"Sublime meteoric shower all over the United states - 1833" from The National Memorial Volume: Being a Popular Descriptive Portraiture of the Great Events of Our Past Century
This is a presentation that is going to review the newspaper coverage of the Baha'i Faith and is going to review it in light of the kind of news-of-the-day early Christianity had. This is for two reasons - first though the spiritual teachings are attractive and heart-felt the history is very tense. One may think a religious Founder comes and everyone just believes but history says it is not so. And second, the parallels between early Christianity - even Jesus Himself - and early Baha'i history are inescapable and have been made by those inside the religion as well as some outside. Here we will see it for ourselves. The early history of Christianity as noted in the Gospels should be well known before this at least in general (things like the manger, baptism, crucifixion, apostles suffering and basically the progress of the growth of the religion) - but what is often less well known is how others at the times noted these events. There are various quotes either from history or from published works. This compilation and my words, outside of the quotes, have no authority within or outside the Baha'i Faith. These are just for your consideration.
So first we have the analysis of a Baha'i authority making the parallel…
"It would indeed be no exaggeration to say that nowhere in the whole compass of the world’s religious literature, except in the Gospels, do we find any record relating to the death of any of the religion-founders of the past comparable to the martyrdom suffered by the Prophet of Shíráz. … The passion of Jesus Christ, and indeed His whole public ministry, alone offer a parallel to the Mission and death of the Báb, a parallel which no student of comparative religion can fail to perceive or ignore. In the youthfulness and meekness of the Inaugurator of the Bábí Dispensation; in the extreme brevity and turbulence of His public ministry; in the dramatic swiftness with which that ministry moved towards its climax; in the apostolic order which He instituted, and the primacy which He conferred on one of its members; in the boldness of His challenge to the time-honored conventions, rites and laws which had been woven into the fabric of the religion He Himself had been born into; in the rôle which an officially recognized and firmly entrenched religious hierarchy played as chief instigator of the outrages which He was made to suffer; in the indignities heaped upon Him; in the suddenness of His arrest; in the interrogation to which He was subjected; in the derision poured, and the scourging inflicted, upon Him; in the public affront He sustained; and, finally, in His ignominious suspension before the gaze of a hostile multitude—in all these we cannot fail to discern a remarkable similarity to the distinguishing features of the career of Jesus Christ.”Now these are names you may not have heard as much - the Bab and the Babi Dispensation and Shiraz. You may have heard Baha'is note the year 1844 as the origin of the history of the Baha'i Faith. Indeed the 1800s had many astounding events like the 1833 meteor storm.
- God Passes By, by Shoghi Effendi, 1979, p. 56, (paragraph 15)
Baha'is see a relationship akin to John the Baptist and Jesus between the persons of the Bab and Baha'u'llah - a subject we'll return to another time. From the Christian narratives we know John the Baptist was out moving the people to repent and be baptized to outwardly and inwardly refine their lives with a personal commitment to a new life. So the history of the Baha'i Faith begins with the history of the Bab and here we see a remarkable case being made - that the history of the Bab and of Jesus are extremely parallel. But again what was the view of the people of the day on the coming of Jesus? We all kind of know the Biblical story but what were people talking about outside the Bible? A historian of the period concerned with Jewish history is known as Josephus - we know almost nothing about where Josephus got his information but it was clearly second or third hand at best and clearly the color of the coverage was unfriendly. He has three references to these early matters. This is taken from the Wikipedia article "Josephus on Jesus":
"And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. … Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man... Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion... Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death.
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”The third is in some dispute among scholars who broadly think there was some kernel of truth that got changed a bit. But I'll let it stand. Here we have a very different angle on what we we've come to know of the history of Christianity. There's no manger, no wise men, no gathering of apostles. First we hear of things because Jesus' brother James got in trouble and then John the Baptist and finally Jesus were all put to death. The chronology is out of the familiar order not to mention a whole different slant. And this is not the cozy realm of spiritual thought and ideals. This is the hardness of human hearts - of intolerance of unconventionally, of politics and traditions and fears. And people were stoned to death and hung on a cross.
Josephus wrote about 30 or 50 years after the events of the Gospels. This is the considered thought of a historian. And it gets worse. The historian Tacitus writes another 20 odd years after Josephus about more news of Christians now almost a century after Jesus. This is from the Wikipedia article "Tacitus on Christ".
"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”Harrowing. Very harrowing. Something happened - a fire - some plead guilty, and then Christians who had nothing to do with it were rounded up and killed in very heinous ways. It can even be argued they were entirely innocent. Notice Tacitus thinks the Christians culpable for being so different - but it is "lamentable" they had to be put to death this way.
There are a few more quotes from the first century or so of the Christian history. But I don't wish to prolong this over much. These are the key quotes about how things were viewed from the outside so to speak. This is a broad picture of the history it is contended is a parallel for looking at the early history of the Baha'i Faith and its basis in the Babi Faith.
And O yes, there is a record of a quake after Jesus was crucified. It was symbolic but it was also physical. Not much is known of it, but earthquakes are not fun to go through. Recall the quake in Haiti was very terrible even though stronger quakes had hit California where few died whereas in Haiti it was very terrible. This also, we will see, happened in the history of the Bab.
Here's the quote on a quake after Jesus' martyrdom - "[…sediments in the Dead Sea] … reveal a seismic event that happened sometime between the years 26 and 36.”
So, like the Christians starting with the notable Origen who observed Josephus' writing near two centuries later, Baha'is didn't rely on historians and reporters - we have our own narratives and chroniclers who wrote our own records. So coming to hear of the non-Baha'i comments took some time to find, to discover they even existed, and here we are near two centuries later. Just as it wasn't until many years later that Josephus was noted by Christians.
We speak of things in the 1800s but it wasn't until the 1970s that newspaper stories referring to the first public events of Babi history come to our own eyes. And the hint of the trail is noted in 1973 by Hasan Balyuzi who published the biography, The Báb: The Herald of the Day of Days. It is a newspaper clipping with the title "Mahometan Schism" - referring to Muhammad, peace be upon Him, and already you see a sense of division and strife being referred to by One whom we call meek and gentle. And that trail led back to earlier and earlier dates - from America in 1846 back to Nov 15 1845 and then finally to Nov 1, 1845 in London as the first public event of the religion that makes the news- a paper was published in 1976 when this was finally identified - "Persia": An Early Mention of the Báb, by Robert Cadwalader, in World Order magazine, Winter 1976-77, pp. 30-34.
This was further summarized in 1981 in Moojan Momen's book. "The Bábí and Bahá'í religions 1844-1944: some contemporary western accounts" published in 1981, ISBN 978-0-85398-102-2. For the careful researcher this is an excellent review of the material as it was known circa 1980.
Recall James got in trouble and was stoned? That happened way later compared to the Gospel narrative. So the earliest moments of the Baha'i narrative for Babi history begin much earlier and are private events. In May a man left his school, wandered in search of a promised one, came to a city gate and was welcomed to take rest in the home of the Bab. That night there was intense discussion and hearts won to a Cause of enlightenment and fulfillment - yet there was no reporter present, no historian, no anthropologist. Just as Jesus walked into the River Jordan and no one really took note so it was with the first moments of the Babi Faith. These events we are to hear about in the news come later.
18 individuals each independently and quietly, personally, even in dreams, came to affirm specifically that the Bab was their promised one. Only then did He give them their first missions. One He sent out to tell the students at the school that the promised one had come. Another He sent north to look for a hidden secret and found a family man who would later be called Baha'u'llah. But the Bab Himself - and the lead disciple Quddus as he was later known - went off on pilgrimage to Mecca and there proclaim the new Day. But none of these are matters western reporters would be interested in. Recall this was a time of colonies and empires - British, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish colonies were spread through the world. Russia was pushing out too - so in Persia we had Russia pushing down from the north and the British pushing in from the south and east. Shiraz is the city of the Bab and it located in the south. And colonies are about trade flowing. The Boston Tea Party was about trade fairness and that's the kind of thing that makes the news to the British concerns - threats to trade. So the first coverage of the Babi history is to come soon. The Bab and Quddus return from Mecca, land at the port city near Shiraz and the Bab sends Quddus and a few others already converted on to Shiraz to make the news in His hometown.
So here's one of the versions of that first newspaper story:
"We have been favored with the following letter, dated Bushire, August 10: A Persian merchant, who has lately returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca, had been for some time endeavoring here to prove that he was one of the successors of Mahomet, and there had a right to demand of all true Mussulmans to mention him as such in their profession of faith; he had already collected a good number of followers, who secretly aided him in forwarding his views. On the evening of the 23d of June last, I have been informed from a creditable source, four persons being heard at Shiraz repeating their profession of faith according to the form prescribed by the new impostor were apprehended, tried, and found guilty of unpardonable blasphemy. They were sentence to lose their beards by fire being set to them. The sentence was put into execution with all the zeal and fanaticism becoming a true believer in Mahomet. Not deeming the loss of beards a sufficient punishment for the believers in the impostor, they were further sentenced on the next day to have their faces blacked and exposed throughout the city. Each of them was led by a Mirgazah (executioner), who had made a hole in his nose and passed through it a string, which he sometimes pulled with such violence that the unfortunate fellows cried out alternatively for mercy from the executioner and for vengeance from Heaven. It is custom in Persia on such occasions for the executioners to collect from the spectators, and particularly from the shopkeepers in the bazaar. In the evening, when the pockets of the executioners were well filled with money, they led the unfortunate fellows to the city gate, and there told them:You can find this newspaper clipping archived at http://bahai-library.com/first_newspaper_accounts_babism
"The world was all before them where to chooseTheir place of rest, and Providence their guide."After which the Mollahs at Shiraz sent men to Bushire with power to seize the impostor, and take him to Shiraz, where, on being tried, he very wisely denied the charge of apostasy laid against him, and thus escaped from punishment."
It turns out there are actually many echoes of this first newspaper story in fact. Here's a list - just skim to get a sense of it:
1 Nov, London Times
6 Nov, Bradford Observer
15 Nov, Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles, Letters, Arts, Sciences, etc., London, England
18 Nov, Morning Post
19 Nov, London Times and London Standard
20 Nov, Patriot of London
21 Nov, Stamford Mercury, Lincolnshire, England, and Newcastle Courant, Tyne and Wear, England
22 Nov, Leamington Spa Courier, Warwickshire, England
25 Nov, Kentish Gazette, Kent, England and Freeman's Journal Dublin, Republic of Ireland
26 Nov, Blackburn Standard, Lancashire, England, Hereford Journal, Herefordshire, England
27 Nov, Fife Herald, Fife, Scotland
28 Nov, Royal Cornwall Gazette, Cornwall, England
29 Nov, West Kent Guardian, West Yorkshire, England, Northern Star, Hereford Times, Herefordshire, England, Sherborne Mercury, Dorset, England, Western Times, Devon, England, Northern Star and National Trades Journal
5 Dec, Liverpool Mercury, Merseyside, England
5 Jan, Caledonian Mercury, Midlothian, Scotland
6 Jan, Dundee Courier, Angus, Scotland
14 Jan, Dumfries and Galloway Standard, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
26 Jan, Troy Daily Whig, Troy NY
30 Jan, Christian observer of Louisville, Kentucky
19 Feb, Vermont Watchman and State Journal, Montpelier, Vermont
23 Feb, Signal of Liberty, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Feb (Jan/Feb issue) The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art (New York, NY)
31 Mar, Melbourne Australia's Port Phillip Herald
4 Apr, Boon's Lick Times, Fayette, Missouri, p. 1, Morning Chronicle, Sydney, Australia, p. 4 7 Apr, South Australian, Adelaide, Australia
11 Apr, South Australian Register, Adelaide, Australia
15 July, New Zealand Spectator Cook's Strait Guardian
And - get this - I'm absolutely sure this is an incomplete list! England... England... England... and then 27 November we have Ireland…Scotland... on it goes... under 1846 we have New York, Troy New York, Louisville Kentucky, Montpelier Vermont, Ann Arbor Michigan, here's Fayette Missouri - and Sydney Australia! And then down to New Zealand! (Now here we are in the online "world"/"country?" of Blogger! lol) Echoes of this newspaper article have been found in almost every country on the planet that had an English language newspaper in the day. Britain, the US, Australia and New Zealand are confirmed. We hope to find it yet in Canada and other places; maybe even in other languages. All these are footnoted (though some depend on a subscription to a newspaper clipping service.) The link to go to is at http://bahaikipedia.org/%22Persia_-_or_-_Mahometan_Schism%22
So after the events in Shiraz the Bab was arrested, accused of things He didn't claim and punished - well you get the picture. Punishment just because He was challenging a cardinal rule of Islam which others thought was a prophetic day, the rule of clerical order of the day, and who were founded with a promise that one day a One unlike any other would come and were warned the day would be tough. From Shiraz the Bab was sent away and He then directed His followers to spread to different directions. Here we have a newspaper story from 1848. Two years have gone by. Here you see reports He has gathered some 30,000 converts and the Bab has again been arrested. Recall the news of Jesus - He was accused of idolatry and sorcery. What sorcery was that? People would meet Him and be magnetized to a whole different approach to life even if they were scholars or fixed on denying Him many were converted or dumbfounded. People not there see this and develop fear and loathing. Here we have a supposed confession under torture. Recall the judges accusing Jesus and bating Him with questions. Non-Baha'is noted this later. All this can be read in the histories but here - June 1848 - we have a letter from May being printed in French in the Journal de Constantinople of a letter from Persia.
In June 1848 a letter from May 1 is summarized and printed in the Journal de Constantinople
"…from Persia, dated May 1st from Teheran,…
… encouraging the supporters of the Bab in their resistance to religious authorities of the country. The Bab is a madman who has announced himself in Persia, some time ago, to be the Mahdi (Messiah), and by his preaching in Azerbaijan and Gilan, he has succeeded in gathering around him about 30,000 converts. The royal prince named last governor of Tabríz, having been able, by persuasion, to get (p. 2) the Bab to confess his imposture. The latter has been thrown into a dungeon, after having previously been subjected to torture, in accordance with the laws of the country.… "- http://bahaikipedia.org/%22name_of_Bab%22
Next (from the same url)
"This was written to us from Tabríz on the 1st of March, 1849:We have been talking for some time of a religious sect who took up arms in Mazenderan to defend its dogmas and its leader who is currently in jail there. Babis, so named after their leader, profess some very advanced socialist ideas. They are also furious as one can imagine, and they are already worn to excesses against delegated power. Now that the government seems completely delivered of embarrassment by Khorasan, it probably will reduce them."Here we have Babis who had been a threat to the public order by converting 10s of thousands of people in many cities in just three years to change religions, to set aside previous understanding, to live according to different rules and here they are called "very advanced socialist ideas". Mazanderan(various spellings in these newspaper clips) is a province in Persia. This hint of taking up arms... let's read the next one:
29 March, 1849
"I have seen it announced that the Bab, after his rebellion and imprisonment in Erdébil some months ago, has taken refuge in Mazandaran where he is surrounded by a party of about 600 angry men occupying a small fort, from which they have repelled the troops repeatedly sent against them. A body of 3,000 men could finally exterminate these rebels, and evict them from their hideout..…"
600 men facing 3000 soldiers and it is called a hideout in this Turkish-French newspaper.
600 vs 3000 - this isn't a fair fight and this isn't even a fight. The Babis had taken refuge at the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi from neighboring villages where Babis had been stoned and without provisions, as refugees. Other Babis heard of them and they gathered to a number near 600 it is said. This occupation was from October 10, 1848 to May 10, 1849. So we are hearing almost live reports as it were but from behind one side of the line certainly. But like the march on Selma you get a very different view of things from the other side of the line. You don't hear about the woman that was among these 600 angry men for example or that they were surrounded on a flat plain open to all - hideout indeed. Or how they managed to hold off the 3000 soldiers.
12 April 1849, Morning Post, London
"From our Correspondent: Constantinople, March 25… Another rebel, who made himself very formidable of late in Mazanderan, has just been taken and put to death. This was a fanatic of the name of Bab, who, at the head of a band of enthusiasts, who are called "Babies," had committed all sorts of atrocities in the south of Persia; and having been driven thence by the troops of the Shah, he betook himself to the north, which he treated much after the same fashion, ravaging and raving(text is alittle unclear) his way all through Mazanderan. By the last accounts, however, it appears that an end had been put to him and his exploits by the hand of the public executioner. There is a striking analogy between the career of General Bab in Mazanderan and that of the General Ben of Transylvania; and it is not unlikely that, like Bab, Ben will come to a bad end."
23 April London Daily News, p. 5 …
"The following news from Persia appears in the Journal de Constantinople:… Bab, whose revolt and imprisonment at Erdebil I announced to you several months ago, having taken refuge in the Mazanderan, was there with about 600 violent men, who occupied a small fort, from which he had repeatedly repelled the troops sent against him. A corps of 3,000 men, however, has at last exterminated this factious band, and blown up their retreat. … "(Almost a verbatim quote of the March 29th Journal article from above.)
Now here's the confusion coming in - the Bab was executed by soldiers in July 1850. We have a mistake here about who is being talked about. This was the singled out disciple of the Bab probably - Quddus - who was indeed executed after the Battle at the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi. How did the soldiers win? After failing to conquer them militarily the general of the army promised the Babis if all they wanted was to go live peaceably they could go and swore it on a copy of the Qur'an. The Babis put down their arms and walked out of the "Fort" after months with no provisions and when they surrendered they were executed almost on the spot.
Revue de l'Orient in the April 1849:
"… The Babis, for it is thus they are called, profess the most advanced socialist ideas, so fanatical as one can imagine, they have already taken matters to excess against delegates of authority in Mázindarán. Their chief is in prison in Tauris, and they say they have taken up arms in order to defend him, him and dogmas which he has imposed upon them, and which they accept without a murmur."
The Morning Post, 20 July 1850
"Persia - We are in possession, through our correspondents at Erzeroom and Constantinople, of dates from the capital of the Schah's(sic) dominions to the commencement of June, which report the country as generally quiet, with the sole exception of Tenjaun, where the Babees hold the town, and have gone the length of forming a Nizam. A military expedition has been dispatched against them from Tabreez, from when the constituted authorities have claimed the delivery up, for public execution, of the prophet Bawb, under confinement in the fortress of Tchehrik; but it would seem that his gailers have become proselytes to Babeeism, for they stoutly refuse to give him up. The Bab-el-Bale, or wise beauty of Kazoeen, is a close prisoner at Teheran, where rumour says, she has all but (ital in original-ed) converted some of the influential officers of state, who have been allowed to visit her dungeon."
3 Sept 1850, Morning Chronicle
"We have dates from Tabreez to the 31st July, announcing the important fact that the Sheik ul Islam, of Azerbaidjan (of which extensive district Tabreez is the capital), a very influential personage, as being on of the highest dignitaries of the Church of Persia, has been arrested, and forcibly conveyed to Teheran, by special order of the Emir Nizam, together with his son, under charge of intriguing to secure an extension of power to the clergy, to the manifest detriment of the State.
Babism, notwithstanding the recent execution of its chief and founder Bab, the soi-disant (ed - "supposedly") representative of Mahommed Medhi, the twelfth and last Imam, claiming direct succession from Mahommed, continues to increase, and its followers are said to number in Persia alone 50,000. The village of Zeudjan, which is their stronghold, though only containing a population of 8,000, including women and children, continues to hold out against five regiments of well-disciplined troops, which have closely besieged it for the past three months, and in a late sortie, 200 of the latter were massacred. It is said that the inhabitants have put themselves in a position, as regards provisions and warlike stores, to hold out for at least two years, against even a much superior force."
All from http://bahaikipedia.org/Newspaper_coverage_of_the_Zanjan_Upheaval
And here from January 1851:
The accounts received from this kingdom represent it to have been recently in a disturbed condition. The Shah has attempted to introduce several reforms, but they had not met with general approbation.The Persian sect of Babis, whose main doctrine is said to be the denial of the existence of God, and who recognize no other authority than that of their chief, has at last been extinguished. They had been persecuted for two years, and their Chief, Bab de Shiraf, put to death at Tauris, when they betook themselves to Longrian, which they fortified. The city was stormed by a considerable body of troops under Mehemet Chan, and most of the Babis fell in the struggle. The prisoners were doubtless all killed. They were accused of scandalous offenses against the religion and morals of the country.
The Cheikul-islan, or chief of religion, of Tabris, has been arrested by order of the government, and sent under a strong escort to Teheran; the charge against him was having favored the subversive projects of the Babis. The Khorassan was in full insurrection. Yar Mehemet Khan revolted against his father, the viceroy of the Shah, and besieged him in Herat.Stryker's American Register and Magazine, James Stryker, E. C. and J. Biddle, January, 1851, p. 129-130
So the Bab was executed in July 1850. It's another whole topic about how execution took place - rather incredible, but a story for another time. The country broke out in some violence but things appeared to calm down. Many leaders of the new religion were also dead or had turned away in the face of so much violence. The Babis that remained active were in disarray - other leaders like Tahirih who still lived were in prison. Many gather to pray about the turn of events and seeds of thoughts of revenge stirred. A few set themselves aside and a few of them gathered in secret and plotted. Out of tens of thousands, maybe over a hundred thousand who had survived, maybe 6 gathered and plotted and of them only three or four made the actual attempt on the Shah's life. Let us recall the times of Christianity that we will see paralleled and even more heinously.
From Tacitus again…
"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”So like the fire lit in Rome and turned into something else entirely there is the case of the "attempted" assassination of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar was on August 15, 1852. I say "attempted" because in a few quotes you will see it was not really meant to do so in the words of an eyewitness.
But here is one of the first long accounts, from the London Times, October 23. Note I have cut out sections to not extend the bloody commentary over much – this is less than half of the original text which was published in the newspaper:
The late attempt to assassinate the Shah of Persia was made by two persons who belonged to the religious sect of the Babis. This was the only confession they made in spite of the inexpressible torments of the rack, and, though their bones were crushed by screws, still their lips remained closed, and all they said was, "We are Babis." …. Look at others, whose teeth have been broken out by the hands of the executioner, offering their bare heads to the hammer which is to break their skulls. Or look at the woeful spectacle of the bazaar, lighted up by heretics, whose breasts and shoulders are drilled through and through, and made to contain burning candles. I have seen them marching through the bazaar with a band of music preceding them. … Nor are these the only torments …. I shall never forget the scene. Not a groan had escaped him;… but the flesh is weaker than the mind - he staggers and falls! For mercy's sake, give him the coup de grace, and make an end of it. … The judges now and then present some Crown officer or dignitary with a few Babis, and the Persian feels delighted and honoured by shedding the blood of the gagged and defenseless man. The infantry, cavalry, artillery, the King's guards, the guilds of the butchers, bakers - all took part in the bloody scenes. A certain Babi was sent as a present to the officers of the garrison; the commanding general had the first cut at him, and the other officers followed, each with his sword, according to rank and seniority. … After their death, the bodies of the Babis are cut into halves, and either nailed to the gates or thrown out to the dogs and shakals."Now in case you didn't catch the parallel, let me share a few people's comments:
Robert Grant Watson (b. 8 February 1834, d. 28 October 1892)
In 1866 British career diplomat Robert Grant Watson published a history the first half of the 19th century of Persia and included 16 pages on the events related to the history of the Babi Faith. Watson makes the very point himself about the parallels. He says of the Babi Faith:
"Bábism, though at present a proscribed religion in Persia, is far from being extinct, or even declining, and the Báb may yet contest with Mahomed the privilege of being regarded as the real prophet of the faithful. Bábism in its infancy was the cause of a greater sensation than that even which was produced by the teaching of Jesus, if we may judge from the account of Josephus of the first days of Christianity. Far from foreseeing the future spread of that religion, the Jewish historian contents himself with observing — "And the tribe of Christians, so named from him (Christ), are not extinct at this day."This is at the footnote at this url - http://archive.org/stream/ahistorypersiaf00grangoog#page/n363/mode/2up
Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch (b. June 18, 1809 - d. October 12, 1870)
Studies in the evidences of Christianity (1869) pp. 129 – 140, comments on Babi history. Bulfinch had been a Unitarian minister since 1830 but circa 1860 he accepted the trinity doctrine. He makes comparisons between the Bab and Jesus in various ways saying in part:
In various respects, the history of Mirza Ali Mohammed, surnamed the Bab, presents startling resemblance to that of the Savior. Claiming descent from an ancient prophet king, he was yet, like Jesus, born in a lowly station; still he was regarded by his followers as the sovereign of his nation and of mankind, whose advent had been long foretold and ardently expected. After leading a life of purity, and uttering words of wisdom, he was put to death, through the hostility of his own government, but by the hands of foreign soldiers; and, before his execution, he was denied by some of his most prominent followers; nay, the very form of contumely with which thy were compelled to treat him, was the same which had been used towards the Savior in the hall of the high priest.
It is high honor for a teacher of wisdom thus to bear in his own history a resemblance to that of the Redeemer and we would fain believe that Mirza Ali Mohammed was worthy of the distinction. But we cannot forget that the claim was made for him, that he was "the Gate of Truth, the Imam of Islam," the subject of ancient prophecy, the worker of present miracles, and the destined possessor of universal empire.…"
Here's one comment from 1874:
Sacramento Daily Union of 14 February 1874 , p. 4, 4th col - "He (the Shah) then massacred the Babis and religious sects, and set fire, a la Nero, to some of his victims.”- http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=SDU18740214.2.34Here's one from 1885 by Mary Wilson - she published an article in the periodical Contemporary Review and included in it comments of scholar Gobineau:
”…a joyful constancy in the face of bitterest suffering, torture and death, as vivid and touching as any that are found in the records of the heroic days of old”… We have been accustomed to claim it as an argument for the truth of our Christianity that its believers have been strong to suffer martyrdom for its sake. But here we have not men only, but tender and delicate women and little children, joyfully enduring torture "not accepting deliverance," for the sake of the faith that was in them.…The account of this closing day in the Bab’s history almost irresistibly recalls a similar day in a more sacred story. The mock trial – the outburst of blind, popular fury, stirred up by a jealous and vindictive priesthood – the cruel mockings and insult …"Now I said before that this wasn't much of an "attack". Here's the eyewitness report. In 1865 polish doctor Jakob Polak published his first hand account of on the attempt on the life of the Shah in Das Land und seine Bewohner. It mentions(translated from the German):
"In late summer 1852 as the Shah, accompanied by an approximately 500-man guard, underwent an outing from his summer palace Riaveran, three men came towards him, whereupon one of them point blank fired a pistol at him, ... The shot grazed the stomach of the Shah's horse; the guard appeared to back off, leaving him to his fate, then everyone believed him to be dead and murdered at the hands of a pretender to the throne. Had there been a decaying corpse among the living it would have seemed superfluous [very loosely translated]. Only one foreign servant noticed the Shah stirring. He lunged dauntlessly and seized one of the murderers. A fight arose in which the servant received a stab wound to the stomach; in the meantime others trudged towards the murderers - and the king was saved. What resulted were only a few small grains of shot in the area of his backside. Of the assassins one recognized fanatical Babis, who wanted to avenge the death of their Prophet. The pistol and the ammunition which they operated were so poor that only a miracle could have enabled them to realize their goal. The Shah immediately showed himself the wolf, in order to prevent malicious rumours... . He retorted that God had saved him: "Certainly God has saved me, because you all have forsaken me.”For much more on the who and what of these attempted "assassins" go listen to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3Xl9py3z5w (which was also published in a journal - "Millennialism and Violence: The Attempted Assassination of Nasir al-Din Shah of Iran by the Babis in 1852". Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 12 (1): 57–82. doi: 10.1525/nr.2008.12.1.57. JSTOR 10.1525/nr.2008.12.1.57.
Continuing from the polish doctor:
Then began the persecution. The Shah was encouraged to believe in a further widely networked conspiracy of Babis, shut up behind regiments, civil servants, attendants, priests, teachers, garden, in every sigh he found plotters and he was not for a moment without fear for his life. Even the wife of the grand vizier, born in Masandaran, was accused belonging to the sect [...]. Seized by fear and horror from every side the Shah lapsed into Machiavellian ways to exterminate the believers. … seek out all Babis and throw them in to jail. Then he ordered every corps, ever branch of the civilian and military detail to surrender at least one Babi in case within one or the other corps were still secret members of the sect … [... passage about torture]. The martyrs demonstrated the courage and steadfastness of fanaticism; no recanting of faith, no hint of a cry of pain."- original in German at http://books.google.com/books?id=lyFDAAAAcAAJ&jtp=350
- a translation at http://www.paintdrawer.co.uk/david/folders/Research/Bahai/Tahirih/Martyrdom%20of%20Tahirih%20(Dr%20Jakob%20Eduard%20Polak).htm
Alas the tale is not ended. Not ended by half. A mass execution of Babis began. Exactly how big is debated. In The Babi and Baha’i community of Iran: a case of “suspended genocide”?, by Moojan Momen, Journal of Genocide Research (2005), 7(2), June, especially page 222 - there Momen mentions:
"Conservative estimates put the total number of Babis killed during the whole period of 1848 to 1853 at 3,000, while other historians, including the Iranian court chronicler Sipihr and the Baha’i leader ‘Abdu’l-Baha (1844–1921), claim 20,000 or more. The main reason for the indecisiveness about the numbers killed relates to the events after the attempted assassination of Nasir ad-Din Shah. While many only give a list of 35 men officially executed in Tehran and a small number elsewhere, there are some accounts… that seem to imply a much larger number of deaths…”This is what was known in 2005 - that scholars had found evidence of "only" 3,000 people. But Baha'is had long claimed 20,000 or more; just that the names of all were not recorded. What was unknown at the time was these very newspaper clippings I'm presenting now.
First there are reports of hundreds:
"Des Nouvelles de Perse", 3rd column, half way down in , Journal des débats politiques et littéraires, 30 Oct 1852, page 1 (translated from French)"Letters of Tauris September 27, arrived yesterday from Trebizond, the city brought news of Persia, who are of a certain gravity….The execution in Tehran about four hundred Babis, said to be complicit in the attack against the Shah of Persia, which we reported in our preceding numbers; took place with a great camera. They were subjected to the greatest tortures. This ensures that the Shah of Persia is seriously affected as a result of the attack directed against him by the Babis."By December the reports are taking far larger tones:
20 December 1852, London Standard, p. 3:
"…Letters from Bagdad of the 7th ult. are of importance. The Shah's brother, accused of being a Bab, had escaped from Teheran, and had sought refuge at Bagdad. The Turkish Governor, Namik Pacha, had refused to receive him, which is contrary to the sentiments shown by the Government towards refugees. The Persia prince, however, entered the city with a British passport, and, disguised as a British officer, took up his quarters at Colonel Rawlinson's, our consul general, who acted with great humanity and friendship towards the unfortunate young man. By the same letters we learn that the persecution against the Babs was awful, and the 20,000 or 30,000 had been put to death in the south of Persia."
This has been a harrowing review. You may get some grasp of the intensity of spiritual commitment Baha'is have when they engage in projects and prayers trying to make the world better. Perhaps our pleas for spiritual virtues like peace, race unity, equality of the sexes may seem like disconnected abstractions to some but, let us say, we have paid for these ideals greatly. Very greatly. And I ask you - is this a reasonable parallel to the suffering of Jesus and the early Christians and how they suffered?
O - and remember that earthquake after Jesus?
Earthquakes and meteors are the order of the day; but neither of these phenomena have honored Baltimore with any demonstrations lately, though we hear of them in many quarters over the country. In addition to the earthquake which was on Monday felt at Washington, and so sensibly and alarmingly at Wheeling and other points,…
"Smyrna June 15 - The city of Shiraz, in Persia, was totally destroyed by an earthquake in the night of the 1st of May.Erzeroum, June 3 - We have news of an extraordinary earthquake in Persia which killed 12,000 persons during one night. A plague had arisen from their unburied corpses."Devestating. Indeed. But now here's the interesting thing:
Year-book of Facts in Science and Art by Charles Robert Cross, etc., published 1854, p. 328
"A terrible earthquake destroyed the city of Shiraz, Persia, on the 3d of May, 15,000 perishing in the ruins. This earthquake dried up the river Zsianderwood, upon which the town of Ispahan depended for its supply of water. This calamity was followed by a flight of locusts, which, in a few hours, destroyed vegetation; and following these, was an inundation which did great damage; - and with all this, the cholera morbus set in at Teheran, carrying off 150 persons daily. On the 2d of May, shocks of earthquake were felt at Washington City, on the Potomac; Lynchburg, Va., on the James River; Wheeling, Va., on the Ohio River, and at Zanesville, Ohio, on the banks of the Muskingum River. The difference in longitude is about equal to the difference in clock-time between Shiraz and Washington."Now I leave it to you - what indeed hath God wrought?
And what does the picture of meteors over the Mississippi have to do with it? Well that will be another note… the theme is so vast it requires more than one review. And - these meteor showers stopped people in the tracks.
For another approach to the goings on in the period see Thief in the Night or The Strange Case of the Missing Millennium by William Sears