Mandaeism

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Mandaeism or Mandaeanism (Mandaic: mandaiuta), or in Islamic terms Sabianism (Arabic: صابئية), is a blanket term for the religion of the Mandaeans (Classical Mandaic mandaiia, Neo-Mandaic Mandeyānā) who are the followers of Mandā d-Heyyi (Mandaic manda ḏ-hiia "Knowledge of Life"). They consider Adam, Noah and John the Baptist as prophets, but not Abraham, Moses, Jesus or Muhammad. Mandaeism is a monotheistic religion with a strongly dualistic worldview, practiced primarily in southern Iraq and the Iranian province of Khuzestan, as well as among a small diaspora population in Europe, Australia, and North America. The exact number of Mandaeans worldwide is unknown, but conservative guesses place them in the range of 50,000 to 70,000. The Mandaeans have remained separate and intensely private—what has been reported of them and their religion has come primarily from outsiders, particularly from the Orientalists J. Heinrich Petermann, Nicholas Siouffi, and Lady E.S. Drower.

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[edit] Origin of the term 'Mandaean'

Following cognates in other Aramaic dialects, scholars such as Mark Lidzbarski and Rudolf Macuch have translated the term manda, from which mandaiia "Mandaeans" is derived, as "knowledge" (cf. Biblical Aramaic מַנְדַּע mandaʕ in Dan. 2:21, 4:31, 33, 5:12; cpr. Hebrew מַדַּע maddaʕ, with the typical assimilation of /n/). If this translation is correct, it would make the Mandaeans the sole sect from late Antiquity to identify themselves as Gnostics. Certainly, the Mandaean religion shares much with the ensemble of sects labeled as Gnostics, which date to the 1st c. CE and the following centuries; however, there are crucial differences, particularly in the realm of the behavioral ethics of the laity.

It should be emphasized that this identification is largely a product of western scholarship, and was not current in the Mandaean community itself until recently. Other scholars derive the term mandaiia from manda ḏ-hiia, ( "Knowledge of Life", with reference to the chief divinity hiia rbia "the Great Life") or from the word (bi)manda, which is the cultic hut in which many Mandaean ceremonies are performed (such as the baptism, which is the central sacrament of Mandaean religious life). This last term is possibly to be derived from Pahlavi m’nd mānd "house."

[edit] Mandaean beliefs

Before attempting a description of the essential beliefs and fundamental tenets of Mandaeism, it is important to recognize that it is the religion of the Mandaean people, and any description of Mandaeism ultimately requires a description of their way of life. Unlike other religions such as Christianity or Islam, Mandaeism is not based upon conformity to religious creeds and doctrines. In fact, the only requirement to be a Mandaean is that one is born to a Mandaean mother. Furthermore, Mandaean theology seems unsystematic; topics such as eschatology, the knowledge of God, the afterlife, and so on are not addressed in a systematic manner. Even though the corpus of Mandaean literature is quite large, and contains much information regarding each of these issues and many more, a single basic guide to Mandaean beliefs and doctrines for the lay person does not exist (akin to the Nicene Creed, the Five Pillars of Islam, or Maimonides' Thirteen Articles of Faith). Additionally, few Mandaeans outside of the priesthood are familiar with this corpus.

Mandaeans do not recognize Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad; like Christians and Muslims, however, they acknowledge John the Baptist, whom they revere as one of their greatest teachers. They also have a hierarchical clergy, practice frequent baptism, and hold public worship on Sundays. They believe in peace above all else.

[edit] Fundamental tenets

According to E.S. Drower in the introduction to The Secret Adam, the Mandaean Gnosis is characterized by nine features, which appear in various forms in other gnostic sects:

  1. A supreme formless Entity, the expression of which in time and space is creation of spiritual, etheric, and material worlds and beings. Production of these is delegated by It to a creator or creators who originated in It. The cosmos is created by Archetypal Man, who produces it in similitude to his own shape.
  2. Dualism: a cosmic Father and Mother, Light and Darkness, Right and Left, syzygy in cosmic and microcosmic form.
  3. As a feature of this dualism, counter-types, a world of ideas.
  4. The soul is portrayed as an exile, a captive: her home and origin being the supreme Entity to which she eventually returns.
  5. Planets and stars influence fate and human beings, and are also places of detention after death.
  6. A saviour spirit or saviour spirits which assist the soul on her journey through life and after it to 'worlds of light'.
  7. A cult-language of symbol and metaphor. Ideas and qualities are personified.
  8. 'Mysteries', i.e. sacraments to aid and purify the soul, to ensure her rebirth into a spiritual body, and her ascent from the world of matter. These are often adaptations of existing seasonal and traditional rites to which an esoteric interpretation is attached. In the case of the Naoreans this interpretation is based upon the Creation story (see 1 and 2), especially on the Divine Man, Adam, as crowned and anointed King-priest.
  9. Great secrecy is enjoined upon initiates; full explanation of 1, 2, and 8 being reserved for those considered able to understand and preserve the gnosis.

Mandaeans believe in marriage and procreation, and in the importance of leading an ethical and moral lifestyle in this world, placing a high priority upon family life. Consequently, Mandaeans do not practice celibacy or asceticism. Mandaeans will, however, abstain from strong drink and red meat. While they agree with other gnostic sects that the world is a prison governed by the planetary archons, they do not view it as a cruel and inhospitable one.

[edit] Mandaean Scriptures

The Mandaeans have a large corpus of religious scriptures, the most important of which is the Genzā Rabbā or Ginza, a collection of history, theology, and prayers. The Genzā Rabbā is divided into two halves — the Genzā Smālā or "Left Ginza" and the Genzā Yeminā or "Right Ginza". By consulting the colophons in the Left Ginza, Jorunn J. Buckley has identified an uninterrupted chain of copyists to the late 2nd or early 3rd c. C.E. The colophons attest to the existence of the Mandaeans during the late Arsacid period at the very latest, a fact corroborated by the Harrān Gāwetā legend, according to which the Mandaeans left Palestine after the destruction of Jerusalem, and settled within the Arsacid empire. Although the Ginza continued to evolve under the rule of the Sassanians and the Islamic empires, few textual traditions can lay claim to such extensive continuity.

Other important books include the Qolastā, the "Canonical Prayerbook of the Mandaeans," which was translated by E.S. Drower. One of the chief works of Mandaean scripture, accessible to laymen and initiates alike, is the sidra ḏ-iahia, the book of John the Baptist, which includes a dialogue between John and Jesus. In addition to these works, there are also many other religious texts such as ritual commentaries, which are generally only consulted by the members of the priesthood. The language in which the Mandaean religious literature was originally composed is known as Mandaic, and is a member of the Aramaic family of dialects. It is written in a cursive variant of the Parthian chancery script. The majority of Mandaean lay people do not speak this language, though some members of the Mandaean community resident in Iran (ca. 300-500 out of a total of ca. 5,000 Iranian Mandaeans) continue to speak Neo-Mandaic, a modern version of this language.

[edit] Cosmology

As noted above (under Mandaean Beliefs) Mandaean theology is not systematic. There is no one single authoritative account of the creation of the cosmos, but rather a series of several accounts. Some scholars, such as Edmondo Lupieri, maintain that comparison of these different accounts may reveal the diverse religious influences upon which the Mandaeans have drawn and the ways in which the Mandaean religion has evolved over time.<ref name="cosmology">Lupieri, Edmondo (2002). The Mandaeans: The Last Gnostics. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 38-41.</ref>

On the other hand, modern mystics such as Steve Wilson have suggested that these may be more akin to meditation manuals resembling the Merkabah and Heikhalot texts of first millenium Jewish mysticism, than explanatory texts for the entire faith.

In contrast with the religious texts of the western Gnostic sects formerly found in Syria and Egypt, the earliest Mandaean religious texts suggest a more strictly dualistic theology, typical of other Iranian religions such as Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and the teachings of Mazdak. In these texts, instead of a large pleroma, there is a discrete division between light and darkness. The ruler of darkness is called Ptahil (similar to the Gnostic Demiurge), and the originator of the light (i.e. God) is only known as "the great first Life from the worlds of light, the sublime one that stands above all works". When this being emanated, other spiritual beings became increasingly corrupted, and they and their ruler Ptahil created our world. The similarity between the name Ptahil and the Egyptian Ptah, followed by the semitic -il added to "spiritualise" a word should also be noted - the Mandaeans believe that they were resident in Egypt for a while.

[edit] Chief prophets

As indicated above, John the Baptist (Mandaic iahia iuhana) is recognized by the Mandaeans as well as Christians and Muslims, but is accorded a higher status in Mandaeism than in either of the other two communities. There exists a widespread (but erroneous) belief that the Mandaeans consider John the Baptist to be the founder of their religion, analogous to Jesus within Christianity. In fact, they maintain that he was merely one of their greatest teachers; according to their beliefs, Mandaeism was the original religion of Adam.

Mandaeans maintain that Jesus was a mšiha kdaba or "false prophet,"" who perverted the teachings entrusted to him by John. The word k(a)daba, however, derives from two roots in Mandaic: the first root, meaning "to lie," is the one traditionally ascribed to Jesus; the second, meaning "to write," might provide a second meaning, that of "book;" hence some Mandaeans, motivated perhaps by an ecumenical spirit, maintain that Jesus was not a "lying Messiah" but a "Book Messiah", the "book" in question presumably being the Christian Gospels. This seems to be a folk etymology without any support in the Mandaean texts.<ref name="Jesus">Macuch, Rudolf (1965). Handbook of Classical and Modern Mandaic. Berlin: De Gruyter & Co., 61 fn. 105.</ref>

Likewise, the Mandaeans believe that Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad were false prophets, but recognize other prophetic figures from the Noahide monotheistic traditions, such as Nuh (Noah), his son Sam (Shem), and his son Ram (Aram), and consider the latter three to be their direct ancestors, in addition to Adam, his sons Hibil (Abel) and Šitil (Seth), and his grandson Anuš (Enosh).

[edit] Priests and laymen

There is a strict division between Mandaean laity and the priests. According to E.S. Drower (The Secret Adam):

Those amongst the community who possess secret knowledge are called Nauraiia - Naoreans (or, if the heavy '' is written as 'z', Nazorenes). At the same time the ignorant or semi-ignorant laity are called 'Mandaeans', Mandaiia - 'gnostics'. When a man becomes a priest he leaves 'Mandaeanism' and enters tarmiduta, 'priesthood'. Even then he has not attained to true enlightenment, for this, called 'Nairuta', is reserved for a very few. Those possessed of its secrets may call themselves Naoreans, and 'Naorean' today indicates not only one who observes strictly all rules of ritual purity, but one who understands the secret doctrine.

There are three grades of priesthood in Mandaeism: the tarmidia (Neo-Mandaic tarmidānā) or "disciples", the ganzibria (Neo-Mandaic ganzeḇrānā) or "treasurers," and the rišamma or "leader of the people." This last office, the highest level of the Mandaean priesthood, has lain vacant for many years. At the moment, the highest office currently occupied is that of the ganzeḇrā, a title which appears first in a religious context in the Aramaic ritual texts from Persepolis (ca. 3rd c. BCE) and which may be related to Kamnaskires (from Elamite <qa-ap-nu-iš-ki-ra> kapnušgir "treasurer"), the title of the rulers of Elymais (modern Khuzestan) during the Hellenistic age. Traditionally, any ganzeḇrā who baptizes seven or more ganzeḇrānā may qualify for the office of rišamma, though the Mandaean community has yet to rally as a whole behind any single candidate.

The modern priesthood dates to the first half of the 19th century. In 1831, an outbreak of cholera devastated the region and eliminated most if not all of the Mandaean religious authorities. Two of the surviving acolytes (šgandia), Yahia Bihram and Ram Zihrun, reestablished the priesthood on the basis of their own training and the texts that were available to them.

[edit] Influences

According to the Fihrist of ibn al-Nadim, Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, was brought up within the Elkasite (Elchasaite) sect. The Elchasaites were a Christian baptismal sect which may have been related to the Mandaeans. The members of this sect, like the Mandaeans, wore white and performed baptisms. They dwelled in east Judea and northern Mesopotamia, whence the Mandaeans claim to have migrated to southern Mesopotamia, according to the Harran Gawaitā legend. Mani later left the Elkasaites to found his own religion. In a remarkable comparative analysis, Mandaean scholar Säve-Söderberg demonstrated that Mani's Psalms of Thomas were closely related to Mandaean texts. This would imply that Mani had access to Mandaean religious literature. This leads to the question of just how close the origins of the Elchasaites, the Manichaeans, and the Mandaeans are to one other.

[edit] Other associated terms

Within the Middle East, but outside of their community, the Mandaeans are more commonly known as the ubba (singular ubbī). Likewise, their Muslim neighbors will refer to them collectively as the Sabians (Arabic الصابئون al-Ṣābiʾūn), in reference to the Ṣabians of the Qur'an. Occasionally, the Mandaeans are also called the "Christians of St. John" (a misnomer, since they are not Christians by any standard), based upon preliminary reports made by members of the Barefoot Carmelite mission in Basra during the 16th century.

Other groups which have been identified with the Mandaeans include the "Nasoraeans" described by Epiphanius and the Dositheans mentioned by Theodore Bar Kōnī in his Scholion. Ibn al-Nadim also mentions a group called the Mughtasila, "the self-ablutionists," who may be identified with one or the other of these groups. The members of this sect, like the Mandaeans, wore white and performed baptisms.

Whether it can be said that the Elchasaites, the Mughtasila, the Nasoraeans, and/or the Dositheans are to be identified with the Mandaeans is a separate question. While it seems certain that a number of distinct groups are intended by these names, the nature of their sects and the connections between them are less than clear.

According to NPR, Mandaens are the chief gold traders in Iraq.[citation needed]

[edit] See also

[edit] Other Related Religions

[edit] References

Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen. 2002. The Mandaeans: Ancient Texts and Modern People. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Drower, Ethel Stefana. 2002. The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran: Their Cults, Customs, Magic Legends, and Folklore (reprint). Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.

Yamauchi, Edwin. 2004. Gnostic Ethics and Mandaean Origins (reprint). Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.

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[edit] External links

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