Foreword by Dr Robert Stockman

I have always been skeptical about efforts to interpret prophecies. Such interpretations are attempts to discern the intent of God and are ultimately unprovable. It is rather like looking at a cloud in the sky and seeing in its ever-shifting shapes a horse, a person, or an angel. Who is to say God did not choose to make the cloud look like an angel when someone was looking at it? Who is to say the resulting (approximate) correlation of shapes was due to mere chance? How can one determine which is the case?

John Able is up against this challenge in his book Beyond Malignant Materialism. The study is the culmination of a remarkable decade-long quest. Able has carefully surveyed the Bahá'í authoritative writings not only for interpretations of the Book of Revelation, but of the Bible in general and of relevant related subjects such as history, politics, and economics. He has collected every known interpretation of the Book of Revelation that `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi offered to pilgrims. He has also read just about everything Bahá'ís have ever written about the subject, a level of literature research rarely seen in scholarship by Bahá'ís. To understand the text itself, he has taught himself Koine Greek, the language in which the Book of Revelation was written, and has corresponded with prominent New Testament scholars to revise his translation. He has traveled to visit some of the actual places mentioned in the Book of Revelation, to acquire a geographical feel for them. Taking all these inputs, Able decided to produce a comprehensive word by word, verse by verse commentary on the Book of Revelation followed by a detailed explanatory apparatus.

While the results are, by definition, unprovable, they are intriguing and, in some sense, testable: Is the interpretation of the Book of Revelation comprehensive? How deeply does it go? How wide ranging was the effort to collect the inputs needed to produce the result? How many threads of the prophetic text have been woven together, and how many are left over? Is the resulting interpretation internally and rationally consistent?

On these criteria, John Able’s Beyond Malignant Materialism is by far the most careful, thorough, and holistic work yet produced in the genre of Bahá'í interpretation of biblical prophecy. It leaves no narrative threads unexplained and in assembling its detailed interpretation, no stones were left unturned. Remarkably, this interpretation of the Book of Revelation based on the Bahá'í writings has been produced by someone who is not a member of the Bahá'í community. Future students of the meaning of biblical prophecies who wish to build on the insights in the Bahá'í authoritative texts will find Beyond Malignant Materialism a tour de force and an essential foundational work for their investigations.

Dr. Robert H. Stockman
Instructor of Religious Studies
DePaul University, Chicago
Author of The Bahá'í Faith in America