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The Mandaeans

by balbuz Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 09:00:47 AM EST

The assessment of the current situation of the people of Irak centers around the fate of the Islamic communities, Arabs or Kurds. But Saddam Hussein's Irak was a secular state, where some very old non-muslim communities have coexisted in relative peace for over 2000 years. At least, they have managed to survive by keeping a low profile.

To this day.

From the diaries - afew

To this day, that means till the USA, the planetary militaristic warlord, with a little help from the UK, came and wroke havoc  on Irak, turning it into hell on earth.

It's not the sheer number and scale of deaths, rapes, destruction, ethnic cleansing. It is what is - to my mind - the ultimate sin : they are destroying entire peoples and their culture.

It is one thing to blindly slaughter animals or people : eliminating species or peoples is at an entirely different scale of evil.

It is even less possible to forgive if one considers the American goverment did it out of pure greed and the British goverment out of racism - because dropping some bombs on funny browny little people is no big deal.

Now, let me introduce you to some of these peoples which are being deleted from this world while you read my words :

  • The Yazidis
  • The Baha'is
  • The Chaldeo-Assyrian and the Syriac Christians
  • The Mandaeans

While it may be argued that the first three will not be eliminated as a people, it is almost certain that the Mandaeans will not survive America's sanguinary adventure in Irak.

So this diary is about the Mandaeans, who are sometimes called Sabeans, or Nasoreans.

A presentation

They are hard working people, respectful of others, respectful of women (for a change), with a history which reaches to the beginning of recorded times : the Mandeans are one of the oldest people on Earth.

The Mandeaens are the surviving remnants of the Dosithian branch of the ancient Nasorene sect to which both Yeshu-Miryai (Jesus and Mary) and John the Baptist belonged. Many of their present practices and doctrines go back to the days when Yeshu (Jesus) walked the earth as one of their fellow Nasurai. They still refer to themselves, not only as Mandeaens, which means Gnostic in their Aramaic language, but also as Nasurai or Nasarenes. The word Nasurai comes from an Aramaic word related to the Hebrew word nazar, i.e.. one separated or consecrated - hence monks and nuns. In ancient Israel the term was applied to those who were dedicated to Deity and who observe certain taboos such as no hair cutting, purity laws and a special diet.

The Mandeaens presently live on the river banks of the Euphrates and Tigris in Southern Iraq, in the marsh regions in Iran, and now in small diaspora communities in Australia and North America. They are said to number between 20 and 40 thousand.

The Mandeaens do not accept Yeshu (Jesus) as either the Messiah or a true prophet. They call Christians by the term "Kristiyane". This distinction can be traced back to at least 275 AD . The Karter inscription, found at Naqsh-i-Rustam, speaks of the Nasurai people as being officially distinct from the Kristiyane people. It is our understanding that this distinction goes all the way back to the days of John the Baptist and Yeshu and Miryai the Maiden.

Meanwhile, the Catholics say they are pagans :

Nasoræans are pagan Gnostics who shortly before the rise of Christianity, formed a sect which flourished in Mesopotamia and Babylonia, and which was one of the foremost religions in Western Asia in the early years of Mohammedanism. Though some 2000 families strong in the seventeenth century, they have dwindled at the present day to some 1500 adherents living on the Shat-el-Arab near the Persian Gulf. It is the only Gnostic sect that has survived and the sacred writings of which are still extant; a few remnants excepted, the writings of the so-called Christian Gnostics have perished.

This recent photo show a Mandaean, dressed in his ritual Ksuia.

All gathered toward him, all flocked towards him laying their pure right hands upon him
Blessed Manda d-Hiia and saying to him:
And blessed is he who hath transferred to thee these vestments.
For all the worlds to behold thee are awestruck by thy radiance.

The Mandaeans were about 60,000 in Irak in the 90s, before the American aggression. It is estimated that around 6,000 remain today. They have fled this hellish hole that Irak is today. They are a prime target, because they are being mistaken for Christians, because they often were jewellers and thus worthy of ransom. They have been victims of threat, intimidation, indiscriminate kidnapping, torture, rape, and execution.

Their fate in Iran is currently not much better (I couldn't verify this testimony):

Mandaean is small community with no voice. They cannot seek truth and justice. Mandaean is more vulnerable than even Christian and Jews, because the region IS NOT RECOGNIZED by the Iranian Constitution. The Sabian Mandaean Association of Australia (SMAA), based in Sydney wrote that the threat of sexual assault is particularly serious, as Islamic Judges in Iran have set the precedent that the rape of Mandaean Women can be regarded as an act of "Purification", and as such, violators receive impurity. In Iran this defense has been used to acquit men of rapes on Mandaean girl as young as 8 years old.

Many have fled, to Syria and Jordan, where they are not welcome as pagans, and to various other places.

And this is the worst threat to their survival : a tiny number of people, scattered over the planet. The religion has no mechanism to bring non-Mandaeans into the Mandaean fold, which means that children of mixed descent cannot become Mandaean.

There is no real hope for survival.

The language of a gnostic people

The alphabet is the abagada. It is magical and sacred;  it  existed "before the creation of the universe".
It consists of twenty-four letters (the magic number) :

'When the a o (according to another narrator Melka d Anhura) was created, he cried, "There is none mightier than I!" As he said this, he saw on the face of the waters the twenty-four' letters of the alphabet, like a bridge, and said to himself, "Who created these? I did not, therefore there must be one mightier than I!"'
Each letter according to them represents a power of life and light, and the first and last letters, the 'alpha and omega', are the same and represent perfection of light and life.
It is so named because of its first four letters :
  • O (A) - the Highest of all - Perfection, Light and Life, the beginning and end of all things
  • Ba - (Ab). The Great Father
  • Ga - (1) : Gauriil Ishliha - Gabriel the Messenger
        (2):Gimra anat Gmira - Perfection thou art Perfect
  • Da - Dirka - the way or law
  • The abagada comes from the female, primordial Wellspring, the aina (often paired with its corresponding male principal, the Datepalm). Created prior to the universe and human beings, the letters are the Wellspring's children. One may say that no universe could have been made prior to the letters, because neither speech nor writing were possible until the abagada came into being.

Ayar (Ether), cosmic breath, speaks in the abagada, but he himself did not emanate from it.
Imitating Ether, human beings utter the letters and, in combining them, create their lives.

But the Mandaeans accord a somewhat disturbing autonomy to the abagada, and it is a question of how much power human beings have in their use of it.  Who is in charge, the letters or the people?

But there is more :

According 1012, Book I, lI, the B emanates from the A, and the B then turns to the A and praises it . The G, coming into existence next, turns to its predecessor, B, and praises it, and so on through the alphabet :
"Each king (malka) praised and worshipped him who was anterior to himself, until a structure was built up, composed of twenty-four kings who held themselves together so that their edifice might not be destroyed."

Notice here the concern for the completeness of the alphabet, the emphasis on harmony and co-work.

Isn't this an absolutely magnificent construction, putting the language and cooperation at the center of the universe ?

The Mandaeans have an almost mystical relation with the alphabet. Jorge Luis Borges would have loved them.

An Aramic language.

The Mandaic language is the liturgical language of the Mandaean religion; a vernacular form is still spoken by a small community in Iran around Ahvaz. It is a variety of Aramaic, notable for its use of vowel letters (see Mandaic alphabet) and the striking amount of Iranian influence in its grammar and lexicon.

Classical Mandaic is a Northwest Semitic language of the Eastern Aramaic sub-family, and is closely related to the language of the Aramaic portions of the Babylonian Talmud, as well as the language of the incantation texts found throughout Mesopotamia. It is also related to Syriac, another member of the Eastern Aramaic sub-family, which is the liturgical language of many Christian denominations throughout the Middle East.

You can hear Mandaean [here] or [neo mandaean here].

The belief system

The Mandaean religion is not christian, it precedes christianity.
Their faith, with influences from Judaism, Gnosticism, pre-Christian religions, Christianity and Islam, predates Christianity, possibly by centuries, if not millennia.

"We are one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world. Some say we are the oldest," Sheikh Jabbar Helu, the most senior Mandaean cleric, who wears a long gray beard, flowing robes and is a fluent speaker of Aramaic, the language of Jesus and John the Baptist. "Our religious texts date to Seth, son of the prophet Adam. Our last prophet was John the Baptist."


Mandaeaism shares other celestial religions in identifying and diagnosing many prohibitions. This religion takes scientific and deep human dimensions in setting forth these commandments; they are:

3- Adultery
5-Telling lies
6-False testimony
7-Disloyalty and dishonesty
9-Magic and witchcraft
11-Alcoholic drinks
13-Crying over the dead
14-Eating dead animals, pregnant animals or animals attacked by other furious animals and blood
15-Divorce (save in some exceptional cases)
16-Suicide and abortion
17-Self-torturing and body-hurting.

This list makes sense...


The mandaeans direct their faces northwards while practicing their religious rites because the world of Light (paradise) lies in that sacred place of the universe to which souls go when the journey of life ends. There they enjoy immortality alongside their God. Besides, the Mandaean religion recommends alms giving (moral and material). It recommends also the great Fasting, which means the abstinence from anything that distorts man's relation with his God; while the small Fasting means abstinence from slaughtering animals and eating meat at certain days of the year. This religion stresses on the importance of marriage (including the marriage of the clergymen). Marriage rites are performed by the clergyman, attended by witnesses and a crowd of people in a happy festival. The rituals stress the sacredness of marriage. The rituals summed up as follows:

a- Baptism:The purpose is to purify the couple physically and spiritually while they are dressed in the Resta, ....the white religious clothes.
b- Taking the oath before their Lord, angles and attending people.
c- Complimentary rites symbolising partnership in a new house; fertility and breeding or regeneration.

Baptism is of course the most important act of liturgy. Jesus was baptised by St. John the Baptist with the Mandaean ritual :

Oral tradition

A priest dressed in his Sarwala
Qiqel was a yalufa (literate). He loved learning and piety and was devout. But his heart yearned to see, so that he might have certainty of the spiritual world. He dwelt in the wilderness and in the mountains, wandering from place to place and worshipping God continually. He took with him only a little food and a skin of water, and travelled like that-a darawish.

He fared on and on, and in the midst of a desert place he saw a domed chamber and another darawish near it. The darwish had bulit the dome of clay, and had fashioned it so that just below the dome there were twelve round openings, thus the sun, as it travelled round the sky. lit each in turn. The place was clean
and well tended. Qiqel gazed at the dome and the darwish asked him, 'What are you staring at-you?'

Qiqel answered, 'My heart loves this building! It is beautiful!'

Said the darwish, 'If your heart loves it, it is a sign that your honour is a one who knows'('alim).

Said Qiqel, 'I should like to see what is within this shrine.'

Answered the darwish, 'Khatrak! For your sake, I will show you!' And he opened the door and they gazed within. At first Qiqel saw nothing but an empty, clean place.

Said the darwish, 'Enter and sit!'

They entered, and Qiqel sat and the darwish with him.

Then the darwish said to Qiqel, 'Gaze at that opening', and they both gazed, and the darwish recited prayers softly, recited softly. Qiqel listened, and by degrees it appeared to him that he was listening to Mandaean invocations. He recognized Mandaean words of prayer and incantation, and, as he glanced into the gloom of the room, there appeared before him suddenly something in the guise of a being of light. The light played and radiated. the he heard the darwish recite, 'In the name of the Great Life! I have purified my hands...' a prayer of the King of Light.

Qiqel gazed and he saw light, more light, light, and spirits of light. The more the darwish read the more radiant the light became.

The darwish said to him, 'There are ninety butha(prayers). Each time, thirty butha must be recited.'

After the visions had passed, they talked to each other and Qiqel asked the darwish, 'Of what sect(milla), of what religion, is your honour?'

The darwish replied, 'I am alone. There were others like me, but the Jews killed them.'

Qiqel said, 'Nay, but you are a Mandai!'

Said the darwish, 'From whence knew you the Mandai?'

Qiqel answered him, 'I Qiqel, who sit before you, I am a Mandai!'

When the darwish heard that, he fell into his arms and they kissed each other and wept, till the darwish said, 'Why weep? I am hapy! My heart rejoices!'

Qiqel said, 'And I too am happy, for I have seen that which I have seen!' and he said to the darwish, 'We are brothers! Let us live and die together. Do not depart from me and I will not depart from you. We will pray always together.'

The calendar

You will find here a (Java) calendar calculator .

The situation in Irak

The Mandaeans never carry arms, are forbidden to kill, and so are particularly vulnerable in Irak, unable to defend themselves.

The Sabaean Mandaean Association of Australia (SMAA) reports that on or about 20 December 2003, Rafid Al-Khamisy, a Mandaean, was confronted by Muslims in front of a number of people in Hay Al-Shurtha suburb in Baghdad. The Muslims demanded that Rafid Al-Khamisy convert to Islam. Rafid Al-Khamisy refused to convert to Islam and the Muslims then killed him in front of the others who were present.

On 20 January the SMAA reported, "The Sabian Mandaean Association in Australia has now been advised that in Falluja alone thirty-five (35) Mandaean families have been forcibly converted to Islam. This also involves forced circumcision. The Mandaean women and girls of these families have been forcibly married to Muslim men chosen by the Muslims. The suffering that has been inflicted is incalculable.

"It has also been reported to us (SMAA) that a group of Muslim men seized a seven (7) year old Mandaean boy, doused him in petrol and set him alight. As the child was being burnt to death the Muslims were running around shouting, `Burn the dirty infidel!'

I didn't have the heart to post links to online photos of tortured, shocked, deeply traumatized men, women, and children.

This whole thing is just nauseating. I have the utmost respect for this people.


Quotes extracted from :

The definitive study of the Mandaeans is : E.S. Drower, Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran, Leiden, 1962
The most recent news are at mandaeanunion.org

A fascinating diary, balbuz. Were the Essenes considered as Nasorenes, (or vice versa) ?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 01:42:16 AM EST
Were the Essenes considered as Nasorenes, (or vice versa) ?
I am no erudite in these matters, and can only refer you to one of the links :

Early religions are a fascinating topic. I know some quite knowledgeable people, and we are talking of travelling to the Middle East to visit some sites. We'll see.

by balbuz on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 04:49:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A fantastic but tragic diary, deserving of the widest possible dissemination. I hope it will be posted in a lot of other forums, so that as many people as possible can contemplate how beauty is destroyed by greed. The Mandaean situation could be the subject for a TV documentary, or their history and beliefs, and destruction could be a movie with a far more powerful and relevant messsage than 'Apocolypta'.

While I do not believe myself in god, an afterlife etc, that does not mean that I disrespect the right of others to do so - especially such an ancient, beautiful, humane and caring belief set.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 02:37:47 AM EST
A fantastic but tragic diary, deserving of the widest possible dissemination.

Thanks. I don't know how. I was thinking of DailyKos, but I have no plans of registering... Any hints welcome.

There is no one to help this people.

by balbuz on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 04:52:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Start with Booman Tribune and Progressive Historians.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 04:53:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Done. Phew. Thanks.
by balbuz on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 05:58:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Truly a fascinating and informative diary...what a tragic mess Iraq is...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 03:09:38 AM EST
wonderfully erudite and topical, thanks.

heartbreaking too.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 04:06:19 AM EST
It's not the sheer number and scale of deaths, rapes, destruction, ethnic cleansing. It is what is - to my mind - the ultimate sin : they are destroying entire peoples and their culture.

This reminds me of a comment by Wade Davis in the video linked below:

No biologist, for example, would dare suggest that 50% of all species or more are on the brink of extinction because it simply is not true, and yet that, the most apocalyptic scenario in the realm of biological diversity scarcely approaches what we know to be the most optimistic scenario in the realm of cultural diversity, and the great indicator of that--of course--is language loss.  When each of you in this room were born, there were 6,000 languages spoken on the planet.  Now a language is not just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules, it is a [flight?--watch the video below] of the human spirit; it is a vehical through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the material world.  Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind, a watershed of thought, an ecosystem of spiritual possibilities.  And of those six thousand languages, as we sit here today in Monterey, fully half are no longer being whispered into the ears of children.  They are no longer being taught to babies.  Which means effectively, unless something changes, they're already dead.

What could be more lonely than to be enveloped in silence, to be the last of your people to speak your language, to have no way to pass on the wisdom of the ancestors or anticipate the promise of the children?  And yet that dreadful fate is indeed the plight of somebody, somewhere on earth roughly every two weeks, because every two weeks some elder dies and carries with them into the grave the last syllables of an ancient tongue.

I know some of you say "Wouldn't it be better--wouldn't the world be a better place if we all just spoke one language?"  I'd say, "Great.  Now let's make that language [Yoruba?]; let's make it Cantonese; let's make it....Kogi.  You'll suddenly discover what it would be like to be unable to speak your own language."

*Ethnosphere--"the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness.  [Humanity's legacy]"

I think he says in this video something like:

"If you wiped out all of the people of a tribe--that's genocide.  What we're doing is wiping out the culture--that's ethnocide."

The only annoying thing (for me) about the video below is that it has an unavoidable sponsorship advert at the beginning.  Beyond that (close your eyes for ten seconds, or go get your cup of tea, until you hear the someone start speaking), I found it enjoyable, educational, great pictures, and the story about the...innuit grandfather's ingenious plan to escape...which may well be an innuit folk myth but it's still great.

Here's the video.


(I also think your topic links to this comment about the nature of violence--hat tip to Helen for the link.)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 04:11:06 AM EST
Really interesting diary, thanks for this.  So most of the Iraqi Mandeans are living in Syria and Jordan now?  I wouldn't anticipate them having as much of a problem in Syria, where religious minorities typically fare a bit better than elsewhere in the region, but Jordan might not be the most comfortable place for them.

You might be interested in this article about the Yazidis (he spells it Yezidi), which also includes a little bit about Iraq's Chaldeans, that ran in a local magazine here a little over a year ago.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 05:18:49 AM EST
You are right about Syria; they live in slums there, but in peace, and complain more about uprooting; they live under the constant stress of finding out what is happening to those remaining in Irak.

Syria is definitely on the list of places i'd really like to visit.

by balbuz on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 05:24:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Fine diary, balbuz. Thanks. Yes, go to the Syria, you'll be glad you did.
by Quentin on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 07:19:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you've been there Quentin, we'd like to know more!

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 08:50:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Seconded, with photos preferrably !
by balbuz on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 09:34:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yey, to an inaugural diary fron Quentin!

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 at 01:37:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
they sound like the Amish of Iraq.  non-armigerous, pacifistic, quiet people.

and the US harps endlessly on Saddam's campaign against the Marsh Arabs... pot criticising kettle, ad infinitum.

this extirpation of diversity in the ethnosphere mirrors the extirpation of diversity in the biosphere:  more of that radical and brutal simplification that leaves us every year less robust, with fewer options in our biotic and cultural pockets to deal with an unknown future.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Mar 1st, 2007 at 08:28:28 PM EST

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