Error in Pre-Publication version of Ruhi Book Eight
By John Taylor; 2011 Jan 31, Sultan 13, 167 BE
In Book Eight our Ruhi book tells of the Master's visit to America. At our study circle I suggested that the authors had made a minor mistake in their narrative. Here is the passage in question, from page 47 of the study text:
"Among the many events associated with His visit to the community in the West, two are particularly noteworthy. While in Chicago, 'Abdu'l-Baha laid with His own hands the cornerstone of the House of Worship on the recently purchased property facing Lake Michigan. Earlier, in New York City, He had chosen to affirm the implications of the Covenant instituted by Baha'u'llah. Following the reading of the Tablet of the Branch, which had recently been translated into English, one of those present left a record of the words He uttered on that occasion: `... I am the Covenant, appointed by Baha'u'llah. And no one can refute His Word. This is the Testament of Baha'u'llah. You will find it in the Holy Book of Aqdas. Go forth and proclaim, "This is the Covenant of God in your midst."'"
The reference that the Ruhi mavens give for this "I am the Covenant" quote is to Juliet Thompson's Diary, p. 313. I will include the entire passage from her diary at the end of this blog posting -- the entire text of her diary is included in the Ocean database. According to Juliet Thompson's dating, in July she wrote this recollection of the "crowning" of Lua as "Herald of the Covenant," recalling an event that had taken place right about the summer solstice, slightly over a week before.
In short, she does not mention here a reading of the Tablet of the Branch on that day. Mahmud Zarqani in his diary agrees with Juliet's account that on the 19th of June the Master spoke about the importance of the Tablet of the Branch to a small group, but he does not mention a reading of the Tablet. In any case, the Ruhi pundits should definitely have written "Later" instead of "Earlier in New York City ..." since the dedication of the Chicago Temple took place in early May during the first month of the Master's time in America.
As far as I have been able to determine, Abdu'l-Baha after arriving on 11 April spent only a few days in New York giving just 13 speeches, then on the 20th of April He left for Washington and then Chicago, where He laid the foundation stone of Wilmette Mashriq on the first of May.
It is always difficult to prove a negative, but I have found no evidence of a reading of the Tablet of the Branch before the dedication of the Mashriq in Wilmette on May first. For example, neither of the two main texts documenting His talks in America, Promulgation and Mahmud's Diary, mention the word "covenant" after this general statement of purpose in His first talk upon debarking the boat.
"As New York has made such progress in material civilization, I hope that it may also advance spiritually in the Kingdom and Covenant of God so that the friends here may become the cause of the illumination of America, that this city may become the city of love and that the fragrances of God may be spread from this place to all parts of the world. I have come for this. I pray that you may be manifestations of the love of Baha'u'llah ... This is my highest aspiration." (Promulgation, 3)
The next time the word "Covenant" is mentioned in either book is a month after the Temple dedication, on 2 June 1912 in an address given at the Church of the Ascension in New York. He said,
"In the terminology of the Holy Books the church has been called the house of the covenant for the reason that the church is a place where people of different thoughts and divergent tendencies -- where all races and nations -- may come together in ..." (Promulgation, 163)
The original notes for this talk were taken by Esther Foster. Evidently the text in Persian or Arabic is extant, since the above passage was re-translated in Mahmoud's Diary by,
"In the terminology of the Holy Books, the church is a symbol of the Covenant, in other words it is a gathering place for different peoples and races so that it may become a sign and token of the true Temple and the Divine Law." (Mahmud's Diary, entry for Sunday, June 2, 1912)
After Mahmud's Diary came out I wrote the English editor of that book, Shirley Macias, and asked if we should regard the more recent translations that are in the Diary as "official translations," but she could not help me on that. I find some parts of the new translation sound better in English than the old translation, but others sound worse. Not knowing Persian, I cannot vouch for their accuracy.
In any case, in view of this the text of this passage in Ruhi Book 8 should definitely be changed from "earlier" to "later." But it gets worse. When it says "on that occasion," it is talking about another occasion completely. The Ruhi luminaries confused and conflated two distinct events; one, the appointment of Lua as "Herald of the Covenant," which, as I said, took place sometime in June while the Master was sitting for the fifth time for Juliet Thompson's portrait, with, two, the public reading of the Tablet of the Branch, which took place five months later. Here is Juliet's description of that event.
"... As I said, this happened in the afternoon of 26 November. The morning had been a tremendous one. Knowing that my Lord would be at the Kinneys', I went directly there. On the way up in the bus a great wave of tears, like a tidal wave, rose from my heart (I didn't know why) and threatened at any moment to break over me.
"I found the Master on the upper floor of the Kinneys' house with the Persians, Carrie and Ned, Nellie Lloyd, and Mr Mills. The Tablet of the Branch was being translated under the supervision of the Master. Dr Baghdadi and Dr Farid were working on it, submitting it time after time to the Master before He was satisfied with their rendering. I shall never forget His sternness,
"His terrific majesty as He directed that translation. The wave of tears did break as I listened and watched. I was shaken beyond all control. Mirza Mahmud and Valiyu'llah Khan tenderly tried to calm me."
In this way, Juliet records from her own point of view a smattering of the reading of the Tablet of the Branch that she witnessed that day. Evidently, this was the first translation and public reading of this Tablet -- I speculate that the Master chose it because of something the Nakazin may have said, perhaps that Baha'u'llah had said nothing about the Master's station.
Anyway, it is beyond doubt that this took place during the last month of the Master's visit to America, a period when He was putting tremendous emphasis on the Covenant. He sponsored several meetings and at least two banquets celebrating the Covenant in both Washington and New York during this climactic month.
Baha'u'llah's Tablet of the Branch, by the way, had been revealed in Edirne during Baha'u'llah's most prolific period, around 1867-1868 -- for more details on the Suriye-Ghusn and its translations and publication history, as well as other data see: <http://bahai-library.com/wilmette_surih_ghusn_outline>). Amazingly, after all these years it has yet to be officially translated. The version I still use is the one in Baha'i World Faith; it is probably the one the Master helped translate.
Anyway, it is not completely surprising that our anonymous Ruhi pundits conflated these two crucial events during the Master's visit. The chapter on the visit to America in Hasan Balyuzi's biography, "Abdu'l-Baha," does not mention either covenant event at all, and He was a Hand of the Cause! Of course, we have to bear in mind that Juliet's Diary was not published until fifty years after these event, because (as it says in the introduction) its reviewers deemed it "too emotional" and forbade publication. For that reason, Balyuzi may not have seen Juliet's diary. The Guardian probably did, however, since his summary of the American travels of the Master in God Passes By includes this summary,
"... the dynamic affirmation by Him ['Abdu'l-Baha] of the implications of the Covenant instituted by Baha'u'llah, following the reading of the newly translated Tablet of the Branch, in a general assembly of His followers in New York, designated henceforth as the "City of the Covenant.'" (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 288)
It is clear what Juliet considered this "dynamic affirmation" was after the Master read the Tablet of the Branch -- it left her in tears, not knowing entirely why. As I said, the Master insisted that several commemorations take place throughout November in Washington as well as New York, but the Guardian makes it clear here that the reading of the Tablet of the Branch is what gave New York the appellation "city of the Covenant," and is exactly what we now celebrate as the Day of the Covenant, on or around the 26th of that month.
Interestingly, much later the Guardian in a letter to Dr. Muhlschlegel called this translation, personally supervised by the Master, "poor." He requested that it not be published, beyond the selections that he himself had translated in World Order (see Light of Divine Guidance v I, p. 65). A provisional translation is available on the net, at the above link.
There was another dramatic event in November other than the reading of the Tablet of the Branch. That was when the Master, in front of everybody, all but forced Howard MacNutt to eat crow and renounce his attempts to reconcile and associate with the Nakazin. That, evidently, had happened a few days before the 26th. Once MacNutt had disobeyed and repented, after that most of the Master's work seemed to go into persuading the Baha’is _not_ to shun MacNutt.
In any case, since these events are what we celebrate every year on the Day of the Covenant, we should all be clearer about this story than we are. Juliet, May and Lua, having such devoted and sensitive female hearts (what a heart it would be, the Master told them, if three such hearts could be combined into one), had intimations of the coming occasion of the Day of the Covenant during the summer, the climax of the Masters visit to America, but we should not confuse that with the actual event.
The Ruhi doyens may have taken this wrong turn because of a similar mistake made in Ramona Brown's book, "Memories of Abdu'l-Baha." Here Brown makes a second-hand, after-the-fact recollection that she says she heard from Lua, maybe in California, maybe not. She writes,
"Lua travelled with the group. She (Lua) told me that it was in New York City that Abdul-Baha first taught the Baha'is about the protecting power of obedience to the Covenant of Baha'u'llah. There, on June 19, 1912, when the friends were gathered in the basement of His house, the translation of the Tablet of the Branch was read for the first time in this country. It is for this reason that New York is called the City of the Covenant." (Memories of Abdul-Baha, Ramona Allen Brown, p. 15)
She is perfectly correct that Lua was laying great emphasis on the 19th of June. One month later, she had been sent to California to lay the groundwork for the Master's imminent visit there (although nobody was certain that He would go West, except Himself, probably). In a public address, Lua told a San Francisco audience,
"On the 19th of June, Abdu'l-Baha made this proclamation of being the Center of the Covenant of God to about one hundred and twenty-five people who were gathered at His house on West 78th Street. Those present will never forget that day, I am sure. Though He spoke the message very quietly and impressively, it went forth with such a power that I am sure the whole city of New York was affected by it, and I know, without any doubt, that every person present that day was touched with a spirit which in itself was recreative..." (Velda Piff Metelmann, "Lua Getsinger, Herald of the Covenant, p. 164)
Later on in this speech, Lua quotes the entire text of the speech that the Master had given on 19 June. She was clearly affected by that day, but there is no mention of a reading of the Tablet of the Branch. If I get the chance, I will scan in this talk by Lua, and include it here on the Badi' Blog.
Appointment of Lua as herald of the covenant
The following Juliet's diary entry for 5 July, where she describes the Master appointing Lua as "Herald of the Covenant." As she says, she is referring to an event that had already taken place a couple of weeks earlier, on 19 June, 1912. Note that the title "herald of the covenant" was a non-exclusive thing. The Guardian later named 21 heralds or apostles of Abdu'l-Baha, and in their eulogies called many believers, including Harold MacNutt, "herald of the Covenant."
5 July 1912
The Beloved Master's portrait is finished. He sat for me six times, but I really did it in the three half hours He had promised me; for the sixth time, when He posed in His own room on the top floor, I didn't put on a single stroke. I was looking at the portrait wondering what I could find to do, when He suddenly rose from his chair and said: "It is finished."
The fifth time He sat, Miss Souley-Campbell came in with a drawing she had done from a photograph to ask if He would sign it for her and if she might add a few touches from life. This meant that He had to change His pose, so of course I couldn't paint that day. And the fourth time (the nineteenth of June) -- who could have painted then?
I had just begun to work, Lua in the room sitting on a couch nearby, when the Master smiled at me; then turning to Lua said in Persian: "This makes me sleepy. What shall I do?"
[Photograph: Portrait of 'Abdu'l-Baha painted by Juliet Thompson, 1912.]
"Tell the Master, Lua, that if He would like to take a nap, I can work while He sleeps."
But I found that I could not. What I saw then was too sacred, too formidable. He sat still as a statue, His eyes closed, infinite peace on that chiselled face, a God-like calm and grandeur in His erect head.
Suddenly, with a great flash like lightning He opened His eyes and the room seemed to rock like a ship in a storm with the Power released. The Master was blazing. "The veils of glory", "the thousand veils", had shrivelled away in that Flame and we were exposed to the Glory itself.
Lua and I sat shaking and sobbing.
Then He spoke to Lua. I caught the words, "Munadiy-i-'Ahd." (Herald of the Covenant).
Lua started forward, her hand to her breast.
"Man?" (I?) she exclaimed.
"Call one of the Persians. You must understand this."
Never shall I forget that moment, the flashing eyes of 'Abdu'l-Baha the reverberations of His Voice, the Power that still rocked the room. God of lightning and thunder! I thought.
"I appoint you, Lua, the Herald of the Covenant. And I AM THE COVENANT, appointed by Baha'u'llah. And no one can refute His Word. This is the Testament of Baha'u'llah. You will find it in the Holy Book of Aqdas. Go forth and proclaim, 'This is THE COVENANT OF GOD in your midst.'"
A great joy had lifted Lua up. Her eyes were full of light. She looked like a winged angel. "Oh recreate me," she cried, "that I may do this work for Thee!"
By now I was sobbing uncontrollably.
"Julie too," said Lua, not even in such a moment forgetful of me, "wants to be recreated."
But the Master had shrouded Himself with His veils again, the "thousand veils". He sat before us now in His dear humanity: very, very human, very simple.
"Don't cry, Juliet," He said. "This is no time for tears. Through tears you cannot see to paint."
I tried hard to hold back my tears and to work, but painting that day was at an end for me.
The Master smiled lovingly.
"Juliet is one of My favourites because she speaks the truth to me. See how I love the truth, Juliet. You spoke one word of truth to Me and see how I have praised it!"
I looked up to smile in answer, and in gratitude, then was overwhelmed again by that awful convulsive sobbing.
At this the Master began to laugh and, as He laughed and laughed, the strangest thing happened. It was as if at each outburst He wrapped Himself in more veils, so that now He looked completely human, without a trace left of His superhuman majesty. Never had I seen Him like this before and I never did afterward.
"I am going to tell you something funny," He said, adding in English, "a joke".
"Oh tell it!" we begged; and now I was in a sort of hysteria, laughing and crying at the same time.
"No. Not now. Paint."
But of course I couldn't paint.
Later, walking up and down, He laughed again.
"I am thinking of My joke," He explained.
"Tell it!" we pleaded.
"No, I cannot, for every time I try to tell it I laugh so I cannot speak."
We got down on our knees, able at last to enter into His play, and begged Him, "Please, please tell us." We were laughing on our knees.
"No. Not now. After lunch."
But, alas, after lunch He went upstairs to His room, and we never heard the Master's joke.
Perhaps, there wasn't any joke. Perhaps He had just found it necessary, after that mighty Declaration, to bring us down to earth again. He had revealed to us "The Apex of Immortality." He had lifted us to a height from which we could see it. Now He, our loving Shepherd, had carried us in His own arms back to our little valley and put us where we belonged.
(from Diary of Juliet Thompson)