Bahá’í Calendar Redux

The Bahá’í Calendar, arguably the least lunar calendar there is, has recently been given a lunar calculation of its own. Because the founders of the Bábí and Bahá’í religions were reported to have been born a day apart on the Islamic calendar (though two years apart), the Bahá’í leaders in Israel figured it would be nice to make this happen on their calendar. To do this, they marked the 8th new moon after No-Rúz in Tehran as the one most likely to be close to the time of year when the two prophets were born, and then had one prophet’s birth commemorated on the first day after that new moon and the other prophet’s birth commemorated on the day after that.

The commemorations will no longer occur on the actual dates of birth on the solar cycle (October 20 and November 12) or even the Islamic calendar, but rather, they will take place on different dates from year to year, as is done with Easter and Good Friday.

Calendars are an important tool for scheduling our activities. A farmer might use a solar calendar to plan a harvest. A Bedouin might use a lunar calendar to plan a journey across the desert. Many calendars are a hybrid between solar and lunar so that they can be used in accord with seasonal and lunar cycles. The Gregorian calendar, for instance, is precisely calculated to remain synchronized with the seasons. It is not so precise with respect to lunar cycles, each of its months being about a day too long to keep pace with the phases of the moon. Still, a Gregorian month can be used to loosely approximate a lunar month.

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Imagine what the Bahá’í Faith might become if its idols were stripped away. What if the burden of divine authority were cleansed from every portrait, every image, every institution, and every holy word?

Imagine there’s no Cov’nant. It isn’t hard to do.

What if the Bahá’í religion were not a cult of divine images (“manifestations”), but rather a fellowship of principles (or virtues)? What if Bahá’u’lláh had said, “never mind about me and my station; let’s get down to the business of world reform.”

I know. It’s a stretch.

Imagine by Rachel Boden

Imagine, by Rachel Boden

If Bahá’ís were to forfeit their sense of divine entitlement, would they lose their famous, unquenchable sense of purpose?

Sorry. I couldn’t resist. I’ll try to keep it serious.

They’d have to give up some very comforting expectations, it’s true. I’m not saying it would be easy.

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One Guy’s Macrocosm

I just had the pleasure of reading the first volume of Guy Murchie’s Music of the Spheres, titled The Macrocosm, and I can see that a lot has been learned about Earth, the Moon, and planets since I was born. Take this sectional illustration of Earth’s crust for example:

A rather outdated cross section of California

A rather outdated cross section of California

Note the complete absence of tectonic plates. Note that the Sierra Nevada is represented as a folded range, which it’s not. Furthermore, today we don’t think there’s a basalt layer beneath North America, and in fact, we don’t think there’s any root at all beneath the southern Sierra. That last bit has been discovered rather recently.

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Our Daily Bread: Naw Rúz Drift

Note 26 to the Kitáb-i-Aqdas explains the timing of Naw Rúz as follows:

“Naw-Rúz is the first day of the new year. It coincides with the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, which usually occurs on 21 March. Bahá’u’lláh explains that this feast day is to be celebrated on whatever day the sun passes into the constellation of Aries (i.e. the vernal equinox), even should this occur one minute before sunset.”

Bahá’ís appear to believe that the Sun enters the constellation Aries at some time on or around the Vernal Equinox. This is not so. It was true about 2500 years ago, but not at present. At this time, the Sun enters Aries on April 19, about four weeks after the Equinox. This is because of something called precession.

The constellation Aries

One might possibly argue that what Bahá’u’llah really meant was the actual equinox (lit. “equal night”), and that the mention of Aries was only meant to refer to the first month (12th) of the astronomical year, but this argument has a leak: the Bahá’í system of watching for the equinox at some time of day is an impossible system, because the equinox cannot be determined empirically until a 12-hour day has passed, and at that point the equinox may need to be retroactively set to the day before (if the day before was closer to 12 hours).

One could conceivably stand at the equator and watch the sun pass overhead, but the sun passes over the equator at a different place each year. Better be on your toes! Of course, thanks to astronomy, one will know where to look. But there’s a catch:

“The Guardian has stated that the implementation, worldwide, of the law concerning the timing of Naw-Rúz will require the choice of a particular spot on earth which will serve as the standard for the fixing of the time of the spring equinox. He also indicated that the choice of this spot has been left to the decision of the Universal House of Justice.” (note 26)

Okay. Nevermind chasing the sun around the equator.

If one is to pick a single observation point, one had better pick a place not frequented by clouds, fog, dust storms, or mountain ranges. Muslims can tell you all about this problem.

There’s one final thing. The suggestion that a single observation point be selected for the determination of the equinox is, alas, manifestly ignorant of the science. The equinox is a global phenomenon. It does happen at a precise time, but it happens to the entire planet, at the moment that the radius vector of the earth’s orbit is at a right angle to the earth’s axis.