There are now many worthy biographies of Bahá‘u’lláh available to both the casual and serious student. Choosing from among them can be difficult; thankfully, there is enough diversity of perspective, and a rich enough body of source material, that one is enriched by reading several of them. Dr. David Ruhe’s Robe of Light: The Persian Years of Supreme Prophet, Baha’u’lllah hones in on Mírzá Husayn Alí’s life before He became the “Supreme Manifestation” — as a youth, and particularly as one of the foremost Bábís. That he does so in a relatively objective and scientific manner gives his work an additional refreshing lens through which to gaze on the life and teachings of Bahá‘u’lláh.
The book’s subject matter is meticulously researched, using both the “standard sources” (The Dawnbreakers, Bahá‘u’lláh — King of Glory, the writings of the Guardian) and carefully employing other historical works whose usefulness is granted, but large-scale accuracy sometimes doubted (for instance, Tarikh-i-Jadid in various editions, and minor works that are difficult for those of us not in Haifa to come by). In many cases, Dr. Ruhe gives a brief note explaining the differences between several works, and how he came to choose a particular version of the story to present.
Personal experience and illustrations are used to excellent effect throughout the book. The illustrations include numerous expert drawings as well as black-and-white photographs. I believe the photographs were largely taken by the author while on a pilgrimage of sorts through Iran well before the revolution. That tour of the country allows Dr. Ruhe to verbally paint the picture of the land that Bahá‘u’lláh loved in His youth, traveling from hamlet to hamlet, through steep mountain passes to Tehran or other regional cities in the north. The reader who knows Iran merely as an adversary of the West will learn to fall in love too with the majesty of this ancient homeland.
The first-hand knowledge garnered on his travels, and from his medical practice, allows Dr. Ruhe on several occasions to explain some seemingly dubious incidents. Without taking away from the heroism of Fort Shaykh Tabarsi, he tells us about the conditions around it that were inhospitable to the attacking army. As a medical doctor, he provides a reasonable explanation of how `Abdu’l Khaliq-i-Isfáhání would have survived cutting his own throat at Badasht, among other physician’s notes.
This book was a joy to read. Dr. Ruhe’s writing style is both refined and accessible. His prose is influenced by the academic style, without becoming mired in it. I would happily recommend it to any interested reader.