The Mandaeans are the last living Gnostics. Their name, from the word manda, means "Knowers." The Mandaic language is an eastern dialect of Aramaic, although its alphabet is unique. Their origins are in antiquity, about the same time as the advent of Christianity. One of their religious heros is John the Baptist, although he is never remembered as their historical founder. They appear to have been originally a Jewish Gnostic baptismal group. Fleeing persecution, they made their way east into Syria and further into ancient Babylonia.
The Mandaeans have a large number of books preserved by their priests from antiquity. The worldview in them is very dualistic. The world of light is the divine world and it is populated with a number of light beings called “uthri.” This luminous world is called “Life” or “Great Life.” Standing opposite this world is the realm of darkness. The king of this realm is Ur, a demonic giant or monster. His realm is populated with a large number of demonic beings who are ruled by Ruha, the seven planets, and the twelve signs of the Zodiac. These two realms are engaged in a battle. During this fight, Ptahil, one of the emanations from the world of life, turns traitor and becomes stuck in the world of darkness. He remains there until the end of the world when he is purified and readmitted to the Light World. He is responsible for creating the universe and the first man, Adam. Along with his demonic helpers, he fashions Adam’s body, while Adam's soul, the “inner” or “hidden” Adam, comes from the world of light.
The main concern of the Mandaeans is the redemption of the soul. They understand this in terms of its liberation from the body and its return to the world of light. This deliverance is done ritually, mainly through baptism or “masbuta.” The baptisms are repeated activities, performed every Sunday by the priests in designated rivers. The ceremonies are very elaborate, lasting most of the day. During the ritual, the soul makes practice ascents into the realm of light, and is greeted there by the Uthri represented by the priests. The ceremony includes multiple immersions in the river, presentation of a small wreath of myrtle, invocations between the priest and the baptised, prayers, anointing with oil, reading from Mandaean scriptures, and a sacred meal on the shore. All participants are dressed in white robes since they are leaving the cosmic sphere and entering the sacred world where they are contacting the beings of light.
When the person dies, there is fear that the soul of the deceased will become lost in the purgatories along the way. So extra aid is sent to the deceased through an elaborate ceremony known as “masiqta,” the mass for the dead. Like the masbuta, it too includes baptisms with river water, anointing with oil, and crowning with a wreath of myrtle. Recitations from the sacred text, the Left Ginza, begin on the third day after death. This is the moment when the Mandaeans believe that the soul is separated from the body. These readings are continued at established times for the duration of the soul's journey to the world of light, forty-five days. Funerary meals are performed in memory of the deceased, meals which help to nourish the soul as it journeys through the dangerous purgatories.Mandaean Baptism of child in Tigris River, Baghdad, 2006
Mandaean Emergency Campaign
Today their homelands are Iraq and Iran. Because of the war in Iraq, they are experiencing persecution and genocide. They are a peaceful people who do not take up arms. Because they are neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Muslim, they are vulnerable as a minority religious people. There is a campaign - Mandaean Crisis International - to help these people as refugees. For more information on how we can help, visit some of my posts on the Mandaean Emergency Campaign on the Forbidden Gospels Blog.
Template Letter and Addresses
How Can We Help the Mandaeans Survive?
What is the Mandaean Emergency Campaign?
Some Successes to Report
Professor Bolender starts "Mandaean Crisis International"
Help for the Mandaeans
Mandaeans and the Sixth Stage of Genocide
Bill 2265 Letter
Internet Resources about the Mandaeans
For more information about the Mandaeans, here are some websites to visit.
Recommended Reading about the Mandaeans
There are few resources for the study of the Mandaeans available in English. Thanks though, to Gorgias Press, many of the classic studies conducted in the early and mid-twentieth century are being reprinted. I present here some of my favorites in chronological order of publication.
E. S. Drower, The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2002 reprint, 1937).
E. S. Drower, The Secret Adam: A Study of Nasoraean Gnosis (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960).
Edwin M. Yamauchi, Mandaic Incantation Texts (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2005 reprint, 1967).
Edwin M. Yamauchi, Gnostic Ethics and Mandaean Origins (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2004 reprint, 1970).
Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism (San Francisco: Harper, 1987) pages 343-366.
Edmondo Lupieri, The Mandaeans: The Last Gnostics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
Jorunn Jacobesn Buckley, The Mandaeans: Ancient Texts and Modern People (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley, The Great Stem of Souls: Reconstruction Mandaean History (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2005).