First published in 1923, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era offers readers a thorough introduction to the Bahá’í Faith written by one of its early adherents. Through studious investigation of the young religion, aided by a close relationship with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá — the son and successor of Bahá’u’lláh, its Prophet and Founder — Dr. John E. Esslemont gained rare insight into the history and teachings of a religion still in its infant stages.
Since its first publication, Dr. Esslemont’s book, now translated into sixty-seven different languages, remains one of the most enduring and widely used introductory books on the Bahá’í Faith. It is our hope that in making this edition widely available to the general public, the book will continue to provide readers with a comprehensive and inspiring overview of the newest of the world’s independent religions.
The National Spiritual Assembly of
the Bahá’ís of the United States
With the publication of “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era” more than ten years ago, the Bahá’í Faith was given its first well-conceived, thorough exposition by a student of the teachings. Recognizing its value as the most satisfactory introduction to the Cause, Bahá’ís in both East and West have found Dr. Esslemont’s book so helpful that it has been translated into some thirty different languages.
As Dr. Esslemont himself recognized, the Faith entered a new phase of its history after the ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The result is that the author’s views, some of them written prior to 1921, no longer, on certain aspects of the subject, correspond to the evolutionary character of the Faith. His treatment of events and social conditions then existing, moreover, no longer appears fully relevant. Unavoidably, a few errors of fact had entered his text, while his explanation of the stations of the Báb and of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá have been replaced in the minds of Bahá’ís by the authoritative interpretations since made by the first Guardian of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi.
The present edition therefore represents a revision made by the American National Spiritual Assembly, acting under the advice and approval of Shoghi Effendi.
These revisions in no respect alter the original plan of Dr. Esslemont’s book, nor affect the major portion of his text. Their purpose has been to amplify the author’s discussion in a few passages by the addition of material representing the fuller knowledge available since his lamented death, and newer translations of his quotations from Bahá’í Sacred Writings.
Bahá’í Publishing Committee
With this edition the American Bahá’í Publishing Committee takes over copyright and other interests in “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era” from Messrs. George Allen & Unwin Ltd., of London, England, through whom the late Dr. J. E. Esslemont published his famous book more than twenty years ago. Under arrangement with the British publishers, the Committee has since 1928 brought out eleven printings, in addition to the first American edition imported by Brentano’s of New York.
This edition does not displace the text as it has appeared since major revision was made in the book under the direction of the Guardian of the Faith in 1937, as the time has not come for anything like a thorough recasting of the book to make its references to world conditions completely contemporaneous. Dr. Esslemont’s work endures as a trustworthy introduction to the history and teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. Its translation into some thirty different languages attests its appeal to students in the East as well as the West.
It should be added that any further revision of the text in the future is subject to approval by Shoghi Effendi. The Committee has no authority to pass upon revisions which may be desired by Bahá’ís of other countries for their particular need.
Bahá’í Publishing Committee
Since 1937 no revision has been made to the text of Dr. Esslemont’s book, although in 1950 some minor corrections were introduced. On the other hand, the diffusion and development of the Bahá’í Faith since that time have been tremendous, and there has been added to Bahá’í bibliography a rich legacy of incomparable expositions, translations and historical accounts from the pen of Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Faith and the appointed interpreter of its Sacred Writings.
It has therefore been deemed necessary to bring the book up to date in order to maintain its usefulness for modern readers. This has been done with a minimum of alteration to the text, and chiefly by the use of footnotes and of an epilogue giving the current statistics and new developments in the organic unfoldment of the Bahá’í Faith.
Dr. Esslemont’s book continues to be one of the most widely used introductory books on the Bahá’í Faith, as evidenced by the fact that since 1937 the number of its translations has increased from thirty to fifty-eight.
Bahá’í Publishing Trust
In preparing this edition of Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, some minor changes have been made in order to provide readers with the most up-to-date information and resources available. Newer authorized translations of extracts from the Bahá’í writings have been substituted where available, minor corrections have been made to the text and footnotes for clarity and consistency, and a bibliography has been added. All revisions have been made with the approval of the Universal House of Justice — the international governing body of the Bahá’í Faith — and great care has been taken to ensure that none of the revisions made in any way alter the original intent of the author.
In December 1914, through a conversation with friends who had met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the loan of a few pamphlets, I first became acquainted with the Bahá’í teachings. I was at once struck by their comprehensiveness, power and beauty. They impressed me as meeting the great needs of the modern world more fully and satisfactorily than any other presentation of religion which I had come across — an impression which subsequent study has only served to deepen and confirm.
In seeking for fuller knowledge about the movement I found considerable difficulty in obtaining the literature I wanted, and soon conceived the idea of putting together the gist of what I learned in the form of a book, so that it might be more easily available for others. When communication with Palestine was reopened after the war, I wrote to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and enclosed a copy of the first nine chapters of the book, which was then almost complete in rough draft. I received a very kind and encouraging reply, and a cordial invitation to visit Him in Haifa and bring the whole of my manuscript with me. The invitation was gladly accepted, and I had the great privilege of spending two and a half months as the guest of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during the winter of 1919–1920. During this visit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá discussed the book with me on various occasions. He gave several valuable suggestions for its improvement and proposed that, when I had revised the manuscript, He would have the whole of it translated into Persian so that He could read it through and amend or correct it where necessary. The revisal and translation were carried out as suggested, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá found time, amid His busy life, to correct some three and a half chapters (Chapters 1, 2, 5 and part of 3) before He passed away. It is a matter of profound regret to me that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was not able to complete the correction of the manuscript, as the value of the book would thereby have been greatly enhanced. The whole of the manuscript has been carefully revised, however, by a committee of the National Bahá’í Assembly of England, and its publication approved by that Assembly.
I am greatly indebted to Miss E. J. Rosenberg, Mrs. Claudia S. Coles, Mírzá Lutfu’lláh S. Hakím, Messrs. Roy Wilhelm and Mountfort Mills and many other kind friends for valuable help in the preparation of the work.
As regards the transliteration of Arabic and Persian names and words, the system adopted in this book is that recently recommended by Shoghi Effendi for use throughout the Bahá’í World.
J. E. ESSLEMONT
If we study the story of the “ascent of man” as recorded in the pages of history, it becomes evident that the leading factor in human progress is the advent, from time to time, of men who pass beyond the accepted ideas of their day and become the discoverers and revealers of truths hitherto unknown among mankind. The inventor, the pioneer, the genius, the Prophet — these are the men on whom the transformation of the world primarily depends. As Carlyle says:—
The plain truth, very plain, we think is, that … one man that has a higher Wisdom, a hitherto unknown spiritual Truth in him, is stronger, not than ten men that have it not, or than ten thousand, but than all men that have it not; and stands among them with a quite ethereal, angelic power, as with a sword out of Heaven’s own armory, sky-tempered, which no buckler, and no tower of brass, will finally withstand.
— Signs of the Times.
In the history of science, of art, of music, we see abundant illustrations of this truth, but in no domain is the supreme importance of the great man and his message more clearly evident than in that of religion. All down the ages, whenever the spiritual life of men has become degenerate and their morals corrupt, that most wonderful and mysterious of men, the Prophet, makes His appearance. Alone against the world, without a single human being capable of teaching, of guiding, of fully understanding Him, or of sharing His responsibility, He arises, like a seer among blind men, to proclaim His gospel of righteousness and truth.
Amongst the Prophets some stand out with special preeminence. Every few centuries a great Divine Revealer — a Krishna, a Zoroaster, a Moses, a Jesus, a Muhammad — appears in the East, like a spiritual Sun, to illumine the darkened minds of men and awaken their dormant souls. Whatever our views as to the relative greatness of these religion-founders we must admit that They have been the most potent factors in the education of mankind. With one accord these Prophets declare that the words They utter are not from Themselves, but are a Revelation through Them, a Divine message of which They are the bearers. Their recorded utterances abound, too, in hints and promises of a great world teacher Who will appear “in the fullness of time” to carry on Their work and bring it to fruition, One Who will establish a reign of peace and justice upon earth, and bring into one family all races, religions, nations, and tribes, that “there may be one fold and one shepherd” and that all may know and love God “from the least even unto the greatest.”
Surely the advent of this “Educator of Mankind,” in the latter days, when He appears, must be the greatest event in human history. And the Bahá’í Movement is proclaiming to the world the glad tidings that this Educator has in fact appeared, that His Revelation has been delivered and recorded and may be studied by every earnest seeker, that the “Day of the Lord” has already dawned and the “Sun of Righteousness” arisen. As yet only a few on the mountaintops have caught sight of the Glorious Orb, but already its rays are illumining heaven and earth, and erelong it will rise above the mountains and shine with full strength on the plains and valleys too, giving life and guidance to all.
That the world, during the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth centures, has been passing through the death pangs of an old era and the birth pangs of a new, is evident to all. The old principles of materialism and self-interest, the old sectarian and patriotic prejudices and animosities, are perishing, discredited, amidst the ruins they have wrought, and in all lands we see signs of a new spirit of faith, of brotherhood, of internationalism, that is bursting the old bonds and overrunning the old boundaries. Revolutionary changes of unprecedented magnitude have been occurring in every department of human life. The old era is not yet dead. It is engaged in a life and death struggle with the new. Evils there are in plenty, gigantic and formidable, but they are being exposed, investigated, challenged and attacked with new vigor and hope. Clouds there are in plenty, vast and threatening, but the light is breaking through, and is illumining the path of progress and revealing the obstacles and pitfalls that obstruct the onward way.
In the eighteenth century it was different. Then the spiritual and moral gloom that enshrouded the world was relieved by hardly a ray of light. It was like the darkest hour before the dawn, when the few lamps and candles that remain alight do little more than make the darkness visible. Carlyle in his Frederick the Great writes of the eighteenth century thus:—
A century which has no history and can have little or none. A century so opulent in accumulated falsities … as never century before was! Which had no longer the consciousness of being false, so false had it grown; and was so steeped in falsity, and impregnated with it to the very bone, that — in fact the measure of the things was full, and a French Revolution had to end it.… A very fit termination, as I thankfully feel, for such a century.… For there was need once more of a Divine Revelation to the torpid, frivolous children of men, if they were not to sink altogether into the ape condition.
— Frederick the Great, Book I, Chap. 1.
Compared with the eighteenth century the present time is as the dawn after darkness, or as the spring after winter. The world is stirring with new life, thrilling with new ideals and hopes. Things that but a few years ago seemed impossible dreams are now accomplished facts. Others that seemed centuries ahead of us have already become matters of “practical politics.” We fly in the air and make voyages under the sea. We send messages around the world with the speed of lightning. Within a few decades we have seen miracles too numerous to mention.
What is the cause of this sudden awakening throughout the world? Bahá’ís believe that it is due to a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Prophet Bahá’u’lláh, Who was born in Persia in 1817 and passed away in the Holy Land in 1892.
Bahá’u’lláh taught that the Prophet, or “Manifestation of God,” is the Light-bringer of the spiritual world, as the sun is the light-bringer of the natural world. Just as the material sun shines over the earth and causes the growth and development of material organisms, so also, through the Divine Manifestation, the Sun of Truth shines upon the world of heart and soul, and educates the thoughts, morals and characters of men. And just as the rays of the natural sun have an influence which penetrates into the darkest and shadiest corners of the world, giving warmth and life even to creatures that have never seen the sun itself, so also, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Manifestation of God influences the lives of all, and inspires receptive minds even in places and among peoples where the name of the Prophet is quite unknown. The advent of the Manifestation is like the coming of the Spring. It is a day of Resurrection in which the spiritually dead are raised to new life, in which the Reality of the Divine Religions is renewed and reestablished, in which appear “new heavens and a new earth.”
But, in the world of nature, the Spring brings about not only the growth and awakening of new life but also the destruction and removal of the old and effete; for the same sun, that makes the flowers to spring and the trees to bud, causes also the decay and disintegration of what is dead and useless; it loosens the ice and melts the snow of winter, and sets free the flood and the storm that cleanse and purify the earth. So it is also in the spiritual world. The spiritual sunshine causes similar commotion and change. Thus the Day of Resurrection is also the Day of Judgment, in which corruptions and imitations of the truth and outworn ideas and customs are discarded and destroyed, in which the ice and snow of prejudice and superstition, which accumulated during the season of winter, are melted and transformed, and energies long frozen and pent up are released to flood and renovate the world.