The First Baptists, The Last Gnostics

YouTube Preview Image

Here’s a recording of the talk I gave about the Mandaeans yesterday to an audience of faculty, staff, and students at Butler University, as part of the Faculty Brown Bag series.

Stay in touch! Like Religion Prof on Facebook:
  • brianleport

    Fascinating stuff James. I found it especially interesting to hear of their views of Jesus, the holy spirit, the baptism of Jesus, and Jerusalem. While some of this may have come from anti-Christian polemics after interactions with Christians at a later date the attitude toward Jerusalem seems to me to indicate we have traditions that may go back further than is often assumed. Good work here!

  • Wisam Breegi

    Thank you James! As a
    Mandaean, I would like to thank you for your interest and work on this subject.
    If you would allow me, I have few comments and thoughts to share. The word Manda means Knowledge, and Mandaeans
    means people of knowledge. Mandaeans are
    active pacifists (“Seek to correct injustice via knowledge not iron” Ginza Raba). In my opinion, we might see the translation
    of the Aramaic word Mandaean in many places and texts without noticing that it
    is referring to the Mandaeans (very clear in the Quran – those with the
    knowledge..). In the Mandaean texts
    there is no mention or use of the word Sabian. It is an Arabic word meaning to convert back
    to the old faith (Mohammad was called Sabian early on, which might mean the old
    presence of the Mandaean faith in the Arabian peninsula), or due to the
    Mandaean influence on early Islam, which is obvious in the main belief and
    practices in Islam… For sabians to mean Baptizers (from the Aramaic and Akkadian word
    Saba’e), would be a little farfetched as used in the Quran. In our Mandaean texts, we call ourselves
    Mandaeans and Nassurai (those of higher knowledge).

    The use of the Dove has
    nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. The
    use of the dove is part of the popular modern art and part of the believe of
    the dove of peace in Noah’s story (the dove is a sacred animal sacrifice in
    Mandaeism). We do not refer to the Roha as a dove. The use of the Drasha (Darfash, cross like) has
    nothing to do with the crucifix as we know it.
    It was simply a basic symbol of a group.

    There is no evidence in
    our texts ever of conversion, except one single case! The rest is John calling
    for redemption not initiation or conversion to Mandaeism. He called the Jews
    and others to cleanse themselves in the Jordan river, not to convert. The vast majority of Mandaeans do not consider
    or accept conversion. The argument is we
    do not proselytize or have a system or believe of doing so. The limited or lack of knowledge by Mandaeans
    of their religion was a survival mechanism in an extremely hostile environment,
    not due to lack of interest by the Mandaeans.
    Today, there is a strong revival of Mandaean identity, which was repressed
    for a very long time.

    • James F. McGrath

      Thank you for your comment, Wisam! My remark about the meaning of “Sabians” in the Qur’an was based on what I gathered to be the mainstream view among scholars of the Qur’an and of later Arabic authors who used the term. If views on this have shifted, I would be interested if you could direct me to more recent scholarship on this topic.

      When you say there is one single case of conversion in Mandaean sources, are you thinking of Miriai? I suppose the question of whether “conversion” is an appropriate term is comparable to the question of whether it is appropriate to speak of someone like Paul having “converted” to Christianity. At that time, Christianity was a movement within Judaism, and some would reserve the use of “convert” for cases of moving from one religion to another. I know that the Thousand and Twelve Questions makes a comparison between the move from Judaism to Mandaeism, and the move from lay to priestly status. How that sort of move was thought of by those who underwent it is a question we unfortunately probably cannot answer.

      I am glad that there is a revival of interest among Mandaeans in their texts and traditions. I hope that scholarly translation projects like the one that I am involved in can help provide Mandaeans in the English-speaking world with resources that they need!