1917 and all that

Esslemont's Version

The Bahai community has a tendency to get carried away with its enthusiasms for prophecies that supposedly give an insight into the immediate future. I’ve discussed one of these in Century’s end, about the expectation that “unity of nations” would be achieved by the year 2000. The story this time goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, when the Bahais were waiting for cataclysms to strike in 1917, followed by a world at peace in which “all nations shall be as one faith.” The story is still relevant today because the ‘1917 prophecy’ I am looking at is printed in Baha’u'llah and the New Era, which means that it has been translated into many languages and become part of the Bahai lore around the world. Baha’u’llah and the New Era is also included in the search engine Ocean, so it appears ‘official’ and is widely used. As of today (6 February), this prophecy is on the wikipedia page for “Bahai prophecies.” As such it is used by skeptics as an example of failed prophecy on the part of Abdu’l-Baha. One could of course argue that 1917 was an important year in world history, and rather cataclysmic, but we should first see if Abdu’l-Baha did say something like this, and what exactly it was.

This story is also another useful illustration of the way texts change as they are transmitted (and therefore, the importance of going back to first sources), and of the unhealthiness of living in the future, and these are lessons that bear repeating.

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