Paradise and Paradigm

Key Symbols in Persian Christianity and the Baha'i Faith

By Christopher Buck

Subjects: Comparative Religion
Paperback : 9780791440629, 402 pages, May 1999
Hardcover : 9780791440612, 402 pages, May 1999

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Table of contents


I. Comparing Paradises

1. 0 Objective

1. 1 Paradises and Paradigms

1. 2 Systems of Symbols

1. 3 Key Symbols

1. 4 Dimensional Model

1. 5 Symbolic Profiles

1. 6 Worldview Comparison

1. 7 Symbolic Transformation as Paradigm Shift

II. A Historical Profile of Syriac Christianity

2. 0 Syriac Christianity

2. 1 Ephrem the Syrian and Aphrahat* , ''the Persian Sage"

2. 2 Syriac Christianity as a Mesopotamian Response to Late Antiquity

2. 3 The Universality of the Church of the East: How Persian was Persian Christianity?

III. A Symbolic Profile of Syriac Christianity

3. 0 Syriac Symbol Theory

Key Scenarios

3. 1 Doctrinal: The Way

3. 2 Ritual: Robe of Glory

3. 3 Ethical: Sons/Daughters of the Covenant

3. 4 Experiential: The Wedding Feast

3. 5 Mythic: Harrowing of Hell

3. 6 Social: Noah's Ark/Mariner

Root Metaphors

3. 7 Doctrinal: Physician

3. 8 Ritual: Medicine of Life

3. 9 Ethical: The Mirror

3. 10 Experiential: The Pearl

3. 11 Mythic: Tree of Life

3. 12 Social: Paradise

3. 13 The Syriac Paradigm of Purity

IV. A Historical Profile of the Baha'i* Faith

4. 0 Introduction

4. 1 Baha'u'llah*

4. 2 The Baha'i* Faith as a Response to Modernity

V. A Symbolic Profile of the Baha'i* Faith

5. 0 Baha'i* Symbol Theory

Key Scenarios

5. 1 Doctrinal: The Promised One

5. 2 Ritual: The Covenant

5. 3 Ethical: Illumination

5. 4 Experiential: Lover and the Beloved

5. 5 Mythic: The Maid of Heaven

5. 6 Social: The Crimson Ark and the Holy Mariner

Root Metaphors

5. 7 Doctrinal: Physician

5. 8 Ritual: Wine/Water of Life

5. 9 Ethical: Mirror/Gems

5. 10 Experiential: The Journey

5. 11 Mythic: Lote-Tree/Sinai

5. 12 Social: Paradise

5. 13 The Baha'i* Paradigm of Unity

VI. Paradise Similarities and Paradigm Differences

6. 0 Procedure for Dimensional Analysis

6. 1 Doctrinal

6. 2 Ritual

6. 3 Ethical

6. 4 Experiential

6. 5 Mythic

6. 6 Social

VII. Paradise and Paradigm

7. 0 Introduction

7. 1 Sapiential Theosis* : A New Reading of Ephrem the Syrian's Hymns on Paradise

7. 2 Paradise and Society in Baha'i* Texts

VIII. Conclusions

8. 0 Interpretation of Results

8. 1 Evaluation of Research Design

8. 2 Counterindications

8. 3 Suggestions for Further Study

8. 4 Relevance to the Study of Religion


I Abbreviations

II. Syriac Transliteration Scheme

III. Arabic/Persian Transliteration Scheme

IV. Fragments of a Lost Persian Christian Liturgy

Works Cited


Comparing paradise imagery in two Persian religions, early Syriac Christianity and the Baha'i Faith, this work contributes to religious studies methodology by introducing "symbolic paradigm analysis. "


In a novel approach that the author terms "symbolic paradigm analysis," Paradise and Paradigm offers a "theoretically modular" systematic comparison of two "Persian" religions: early Syriac Christianity as the foundation of the East Syrian "Church of the East" (the Nestorian Church of Persia) and the Baha'i Faith, a new world religion. The author compares the hymns of the greatest poet of early Christianity, Saint Ephrem the Syrian, and the richly imagistic writings of the founder of the Baha'i religion, Baha'u'llah. The book employs an original analytic technique in the creation of "symbolic profiles" constructed on Ninian Smart's dimensional model of religion. As Buck skillfully demonstrates, formal similarities between any two religions are best comprehended in terms of paradigmatic differences, which nuance all parallels through a process of symbolic transformation. Buck also shows the communal reflexivity of paradise imagery in representing the ideal faith-community in both traditions.

Christopher Buck is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at Millikin University. He is the author of Symbol and Secret: Qur'an Commentary in Baha'u'llah's Kitab-i Iqan, the 1996 Baha'i Book of the Year. Buck is also a two-time recipient of the Award for Excellence in Baha'i Studies, presented by the Association for Baha'i Studies.


"If the Baha'i Faith has a specialist in comparative religion, it is Christopher Buck … This volume is certainly … the best comparative work on the Baha'i Faith and another religious tradition that has yet appeared, and may serve as a model for future such studies. " — The Baha'i Studies Review

"Christopher Buck's project is a success both as a methodological experiment and as practical comparative effort … As a piece of Baha'i scholarship, it remains unparalleled. In terms of academic comparative efforts involving the Baha'i Faith, Buck's book is a pioneering work. " — H-Net Reviews (H-Baha'i)

"…the book's four central chapters offer separate historical and symbolic profiles, first of Syriac Christianity and then of the Baha'i faith. Buck has packed these chapters with fascinating detail, assembling a wealth of background unavailable elsewhere in any single volume that I am aware of … Paradise and Paradigm is a goldmine of information about two relatively little studied but fascinating developments in Middle Eastern religious history … a very worthwhile contribution. " — Middle East Studies Association of North America

"This is a provocative and groundbreaking work. Its careful attention to methodology and its attempt to work through the project with the attitude of experimentation will provide a significant impulse to the study of religion, especially in relationship to the symbol systems, which religions contain. " — University of Toronto Quarterly

"This is an extremely powerful contribution to an important part of comparative religions, and will establish its author as a major academic scholar. Its purpose is to compare the symbologies of early pre-Muslim Persian (Sassanian) Christianity, especially in the work of Ephrem the Syrian, with the late nineteenth century Persian religion of the Bahai's, post-Islamic, as centered in the writings of Baha'u'llah. The symbolic center of the comparison is the family of symbols having to do with paradise. Both in its methodology and its scholarly treatments of Persian Christianity and Baha'i Faith, the book is insightful. It gives its subjects allure. " -- Robert Cummings Neville, author of The Truth of Broken Symbols

"This work is a model of comparison, an eye-opener regarding the interesting Syriac Christian traditions, and quite a useful and revealing account of the Baha'i. " — William Paden, University of Vermont