The Hidden Words was known as the “Hidden Book of Fatimih,” (Sahífiyyih-Maknúniyh-Fatimiyyih) until around the mid-1860s, at which time it came to be referred to simply as the “Hidden Words.” In the Lawh-i-Sultán (Tablet to the King of Persia), from 1867, Bahá’u’lláh quotes four Persian Hidden Words and states that these are from a work which “was” known as “Sahífiyyih-Maknúniyh-Fatimiyyih” but “these days” is called “Kalimát-i-Maknúnih” (Hidden Words).
For many reasons which are beyond the scope of this note, Shiism has long held strong beliefs in two layers of meaning in Sacred Writings, the “exoteric” (zahir) and the “esoteric” or “hidden” (batin). The former are the outer essentials of religion and theological explanations for the masses, and especially the non-Shii Muslims. The “hidden” teachings are those only known to the truest Muslims, the Shiis and especially the Shii Imáms. (Much discussion of this can be found in _The Divine Guide in Early Shi’ism_, by Mohammad Alí Amir-Moezzi, and also in a paper I wrote, “The Shi’i Qur’an,” online at Bahái-library.org/personal/jw/my.papers/.) This, then, is one possible meaning of “hidden,” the fact that Bahá’u’lláh is now revealing teachings which previously had been reserved for the spiritual elite.
The academic consensus, supported even by much Shi’i consensus, is that the Book of Fatimih is mythical; even ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said that it did not really exist. As a myth, however, its history and meaning was clear. The sixth Imám of Shiism, Ja’far al-Sadiq, relates that, when Muhammad’s daughter Fatimih — the wife of the first Imám Alí and mother of Imám Husayn — was grieving Muhammad’s death, an angel visited her with words of comfort. This angel is often said to be Gabriel and, since Gabriel was the bearer of the annunciation to Mary, mother of Jesus, and to Muhammad, he represents divine revelation and the Book of Fatimih would thus have come from God. Fatimih mentioned this to Ali, who advised that she record everything Gabriel told her (or, in some versions, wrote it down himself). The resulting Book of Fatimih is unlike the Qur’an in that it contained more mystical and prophetic teachings, and was said to be 17,000 verses, almost three times the size of the Qur’an. The subsequent Imáms were the only ones who had possession of the book and, by extension, anyone who had the book was the Imám (this is important). In 874, though, the last Imám disappeared and became “occulted,” or “hidden.” Within a short time, Shiis (“Twelver” Shiis only) began to believe that the Hidden Imám would one day return as the “Qa’im,” or “Mahdi,” and bring the Day of Judgment and the end of time. When he came, one of the proofs he would have of his identity would be that he would possess the hidden Book of Fatimih. As well, he would prove his authority by revealing the hidden, secret meanings of all previous religious texts.