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Baha’u’llah’s toweringly mystical, powerfully symbolic Tablet of the Holy Mariner contains mysteries—and even some prophecies.
Abdu’l-Baha counsels the Baha’is to:
Study the Tablet of the Holy Mariner that ye may know the truth and consider that the Blessed Beauty [Baha’u’llah] hath fully foretold future events. Let them who perceive take warning. Verily in this is a bounty for the sincere! – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, p. 319.
Could Holy Mariner be one of those distinct few?
Reaffirming the Ancient Covenant
Unique circumstances surround the tablet’s origins and composition. When Baha’u’llah revealed Holy Mariner in March 1863, the fledging Babi community faced acute pressures. Persecutions threatened, and the Ottoman Prime Minister ordered Baha’u’llah’s imminent exile from Baghdad to Istanbul. Holy Mariner was revealed in both Arabic and Persian (although only the Arabic portion is officially translated. Like any of the Baha’i writings, the tablet can be interpreted in myriad ways.
Holy Mariner commences:
He is the Gracious, the Well-Beloved! O Holy Mariner! Bid thine ark of eternity appear before the Celestial Concourse, Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious! [This refrain appears after every line and is excluded hereafter for brevity.] Launch it upon the ancient sea, in His Name, the Most Wondrous, And let the angelic spirits enter, in the Name of God, the Most High. Unmoor it, then, that it may sail upon the ocean of glory… – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 319.
One reading of this ode has Baha’u’llah himself as the holy mariner, and “the ark of eternity” as the changeless faith of God (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah: Baghdad 1853-63, p. 236).
The theme of the covenant–God’s promise of guidance and direction to humanity in return for our obedience to His laws–is a hallmark of this tablet. The word covenant has a twofold meaning here: God’s pledge to send a series of divine messengers to educate humanity throughout the ages; and Baha’u’llah’s promise to provide leadership and direction to the Baha’i community—and the world—as they evolve.
To demonstrate that the Baha’i Faith is part of the ancient covenant of God, Holy Mariner hearkens back to the Book of Genesis, Noah’s Ark, and the flood:
I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. – Genesis 6:17-18.
Both Baha’u’llah and Noah are mariners leading believers. The ark, which protects sacred elements of God’s creation from disaster, can be interpreted as the ancient faith of God—whether that of Noah or Baha’u’llah. The Baha’i writings highlight the essential unity of these two divine captains:
It is the Holy of Holies, which constitutes the essence of the religion of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muḥammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah, and which will endure throughout all the prophetic Dispensations. It will never be abrogated, for it consists in spiritual rather than material truth. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 69.
In addition, Holy Mariner reinforces the theme that the Covenant of Baha’u’llah is the same as that in the Old Testament with references to Moses:
Bid them issue forth and attain this ethereal invisible station… A station wherein the Lord hath in the Flame of His Beauty appeared within the deathless tree… Wherein the embodiments of His Cause cleansed themselves of self and passion… Around which the Glory of Moses doth circle with the everlasting hosts… Wherein the Hand of God was drawn forth from His bosom of Grandeur… – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 320.
The phrase “the Lord hath in the Flame of His Beauty appeared within the deathless tree” refers to Moses’ encounter with the burning bush:
There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up… God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” … “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” – Exodus 3:2-6.
Likewise, the line “Wherein the Hand of God was drawn forth from His bosom of Grandeur” recalls yet another episode, in which Moses’s hand became diseased and was then miraculously cured:
Then the Lord said, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous —it had become as white as snow. “Now put it back into your cloak,” he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh. – Exodus 4: 6-7
The meaning of Abdu’l-Baha’s statement about Holy Mariner’s predicting future events became clear in August 1863, six months after he wrote the tablet, when Baha’u’llah travelled by ship, as Shoghi Effendi noted:
[Baha’u’llah,] as foreshadowed in the Tablet of the Holy Mariner, was put on board a Turkish steamer and three days later was disembarked, at noon, together with His fellow-exiles, at the port of Constantinople, on [August 16, 1863]. – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 157.
Holy Mariner appears to foreshadow subsequent sea journeys in the early stages of the Faith, namely Baha’u’llah’s 1868 banishment—and passage over the Mediterranean—to the prison city of Akka, and Abdu’l-Baha’s seaborne voyages to Europe and America, which were monumental in spreading the Faith in the West.
Having explored these aspects of this unique Tablet, can a reader conclude that it is truly instilled with a special potency? A cornerstone principle of the Baha’i Faith is that each person should independently investigate the truth, so feel free find out for yourself.