Excerpts from 1844: Convergence in Prophecy for Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahá’í Faith
There is a concept in the Bahá’í Faith called the spiritual seasons. This concept illustrates the spiritual cycles that the world has experienced. For example, when a prophet of God comes, He releases spiritual energy that revitalizes humanity. The summertime of His Dispensation and teachings is a flowering. The new spiritual energy triggered by the coming of a Prophet of God manifests not only in the spiritual advancement of a people but also in a rapid development of civilization in the arts and sciences, medicine and architecture, literature and mathematics, and other areas. Historians are familiar with these bursts of creativity, artistry, and inventiveness, but they have not connected them to the infusion of divine revelation into the world. However, the repeated convergence of these two factors is evident after reflection.
After spring and summer, there is the season of autumn when the Prophet’s original teachings have been forgotten or perverted with superstition. The wintertime is spiritually desolate, and in time a new Prophet of God will bring a divine spring with a new Revelation. The eternal verities are retained in each Revelation, but new laws and moral codes are taught to address the circumstances of the time and the peoples’ growing maturity.
The Irish Bishop James Ussher (1581‒1656) searched for the date of the Creation by studying the timeline of biblical events using a literal reading of the Hebrew Bible. He paid particular attention to the genealogy of “begats” and the historical time references given for the monarchies and postexilic periods up to the time of Christ. His conclusion was that the world was created and Adam was expelled from the Garden of Eden in 4004 BCE. Ussher’s chronological calculations were broadly accepted for two centuries until early geologists and other scientists learned that the earth was billions of years old and that life on it could be traced back for millions of years.
While Ussher’s calculations were incorrect for the beginning of the world, they might have inadvertently pinpointed the approximate time of the Prophet Adam. Is it only a coincidence that Sumerian civilization developed rapidly in the fourth millennium BCE? Perhaps not. Adam, like every succeeding Prophet of God, released spiritual energy into the world, thus triggering a divine springtime. Nothing remains of Adam’s teachings except mythic memories and symbolism. But the flowering of Sumeria has been well explored and documented by archeologists and historians.
The first city-states historians have identified were in Sumeria and they contained monumental temple compounds, palaces, and markets. Extensive irrigation projects expanded agricultural economies. Yokes and harnesses were invented to hitch animals to carts and plows, which plunged four times deeper into the soil than the hoe used by Neolithic farmers. Pastoral advances included the introduction of milk, yogurt, and cheese into the diet and the use of wool in textile creation. Sumerians invented the sailboat and the potter’s wheel. Their donkey-drawn carts and horse-drawn chariots revolutionized trade and warfare, respectively. Cuneiform, or wedge writing, emerged as the world’s first known system of writing; it may have been invented for commercial use as early as 3800 BCE. Accounting systems evolved to accommodate commercial and centralized administrative needs.
The Sumerians developed a mathematical system based on the number 60 that is still used globally today for hours, minutes, and seconds. This original sexagesimal system enabled the Sumerians to calculate roots, multiply into millions, and use fractions. Mathematics still counts 360 degrees in a circle and 12 inches in a foot. These people looked to the skies and developed astronomy, the lunar calendar, and the sun dial. The science of architecture advanced rapidly as the pulley, lever, saw, chisel, brick mold, arch, vault, and dome opened new possibilities in engineering and construction. The Sumerians built monumental stone sculptures and stepped temples decorated with engraving and inlay work.
It appears that Sumeria experienced a divine springtime and high summer, as evidenced by the rapid advancements of its civilization. Possibly the springtime of Adam’s Dispensation kickstarted civilization as we know it today. Although no trace of Adam’s teachings survived to our day, He would undoubtedly have taught the spiritual verities at a level that could be understood by the people of that time. The degeneration of these teachings may have been evidenced in the emergence of an elaborate pantheon of an uncountable number of deities that appeared along with the belief that humanity had been created to serve them. Perhaps this is evidence that Sumeria eventually experienced the spiritual seasons of autumn and winter of the Adamic Revelation.
The Prophet Abraham, who was probably born in Sumeria, grew up in a polytheistic culture during the winter of Adam’s revelation. The book of Genesis devotes more than fourteen chapters (11:26 to 25:10) to Him. The Qur’an also recounts Abraham’s story at length, starting with his youth in Sumeria where, as the son of an idol maker, he defied the idol cults and confronted the ruler Nimrod about the falsity of idolatry. Nimrod banished Abraham from his homeland, so He relocated to the land of Canaan and taught the singularity of God to another idol-worshipping people. Abraham was followed by Moses, who brought an extensive code of religious law. The Israelite culture subsequently flowered with nation-building energy and a growing level of adult male literacy accompanied by a reverence for written scripture.
The spiritual energy of early Christianity generated by Jesus gave rise to Byzantine culture. Generally, the start of the Byzantine Empire is seen as 330 CE, when Constantine I declared a new Rome on the site of the Greek colony of Byzantium. When Constantine converted to Christianity, he brought his empire into the new faith and dedicated a “New Rome” on the site of ancient Byzantium, today’s Istanbul, located strategically on the Straight of Bosporus connecting the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean to the Black Sea, and separating the continents of Europe and Asia. While the western half of the Roman Empire fell in the fifth century, its eastern half grew and flourished as the Byzantine Empire. Lasting about a thousand years, it was known for its advances in religious art that influenced Italian Renaissance art. Byzantium became the center for the Eastern Orthodox Church and for learning and the arts. Ruins of Byzantine churches and their exquisite tile floors can be found throughout the Middle East.
The Prophet Muḥammad brought a spiritual springtime to the primitive, savage tribes of Arabia. Islamic culture, whose golden age spanned from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries CE—a time known as the medieval era in the western Christian world—emerged from the barbarism of Arabian tribes who constantly raided each other and often buried their female infants alive. The summer of a learned, Islamic culture burgeoned with tremendous advances in science, mathematics, medicine, architecture, education, art, and literature. The multicultural Islamic city of Cordoba in today’s Spain boasted indoor plumbing, paved streets with miles of public lighting, fountains and gardens, bookstores on every block, and a dynamic economy based on robust trade with partners as far away as China. The library of al-Hakam II (caliph from 961 to 976 CE) is reputed to have held four hundred thousand volumes. Slowly Islam then sank into its spiritual autumn and winter.
The Báb, the first of the two Prophets of the Bahá’í Faith, declared His identity in 1844 in Persia, an Islamic country. The spiritual energy of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, the second Prophet of the Bahá’í Faith, triggered social and technological advancements familiar to us, especially in the field of communications. For example, on May 24, 1844, one day after the Báb revealed His identity to Mulla Husayn in Shiraz, Samuel Morse sent his first telegraph message, “What hath God wrought?” (Num. 23:23, KJV) from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, reinvigorating a communications revolution that had seen little progress since the invention of the printing press six hundred years before, and triggering the development of electronics technology to the point where information can be sent globally within seconds. The immensity of the outpouring of spiritual energy is reflected in civilizational developments that may seem normal to us but whose scope and speed are unprecedented in human history.
With His Revelation, Bahá’u’lláh renewed springtime for the whole world, not just a particular ethnic or religious group. He did not abrogate previous religions but endeavored to help their followers obtain a better understanding of their Messengers and scriptures, all of which taught basic spiritual verities and foretold the coming of a future Prophet. Like all previous Prophets whom He not only recognized but honored, Bahá’u’lláh reinforced the spiritual truths taught from time immemorial. He also brought new spiritual teachings designed to help humanity transition from its adolescence to full maturity.