John Esslemont

John Ebenezer Esslemont M.B., Ch.B. (1874 – 1925), was a prominent British Baháʼí from Scotland who was posthumously named a Hand of the Cause of God, as well as one of the Disciples of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, by Shoghi Effendi.[1] He was the author of one of the foremost introductory texts on the Bahaʼi Faith (Bahaʼu'lláh and the New Era) and worked as a translator of Bahaʼi texts near the end of his life. In addition to his work for the Bahaʼi Faith, Esslemont was an accomplished physician, as well as a linguist, proficient in English, French, Spanish, German, Esperanto, and later Persian and Arabic. Dr. Esslemont died of Tuberculosis in Palestine in 1925.

Early Life and EducationEdit

John Ebenezer Esslemont was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on May 19, 1874, the third son and fourth child of John E. Esslemont and Margaret Davidson.[2] The Esslemont family was distinguished and accomplished and John would prove to be as well. He was educated at Ferryhill School and Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen.[2] He then went on to Aberdeen University, where he graduated with degrees in Medicine and Surgery with honorable distinctions in 1898. In his final year, he won a medal in clinical surgery and was runner-up for the James Anderson Gold Medal and Prize in clinical medicine. As a winner of the Phillips Research Scholarship he spent the latter part of 1899 at the Universities of Berne and Strasbourg researching pharmacology. At the end of that year, he returned to Aberdeen and continued his research. At some point during his college years, Esslemont had contracted tuberculosis. This would fundamentally alter his career and his life, focusing his efforts on tuberculosis treatment, care and eradication, as well as working to preserve his own health to the extent possible. In December 1902, John married Jean Fraser, an accomplished pianist, and settled in Australia. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last long, and the couple had no children.

Medical careerEdit

Esslemont began his medical career in Aberdeen but moved to Australia in 1902. There he took a position at Ararat Hospital and became the District Surgeon and Health Officer for Alexandar County. He returned to Aberdeenshire in 1903 and, later that same year, left for South Africa in the hopes that the climate would be beneficial to his health. He worked in South Africa for five years, serving as Medical Officer of a government hospital and then as the District Surgeon at Kroonstad. He returned to Britain in 1908 and took a position as the Resident Medical Officer of the Home Sanatorium in Bournemouth, England. This was one of many facilities established for the care and treatment of tuberculosis patients, as the disease was quite common at the time. In addition to his role as a medical provider, John organized events for his patients to raise their morale, and spent long hours comforting those at the very end of their lives. Esslemont was also involved in the conceptualization of a comprehensive national health service. He helped establish the State Medical Service Association which produced recommendations which became the foundation of the British National Health Service. In the spring of 1923, Esslemont left Bournemouth and returned to Aberdeen. The combination of increasing health issues and his focus on the work of the Bahaʼi Faith, precluded the continuation of his medical career.

Discovery of the Bahaʼi FaithEdit

Esslemont heard about the Bahaʼi Faith in late 1914, from Katherine Parker, the wife of one of his professional associates. Esslemont had investigated many belief systems and was interested in looking into this one as well. He borrowed a few pamphlets from her and found the new religion intriguing. By March 1915, Esslemont had read several books and was beginning to adopt the patterns of Bahaʼi life. In approximately that same time period, he helped form a Bahaʼi group in Bournemouth and began to speak to various groups about the religion. He also contributed money to the Bahaʼi temple fund in the United States and translated one of Bahaʼu'lláh's early works “The Hidden Words” into Esperanto.

Bahaʼu'lláh and the New EraEdit

In October 1916, Esslemont began to work on the book that would become Bahaʼu'lláh and the New Era. Due to the demands of his professional life, he had only completed half of the book by May 1918. In the latter part of 1918, Abdu'l-Baha was made aware of Esslemont's book project and requested a copy for his review. Esslemont forwarded the nine chapters he had completed in January 1919. He had hoped to go to Haifa in July 1919, however, Abdu'l-Baha had requested that he bring the completed manuscript and Esslemont had not finished it yet. Esslemont left for Haifa in October 1919, arrived in early November and stayed until January 23, 1920. During this time, Abdu'l-Baha reviewed the book and spoke with Esslemont about suggestions for its improvement. As a result of having direct access to Abdu'l-Baha, Esslemont was able to collect a considerable amount of new information about the history and teachings of the Bahaʼi Faith. He returned to England to revise the book, which he completed in June 1920. The work was then translated into Persian and forwarded to Abdu'l-Baha for final review. Because Abdu'l-Baha died in 1921 before reviewing the work in its entirety, the remainder was reviewed by Shoghi Effendi. The first edition of Bahaʼu'lláh and the New Era was published in September 1923 and the American edition was published in October 1924. As of this writing, the book is still in print, though it has gone through many updates and revisions. Bahaʼu'lláh and the New Era has been translated into 60 languages and is one of the most widely distributed books on the Bahaʼi Faith in the world.

This practice of posthumously editing the book has been criticized by several observers,[3] including the controversial Christian philosopher Francis Beckwith, but the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States considers this practice an integral part of maintaining the integrity of the text.[4][5][6] Among the numerous alterations in later revisions is the removal of any reference to the early Bahá'í historian Avarih, who `Abdu'l-Bahá had named "Chief of Missionaries" prior to his conversion to Islam.[7]

Illness and DeathEdit

Sometime during his early college years, John Esslemont contracted Tuberculosis. As a result, he focused much of his career on the care and treatment of Tuberculosis patients. He actively sought out new treatments and techniques to fight the disease, while personally moving to climates that he believed would be more hospitable to his health than his native Scotland. Although the progress of Esslemont's own case was slow, there were no medications available to cure Tuberculosis during his lifetime. After suffering bouts of illness of increasing frequency and duration over nearly three decades, Esslemont died of complications from the disease on November 22, 1925. He is buried in the Bahaʼi cemetery at the foot of Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel.

Notable WorksEdit

Assisted in the translation of the Hidden Words into Esperanto, 1916

What is a Bahaʼi: pamphlet published in 1919

British edition of Bahaʼu'lláh and the New Era: published in 1923

Bahaʼu'lláh and His Message, pamphlet published in 1924

American edition of Bahaʼu'lláh and the New Era: published in 1924

Assisted in the translation of the Tablet of Ahmad into English, 1924

Assisted in the translation of Nabil's Narrative into English, 1924

Assisted in the translation of the Hidden Words into English, 1925

LegacyEdit

If there is a centerpiece to John Esslemont's legacy, it is certainly the impact of his book, Bahaʼu'lláh and the New Era. Just prior to its publication, Shoghi Effendi told Esslemont, “Your book, I am sure, is the finest presentation that has so far been given of the Cause and I am confident that it will arouse immense interest.” The work has been translated into 60 languages and has been in print for over 95 years. In 1955, Shoghi Effendi posthumously appointed John Esslemont a Hand of the Cause, saying:

“For by the beauty of his character, by his knowledge of the Cause, by the conspicuous achievements of his book, he has immortalized his name and by sheer merit deserves to rank as one of the Hands of the Cause of God.”

Shoghi Effendi also designated John Esslemont a Disciple of Abdu'l-Baha and described him as one of the, “three luminaries of the Irish, English and Scottish Bahaʼi communities.”

There is a Baháʼí school named after Esslemont, The John Esslemont School, in the Grampian region of North East Scotland operating since 1987.[8] There is also a John Esslemont Memorial Lecture held annually in November in Aberdeen, where speakers from medical backgrounds present research to peers.[9] In Austria a publishing house was founded in 2010 in memory of his lifework, the Esslemont Verlag, publishing Baháʼí gift books.

BackgroundEdit

On return to Britain Esslemont took the position of medical superintendent[1] of Home Sanitorium for tuberculosis in Bournemouth.[2] Esslemont became the first Baháʼí of Bournemouth[10] in the earliest days of the Baháʼí Faith in Scotland in 1915 after hearing of the religion in December 1914 from a co-worker's wife[2] who had met ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in 1911 and had some pamphlets to share.[10] In about 1918 ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, wrote a tablet in his honor and also mentioned interest in a book he was working on. After receiving an early draft of this book ʻAbdu'l-Bahá invited Esslemont to Palestine which he accomplished in the winter of 1919-20, after the Battle of Megiddo (1918) settled the land. Ultimately ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was able to personally review several chapters. News of Esslemont's declaration of faith, and his forthcoming book, played a role in establishing the beginning of the Australian Baháʼí community and elsewhere.[11] Esslemont was elected chairman of the Bahá´í Local Spiritual Assembly of Bournemouth when it was elected in a few years and later as vice-chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom until he left the country in 1924 following the closing of the sanitorium where he had been employed. He then traveled to Palestine to assist in translation work.[10]

Esslemont, besides speaking English well, was proficient in French, German, and Spanish, and was an Esperantist[2][12] and later learned Persian and Arabic well enough to assist in translation.[2] Following the death of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi vacationed in Esslemont's familiar area of Bournemouth. Subsequent to this, Esslemont took permanent residence in Palestine to assist Shoghi Effendi, who then also helped further refine Esslemont's book.[2]

Esslemont died in 1925 from his tuberculosis and is buried in the Baháʼí Cemetery in Haifa along with several other well-known Baháʼís.[13][14] Shoghi Effendi posthumously designated Esslemont as the first of the Hands of the Cause he appointed in 1951, as well as one of the Disciples of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá.[1] In 1955, Esslemont was described by Shoghi Effendi as one of the "three luminaries of the Irish, English and Scottish Baháʼí communities."[15]

There is a Baháʼí school named after Esslemont, The John Esslemont School, in the Grampian region of North East Scotland operating since 1987.[8] There is also a John Esslemont Memorial Lecture held annually in November in Aberdeen, where speakers from medical backgrounds present research to peers.[9] In Austria a publishing house was founded in 2010 in memory of his lifework, the Esslemont Verlag, publishing Baháʼí gift books.

Baháʼu'lláh and the New EraEdit

  • Esslemont, J.E. (1980) [1923]. Baháʼu'lláh and the New Era (5th ed.). Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-160-4.

In 1916 Esslemont began work on a book which became Baháʼu'lláh and the New Era, perhaps the foremost introductory volume on the Baháʼí Faith which eventually was published in 1923 and since translated into dozens of languages.[2][16] Early editions contained several passages that could not be authenticated, or were incorrect. These have been reviewed and updated in subsequent editions.[17] This practice has been criticized by observers,[18] but is considered an integral part of maintaining the integrity of the texts.[19][20][21] Among the numerous alterations in later revisions is the removal of any reference to the early Baháʼí historian Avarih, who ʻAbdu'l-Bahá had named "Chief of Missionaries" prior to his conversion to Islam.[22]

Esslemont also performed the first review of the worldwide progress of the Baháʼí religion in 1919. While unpublished it was identified and reviewed by recent scholars noting it was intended to be a chapter in the book.[23] In 1920 a review of Prayer in the Baháʼí Faith, especially the Long Obligatory Prayer as then translated, was published by Esslemont.[24] Later an expanded version would be a chapter of Baháʼu'lláh and the New Era.

More than sixty years later in the 1980s it remained in the top ten of cited Baháʼí books[25] and of the ten most numerous books on Baháʼí topics found in libraries in 2008 around the world the second highest is Baha'u'llah and the New Era.[26]

ReferencesEdit

  • Harper, Barron (1997). Lights of Fortitude (Paperback ed.). Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-413-1.

NotesEdit

  1. ^ a b c "Early British Baháʼí History (1898-1930)". Archived from the original on 6 February 2012. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Esslemont, John (1874-1925) Archived 2008-05-09 at the Wayback Machine by Moojan Momen, London: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1975. Baha'i World 1:133-6.
  3. ^ Beckwith, Francis (1985). Bahá'í. Minneapolis, MN, USA: Bethany House. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0-87123-848-9.
  4. ^ The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States (24 September 1992). "Dates in Baha'u'llah and the New Era: A response to Francis Beckwith". Retrieved 22 December 2006.
  5. ^ The Universal House of Justice (25 June 1995). "Beckwith's allegations". Retrieved 22 December 2006.
  6. ^ The Universal House of Justice (4 May 1999). "Access to materials at the Bahá'í World Centre". Retrieved 25 December 2006.
  7. ^ Salisbury, Vance (1997). "A Critical Examination of 20th-Century Baha'i Literature". Bahá'í Library Online. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  8. ^ a b The John Esslemont School Transforms Itself Baháʼí Journal of the Baháʼí Community of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Volume 19, No.7 – January, 2003
  9. ^ a b John Esslemont Memorial Lecture Archived 2006-10-03 at the Wayback Machine The Scottish Baháʼí, No.39 – Spring, 2005
  10. ^ a b c "J. E. Esslemont - Named a Hand of the Cause at His Passing". Baháʼí News. No. 15. June 1973. pp. 6–8.
  11. ^ William Miller (b. Glasgow 1875) and Annie Miller (b. Aberdeen 1877) - The First Believers in Western Australia Archived 2008-02-26 at the Wayback Machine The Scottish Baháʼí No.33 – Autumn, 2003
  12. ^ Making World Peace Real: The Principle of an Universal Auxiliary Language Archived 2007-11-29 at the Wayback Machine by Paul J Desailly, p.18
  13. ^ Other Sites in Haifa
  14. ^ "U.K. Baháʼí Heritage - Picture Display Seven". Archived from the original on 8 September 2008.
  15. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1971). Messages to the Baháʼí World, 1950-1957. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. p. 174. ISBN 0-87743-036-5.
  16. ^ Baháʼí International Community. ""Baháʼu'lláh and the New Era" editions and printings held in Baháʼí World Centre Library Decade by decade 1920 -2000+". General Collections. International Baháʼí Library. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
  17. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1973). p. 18 http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/DG/dg-49.html. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ Beckwith, Francis (1985). Baháʼí. Minneapolis, MN, USA: Bethany House. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0-87123-848-9.
  19. ^ The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of the United States (24 September 1992). "Dates in Baha'u'llah and the New Era: A response to Francis Beckwith". Retrieved 22 December 2006.
  20. ^ The Universal House of Justice (25 June 1995). "Beckwith's allegations". Retrieved 22 December 2006.
  21. ^ The Universal House of Justice (4 May 1999). "Access to materials at the Baháʼí World Centre". Retrieved 25 December 2006.
  22. ^ Salisbury, Vance (1997). "A Critical Examination of 20th-Century Baha'i Literature". Baháʼí Library Online. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  23. ^ Moomen, Moojan (2004). Smith, Peter (ed.). Baháʼís in the West. Kalimat Press. pp. 63–106, Esslemont's Survey of the Baha'i World 1919–1920. ISBN 1-890688-11-8.
  24. ^ Esselmont, John Ebenezer (August 1920). "A study of Bahai prayer". In Right Rev. W.P. Paterson; Russell, David (eds.). The Power of Prayer. being a selection of Walker trust essays, with a study of the essays as a religious and theological document. The Macmillan Company. pp. 351–364. OL 6627634M.
  25. ^ Fazel, Seena; Danes, John (1995). "Baháʼí scholarship: an examination using citation analysis". Baháʼí Studies Review. 5 (1)., Table 4: Most cited Baháʼí books, 1988-1993.
  26. ^ Van Den Hoonaard, Will C. (2008). "Emergency from Obscurity: The Journey of Sociology in the Baháʼí Community" (PDF). Journal of Baháʼí Studies. 18 (1/4): 12. Retrieved 24 May 2012.[permanent dead link]

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