The Holy Spirit as Wife of Adonai in Mandaeism

The Holy Spirit as Wife of Adonai in Mandaeism March 30, 2011
I’ve been spending some time this evening working on the Mandaean Book of John. In looking up a passage in the important but puzzling text known as Haran Gawaita (which can be found online here and here, and which I am embedding below), Ruha (i.e. the Holy Spirit) is referred to as the wife of Adonai, the Jewish God. Both are viewed negatively in Mandaeism. Given all the recent attention to and interest in Asherah, I thought it worth offering a brief mention of this here.

I sometimes wonder whether it is conceivable that Gnosticism emerged out of and in response to the imposition of monotheism in the post-exilic period, among Jews clinging to elements of the earlier form of their religion, who adopted a negative view of the God who was being promoted to them as the only one, even going so far as to mock his ignorance in claiming to be the only God. In certain respects, the connection seems plausible. But it also seems to require either that we date the origins of Gnosticism earlier than seems likely, or the imposition of monotheism later. Nonetheless, when we consider that pre-exilic forms of Judaean religion persisted in some places, such as at Elephantine in Egypt, for quite some time, it is perhaps not inconceivable that some Jews in Egypt or Mesopotamia maintained their earlier religious beliefs and practices for quite some time, and when Judaism in its ‘Scriptural’ (or Scripturized?) form reached their region and began to be imposed, perhaps they integrated into the community, while cultivating their own esoteric and subversive versions and interpretations of stories.

Anyway, below is the text of Haran Gawaita. I also happened across a piece by Şinasi Gündüz on “The problems of the nature and date of Mandaean sources” which is worth sharing.

The Haran Gawaita and the Baptism of Hibil Ziwa Drower

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  • The Gospel of the Hebrews identifies Mary with the Holy Spirit. Pre-Islamic Arabs gave Allah a wife, Al-Lat. Ideas like these were floating around, and could easily have influenced the early Mandaeans. I'm not convinced Gnosticism has polytheistic roots. Rather, I see it as a form of qualified monotheism. It's obviously not absolute monotheism, which involves something like the Muslim idea that nothing created can in any way be compared to God. Second Temple period Jews believed in one God, but a lot of lesser divine beings, the angels, or the heavenly host. We've got plenty of evidence of early angel Christologies. In orthodox Christianity, there was one line of development, leading to the doctrine of the Trinity, which isn't really absolute monotheism, but comes pretty close to it. Gnosticism took another path, and retained the idea of a hierarchy within the divine.

  • Thanks for your comment. Certainly part of the story of the development of Gnosticism is also the idea of one supreme God as transcendent and unknowable which we find in Judaism and Greco-Roman religious and philosophical writings of the Hellenistic age. I certainly don't mean to exclude that from the picture. I just wonder whether some pre-exilic Israelite religious elements could be part of the process in some way. I honestly don't know, and wouldn't be speculating if we had evidence that could answer this question! 🙂 I just find some of the possible connections intriguing. Some of the Mandaean names for celestial figures – such as Iurba and Iušamin, which seem to be variations on "Yah the Great" and "Yah of Heaven" respectively.

  • Interesting, but I think most historians look to Greek origins for the Gnostic ideas. And, while there was substantial contact between Greeks and Jews in Hellenistic Alexandria (look no farther than the history of Alchemy), it is difficult to substantiate contact in 5th century BCE Athens from which the Platonic structure came.