Wadi Hawran and Haran Gawaita

I wonder how old the name Wadi Hawran is. If it is ancient, then I wonder whether it might not have some connection to, or actually be, the “inner Haran” that is mentioned in (and gives the name to) the Mandaean text Haran Gawaita. This fragmentary text begins in mid-sentence with “…and Haran Gawaita receiveth him and that city in which there were Nasoraeans”.

Since the Mandaeans are baptizers, if they originated in the Jordan valley and moved East, they would have to stick to a route that provided access to flowing water. The Wadi Haran seems like a good candidate, depending on seasonal considerations, but perhaps that very issue of the presence of water explains why inner Haran “received him” (whoever “him” is in this context).

Following the wadi would have taken them, unless I am mistaken, through Nabataea, and the Nabataean alphabet presumably contributed something to the script that the Mandaeans came to use. The Mandaic script seems, however, to have been artificially created for the purpose of ritual use, keeping the content of their scriptures and religious texts secret, and adding an air of mystique to their magical writings. It might be going too far to suggest that a number of the characters may have been derived from Hebrew/Aramaic, being modified (and if necessary even turned on their side) in order to make ligature possible. But the lack of any clear instance of the Mandaic script itself used for any purpose other than writing religious texts or magic bowls and amulets may support the notion that the script was created precisely for this use alone.

At any rate, Wadi Hawran would provide a conduit for a group in the Jordan valley to lower Iraq, where the Mandaeans are known to have been centered down the centuries. This also would have placed them in proximity to Arabia, where eventually Muhammad would apparently become aware of them and grant them the status of “people of the book”.

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  • Susan Burns

    The entire Rift Valley region was much wetter than it is today. In “Water, Life & Civilization: Climate, Environment and Society in the Jordan Valley”, the data suggests ‘wet conditions requiring an excess of precipitation over evaporation. Rainfall 7.5 ka BP may have been as high as 800 mm per year. Surveys of pollen show that the southern Rift region was marshland with C4 sedge (papyrus) becoming the dominant plant in the south’. The paleosol record has periods of calcrete nodule formation. Calcretions are formed by a simultaneous increase in temperature and rainfall which can be formed when a canopy of willows retains most of the moisture. The lower Arava was choked with papyrus and at higher elevations the willows would dominate. Finally, the hardwood forests of the Mediterranean Forest Zone would cover the highlands. The ancient Mandeans would have no problem spreading their technology via waterways.