48 Autobibliography in the Writings of the Báb
In its most well-known sense,
means the dissimulation ofbelief for reasons of self-preservation, but it has in Shi’ism a muchbroader range of meaning. From the many injunctions to practice
found in the recorded sayings of the Imams, it becomes clearthat
was not simply a negative obligation not to put oneselfin harm’s way, but was also a positive duty to conceal secrets.Regarding the nature of these secrets, one scholar of Shi’ism put itthis way:In the corpus of the Imams, certain subjects appear toconstitute the main objects of taqiyya: information relatingto the ‘Qur’an of the imams,’ the [pious hatred] towardthe Companions of the Prophet and in particular towardthe first three caliphs, or the identity of the Qa’im ...
Two of the three primary objects of
given in this list haveto do with Shi’i messianism — the Qur’an of the Imams and theidentity of the Qa’im.
then was a Shi’i religious obligation,was concerned with the concealment of secrets, and, moreimportantly, such secrets were often of an eschatological nature.It is important to understand
in this wider sense and notjust as dissimulation or self-preserving denial. When understood as atechnique of arcanization, as concealment of secrets, we are able todiscern
in the early writings of the Báb as operating at avariety of levels and layers. It is not simply that these earliestwritings present two stark extremes of declaration and denial ofmessianism, as in the passages from the
cited above. Rather, there exists in these earliest works arange of revelation and concealment, a spectrum that extends fromthe open directness of the
, to the opaquecovering of the
, and includes in between a variety ofshades of coding, allusiveness, and encryption of the messianicsecret. And, what is perhaps most important for our present-dayattempts to understand these texts, this spectrum of
isn’tsolely involved in claims or denials of a messianic station, but ratherextends to the Báb’s communication of personal belief andstatements of doctrine. For example, the Báb in some texts expressesviews of the Imams that He contradicts in other works, or statesbelief in certain orthodox usuli-Shi’i tenets that He elsewherecompletely rejects. It is thus imperative that we make some attemptto crack the Báb’s
code, to read between the lines of Hisesoteric writing, if we are to have any hope of success inunderstanding what the Báb thought — what, in other words, Bábídoctrine really was.The three autobibliographical works that I will discuss here — the
, and the