Are you looking for a different kind of deepening experience? One, perhaps, that dips into the Christian Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) and ends up showing you how to read the Bahá’í writings with greater depth and understanding? Here is just the thing to get you started: JoAnn Borovicka’s Web Talk “The Ten Plagues of the Exodus in the Light of the Bahá’í Writings.”
What, you may be thinking, does the Exodus narrative in the biblical book of the same name have to do with the Bahá’í Faith? A number of those who logged into the Web Talk or listened on Facebook must have been thinking the same thing. Were they ever surprised! JoAnn began with a recap of the Exodus narrative, which, she said, is “cherished in Judaism, Christiantiy, Islam, the Bahá’í Faith and cited in world literature” and which is a “central story” in liberation theology in the United States and elsewhere:
- The Israelites are forced into labor in Egypt.
- Moses pleads with the Pharaoh to “Let my people go.”
- Pharaoh denies the request.
- Ten plagues ensue (water turned to blood; frogs; gnats; flies; diseased cattle; boils; thunder, hail, fire; locusts; three days of darkness; the death of the Egyptian firstborns).
- Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt.
- The Egyptian army pursues.
- Moses parts the water so that the Israelites may cross on dry land.
- The Egyptian army, trying to follow, drowns as the water closes.
Until the 1970s, JoAnn explains, the Exodus narrative was regarded as “an accurate and literal recording of ancient history.” Then archeological research, Near Eastern historians, and specialists in ancient literature concluded that the Exodus never happened. No archeological evidence exists. No ancient histories or ancient literature refer to the event. The Egyptians themselves, who recorded everything, down to tribes that crossed their lands on trade routes and used their water, left no records. Current scholarship, reflected in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, calls the Exodus one of the “founding myths” of Israel that draws on “ancient traditions from many sources.” The outstanding Bahá’í scholar Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl, in 1915, long before the 1970s, wrote that “No trace has been found of Moses’ mission to the Israelites, their plea for salvation from Pharaoh’s tyranny through Moses’ leadership, or their emigration to the plains of Syria under His standard.”
In the second part of her Web Talk, JoAnn discusses how we are to understand references in the Bahá’í writings to the Exodus narrative as if it really happened. She cites many passages to help us understand how the Central Figures of the Faith use story telling. For example, Bahá’u’lláh, in His Arabic Hidden Word No. 67, says He has revealed things “in accordance with thy capacity and understanding, not with My state and the melody of My voice.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in a provisional translation, writes that “Certain matters [in scripture] are in reality just stories, but the Divine Manifestations bring them out as though it were truth and discourse upon them.” Thus the stories, JoAnn says, “validate the spiritual truths contained in the scripture; however, they do not validate the story as historical fact.”
In the third and final section of her Web Talk, JoAnn discusses the “inner meanings in the Exodus Narrative,” “the spiritual truths that are universally relevant.” She discusses each of the plagues of the Exodus to show their inner meanings, which will deepen your understanding of passages in the Bahá’í writings that discuss or allude to the Exodus narrative. JoAnn ends by saying that the Exodus narrative is “hugely important for today.”
JoAnn Borovicka, who has taught three Wilmette Institute courses Exploring the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), Exploring the Book of Revelation, and Preparing for Interfaith Dialogue, began a Bahá’í/Bible research project eighteen years ago to collect questions related to the Bible that were of great interest to Bahá’ís, Christians, Jews, and followers of other religions; to find Bahá’í writings related to the questions; and to make the information easily accessible. Her Web Talk is based on “The Ten Plagues of the Exodus in Light of the Bahá’í Writings,” published in Lights of ‘Irfán, Book 16, Bahai-Library.com. In 2016 she published her research as The Light of the Kingdom: Biblical Topics in the Bahá’í Writings, a compilation of Bahá’í teachings on biblical topics. It is available from the Bahá’í Distribution Service.
If JoAnn Borovicka’s discussion of the Exodus narrative has caught your interest, you may want to follow up with Dr. Todd Lawson’s Web Talk on Bahá’u’lláh and the story of Joseph found in the Old Testament and in the Qur’an.
Three additional talks by Dr. Lawson may also appeal to you as you venture into topics drawn from the sacred writings of the Jewish and Islamic religions:
- “The Qur’an: The First Book in Arabic”
- “The Qur’an in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb”
- “The Qur’anic Epic and the Creation of Humanity”
Todd Lawson is Professor Emeritus of Islamic Thought, University of Toronto. In 2016 the Association for Bahá’í Studies awarded him its distinguished book award for his study of the Qayyúm al-asmá, Gnostic apocalypse in Islam (Routledge 2012) Todd has published numerous articles and books on the relationship between the Bahá’í Faith and Islam, Qur’an commentary, Sufism and Shi’ism, his most recent being http://www.brill.com/products/reference-work/roads-paradise-eschatology-and-concepts-hereafter-islam-2-vols.