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Montreal, July 17, 2020 – Some one hundred participants in all, joined the Montreal Bahá’í Community to listen to five lectures given by Dr. Todd Lawson, Emeritus Professor of Islamic Thought from University of Toronto, on “Joseph and the Bahá’í Faith”. This was the seventh part of a series of Annual Raymond Flournoy Course on the Bahá’í Faith and Islám. In order to remember Raymond and to introduce him to many participants from other parts of the world, a short video-documentary was also shown. All sessions were viewed via a tele-conference application due to the current pandemic.

Dr. Lawson explained that the very first book of divine revelation in the Bahá’í Faith, the book that in fact inaugurated the Bahá’í Era, was a commentary on the Súrih of Joseph, The Qur’án’s 12th chapter. In the Book of Certitude (p. 231), Bahá’u’lláh refers to this Composition as “the first, the greatest and the mightiest of all books”.

The course, dedicated to the shining memory of Raymond Flournoy, one of the early Bahá’ís of Montreal, made an exploration on the significance of such a choice on the part of the Báb. He, obviously, could have opened the new cycle of spiritual growth and development in any way He chose. Why did He choose the figure of Joseph as an appropriate symbol for the potentialities of this new period of human history? To better understand such relationship, parts of the Súrih of Joseph in the Qur'án, the story of Joseph in the Bible (Genesis 37-50), and the way Joseph appears in the Bahá’í Writings, including the inaugural chapter of Qayyúm al-Asmá’ or Commentary on the Súrih of Joseph by the Báb and the Kitáb-i - Íqán or The Book of Certitude by Bahá’u’lláh were explored in depth.

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.”* 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 re-interpretive technique shows both the artistic and the conceptual power of the Báb's writing.

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 Whom God Will Make Manifest" and repeatedly cautioned His followers to recognize and accept that Figure when He should appear.** Though boldly identifying Himself with Joseph in the Qayyúmu'l-Asmá, the Báb also repeatedly used references to Moses and the Burning Bush (as mentioned earlier) in ways that made Him appear to be placing His own Revelation within a larger theophany 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. The motif recurs in many of His major works.

The highlight of this lecture series was the session introduced by Professor Stephen Lambden from University of California, Merced, Humanities department. He has been specialized in Abrahamic religious texts and Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Arabic. Professor Lambden’s in-depth presentation explaining the relationship between Hebrew, Christian, Islamic, Bábi and Bahá’í Holy texts clarified many spiritual meanings within the scriptures of the past and present.

Present at all sessions was Dr Moojan Momen from the UK who stayed awake patiently until 2 AM, GMT and commented on various topics to help the participants a clearer understanding of the Writings of the Báb.

Since 1985, Dr Momen and his wife Dr. Wendi Momen are managing the Afnán Library at Sandy, Bedfordshire, UK. The Afnan Library Trust which was established as an independent charity, have attempted over the years to fulfil the wishes of the late Mr Hasan Balyuzi, a descendant of the Báb, who donated all his collection of books and manuscripts to the Library. Many books, manuscripts and other archival material have been added to the library ever since. The Afnan Library is accessible online at : http://www.afnanlibrary.org

Video-conference online coordination was skillfully provided by Shahab Akhound-Zadeh.

Photos : - Golgasht Mossafai, a rare photo of Professor Stephen Lambden and Dr Moojan Momen during a presentation organized by the Harrow Bahá’í Community 1973, UK.

- A Persian Miniature drawing of Joseph and His brothers.

References :

*The Báb, Selections 41

** Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, trans. Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983) 208.

  • Jim Stokes, published in World Order, 29:2
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a musical comedy with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The story is based on the "coat of many colours" story of Joseph from the Bible's Book of Genesis.

 

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