JoAnn Borovicka

JoAnn's Blog

Welcome to my blog! Here you will find short reflections, connections I've noticed that I'd like to pursue in future research, and various items that have caught my attention related to Bahá'i studies and Christian scholarship.


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By JoAnn Borovicka, Apr 1 2017 07:31PM

I feel like the following passages from Shoghi Effendi are important to consider while reflecting on the station of Jesus Christ in the Baha’i Faith.

At first we have what may seem like a paradox. Shoghi Effendi states, “The Revelation identified with Bahá’u’lláh abrogates unconditionally all the Dispensations gone before it” (God Passes By, p. 100). Yet in another passage Shoghi Effendi states, “The Revelation, of which Bahá’u’lláh is the source and center, abrogates none of the religions that have preceded it” (World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 57-58). Past Dispensations are abrogated, past religions are not abrogated. What is the difference between “Dispensations” and “religions”?

The dictionary definition of dispensation is “a system of rule or governance,” So Shoghi Effendi’s use of “Dispensation” could refer to those Ecclesiastical systems that evolved in every past religion (not designed by any of the past Manifestations). “Dispensation” could also refer to the social laws of past religions (that were designed by the Manifestations). Baha’u’llah abrogated both the man-made Ecclesiastical systems and the divinely ordained social laws of the past.

A study of Shoghi Effendi’s letters indicates that by “religion” he is referring to “the eternal verities” “enshrined” in Revelations of the past; these “eternal verities,” he states, the Baha’i Faith “upholds uncompromisingly” (God Passes By, p. 100). In another passage he states “The Faith standing identified with the name of Bahá’u’lláh disclaims any intention . . . to abrogate the fundamentals of their doctrines, to discard any of their revealed Books, or to suppress the legitimate aspirations of their adherents” (The Promised Day is Come p. 108). So it is the eternal verities, the fundamental spiritual doctrines, as he says, “the religions” that are not abrogated. Nor are the “revealed Books” discarded.

The “Oneness of religion” as a fundamental principle of the Faith is easy to state, but I think that it is an infinitely complicated and advanced concept that we are just barely beginning to grasp, and that this teaching: “The Revelation, of which Bahá’u’lláh is the source and center, abrogates none of the religions that have preceded it” (World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 57-58) needs more study and celebration. In a Bahá’í reflection on the station of Jesus Christ, I think it would be important to keep in mind that the “religion” of Jesus Christ—as distinct from the various systems of rule that arose around it—has never been abrogated.

Valley of the Doves - Northern Israel
Valley of the Doves - Northern Israel

By JoAnn Borovicka, Sep 5 2016 02:03PM

In the March 8, 1917 Tablet to the United States and Canada, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that the “prosperity of the world of humanity is dependent upon the organization and promotion of the collective centers” [TDP 14.3]. He Defines “collective centers” as those points of interest and alliance that are “conducive to association and unity between the children of men” such as alliances based on national, political, cultural, and intellectual interests [TDP 14.3]. Moreover, He states that the most important collective center, the only center that is not accidental and temporary, and the only center that “overcomes and includes all the other collective centers” is the “Collective Center of the sacred religions” [TDP 14.3]. He defines this eternal Collective Center as “no other than the spirit of the divine teachings”: "Now strive ye that the Collective Center of the sacred religions—for the inculcation of which all the Prophets were manifested and which is no other than the spirit of the divine teachings—be spread in all parts of America." [TDP 14.11]

‘Abdu’l-Bahá praises the unifying and educative effects of previous Dispensations and emphasizes that the essential task at this time is the “the promotion of divine teachings which are the foundations of the holy religions” in order that “affinity between the hearts of the world of humanity” may be established [TDP no. 14.9]. Not only does ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set this task, He models promotion of the spirit of the divine teachings of the sacred religions in the Tablets themselves by integrating verses, images, and stories from the Holy Bible in His teachings. For example, in the following passage ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sets out a call to action in the language of the Bible:

Every one of the important souls must arise, blowing over all parts of America the breath of life, conferring upon the people a new spirit, baptizing them with the fire of the love of God, the water of life, and the breaths of the Holy Spirit so that the second birth may become realized. For it is written in the Gospel: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [TDP no. 14.6]

In another Tablet He uses biblical terms in His description of the desired qualities of Bahá’í teachers:

As regards the teachers, they must completely divest themselves from the old garments and be invested with a new garment. According to the statement of Christ, they must attain to the station of rebirth—that is, whereas in the first instance they were born from the womb of the mother, this time they must be born from the womb of the world of nature. . . . They must be baptized with the water of life, the fire of the love of God and the breaths of the Holy Spirit; be satisfied with little food, but take a large portion from the heavenly table. . . . They must make the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the extinguished one enkindled and set aglow, and the dead quickened. [TDP no. 13.7]

Most of the terms in the two passages above represent much-loved biblical images: heaven as the source of divine teachings (John 3:31); the Holy Spirit as a blowing breath or wind (John 3:8); realization of the life of the spirit as a second birth (John 3:3-5); baptism by water and fire (John 3:22-23); changing the old garment for the new (Luke 5:36); helping the blind see, the deaf hear, and the dead live (Matthew 11:5). Abdu’l-Bahá, the Perfect Exemplar, lovingly embraces biblical stories and terminologies and focuses on their spiritual meaning to the degree that the biblical terms themselves become vehicles for His instruction—there is no division between the nomenclature of the Bible and Bahá’í guidance. There are many such examples throughout the Tablets of the Divine Plan; in fact, every Tablet contains at least one biblical reference. Thus, the Tablets themselves are examples of how to engage with biblical Scripture in order to promote the “Collective Center of the sacred religions.”

By JoAnn Borovicka, Jun 8 2016 11:42PM

When reflecting on the Gospel use of the title “Son of God,” I think that consideration of 1st centiury A.D. Roman imperial theology is helpful. Claims of "Divine Son" and “Son of God” were everyday realities for people at the time of Christ – these titles were claimed by the emperors, were inscribed in imperial architecture, were imprinted on the coins in everybody’s pockets, were told in stories, and in every way made part of popular consumption.

• Julius Caesar (100-45 B.C.) claimed divine birth (Venus and Anchises) and was also officially declared divine by the Roman Senate.

• Augustus Caesar (born Gaius Octavius 63 B.C. - 14 A.D.), the adopted son of Julius Caesar, inherited his divinity through Julius Caesar and also claimed divinity through his own birth (Atia and Apollo, miraculous conception). His official title, Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus, translates “The World-Conqueror Caesar, the Son of God, Augustus”. The gospel of Augustus’ advent was celebrated throughout the Roman Empire: global Lord, Divine Son, cosmic Savior, bringer of peace - responsible for the long-lasting Pax Romana.

• Tiberius, Augustus’ stepson, became his heir and thus he became Son of God and emperor for 2 decades, followed by Calugula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, and Titus, all of whom inherited the imperial divinity—in Roman imperial theology they were all "sons of gods."

This Imperial divinity was the ideology that held the Roman Empire (which was fabulously successful) together, and it continued until Theodosius 1 changed the religion of the Empire to Christianity in 391A.D. Egyptian theology also deified its rulers. Considering the long-lived culture of divine imperial theology of the era in which Jesus Christ came, perhaps it was inevitable that He would be given that title by the Gospel writers. At the time, it was the way to convey the concept of power of great magnitude.

Another long-standing cultural familiarity with "son of God" is that in their traditions the Israelites as a people were long considered the firstborn son of God; (God to Moses) "And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn" (Exodus 4:22). The title “Son of God” embraces all of Jewish history and, to Christians, claims Jesus as the fruit of the people’s spiritual heritage and their Divine Representative. The title may also be an allusion to the fulfillment of prophecy in the unusual nature of His birth.

“Son of God” is one of the titles of Jesus found in the Bahá’í Writings. In the Bahá'í Faith it is understood that the Son of God title suggests something of the spiritual greatness of Jesus’ station as a Manifestation of God, but does not indicate any physical relationship between Jesus and God: "It is true that Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of God, but this, as explained by Bahá’u’lláh in the Íqán, does not indicate any physical relationship whatever. Its meaning is entirely spiritual and points to the close relationship existing between Him and the Almighty God." (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated November 29, 1937, to an individual believer, in Lights of Guidance, no. 1644)

"Augustus Caesar, Son of God" Roman coin 1st century
"Augustus Caesar, Son of God" Roman coin 1st century

By JoAnn Borovicka, May 29 2016 02:05AM

Concerning the Beatitudes of Baha’u’llah that close His Tablet to the Christians (The Most Holy Tablet, Lawh-i-Aqdas <>) and Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew. Some thoughts are:

The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-11 lists personal qualities and situations such as:

• the poor in spirit

• those who mourn

• the meek

• those who hunger and thirst after righteousness

• the merciful

• the pure in heart

• the peacemakers

• those who are persecuted because of righteousness

• you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

Each state of being is followed by an assurance: will reach the Kingdom, will be comforted, will inherit the earth, will be filled, will be shown mercy, will see God, etc. These are stated as promised outcomes that are sometimes interpreted as glimpses of the social justice that will arise with the establishment of God's laws on earth--the coming of the Kingdom.

One way to look at the Beatitudes that close Baha'u'llah's Tablet to the Christians is that they continue the vision in Mark, providing action steps toward the Kingdom for every possible state of being:

• The slumberer awakens

• the lifeless is quickened

• the eye gazes on God’s beauty

• the wayfarer directs steps toward the Tabernacle

• the distressed one seeks refuge

• the sore athirst hastens to God’s Word

• the insatiate soul casts away selfish desires

• the abased one holds onto the Glory

• the needy one enters beneath the shadow of the Tabernacle

• the ignorant one seeks the fountain of knowledge

• the soul is raised to life and gains admittance into the Kingdom (that is the most passive verse)

• is stirred by reunion with the Beloved

• the ear hears

• the tongue bears witness

• the eye sees

• the soul attains His presence

seeks enlightenment

• the person attires his/her head with Love

arises to aid the Manifestation

lays down life itself and bears manifold hardships for the Manifestation

arises from amongst the dead to celebrate His praise

rents the veils asunder

remains faithful to the Covenant

detaches from all but God

soars in God’s love

gains admittance into the Kingdom

gazes on the realms of glory

drinks living water

acquaints him/herself with God’s Cause

apprehends the Words

• and shines forth engaged in God’s praise and glorification.

The Galilee, Northern Israel
The Galilee, Northern Israel

By JoAnn Borovicka, May 26 2016 04:08PM

The verse "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god" (Isaiah 44:6) catches my attention because it is such a succinct statement of monotheism which is a prominent theme of Isaiah 40-55 (hereinafter referred to as Deutero-Isaiah). Monotheism ultimately becomes a defining characteristic of post-Exilic Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i Faith.

Because the concept of monotheism is traced back to the stories of Abraham (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, no. 25.3), I used to think that a strong theme and culture of monotheism ran throughout all of the post-Abrahamic stories in the Hebrew Bible (representing the years of around 2000 BC to 300 BC). However, upon researching the topic some time ago I was surprised to find that many scholars believe that the monotheistic tradition began in the late eight and early 7th century BC (see Finkelstein, Houston, Halpern, Coggins), with the strongest monotheistic rhetoric reached in Deutero-Isaiah (about mid 6th century BC). When rereading the Torah and the books of History with an eye for an underlying culture of polytheism, I see a good bit of evidence of this theory. Even the commandment to “have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2), although making the Hebrew God #1, presumes the existence of other gods.

I was surprised to find that archaeological evidence in Israel indicates that there was a natural and “widespread mixing of the worship of YHWH with that of other gods” in the countryside as well as in the Jerusalem Temple” (Finkelstein 246-7); that the ‘YHWY-alone movement’ appears to have been a small minority battling the more traditional, and what many consider “genuinely Judahite” religious customs that were consistent with surrounding polytheistic Canaanite culture (Finkelstein 249). This becomes even more interesting because it is the view of this (theoretically) small monotheistic-minded minority that dominates the surviving biblical historiography: throughout the biblical Books of History the people and almost all of the leaders are criticized for participating in polytheistic culture (to everyone’s detriment) even though it was the normal culture of the time. Why? Many theories take into consideration the interaction of economics and politics in the evolution of monotheistic theology. Some interesting theories include:

• When it was most important to consolidate the community—such as after the fall of the northern Kingdom (Israel) to Assyria, during the threat of Assyrian expansion, after the fall of the southern Kingdom (Judah) to Babylon, during the Exile in Babylon, and upon the return to Jerusalem—a centralized authority was deemed politically and economically necessary. Religion, politics, and economics were not separate entities, and the establishment of a culture of one god was deemed desirable for political consolidation under hostile conditions (Finkelstein 248; also see Halpern, Coggins).

• Also, it is proposed that the standard of monotheism was written into the pre-7th century biblical histories by later writers with certain political motivations to rewrite history for the purpose of establishing a new culture of one authority and one Temple that would be the economic heart of the community (no more offering sacrifices wherever one wanted; everything had to go through the Temple; the resources were centrally controlled). “And in what can only be called an extraordinary outpouring of retrospective theology, the new, centralized kingdom of Judah and the Jerusalem-centered worship of YHWY was read back into Israelite history as the way things should always have been” (Finkelstein 249).

* And perhaps most intriguing to me as a possible factor in the evolution of monotheism in the late 8th-6th centuries BC: The Torah and the Books of History suggest that the ancient Hebrews lived a holy war theology in which tribal or national gods had control over military victories. Like their surrounding neighbors who attributed victory to their gods, stories of the ancient Israelites feature war victories attributed to YHWH (see battle stories in the books of History; also see McConville, p. 159). For both the northern and southern Kingdoms to be conquered by Assyria and Babylonia respectively was problematic—the losses suggested that the god of Israel was weaker than the Assyrian and Babylonian national gods, or that the god of Israel had abandoned the people. How was this solved? By proclaiming, as we see in Isaiah, that the god of Israel controlled these nations and used them to punish the Hebrew tribes for not following the Covenant. Isaiah and other prophets (see Hosea and Amos) explain that the devastation was all under YHWY’s control for Israel’s ultimate best interest (for example, see Isaiah 42:21-25). The god of Israel was in no way conquered, nor did he abandon the people. In the same way, it is explained that the god of Israel controlled the Persian Empire, causing Cyrus to command a return to Jerusalem (Isaiah 41:2-4). According to Isaiah, the god of Israel was always in complete control, caused the devastation of Judah and the destruction of the House for the name of Lord in Jerusalem in order to punish the people, and will also be the cause of their salvation through Cyrus. The god of Israel wins by being the One controlling agent for everything.

In short, if monotheism did evolve from the 8th to 6th centuries BC, I find it fascinating to consider the possibilities of how theological, economic, and political energies may have interacted in that process.

Israel Finkelstein, The Bible Unearthed

Walter Houston, “Exodus” in The Oxford Bible Commentary

Baruch Halpern, The First Historians

R. Coggins, “Isaiah” in The Oxford Bible Commentary

Gordon McConville, "Joshua" in The Oxford Bible Commentary

View of the Land of Canaan from Haifa University Research Library
View of the Land of Canaan from Haifa University Research Library