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Baha’u’llah’s Nine Modes of Discourse – Including Prophecies

Christopher Buck | Apr 23, 2022

PART 70 IN SERIES Figuring Out Prophecy

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Christopher Buck | Apr 23, 2022

PART 70 IN SERIES Figuring Out Prophecy

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

So far in this “Figuring out Prophecy” series, we have focused on prophecies from various world religions, and have shown how Baha’u’llah explained and interpreted some of those prophecies. 

Baha’is believe that many of the prophecies regarding the return of previous divine messengers, and the appearance of a universal prophet of God, were fulfilled by the advent of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith. 

Accordingly, seekers interested in the Baha’i Faith often ask, where can I begin to learn about Baha’u’llah and his teachings? The best place to start is reading the writings of Baha’u’llah himself. 

Baha’u’llah’s writings are vast in scope, comprising an estimated 100 volumes altogether. Not only are they oceanic in their sheer breadth and depth, they are also quite varied in style and in “modes” of discourse, as Baha’u’llah clearly stated in his Tablet of the Temple, the Suriy-i-Haykal:

We have revealed Our verses in nine different modes. Each one of them bespeaketh the sovereignty of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. A single one of them sufficeth for a proof unto all who are in the heavens and on the earth; yet the people, for the most part, persist in their heedlessness. Should it be Our wish, We would reveal them in countless other modes.

What does this mean? The renowned Baha’i scholar Adib Taherzadeh wrote: 

In the Suriy-i-Haykal (Surih of the Temple) … Baha’u’llah states that in this Dispensation the verses of God have been revealed in nine different styles or categories. A well-known Baha’i scholar, Jinab-i-Fadil-i-Mazindarani, after careful study of the [Baha’i] Writings, has enumerated these styles as follows:

1. Tablets with the tone of command and authority. 

2. Those with the tone of servitude, meekness and supplication. 

3. Writings dealing with interpretation of the old Scriptures, religious beliefs and doctrines of the past. 

4. Writings in which laws and ordinances have been enjoined for this age and laws of the past abrogated. 

5. Mystical Writings. 

6. Tablets concerning matters of government and world order, and those addressed to the kings. 

7. Tablets dealing with subjects of learning and knowledge, divine philosophy, mysteries of creation, medicine, alchemy, etc. 

8. Tablets exhorting men to education, goodly character and divine virtues.

9. Tablets dealing with social teachings.

Another Baha’i scholar, Dr. Nosratollah Mohammadhosseini, cites a Tablet (see Qámús-i-Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Melbourne, Australia: Century Press, 2008), p. 38) in which Baha’u’llah responds to an inquirer, Zaynu’l-Murarrabin (1818–1903), one of the nineteen “Apostles of Baha’u’llah,” who asked specifically about the “nine modes.” In answer, Baha’u’llah advises: 

Regarding thine inquiry about the nine modes of the perspicuous verses, He saith: ‘Let Jináb-i-Zayn, upon him be My glory, meditate thereon, that he may attain his goal’.” – Baha’u’llah, Tablet (original sent to by Dr. Mohammadhosseini to the Baha’i International Archives in Haifa, Israel). Provisional translation of the original Persian by Adib Masumian.

Further to Baha’u’llah’s instruction, “meditate thereon, that he may attain his goal,” the following alternative theory regarding Baha’u’llah’s nine modes of discourse is from my introductory book, Bahá’í Faith: The Basics (2021), proposed after carefully studying the following three key passages from Shoghi Effendi’s retrospective historical masterpiece, God Passes By (1944), with numbered brackets added and each of the “nine modes” highlighted in bold:

To these two outstanding contributions to the world’s religious literature, occupying respectively, positions of unsurpassed preeminence among the [2] doctrinal and [3] ethical writings of the Author of the Bahá’í Dispensation, was added, during that same period, a treatise that may well be regarded as His greatest [1] mystical composition, designated as the “Seven Valleys,” which He wrote in answer to the questions of Shaykh Muhyi’d-Dín, the Qádí of Khániqayn, in which He describes the seven stages which the soul of the seeker must needs traverse ere it can attain the object of its existence. – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 140.

The writings of Bahá’u’lláh during this period, as we survey the vast field which they embrace, seem to fall into three distinct categories. The first comprises those writings which constitute the sequel to the [4] proclamation of His Mission in Adrianople. The second includes the [5] laws and ordinances of His Dispensation, which, for the most part, have been recorded in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, His Most Holy Book. To the third must be assigned those Tablets which partly enunciate and partly reaffirm the [6] fundamental tenets and principles underlying that Dispensation. – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, pp. 205–206.

With this book, revealed about one year prior to His ascension, the prodigious achievement as author of a hundred volumes, repositories of the priceless pearls of His Revelation, may be said to have practically terminated—volumes replete with unnumbered exhortations, revolutionizing principles, world-shaping laws and ordinances, dire warnings and portentous [7] prophecies, with soul-uplifting [9] prayers and meditations, illuminating commentaries and interpretations, impassioned [8] discourses and homilies, all interspersed with either addresses or references to kings, to emperors and to ministers, of both the East and the West, to ecclesiastics of divers denominations, and to leaders in the intellectual, political, literary, mystical, commercial and humanitarian spheres of human activity. – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 220.

All this was abbreviated and condensed in the publication of my book, simply as follows:

The present writer, based on some relevant statements by Shoghi Effendi, has developed the following proposed classification of Bahá’u’lláh’s “nine modes” (or styles) of discourse: 

1.  “Mystical Compositions” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, BRL [= Bahá’í Reference Library] [p. 140]). Bahá’u’lláh’s mystical discourses and allegorical writings. 

2.  “Doctrinal Writings” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, BRL [p. 140]). Bahá’u’lláh’s explanations of past scriptures (usually symbolic interpretations of apocalyptic prophecies), along with the exposition of related doctrines of theology, theophany, and revelation. 

3.  “Ethical Writings” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, BRL [pp. 140, 220]). Bahá’u’lláh’s exhortations regarding acquiring godly virtues and goodly character (i.e. “unnumbered exhortations”). 

4.  “Proclamation” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, BRL [pp. 140, 205–206, 220]). Bahá’u’lláh’s public announcement, by open epistles to “kings and ecclesiastics,” to statesmen and other world leaders, of his prophetic mission (i.e. “addresses or references to kings, to emperors and to ministers, of both the East and the West, to ecclesiastics of divers denominations, and to leaders in the intellectual, political, literary, mystical, commercial and humanitarian spheres of human activity.” 

5.  “Laws and Ordinances” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, BRL [pp. 205–206, 220]). Bahá’u’lláh’s laws and ordinances, as set forth in the Kitab-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book), and supplemental texts.

6.  “Fundamental Tenets and Principles” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, BRL [pp. 206, 220]). Bahá’u’lláh’s statements regarding various social teachings, including matters of good governance and world order (i.e. “revolutionizing principles”). 

7.  “Prophecies” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, BRL [p. 220]) (i.e. “dire warnings and portentous prophecies”). 

8.  “Discourses” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, BRL [p. 220]). Bahá’u’lláh’s expositions on a wide range of topics and themes (i.e. “illuminating commentaries and interpretations, impassioned discourses and homilies”). 

9.  “Prayers and Meditations” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, BRL [p. 220]). Bahá’u’lláh’s prayers and contemplative meditations (i.e. “soul-uplifting prayers and meditations”). 

This proposed classification is not meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive, or classify Baha’u’llah’s writings according to literary style. For instance, this typology does not include any classifications that specifically include Baha’u’llah’s poetry, writings in “pure Persian,” and so forth. 

That said, what follows in this series of essays will attempt to provide an overview of Baha’u’llah’s revelatory written work, which constitutes a major part of Baha’i scripture. In the next essay, we will begin by presenting some notable examples of Baha’u’llah’s prophecies.

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Comments

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  • Scott Duncan
    Apr 23, 2022
    -
    I have long found informative your posts with Kevin Locke. This post was also quite informative as I had never thought about this specific division in Baha'u'llah's writings.
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