understanding of ourselves and the wider human spirit, so we can rejoice when it happens.
For Baha’is, this process continues constantly and consistently. At the Baha’i World Centre, authentication and translation of the Baha’i writings and teachings happens every day, with teams of linguists and historians working diligently to verify and accurately translate the original writings and historical utterances of the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith – the Bab, Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Baha. Each one of those holy figures produced voluminous writings, tablets, letters, and talks, and the World Centre teams have the responsibility of verifying their originality and provenance, then compiling and issuing official translations in multiple languages for the world’s Baha’is.
On September 14, 2023, one of those newly-authenticated Baha’i texts was quietly published online, added to the Baha’i Reference Library, under “authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/additional-tablets-talks-abdul-baha.” There was no announcement and no fanfare – but I’ll try to explain its importance, and why it excites so many people so much.
Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of Baha’u’llah, gave an important talk on Monday, December 2, 1912, in New York City, facilitated by two people – Ali-Kuli Khan, who acted as Abdu’l-Baha’s Persian-to-English interpreter, and Edith Foster, a professional stenographer and a Baha’i.
The original contemporaneous translation — first published under the title, “Certain New Teachings of the Bahai Revelation Not Found in the Religious Books of the Past” – was simply viewed by Baha’is as an unofficial “pilgrim’s note” – not as actual Baha’i scripture. But then, some time recently, the original Persian text of Abdu’l-Baha’s talk was unearthed, confirming its authenticity.
Here’s why the original Persian text is so important: Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, commented on the status of so-called “pilgrims’ notes” purporting to report personal remarks by Abdu’l-Baha during pilgrimage visits by Baha’is:
I have insistently urged the believers of the West to regard such statements as merely personal impressions of the sayings of [Abdu’l-Baha], and to quote and consider as authentic only such translations as are based upon the authenticated text of His recorded utterances in the original tongue.
But now, at long last, the status of this important December 2, 1912 talk has been transformed from that of an unauthenticated “reported utterance“ to that of a fully-authenticated Baha’i text. Abdu’l-Baha’s talk was prompted by this question, which he repeated to his audience (italics added):
The teachings of Baha’u’llah are boundless and illimitable. You have asked me what new principles have been revealed by Him. I have mentioned a few only. There are many others, but time does not permit their mention tonight. I, therefore, pray to God that you may be strengthened in good deeds. I pray that God may confirm you in order that you may live according to the teachings of Baha’u’llah.
The newly-authenticated December 2, 1912 text now takes on far greater historical and substantive importance. In just the first few lines of this rediscovered Persian text, certain Persian terms stand out, as indicated below:
… This evening I wish to speak to you concerning the special teachings (Persian: khaṣá’iṣ-i ta‘álím) of Baha’u’llah. All the teachings which have been given during the past days and ages are to be found in the Revelation of Baha’u’llah; but in addition to those, this Revelation has certain new teachings (Persian: ta‘álím jadídí) which are not to be found in any of the religious books (Persian: hích kitábí níst) of the past. I shall now refer to some of the new teachings given by Baha’u’llah; as for the rest of them you may obtain them from the Tablets and Epistles written by Baha’u’llah, for the new teachings given by Baha’u’llah are many.*
Not only did the authentic Persian transcript of the December 2, 1912 talk have a few surprising and illuminating results, but the substance of the talk itself had a few surprises as well, especially when compared more broadly with other talks by Abdu’l-Baha.
The eleventh teaching is the organization called, The House of Justice, which is endowed with a political as well as a religious aspect. It embodies both aspects, and it is protected by the Preserving Power of Baha’u’llah Himself. A Universal or World House of Justice shall be organized. That which it orders shall be the Truth in explaining the Commands of Baha’u’llah, and that which the House of Justice ordains concerning the Commands of Baha’u’llah shall be obeyed by all. But that will be the House of Justice organized from amongst the members of the Houses of Justice of the whole world …
Abdu’l-Baha also focused on the unique characteristic of the Baha’i Covenant in his talk – that divine mechanism intended to protect the Faith from division and disunity:
As to the most Great Characteristic [of the Baha’i Faith] — and it is a specific teaching of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah and not given by any of the Prophets of the past — it is the teaching concerning The Center of The Covenant. By giving the teaching concerning The Centre of The Covenant He made provision against all kinds of differences, so that no man should be able to create a new sect. To guard against that state … He entered into a Covenant with all the people of the world, indicating the Person or the Interpreter of His teachings, so that no man should be able to say that he explains a certain teaching in this way, and thus create a sect revolving around his individual understanding of a part of the teachings. Thus the “Book of the Covenant” and the Testament of Baha’u’llah is the means of preventing such a possibility …
This was only one of several talks by Abdu’l-Baha across America and Canada discoursing on the “Centre of the Covenant” — the appointment of Abdu’l-Baha as Baha’u’llah’s designated successor, expounder, and the perfect exemplar of his teachings. Quoted in Shoghi Effendi’s World Order of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha called it “a Covenant so firm and mighty that from the beginning of time until the present day no religious Dispensation hath produced its like.”
The recent rediscovery and publication of the previously unavailable Persian transcript of Abdu’l-Baha’s December 2, 1912 talk increases our confidence in its substantive authenticity and accuracy. I have requested an authorized translation from the Baha’i World Centre which, of course, has its own translation priorities.
Meanwhile, the availability of the verbatim Persian text is the next best thing to an audio recording of this historic event in Baha’i history. Delivering a definitive, declaratory and, in certain ways, a dramatic answer, Abdu’l-Baha — in whom, in the words of Shoghi Effendi, “the incompatible characteristics of a human nature and superhuman knowledge and perfection have been blended and are completely harmonized” — has provided us with a most compelling and thought-provoking response to this crucial question, which is sure to arise again and again as the wider public becomes more aware of the transforming power of Baha’i principles.
The September 14, 2023 publication of the previously inaccessible and publicly unknown existence of this Persian text — presumed to have been lost or otherwise missing — is an unheralded publication event which this article is intended to proclaim, acclaim, and celebrate.
*Note: Nahzy Abadi Buck, M.A., the author’s learned wife, kindly assisted in two careful readings of this newly published Persian text, in close comparison with professional stenographer Edith Foster’s transcription of the distinguished Persian diplomat Ali-Kuli Khan’s contemporaneous translation into English of Abdu’l-Baha’s authoritative discourse in Persian.