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Many, many prophecies focus on “return,” not only predicting but guaranteeing that a messenger of God will come back again. The Baha’i teachings point out this consistent prophetic theme: 

If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold all [the prophets] abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith. Such is the unity of those Essences of Being, those Luminaries of infinite and immeasurable splendor! Wherefore, should one of these Manifestations of Holiness proclaim saying: “I am the return of all the Prophets,” He, verily, speaketh the truth. In like manner, in every subsequent Revelation, the return of the former Revelation is a fact, the truth of which is firmly established. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, pp. 153–154.

The most well-known example in Western culture is the idea of Christ’s “return,” popularly referred to as the “Second Coming” or the “Second Advent.” 

Several articles in this “Figuring Out Prophecy” series have elaborated on this very topic. In Western religious traditions, “return” excludes reincarnation, since mainstream Judaism, Christianity and Islam reject the idea of metempsychosis, the transmigration of the soul. 

Although the Baha’i teachings rule out reincarnation for the messengers of God, some parallels do exist across historical time between those messengers – including the distinct similarities between the missions of John the Baptist, the herald and forerunner of Christ; and the Bab, the herald and forerunner of Baha’u’llah.

The Baha’i teachings explain that “the advent of John the Baptist” was, “according to various authorities,” “the originator of laws which abrogated the teachings current among the Jews.”Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 427. He further wrote that the Bab was “the ‘Return of John the Baptist’ expected by the Christians.”God Passes By, p. 58. 

Here, the Baha’i conception of “return” describes a previous pattern of events repeated under later, factually distinct circumstances – a repeat scenario, if you will. In this context, Baha’u’llah draws some significant parallels between John the Baptist, in relation to Jesus, and the Bab, relative to Baha’u’llah:

They that have turned aside from Me [Baha’u’llah] have spoken even as the followers of John (the Baptist) spoke. For they, too, protested against Him Who was the Spirit (Jesus) saying: “The dispensation of John hath not yet ended; wherefore hast thou come?” Now, too, they that have repudiated Us, though they have never known Us and have been at all times ignorant of the fundamentals of this Cause, knowing not from Whom it proceeded or what it signifieth, have spoken that which hath made all created things to sigh and lament. …

John, son of Zacharias, said what My Forerunner [the Bab] hath said: “Saying, repent ye, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He that cometh after Me is mightier than I, Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear.” Wherefore, hath My Forerunner, as a sign of submissiveness and humility, said: “The whole of the Bayan is only a leaf amongst the leaves of His Paradise.” And likewise, He saith: “I am the first to adore Him, and pride Myself on My kinship with Him.” …

In another connection He, likewise, saith: “Were He to appear this very moment, I would be the first to adore Him, and the first to bow down before Him.” Be fair, O people! The purpose of the Most Exalted One (the Bab) was to insure that the proximity of the Revelation should not withhold men from the Divine and everlasting Law, even as the companions of John (the Baptist) were prevented from acknowledging Him Who is the Spirit (Jesus). – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 157–158; p. 171.

In this same vein, Baha’u’llah further declared:

By God! The relationship between the Revelation of the Primal Point (the Bab) and this most wondrous, this most glorious Revelation is identical to that of the Revelation of John, son of Zechariah (John the Baptist), and the Spirit of God (Jesus). This recurrence hath come to pass in every respect, for just as John the Baptist was both a Prophet and a Messenger of God, He likewise heralded the Manifestation Who succeeded Him, even as He hath said: ‘O people! I herald unto you the Kingdom of God; it verily is near,’ and in another connection, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Furthermore, just as John the Baptist came invested with laws and ordinances, and just as the advent of Jesus Christ occurred during His time, the [Bab] – may My life be a sacrifice unto Him – declared thus, after making a universal covenant and heralding the Revelation to come: ‘Verily, the end is nigh, and ye are fast asleep.’ This utterance is the very same as the one proclaimed aforetime by John, son of Zechariah. – Baha’u’llah, Kitáb-i-Badí‘ (Bahá’í-Verlag, 2008), p. 79; provisionally co-translated by Necati Alkan and Adib Masumian, August 2019.

Baha’u’llah elsewhere pointed out that the followers of John the Baptist were once known as “Sabians.” Today, the followers of John the Baptist are better known as “Mandaeans.” Of their religion and holy books, the anthropologist Mehrdad Arabestani from the University of Malaya (the leading research university in Malaysia) wrote: 

The Mandaeans are followers of a long-lasting religious tradition. They affiliate themselves with a chain of prophets starting from Adam, the first man – as the first prophet – to John the Baptist (Yahyā/Yohānā in Mandaic), as the last Mandaic prophet. The Mandaean tradition names other prophets between Adam and John the Baptist, some of whom are also recognised in Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, including Noah (Nū) and Shem (Shūm); others are specific Mandaean characters with no parallel in other traditions, such as the couple Shūrbāy and Sherhābiyyel. The Mandaeans are bearers of an old written tradition comprised of holy scriptures and scrolls in the Mandaic language. Among these scriptures, the most important is Genzā rabbā (Great Treasure), which is attributed to Adam, the first man, and is the holiest Mandaean book. The second important book is Edrāshā ed Yahyā (John’s Instructions), attributed to John the Baptist. – M. Arabestani, “Ritual Purity and the Mandaeans’ Identity,” Iran and the Caucasus 16 (2012): p. 156.

The Mandaean Book of John: Critical Edition, Translation, and Commentary, co-authored by James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature, Butler University, is now available. Here is an excerpt from it:

John teaches in the nights,
John in the evenings of the night
John teaches in the nights and says,
“Did I not go away alone and return?
What prophet compares to me,
and who teaches under my banner,
and who speaks with my sublime voice?”
– Translated by James F. McGrath, 21 – No One Compares to John

The authenticity of these words, ascribed to John the Baptist, is highly doubtful, especially considering that the Mandaeans reject Jesus Christ. Even so, of course, their religious rights and integrity as a faith-community must be respected. Sadly, the Mandaeans are on the verge of extinction.

From a Baha’i perspective, the religious revelations of John the Baptist and the Bab show significant parallels between the two prophets of God. Both were heralds, forerunners, harbingers, and announcers of messengers of God to come, both greater than they. John the Baptist foretold Christ. The Bab heralded Baha’u’llah. 

Both John the Baptist and the Bab revealed laws and commandments. The Gospels tell us that John the Baptist taught his disciples to repent (Luke 3:8); to be baptized (Luke 3:3); to fast (Mark 2:18); to pray (Luke 11:1); to give to the poor (Luke 3:11); to be fair (in collecting taxes, Luke 3:13); to “do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14); and “many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people” (Luke 3:18). John the Baptist asked his followers to expect “one mightier than I” (Luke 3:16), the imminent advent of Jesus, and to follow him when he appeared. Similarly, the Bab’s greatest teaching was to expect the imminent advent of Baha’u’llah, and to follow him when he appeared. 

So there you have it – just a few of the parallels between John the Baptist and the Bab. The law of physics says that parallels never intersect. But, here they do, in the sense that the Baha’i doctrine of the oneness of the prophets of God considers such parallels as echoes of the past that reverberate in the present and into the future.

7 Comments

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  • Christopher Buck
    Dec 22, 2019
    Mr. Samandar Samari: Thanks! BahaiTeachings did publish Persian translations of selected articles, which were posted online, much as the Spanish translations are now online. But there was concern about the situation in Iran. So, out of an abundance of caution, the Persian translations were taken off-line. If you have a solution to this problem, then please email the editors of BahaiTeachings with your ideas. Of course, I would love to see Persian translations become easily available to the Persian-speaking audience. In the meantime, there are a few Persian translations of some of my academic articles posted online. Simply Google “Persian ...Translations of Work by Christopher Buck”. Please feel free to share with the Persian speaking friends!
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  • Christopher Buck
    Dec 22, 2019
    Samandar Samari: Thanks! BahaiTeachings did publish Persian translations of selected articles, which were posted online, much as the Spanish translations are now online. But there was concern about the situation in Iran. So, out of an abundance of caution, the Persian translations were taken off-line. If you have a solution to this problem, then please email the editors of BahaiTeachings with your ideas. Of course, I would love to see Persian translations become easily available to the Persian-speaking audience. In the meantime, there are a few Persian translations of some of my academic articles posted online here: https://psu-us.academia.edu/ChristopherBuck/Persian-Translations-of-Work-by-Christopher-Buck. Feel free ...to share with friends.
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  • Samandar Samari
    Dec 21, 2019
    Great article, Many thanks, hope by 2021 your article and Teaching.Org numerous articles will be available in Farsi to many who have no access to Farsi Material due to current state of affairs and also their command of English is not as good, Lets hope that at least from 2020 , at least selective articles such as yours wil be there for Farsi Speaking Bahais and seekers.... Mothers, Fathers and many whose Farsi is 100 times better than their English------- Best wishes Samandar Samari- London
  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Dec 19, 2019
    Well said Christopher, and as to the article I found very interesting indeed as I didn't realise that there was a following of John after the advent of Jesus Christ. I don't know why I found this interesting as I knew well all other prophets have had their devoted followers just didn't know that John did. I learn so much on this site. Thank you.
  • Christopher Buck
    Dec 19, 2019
    Jack Price: Before criticizing, please read carefully! Here, your criticism is misplaced, because the only verses I quote are in the penultimate (next to last) paragraph—verses that refer to several laws of John the Baptist! That said, I also quoted a couple of passages by Baha'u'llah, who cites biblical texts, which is His prerogative. If your intent, then, is to criticize Baha'u'llah for citing biblical verses, that's a different matter. I think it's ill advised, generally speaking, to criticize another religion's prophet-founder, for the simple reason that doing so has no constructive value. Try to find some common ground, rather ...than posting an ill-founded criticism. Productive interfaith dialogue is far preferable to ill will. Thanks!
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  • Judith Nyamoga
    Dec 18, 2019
    I am grateful for this. Thank you for remind us again the unity and unicity of God’s religion. It is important to remember these links...
  • jack Price
    Dec 18, 2019
    Since you like to go to the Bible so much, number one you only quote half a scripture, when you try to convince people that the Haha,I religion is the right way.I could go to a thousand scriptures in the Bible and prove you wrong. Now if you want to write what Baha'is believe that's fine but don't try to convince people that it's in the Bible all of these manifestations you're talkin about are not there