Mandaeans

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Mandaeans

or

Mandeans

(măn`dēənz), a small religious sect who maintain an ancient belief resembling that of GnosticismGnosticism
, dualistic religious and philosophical movement of the late Hellenistic and early Christian eras. The term designates a wide assortment of sects, numerous by the 2d cent. A.D.
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 and that of the ParsisParsis
or Parsees
, religious community of India, practicing Zoroastrianism. The Parsis (numbering about 75,000) are concentrated in Maharashtra and Gujarat states, especially in Mumbai. Their ancestors migrated from Iran in the 8th cent. to avoid Muslim persecution.
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. They are also known as Christians of St. John, Nasoraeans, Sabians, and Subbi. There are about 60,000 Mandaeans worldwide, most now in Jordan and Syria (having fled there from Iraq), some near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq, others in the area of Shushtar, Iran, and in cities of Asia Minor; emigration has led also to communities in Sweden, Britain, Australia, Canada, and the United States.

Their customs and writings indicate early Christian, perhaps pre-Christian, origin. Their system of astrology resembles those of ancient Babylonia and the cults of the MagiMagi
, priestly caste of ancient Persia. Probably Median in origin, they were, according to Herodotus, a tribe rather than a priestly family. Zoroaster is thought to have been a Magus. Study of the Magi is hampered by the lack of original source material.
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 in the last centuries B.C. Their emanation system and their dualism suggest a Gnostic origin, but unlike the Gnostics, they abhor asceticism and emphasize fertility. Although some of their practices were influenced by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, they reject all three. The Mandaeans respect St. John the Baptist because of his baptizing, since their principal concern is ritual cleanliness and their chief rite is frequent baptism. The custom, which antedated the baptisms of St. John, stems from the belief that living water is the principle of life. They have a communion sacrament, which is offered for the remembrance of the dead and resembles Parsi ritual meals. Their chief holy book, the Ginza Rba, like their other books, is a compendium of cosmology, cosmogony, prayers, legends, and rituals, written at various times and often contradictory.

The origin of the Mandaeans is not known; it is conjectured that they came from a mountainous region N of Babylonia and Persia, where they settled in ancient times; however, more recent scholarship places their origin in Palestine or Syria. The sect is diminishing because younger members tend to apostatize, and because Mandaeans do not practice conversion. They have been discriminated against in Iran under the Islamic republic and have been persecuted in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Bibliography

See S. A. F. D. Pallis, Mandaean Studies (rev. ed. 1926); Lady Drower, The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran (1937, repr. 1962) and Secret Adam: A study of Nasorean Gnosis (1960); E. M. Yamauchi, Gnostic Ethics and Mandaean Origins (1970).