Mandaeans (Arabic: الصابئة المندائيون,
translit. aṣ-Ṣābi'a al-Mandā'iyūn) are an ethnoreligious
group indigenous to the alluvial plain of southern
Mesopotamia and are
followers of Mandaeism, a
Gnostic religion. The
originally native speakers of Mandaic, a
Semitic language that evolved
from Eastern Middle Aramaic, before many switched to colloquial Iraqi
Arabic and Modern Persian. Mandaic is mainly preserved as a liturgical
language. In the aftermath of the
Iraq War of 2003, the indigenous
Mandaic community of Iraq, which used to number 60–70,000 persons,
collapsed; most of the community relocated to nearby Iran,
Jordan, or formed diaspora communities beyond the Middle East. The
other indigenous community of Iranian
Mandaeans has also been
dwindling as a result of religious persecution over that decade.
1.2 Early Persian periods
1.3 Islamic Caliphates
1.4 Late Persian and Ottoman periods
Iraq and Iran
Mandaeans in Iraq
2.2 Iranian Mandaeans
2.3 Other countries in the Middle East
5 See also
8 External links
There are several indications of the ultimate origin of the Mandaeans.
Early religious concepts and terminologies recur in the Dead Sea
Scrolls, and "Jordan" has been the name of every baptismal water in
Mandaic language is a dialect of southeastern
Aramaic and is closely related to the language of the Babylonian
Talmud. There is archaeological evidence that attests to the Mandaean
presence in pre-Islamic Iraq. The Mandaean religion prohibits
the practice of circumcision. Some scholars, including Kurt Rudolph
connect the early
Mandaeans with the
Jewish sect of the
It appears that Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, was partly
influenced by the Mandaeans.
Early Persian periods
A number of ancient
Aramaic inscriptions dating back to the 2nd
century CE were uncovered in Elymais. Although the letters appear
quite similar to the Mandaean ones, it is doubtful whether the
Elymais were Mandaeans. Under Parthian and early
Sasanian rule, foreign religions were tolerated. The situation changed
by the ascension of
Bahram I in 273, who under the influence of the
zealous Zoroastrian high priest
Kartir persecuted all non-Zoroastrian
religions. It is thought that this persecution encouraged the
consolidation of Mandaean religious literature. The persecutions
Kartir seems to temporarily erase
recorded history. Traces of their presence can still however be found
in the so-called Mandaean magical bowls and lead strips which were
produced from the 3rd to the 7th centuries.
Mandaeans re-appear at the beginning of the
Muslim conquest of
Mesopotamia, when their "head of the people" Anush son of Danqa
Muslim authorities showing them a copy of the Ginza
Rabba, the Mandaean holy book, and proclaiming the chief Mandaean
prophet to be John the Baptist, who is also mentioned in the Quran.
The connection with the Quranic
Sabians provided them acknowledgement
as People of the Book, a legal minority religion within the Muslim
Empire. They appear to have flourished during the early Islamic
period, as attested by the voluminous expansion of Mandaic literature
and canons. Tib near
Wasit is particularly noted as an important
Yaqut al-Hamawi describes Tib as a town inhabited
Sabians who consider themselves to
be descendants of
Seth son of Adam.
The status of the
Mandaeans became an issue for the
Billah. To avoid further investigation by the authorities, the
Mandaeans paid a bribe of 50,000 dinars and were left alone. It
appears that the
Mandaeans were even exempt from paying the Jizya,
otherwise imposed upon non-Muslims.
Late Persian and Ottoman periods
Early contact with
Europeans came about in the mid-16th century, when
Portuguese missionaries encountered
Mandaeans in Southern
controversially designated them "Christians of St. John". In the next
Europeans became more acquainted with the
Mandaeans suffered persecution under the
Qajar rule in the 1780s.
The dwindling community was threatened with complete annihilation,
when a cholera epidemic broke out in
Shushtar and half of its
inhabitants died. The entire Mandaean priesthood perished and Mandeism
was restored due only to the efforts of few learned men such as Yahia
Bihram. Another danger threatened the community in 1870, when the
local governor of
Shushtar massacred the
Mandaeans against the will of
the Shah. As a result of these events the
Mandaeans retired to the
Central Marshes of Iraq.
Iraq and Iran
Following the First World War, the
Mandaeans were still largely living
in rural areas in the lower parts of British protected
Iraq and Iran.
Owing to the rise of Arab nationalism,
Mandaeans were Arabised at an
accelerated rate, especially during the 1950s and '60s. The Mandaeans
were also forced to abandon their stands on the cutting of hair and
forced military service, which are strictly prohibited in
Iraq War brought more troubles to the Mandaeans, as the
security situation deteriorated. Many members of the Mandaean
community, who were known as goldsmiths, were targeted by criminal
gangs for ransoms. The rise of
Islamic Extremism forced thousands to
flee the country, after they were given the choice of conversion or
death. It is estimated that around 90% of Iraqi
either killed or have fled after the American-led invasion.
Iran lived chiefly in Ahvaz, Iranian Khuzestan, but
have moved as a result of the Iraq-
Iran War to other cities such as
Karaj and Shiraz. The Mandaeans, who were traditionally
People of the Book (members of a protected religion
under Islamic rule) lost this status after the Islamic Revolution.
Local authorities in Iranian Islamic Republic are known to encourage
harassment and persecution of the Mandaeans.
Mandaean house of worship in Nasiriya, southern Iraq, 2016
Mandaeans in Iraq
Further information: Iraqi minorities § Mandaeans
Iraq War, The Iraqi Mandaean community was centered in Baghdad.
The Mandeans originate, however, from southern
Iraq in cities like
Nasiriyah. Many also live across the border in Southwestern
the cities of
Ahvaz and Khorramshahr. Mandaean emigration from
Iraq began during Saddam Hussein's rule, but accelerated greatly after
the American-led invasion and subsequent occupation. Since the
invasion Mandaeans, like other Iraqi ethno-religious minorities (such
as Assyrians, Armenians, Yazidi, Roma and Shabaks), have been
subjected to violence, including murders, kidnappings, rapes,
evictions, and forced conversions. Mandaeans, like many other
Iraqis, have also been targeted for kidnapping since many worked as
Mandaeism is pacifistic and forbids its adherents from
Mandaeans have fled the country in the face of this
violence, and the Mandaean community in
Iraq faces extinction.
Out of the over 60,000
Iraq in the early 1990s, fewer
than 5,000 to 10,000 remain there; as of early 2007, more than 80% of
Mandaeans were refugees in
Jordan as a result of the
Iraq War. 
See also: Ethnicities in
Iran § Iranian Mandaeans
The number of Iranian
Mandaeans is a matter of dispute. In 2009, there
were an estimated 5,000 and 10,000
Mandaeans in Iran, according to the
Associated Press. Whereas Alarabiya has put the number of Iranian
Mandaeans as high as 60,000 in 2011.
Until the Iranian Revolution,
Mandaeans had mainly been concentrated
in the Khuzestan province, where the community used to exist by side
with the local Arab population. They had mainly been practising the
profession of goldsmith, passing it from generation to generation.
After the fall of the shah, its members faced increased religious
discrimination, and many sought a new home in Europe and the Americas.
In Iran, the
Gozinesh Law (passed in 1985) has the effect of
Mandaeans from fully participating in civil life. This law
and other gozinesh provisions make access to employment, education,
and a range of other areas conditional upon a rigorous ideological
screening, the principal prerequisite for which is devotion to the
tenets of Islam. These laws are regularly applied to discriminate
against religious and ethnic groups that are not officially
recognized, such as the Mandaeans, Ahl-e Haq, and Baha'i.
In 2002 the
US State Department
US State Department granted Iranian
refugee status; since then roughly 1,000 have emigrated to the US,
now residing in cities such as San Antonio, Texas. On the other
hand, the Mandaean community in
Iran has increased over the last
decade, because of the exodus from
Iraq of the main Mandaean
community, which used to be 60,000–70,000 strong.
Other countries in the Middle East
Iraq War, the Mandaean community dispersed throughout
the Middle East. Living as refugees the
Jordan number 49
families, while in
Syria there are as many as 1,250 families.
There are small Mandaean diaspora populations in
Sweden (c. 7,000),
Australia (c. 3,500 as of 2006), the USA (c. 2,500), the UK (c.
1,000), and Canada.
Sweden became a popular
destination because a Mandaean community existed there before the war
and the Swedish government has a liberal asylum policy toward Iraqis.
Of the 7000
Mandaeans in Sweden, 1,500 live in Södertälje.
The scattered nature of the Mandaean diaspora has raised fears among
Mandaeans for the religion's survival.
Mandaeism has no provision for
conversion, and the religious status of
Mandaeans who marry outside
the faith and their children is disputed.
The status of the
Mandaeans has prompted a number of American
intellectuals and civil rights activists to call upon the U.S.
government to extend refugee status to the community. In 2007, The New
York Times ran an op-ed piece in which Swarthmore professor Nathaniel
Deutsch called for the Bush administration to take immediate action to
preserve the community. Iraqi
Mandaeans were given refugee status
US State Department
US State Department in 2007. Since then more than 2500 have
entered the US, many settling in Worcester, Massachusetts.
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Mandaeans are a closed ethno-religious community, practicing
Mandaeism, which is a
Gnostic religion:4:4 (
means "knowledge," as does Greek gnosis) with a strongly dualistic
worldview. Its adherents revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem,
Aram and especially John the Baptist.
Mandaeans group existence into two main categories: light and
dark. They have a dualistic view of life, which encompasses both good
and evil; all good is thought to have come from the World of Light
(i.e. lightworld) and all evil is considered to be a product of the
World of Darkness. In relation to the body–mind dualism coined by
Mandaeans consider the body, and all material, worldly
things, to have come from the Dark, while the soul (sometimes referred
to as the mind) is a product of the lightworld.
Mandaeans believe the
World of Light is ruled by a heavenly being, known by many names, such
as “Life,” “Lord of Greatness,” “Great Mind,” or “King
of Light” (Rudolph 1983). This being is so great, vast, and
incomprehensible that there are no words to fully depict how awesome
Life is. It is believed that an innumerable number of beings,
manifested from the light, surround Life and perform cultic acts of
worship to praise and honor this great being (1983). They inhabit
worlds separate from the lightworld and are commonly referred to as
emanations from First Life; their names include Second, Third, and
Fourth Life (i.e. Yōšamin, Abathur, and Ptahil ) (1983).
The Lord of Darkness is the ruler of the World of Darkness and was
formed from dark waters representing chaos (1983). A main defender of
the darkworld is a giant monster, or dragon, with the name “Ur;”
an evil, female ruler also inhabits the darkworld, known as “Ruha”
Mandaeans believe these malevolent rulers created demonic
offspring who consider themselves the owners of the Seven (planets)
and Twelve (Zodiac signs) (1983).
According to Mandaean beliefs, the world (i.e. Earth) is a mixture of
light and dark created by the demiurge (Ptahil) with help from dark
powers, such as Ruha, the Seven, and the Twelve (1983). Adam’s body
(i.e. believed to be the first human created by God in Christian
tradition) was fashioned by these dark beings; however, his “soul”
(or mind) was a direct creation from the Light. Therefore, many
Mandaeans believe the human soul is capable of salvation because it
originates from the lightworld. The soul, sometimes referred to as the
“inner Adam” or “hidden Adam,” is in dire need of being
rescued from the Dark, so it may ascend into the heavenly realm of the
lightworld (1983). Baptisms are a central theme in Mandaeanism,
believed to be necessary for the redemption of the soul.
not perform a single baptism, as in religions such as Christianity;
rather, they view baptisms as a ritualistic act capable of bringing
the soul closer to salvation (McGrath 2015). Therefore,
baptized numerous times during their lives.
John the Baptist
John the Baptist is a key
figure for the Mandaeans; they even consider him to have been a
Mandaean himself (2015). John is referred to as a “disciple” or
“priest,” most known for the countless number of baptisms he
performed, which helped close the immense gap between the soul and
salvation (Rudolf 1983).
Mandaeans are refugees and are not willing to accept
converts into their religion (McGrath 2015). Sunday, as in other
religious traditions, is their holy day, centered largely on mythical
Mandaeans consider Jesus an “apostate Mandaean”
Main article: Mandaic language
Mandaic language is an eastern dialect of Aramaic, although its
alphabet is unique. It has mainly survived as a liturgical
^ a b c d e Who Cares for the MANDAEANS?, Australian Islamist Monitor
^ Iraqi minority group needs U.S. attention, Kai Thaler,Yale Daily
News, March 9, 2007.
^ "Disciples of
John the Baptist
John the Baptist also flee ISIS - Inter Press
^ a b c d e f Contrera, Russell. "Saving the people, killing the
faith – Holland, MI". The Holland Sentinel. Archived from the
original on 2012-03-06. Retrieved 2011-12-17.
^ Ekman, Ivar: An exodus to
Iraq for ethnic Mandaeans
^ Siobhan Hegarty (21 July 2017). "Meet the Mandaeans: Australian
John the Baptist
John the Baptist celebrate new year". ABC. Retrieved 22
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^ Crawford, Angus: Mandaeans – a threatened religion
^ Verschiedene Gemeinschaften / neuere religiöse Bewegungen, in:
Religionswissenschaftlicher Medien- und
InformationsdienstReligionswissenschaftliche Medien- und
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for help[permanent dead link]
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^ Deutsch 1999, p. 4
^ a b Rudolph 1978, p. 4
^ a b Buckley 2002, p. 4
^ a b c d e Buckley 2002, p. 5
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^ Mandaean Human Rights Group 2008, p. 5
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^ Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen. "Mandaean Community in Iran". Encyclopedia
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^ "MANDAEANS iv. COMMUNITY IN IRAN". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
^ a b c d Ekman, Ivar (April 9, 2007). "An exodus to
Sweden from Iraq
for ethnic Mandaeans". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12,
^ a b Newmarker, Chris (February 10, 2007). "Survival of Ancient Faith
Threatened by Fighting in Iraq". The Washington Post. Retrieved May
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^ a b Iraq's
Mandaeans 'face extinction', Angus Crawford, BBC, March
^ Genocide Watch:
Iraq Archived May 8, 2009, at the
^ Deutsch, Nathaniel (October 6, 2007). "Save the Gnostics". The New
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Mandaeans in exile following persecution". Alarabiya.net.
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^ Ideological Screening (ROOZ :: English)
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^ Updated 33 minutes ago 12/17/2011 8:29:41 AM +00:00 (2009-01-07).
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^ a b "Morgondopp som ger gruppen nytt hopp" (in Swedish).
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^ The Plight of Iraq's Mandeans Archived 2011-06-29 at the Wayback
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^ An exodus to
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Mandaeans persecuted in Iraq.
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^ "Save the Gnostics" by Nathaniel Deutsch, October 6, 2007, New York
^ "These Iraqi immigrants revere John the Baptist, but they're not
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Mandaeism – Page 15
Kurt Rudolph – 1978 This tradition can be
explained by an anti-Christian concept, which is also found in
Mandaeism, but, according to several scholars, it contains scarcely
any traditions of historical events. Because of the strong dualism in
^ The Light and the Dark: Dualism in ancient Iran, India, and China
Petrus Franciscus Maria Fontaine - 1990 "Although it shows
Mandaeism was hostile to Judaism and
Mandaeans spoke an East-
Aramaic language in which
'manda' means 'knowledge'; this already is sufficient proof of the
Mandaeism with the Gnosis...
Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley, The Mandaeans: Ancient Texts and Modern
People, New York: Oxford University Press 2002.
Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley, The Great Stem of Souls: Reconstruction
Mandaean History, Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2005.
Nathaniel Deutsch, Guardians of the Gate: Angelic Vice Regency in Late
Antiquity, Leiden: Brill 1999.
Ethel Stefana Drower, The
Iran (1937), reprint:
Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2002.
Ethel Stefana Drower, The Secret Adam: A Study of Nasoraean Gnosis,
Oxford: Clarendon, 1960.
Edmondo Lupieri, The Mandaeans: The Last Gnostics, Grand Rapids:
Kurt Rudolph, Mandaeism, Volume 21 of "Iconography of religions",
Leiden: Brill 1978.
Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism, San
Francisco: Harper, 1987 pp. 343–366.
Andrew Phillip Smith,
John the Baptist
John the Baptist and the Last Gnostics: The
Secret History of the Mandaeans, London: Watkins Publishing 2016.
Edwin M. Yamauchi, Mandaic Incantation Texts (1967), reprint
Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2005.
Edwin M. Yamauchi,
Gnostic Ethics and Mandaean Origins (1970), reprint
Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2004.
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Mandaeanunion.org – Mandaean Associations Union
Mandaic.org – resources of the language of the Mandaeans
Mandaean Scriptures and Fragments
Mandaean Human Rights Group (2008), Mandaean Human Rights Annual
Report (PDF), AINA
James McGrath on The
Mandaeans and Mandaean Gnosticism (2015)
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