Our Daily Bread: Flamin’ Metaphors

Two of the letters that Bahá’u’lláh wrote to Zoroastrian Bahá’ís touched upon the theme of fire, the primary symbol of Zoroastrianism. In one letter, he simply mentioned fire several times, along with several other Zoroastrian themes (light, deeds, charity, gardens, water, and purity). There’s a lot of key terms thrown in, but not much food for thought, IMHO. In the other letter, he goes into greater depth, so we have cut today’s slice from that letter:

O friends of God! Incline your inner ears to the voice of the peerless and self-subsisting Lord, that He may deliver you from the bonds of entanglement and the depths of darkness and enable you to attain the eternal light. Ascent and descent, stillness and motion, have come into being through the will of the Lord of all that hath been and shall be. The cause of ascent is lightness, and the cause of lightness is heat. Thus hath it been decreed by God. The cause of stillness is weight and density, which in turn are caused by coldness.

Though there are indications that fire is an important metaphor to Bahá’u’lláh as a source of light, the only explicit statement in this letter regarding the metaphorical value of fire regards it as a source of heat, motion, and presumably energy in general.

Bahá’u’lláh continues:

And since He hath ordained heat to be the source of motion and ascent and the cause of attainment to the desired goal, He hath therefore kindled with the mystic hand that Fire that dieth not and sent it forth into the world, that this divine Fire might, by the heat of the love of God, guide and attract all mankind to the abode of the incomparable Friend.

Bahá’u’lláh appears to be under the impression that these metaphors have not occurred to anyone before him:

This is the mystery enshrined in your Book that was sent down aforetime, a mystery which hath until now remained concealed from the eyes and hearts of men.

Note the phrasing “your Book,” which seems indicative of some degree of estrangement, or at least displacement, and lack of perfect camaraderie. This was not the only time that Bahá’u’lláh spoke of the Avesta as such. In fact, that’s the only way I’ve ever seen him refer to the Avesta. Did he ever refer to the Qur’án as “your Book?”. Bahá’u’lláh evidently regarded himself as a Muslim, but I digress.

I think it’s a safe bet that, had Bahá’u’lláh acquainted himself more with Zoroastrian scholarship, he may have been exposed to a number of other less obvious fire metaphors, such as those associated with purification, assessment of purity, transformation, transmutation, moral truth, and order. Not that he didn’t delve into such themes, he just didn’t appear to recognize their relationship to the fire that the Avesta calls “Asha”.

One of my favorite fire metaphors is the Logos image of Heraclitus, a Greek subject of the Persian Empire who was quite probably familiar with Zoroastrianism, as well as Armenian fire worship.

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