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The Coming of the Day of God

Miniature No. 1

from a series of nine miniatures depicting

themes from the Bahá'í Revelation

by Michael Sours

Copyright © 1996

 

The Bahá'í Revelation began in 1844, when the Báb, Herald and Forerunner of Bahá'u'lláh first announced His mission to a Moslem Mullá who was to become one of His leading disciples. During the early 1800s, many Jews, Christians, and Muslims were eagerly expecting the Promised One, the One Who would fulfill the sacred prophecies and messianic hope of the ages. This artwork, or miniature, the first is a series of nine, uses symbolism, calligraphy, and narrative illustration to depicts this wondrous time of expectation and fulfillment-the coming of the Day of God, the birth of the Bahá'í Revelation.

 

EXPLANATION OF PRINCIPLE SYMBOLISM

The essential components of the symbolism concern the coming of the Day of God: (1) The theistic belief in revealed religion and redemptive history, (2) the periodic occurrence of successive Revelations, known as "Progressive Revelation," (3) the sacred prophecies and symbols referring to the coming of the Day of God, (4) the symbolic representation of the dawning of this Day of God, using Bahá'í symbols, (5) the two heralds of this Day of God, (6) the first to recognize the appearance of this Day of God, (7) the proclamation by Bahá'u'lláh of the occurrence of this Day of God.

 

Composition

The overall composition is based on the cosmological order as it appears simply and empirically to the individual observer, that is: the heavens above and the earth below, joined at the point we observe as the horizon line. It is an ancient and universal symbolism pervading Bahá'u'lláh's writings. This basic symbolism encompasses the greater corpus of symbolic imagery that employs the dawn, the rising and setting of the sun, as well as all celestial and earthly symbols. Bahá'u'lláh, for example, writes, "Blessed is the man that hath inhaled the fragrance of the Most Merciful, and turned unto the Dawning-Place of His beauty, in this resplendent Dawn" (Epistle 60), and again, "behold the Day-Star of knowledge shining from this resplendent Horizon" (Epistle 80). Even as most traditional churches are based on the shape of the holy cross, and Buddhist pagodas represent the various levels of the cosmos, this simple symbolism of heaven above and earth below forms the basis for the compositional structure used in most of the nine miniatures in this series. This seemed appropriate, as this is the underlying symbolism of the calligraphic design of the Greatest Name, "Bahá" designed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, which is one of the most important visual symbols of the Bahá'í Revelation. The "Greatest Name" symbol is constructed from the letters "b" and "h" of the Persian and Arabic alphabets. There are three levels in the symbol which become apparent when the vertical "b" is removed : the top level is composed of the letter "h" adjoined to its own reverse image and signifying the realm of God, the middle level is composed of the letter "b" and signifies the realm of the Manifestations of God, and the bottom level is again composed of the letter "h" joined to its own reverse image, this time signifying the realm of humankind. The letter "b" running vertical signifies the Manifestations of God, the holy Spirit, the Logos, the divine Wisdom, that connects or bridges the otherwise three separate realms. Like the construction of the Greatest Name symbol, the overall area of the miniature is divided into the realm of heaven, the divine and celestial realm and the realm of earth, the stage of redemptive history separated by the horizon line on which two stars are positioned, representing The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh (see figure below). Transposed over the horizon and joining the celestial realm with the terrestrial is the "Book" of life containing the Word of God and signifying the Holy Spirit and revelation of God.

 

The Letters "B" and "E"

At the top of the miniature (A. see figure below) and in the center point of the arch are the letters "B" and "E", forming the word "be" and signifying the spiritual and material creative power of God's word as revealed by the Manifestations of God, "He...through Whom the letters B and E (Be) have been joined and knit together" (Bahá'u'lláh, Prayers and Meditations 246). God's words transforms people's spiritual life and releases their potential to effect the material world as well, in the form of arts and sciences. This can be understood from the power of God's word expressed in the Book of Genesis, "Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light" (Gen. 1:3) and in John's Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word..." (John 1:1).

 

 

The Five-pointed Stars

The five-pointed star (see Figure above: B1­B2) is the true symbol of the Bábí and Bahá'í revelation (See Hornby, Lights of Guidance 415). Here in its elongated form, the two stars represent the human form, or man (generic), "the noblest and most perfect of all created things" (Kitáb-i-Íqán 102­103). The different points of the star represent the head, arms and legs of the human form. Here, the human form of each star signifies The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, in accordance with the verse, ". . . of all men, the most accomplished, the most distinguished and the most excellent are the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth" (Kitáb-i-Íqán 103, see also 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'í Scriptures 479, 1923 ed.) The "day-star" is the brightest star preceding sunrise and is a symbol used frequently in Bahá'í sacred texts. The Báb, for example, writes, "the Day-Star of Bahá will shine resplendent above the horizon of eternity (Selections 164).

 

Progressive Revelation

The arch at the top of the miniature (C1­C7) represents the celestial firmament, the over-arching heavens. Along the path of this arch are positioned symbols representing six living religions. On the left (West) of the arch, in chronological order, are the Judaic Faith symbolized by the six-pointed star of David, the Christian Faith symbolized by the holy cross, and the Islamic Faith symbolized by the crescent moon and star. On the right (East) are the Hindu Faith [1] symbolized by the sacred Sanskrit letter "Om" mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita (Gita 8:13), the Buddhist Faith symbolized by the eight-spoked wheel (representing the eightfold path of the Buddha), and the Zoroastrian Faith often symbolized by this winged figure. It is these distinct Faiths that Shoghi Effendi cites prophecies from in God Passes By (pp. 94­6). These prophecies all refer to the coming of this Day of God. The Bahá'í Revelation is symbolized by the nine-pointed star at the mid-most point of the arch (C4). 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes that the "sign Leo, the sun's mid-summer and highest station" represents the station of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By 99). Because Bahá'í symbolism also makes use of the numerical value of certain sacred terms and words, the number nine as derived from the Arabic word "Bahá" makes the nine-pointed star another special symbol of the Bahá'í Faith. The number nine also signifies completion (see Hornby, Lights of Guidance 414)

Each symbol for each Faith is juxtaposed against a stylized depiction of the sun. These depictions of the sun signify distinct days of God, the different historic stages in the evolution of the religious heritage of the world. Even as the Sun reappears each day to impart its vital life-giving warmth and rays, so too, God Manifestation Himself in each age to impart spiritual life to the world. At the same time this symbolism illustrates the belief that they are nevertheless the same sun, in accordance with the teaching of The Báb, Who, for example, used this symbolism in His Book, The Seven Proofs to explain the oneness of God's Messengers, "And know thou that He indeed resembleth the sun. Were the risings of the sun to continue till the end that hath no end, yet there hath not been nor ever will be more than one sun; and were its settings to endure for evermore, still there hath been nor ever will be more than one sun. It is this Primal Will which appeareth resplendent in every Prophet and speaketh forth in every revealed Book" (The Báb, Selections 126).

 

Archetypal Prophecies

The stars falling from the heavens (D1), the eclipse or darkening of the sun (D2), and the lunar eclipse, a rare phenomenon often causing the moon to turn the color of blood (D3) are archetypal symbols for disruption in the spiritual and religious life of humankind. These symbols lend themselves to various interpretations: The stars falling from heaven can, for example, symbolize the decline and loss of religious leadership at the end of an age. The eclipsing of the sun can symbolize peoples' inability to see the light of God as revealed by the former Manifestation of God, and the moon turning to blood can symbolize the obscuring of God's laws, the basis of social order and well being. These are the signs preceding and heralding the coming of the Day of God. When Jesus spoke of things to come heralding His return, He used these symbols (Matthew 24:29; for Hebrew scriptural antecedents, see also Duet. 30:4; Isa. 13:10, 27:13, 34:4; Ezek. 32:7; Dan. 7:13, 7:14; Joel 2:10; Hag. 2:6). Bahá'u'lláh devoted the larger part of Part One of the Kitáb-i-Íqán to explain the hidden meanings of Jesus' reference to these symbols (see Kitáb-i-Íqán 24­80).

 

Chronological Prophecies

Around the text at the center of the overall composition (E) are three passages from the sacred Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which according to traditional interpretations reveal chronological truths about the coming of the last Day of God in the Adamic cycle. The first passage is from the Book of Genesis, "on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done" (Gen. 2:2). Traditional belief is that even as God created the earth (symbolically) in six days and rested on the seventh, so too, after six thousand years, God would usher in a seventh day consisting of one thousand years of rest or peace, a peace known as the millennial kingdom, also mentioned in the Book of Revelation. According to the literal reading of biblical chronology, the sacred history of humankind dates four thousand years before Christ, making the nineteenth century the beginning of the seventh-day. This is one of the traditional beliefs leading many Christians to expect the return of Christ in the nineteenth century (see Sours, Prophecies of Jesus, appendix 3). The second verse is from the Book of Revelation (a more explicit version of a chronological prophecy of Daniel, see Dan. 7:25, 12:7; see also Rev. 12:14), "they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days" (Rev. 11:3). The 1260 days refers to a prophetic period of time concerning the "two witnesses" (i.e., Muh.ammad and 'Alí, see 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions 48) before the coming of the Day of God in the year 1260 a.h. (1844 a.d.) of the Islamic calendar (the calendar used in the Holy Land). 1260 a.h. (which corresponds to 1844 a.d.) is the year marking the birth of the Bahá'í Revelation (see Sours, Prophecies of Jesus 81­4). The third verse is from the Holy Qur'án: "hereafter shall they come up to him on a day whose length shall be a thousand of such years as ye reckon" (Qur'án 32:4/5). According to the Islamic Shí'ah tradition, the last great guiding light of the Islamic dispensation was the twelfth Imám, who disappeared in 260 a.h. Many Muslims therefore believed that this verse meant that one thousand years later, i.e., in the year 1260 a.h., the guidance of the great Imám was appointed to return (see Sours, Prophecies of Jesus 14).

 

Heralds of the Bahá'í Revelation

The two seated figures represent the two great spiritual teachers of Persia, the "twin resplendent lights" (Kitáb-i-Íqán 65) who heralded the Bahá'í Revelation: In the background is Shaykh Ah.mad (F1), and in the foreground, his disciple and successor, Siyyid Káz.im (F2). The words next to Siyyid Káz.im are among his last words to his disciples and were intended to help them in their search for the Promised One (see Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers 48).

 

The First Seekers to Believe

The three figures (G1) walking toward the city of Shíráz (G2) are artistic impressions of Mullá H.usayn (in the middle) accompanied by his brother and nephew. The purpose here is not to attempt an accurate physical representation, but rather, to retell visually the event as it is recorded in Bahá'í tradition. Here they are depicted approaching Shíráz on the day that Mullá H.usayn would later meet The Báb, the day the Báb would announce His claims and usher in the Day of God (Nabíl, Dawn-Breakers 52­68). The scene is given an early morning appearance to symbolize the dawning of the new Day of God, and the two stars symbolize Shaykh Ah.mad and Siyyid Kázim (Kitáb-i-Íqán 65). Mullá H.usayn and all the other disciples of the Báb were students and admirers of Siyyid Kázim.

 

The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh

The central text in the composition (H) are words of Bahá'u'lláh proclaiming the coming of the Day of God (Gleanings 13). He proclaims the advent of this Day of God and refers to the prophetic words of Isaiah (Isa. 2: 2­4, see also Isa. 35:2). The positioning of this text is used to represent in this miniature the "verses," "Book," or "Tablets" of God that have been "sent down" symbolically from heaven (e.g., Epistle 78, 126, 134) and that are "wide open" (Gleanings 183) and "manifest" (Tablets 247) for all to see. It is the Holy Spirit bridging the world of divinity with the world of humanity.

 

Note

1. There is no one universally accepted symbol for the various Faiths commonly referred to as Hinduism. However, Shoghi Effendi refers to Krishna and the text of the Bhagavad-gita which belong to what often is referred to as the Hindu tradition.

 

Bibliography

'Abdu'l-Bahá. Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Comp. Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, trans. Marzieh Gail and a Committee at the Bahá'í World Centre. Haifa, Israel: Bahá'í World Centre, 1982.

--. Some Answered Questions. Comp. and trans. Laura Clifford Barney. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd., 1908. Rev. edn. London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981.

The Báb. Selections from the Writings of The Báb. Comp. Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, trans. Habib Taherzadeh and a Committee at the Bahá'í World Centre. Haifa, Israel: Bahá'í World Centre, 1982.

Bahá'u'lláh. The Book of Certitude (Kitáb-i-Iqán). Trans. Shoghi Effendi. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1931, 3rd edn., 1974.

--. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. Trans. Shoghi Effendi. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1941, 3rd edn., 1976.

--. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Trans. Shoghi Effendi. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1939, 2nd edn., 1956.

--. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Comp. Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, trans. Habib Taherzadeh and a Committee at the Bahá'í World Centre. Haifa, Israel: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978.

The Holy Bible: New King James Version. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Lights of Guidance: A Bahá'í Reference File. Comp. Helen Hornby. New Delhi, India: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983.

Nabíl-i-A'zam (Muhammad-i-Zarandí). The Dawn-Breakers, Nabíl's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Revelation. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974.

Shoghi Effendi. God Passes By. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1944, 1974.

Sours, Michael W. The Prophecies of Jesus. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 1991.

 

Above graphics, art, and explanatory text: copyright © 1996

 

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