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Edmondo F. Lupieri
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Kurt Rudolph
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Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley
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Christa Müller-Kessler
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Charles G. Häberl
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(21,341 words)

an ethnic group (also called Nasoreans or Ar. Ṣābeʾin) belonging to one of the less represented religions of the Near East.

an ethnic group (also called Nasoreans or Ar. Ṣābeʾin) belonging to one of the less represented religions of the Near East.

MANDAEANS i. HISTORY

MANDAEANS, an ethnic group (also called Nasoreans or Ar. Ṣābeʾin) belonging to one of the less represented religions of the Near East. The term “Mandaeans” (mandāyi) is not an original self-designation (see ii). From pre-Islamic times to the present, they have lived in southern Iraq and southwestern Iran (Khuzestan), but since the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and later upheavals in the region, they are also to be found in Europe, North America, and Australia. It is thought that they now number over 50,000 in total. For centuries their main business seems to have been silver- and ironsmithing, boatbuilding and bridge construction, but now they are active in various modern occupations and trades.

The Mandaeans first became known in the West in about 1290 through the Italian monk, Ricoldo da Montecroce. The learned Dominican traveled at length in Palestine, Armenia, Turkey, Persia, and Mesopotamia, on the orders of Pope Nicholas IV and is the first European known to have contacted a Mandaean community, in the desert area around Baghdad. The last chapter of his Itinerarium (or Book of Peregrinations in Eastern Parts) is entitled de monstris and there, among the strangest things he had ever seen, Ricoldo describes the Mandaeans. His description is exceptionally accurate when compared with Arabic sources, and with the oldest known Syriac testimony, the Scholion of the 8th/9th-century monk Theodore Bar Konai (see Théodore bar Koni, Mimrā XI, 86, pp. 257-59; cf. Pognon, pp. 231-55), in which Mandaeans are usually confused with other religious minorities. According to Ricoldo’s report (Dondaine, p. 161), the Mandaeans were not Muslims, Jews, or Christians; however, they venerated John the Baptist; they were antagonistic towards Abraham because of his practice of circumcision; they practiced different kinds of immersions in water; they had priests with specific religious attire; they had beautiful books; and they were faithful to their wives. To sum up, they were the strangest population he had ever encountered in the East.

Unfortunately, Ricoldo’s chapter de monstris was not transcribed in most manuscripts of his Itinerarium, nor was it printed; as a result, his narration went unnoticed until 1949 (Puech), and the Mandaeans were only officially “rediscovered” in the mid-16th century, when two of them, from the area around Basra, reached the Portuguese outpost at Hormuz and from there went to Goa (Wicki, pp. 371, 429). The first known written testimony is a report by the future Provincial of the Jesuits of the Indies, Antonio de Quadros, to his Provincial in Portugal, sent from Goa on 6 December 1555, in which he expresses his hope for a mission among them (Wicki, p. 353). At that time, the Portuguese were attempting to penetrate into Islamic lands, particularly the Persian Gulf region, through military as well as religious intervention. In Africa, they were seeking an alliance with the Christian king of Abyssinia, the Negus, whom they considered to be the fabulous Prester John.’ In India, they were most happy to discover a Christian minority group, the “Christians of St. Thomas,” who only needed to be brought back to the Roman Catholic fold. This people, according to their own traditions, had been converted by St. Thomas the Apostle who had reached India as a missionary. Therefore, the Portuguese Jesuits were not at all surprised to discover the “Christians of St. John” in lower Iraq, at the head of the Persian Gulf.

The Mandaeans, at times under fierce pressure from Muslim Arab, Turkish, and Persian rulers, told the Portuguese that they were true Christians, originally converted by John, the Apostle and Evangelist, who had reached Mesopotamia as a missionary, and that, allowing for their unfavorable circumstances, they had managed to remain as orthodox as possible. Some went so far as to say that in the past their “bishops” were sent to them by the patriarch of the Syrian (Nestorian) church (Wicki, p. 429).

It took decades for outsiders to comprehend that the Mandaeans were not really Christians. It was Augustinian monks who realized for the first time, in 1609, during an official mission in Persian Khuzestan, that the John of the Mandaeans was not the Evangelist, but the Baptist (Gouvea, pars III, cap. xix; Alonso, p. 23). Therefore, the “Christians of St. John (the Evangelist)” now became identified as the “disciples of St. John (the Baptist).” However, John the Baptist was killed in Palestine by Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee (r. 4 BCE-39 CE), some time before the death of Jesus (Matt. 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-29; cf. Luke 9.7); thus it was most unlikely that he had reached Mesopotamia as far as to convert its people to Christianity. Therefore, it was thought that the Mandaeans, as his disciples, must have originated in Palestine and had left it later with their families.

During the 17th century, the missionary efforts were left to the Augustinians and to the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites (see CARMELITES). After a bitter struggle between the two orders, the Carmelites undertook the bold campaign of the mass conversion and relocation of the entire Mandaean ethnic group to other places in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean that were still under Portuguese control. The monk most involved in the attempt was the Italian Carlo Leonelli, or Fr. Ignatius à Iesu, who wrote the first scholarly book on Mandaeanism in 1652. In his work, designed as a “handbook” for Christian missionaries involved with Mandaeans, we find the first systematic, though still self-contradicting, attempt to explain the Mandaeans both as a Christian schismatic group (from the Nestorian Church of Syria), and as descendants of the disciples of John the Baptist, who were obliged to abandon Palestine due to Muslim persecution. There we also find a first-hand report of the events. In 1633 one Mandaean, baptized with the Christian name of Luis de Souza, was knighted and along with hundreds of his kinsmen joined the Portuguese army. Later on, two Mandaean brothers were sent to Rome where they were baptized and given the Christian names of Isidoro Pamphili and Giovanni Battista Orsini, with members of the most influential and noble Roman families acting as godfathers. (See Lupieri 2002, pp. 89-105; besides Ignatius à Iesu’s book, primary sources are unpublished letters by Discalced Carmelite missionaries, from the Roman archives of the Order’s General House.)

The whole plan soon collapsed. The Portuguese were not able to relocate the Mandaeans, and the Mandaeans did not convert. The learned Maronite Abraham Ecchellensis, through conversations with the two Mandaeans sent to Rome and by reading their books, disproved the Ignatius thesis that the Mandaeans were schismatic Christians and instead considered them as members of a dualistic group, connected to Manicheism rather than to John the Baptist (Abraham Ecchellensis, note no. 10, pp. 310-36).

Increasingly disillusioned reports by the missionaries, struck by the “stubbornness” of the Mandaeans, reached the Vatican and the General House of the Carmelites in Rome, until the very idea of converting them was abandoned at the end of the 18th century. By that time, European travelers and scholars were making extensive journeys throughout the Middle East in search of curiosities, lost civilizations, and other treasures. Given their Arabic name of Ṣubba (the “Immersers”), the Mandaeans were confused with the Sabaeans of Ḥarrān, or even connected with the biblical queen of Sheba. During the 19th century, these misunderstandings were gradually cleared up and, in the second half of that century, we finally have the first reliable reports on them by Petermann and Siouffi (the former more scholarly). In the first half of the 20th century, and especially in the 1920s, the converging interests of (mostly German) New Testament and history of religion scholars led to an explosion of Mandaean studies in Europe. The possible historical connection with John the Baptist, as seen in the newly translated Mandaean texts, convinced many (notably R. Bultmann) that it was possible, through the Mandaean traditions, to shed some new light on the history of John and on the origins of Christianity. This brought about a revival of the otherwise almost fully abandoned idea of their Palestinian origins. As the archeological discovery of Mandaean incantation bowls and lead amulets proved a pre-Islamic Mandaean presence in southern Mesopotamia, scholars were obliged to hypothesize otherwise unknown persecutions by Jews or by Christians to explain the reason for Mandaeans’ departure from Palestine.

The “Mandaean Question” had a brief but intense life. Christian theologians and New Testament scholars rejected the idea that Mandaean lore could possibly be traced back to Palestinian traditions contemporary to John the Baptist and Jesus. As a result, New Testament scholarship lost interest in Mandaean literature and traditions, and the “Mandaean fever” (as it had been nicknamed) was over before the beginning of World War II. In 1937 Ethel S. Drower wrote the most extensive and in-depth analysis of living Mandaean communities in Iraq and Iran. Lady Drower also acquired the most impressive collection of Mandaean manuscripts (now at the Bodleian Library in Oxford) and began their translation and publication.

The 1960s were crucial for a new understanding of Mandaeanism. The pivotal works by Kurt Rudolph finally allowed a critical comprehension of Mandaean theology and thinking, while Rudolf Macuch steadfastly resurrected the theory of the Palestinian origins of the Mandaeans as disciples of John the Baptist, and of their early migration to southern Mesopotamia, and passionately defended it against opposing views (Yamauchi). In more recent years, many Mandaean scholars have accepted the Palestinian origin and early migration theory (Buckley, Gündüz), while those who have their major interests in other fields (mostly biblical scholars) do not. It is difficult to find a historical foundation for such a theory, as the historical John the Baptist was an observant Jew, probably with apocalyptic expectations, who had developed his own interpretation of the Law (as we can understand from his food and way of dressing), which was not too different from the halakhah of the Pharisees (Lupieri, 1997). As an alternative to the Jewish temple cult, and possibly convinced that it was a sort of “last chance” offered by God before His final intervention in history, John invented an immersion in running water which was different from any other existing Jewish purificatory practice, since it was considered effective for the remission of sins. This is why he, and no other Jew, was called “the Baptist.” According to Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 18.5.2), before John’s movement could become politically meaningful and dangerous, Herod Antipas had him killed some time prior to 35 C.E. Josephus knows of no further persecution of John’s followers, although he is interested in reporting any repressive action by Jewish and/or Roman authorities before 70 C.E. According to the synoptic Gospels, the disciples of John, possibly after his death, appear to be integrated in their Jewish context and to share religious practices, like that of fasting, with the Pharisees (there is much discussion concerning the original historical setting of Mark 2:18, and its synoptic parallels in Matthew 9:14 and Luke 5:33, which presuppose John’s absence or death). Traces of antagonism crop up between the disciples of John and the followers of Jesus by the end of the first century (as one might infer from the emphatic depiction of John as precursor, in John 3:22-30, 4:1, 5:36, 10:41), and during the second and third centuries (Pseudo-Clementine literature: Homiliae 2.23 f.; Recognitiones 1.54, 1.60, 2.8). From the Acts of the Apostles (19.1-5) and the Pseudo-Clementines we may deduce that there were small groups or communities of followers of John the Baptist in Ephesus and somewhere in the province of Syria (less plausibly in Egypt: Acts 18:24 f.; cf. Lupieri, 1988, pp. 51-96). They do not seem to have been interested in migrating elsewhere, nor were they forced to.

What we next find is a Mandaean culture, rooted in southern Mesopotamia, with its own distinctive language, from the eastern (not western) Aramaic group, and its own alphabet, closely related to that found in inscriptions of Elymais and coins of Characene. What is striking is that the Mandaeans appear to be a distinct, endogamic religious and ethnic group, with neither proselytism towards, nor conversions from, the outside. While the disciples of John the Baptist were Baptist Jews who kept us to the biblical reading among radical anti-nomistic Christian and post-Christian Gnostic groups, whose hatred for the Jews is well explained as originating in Christian circles. If we add that the Mandaean traditions on John the Baptist cannot be directly connected to the historical John, but are developments of Christian apocryphal legends (Lupieri, up with the reading of the Torah and its observance, the Mandaeans appear to be defiantly anti-Jewish, to abhor circumcision as the worst impurity, and to propose an “inverted” reading of the little they still use of the Jewish Bible: the Jews and their God are the villains, and the Egyptians with their Pharaoh, the enemies of the Jews, become the ancestors of the Mandaeans (Drower, 1937, pp. 261-66; Lupieri, 2002, pp. 133-42). This brings 1988, pp. 195-395), and that even those pertaining to Miriai (a Jewish girl of priestly stock who is said to have converted to become a Mandaean in some early stage of its history) are constructed on other Christian apocryphal stories about Mary, the mother of Jesus (Buckley, 1993), any direct physical connection with first-century Palestine becomes historically unnecessary.

The Mandaean history of salvation is a creative conflation of biblical lore and the theory of the four ages of the world. After the biblical flood, which ends the third age of the world, the Mandaeans are the only descendants of the “pure seed” of Adam on earth, but are subjected to periodic extinctions during the present fourth age. Following each extinction, one of the Mandaean saviors or revealers brings new Mandaeans to Mesopotamia from a fabulous realm in the mountains of the North, a sort of paradise on earth where their pure seed survives. This is where the inventor of Mandaean baptism, Birham the Great (and not John the Baptist), resides. This semi-divine entity has the same name as a Semitic divinity, which in the Mesopotamia of Late Antiquity was identified as the Greek demigod Heracles and became the protecting god of the Hyspaosinnidic dynasty of the rulers of Mesene-Characene under the Arsacid empire (roughly from 165BC.E. to 222 C.E.). The Arsacids were followed by the Sasanians, who took full control of Mesopotamia in the years 224-27 C.E. and adhered firmly to Zoroastrianism. They initiated a period of religious persecution, which reached its climax in the second half of the third century under the guidance of the leading Zoroastrian priest and imperial dignitary Karter (or Kirdir). He was responsible for the imprisonment and death of Mani (ca. 275 C.E.), and in his Kaʿba-ye Zardošt inscription (Back, pp. 414-16) he boasts that he persecuted Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Brahmins, zandiks (usually regarded as Mazdean heretics), the mysterious Makdaks (Manicheans or maybe Mandaeans), and the Nasuraeans (possibly Mandaeans or some Jewish-Christian groups).

This inscription could offer the terminus ante quem for the existence of an independent Mandaean religion in Mesopotamia. The Sasanian persecution also seems to provide the best explanation for a peculiar Mandaean legend about a “king Artabanus” who was “the king of the Mandaeans.” In recent versions of the story, he becomes the brother of “king Pharaoh,” who survives the crossing of the Red Sea and flees Moses and his Jewish army. The story has many versions, one of which may be present in the very fragmentary Haran Gauaita (Drower, 1953); this book possibly contained a whole Mandaean world history, from the mythical beginning to the apocalyptical end. Unfortunately the beginning is missing and the present title reproduces the first two words of the surviving text, alluding to the “Interior Harran” which welcomes Artabanus after his defeat. It appears that both Pharaoh and Artabanus are Mandaean kings and both are defeated by the Jews. This could be a historical memory of the figure of Artabanus V (r. ca. 213-24 C.E.), the last and defeated Arsacid king. During the Sasanian period of persecution, the last king of a previous tolerant dynasty could have been “adopted” as a Mandaean, in the same way as the Pharaoh, the enemy of the enemies (the Jews), was. If this is true, Mandaeanism must have already existed at the beginning of Sasanian rule.

The richness and variety of the second- and third-century Mesopotamian religious milieu is well documented and is evident in the Codex Manichaicus Coloniensis, which shows Mani growing up as a member of a community of Mesopotamian Baptists (all men dressed in white). According to the Codex, their leader was Elchasai, the apparent author of a Jewish-Christian apocalypse with strong Gnostic traits written around 115 C.E. (Cirillo, Luttikhuizen).

Mandaeanism is very likely a splinter group of southern Mesopotamian, post-Christian Gnosticism, possibly originating in the late second century. The connection with Old and New Testament Palestine is cultural, not ethnic or geographic, as there is no need to explain a migration of ideas in terms of the migration of an entire population. What remains unique is that, if we consider the ethnic conscience of the Mandaeans as original to them, we must accept that a whole ethnic group collectively adopted a Gnostic form of religion. If this is true, we may presume there occurred some form of mass conversion as a consequence of the preaching of some religious missionary or reformer.

Although the full study of Mandaean text colophons has yet to be completed, we may still find in them some indication of the possible founder of Mandaeanism. Most of the colophons repeat the same series of names, which constitutes a list of the oldest scribes and religious leaders. With some exceptions, which are possibly a reaction to the more common tradition, the oldest name is that of a certain Zazai. In some colophons he appears to have received the book directly from a divine figure and even to be a semi-divine person himself. In the Haran Gauaita he is the first of seven Mandaean king-archers who destroy Judaism, is appointed by Anuš ʿUtra, one of the Mandaean revealers, as the Mandaean king in Baghdad (which is usually identified with Jerusalem), and finally ascends to heaven, where he spends sixty-two days (to receive a special revelation?). Therefore, this Zazai seems to be the historical founder of Mandaeanism, possibly a second-century Mesopotamian Gnostic teacher who considered himself the bearer of direct, divine inspiration.

From the numerous names listed in prayers, colophons, and the Haran Gauaita, it is possible to identify some other important religious authors and leaders in early Mandaean history. After Zazai, but before the Islamic era, a certain Šganda, or Ašganda, was so famous that the Mesopotamian city of Ṭib, where he resided, was, for the Mandaeans, “the city of Ašganda.” In the years of the Muslim Arab conquest of Mesopotamia (639-42 CE), we are told that a certain Anuš bar Danqa, a layman, considered to be a descendent of King Artabanus, was able to convince the new rulers that the Mandaeans, like the Christians and the Jews, were “People of the Book” (Arabic: Ahl al-Ketāb), and therefore should not be persecuted. In those years, a certain Ramuia was the leading figure among the scribal and religious authorities, possibly the person in charge of (re)writing the Mandaean religious texts, so that they could be shown to the Muslim rulers. In early Islamic times, we find the recurrent name of a person who must have standardized most Mandaean texts: Baian. It is tempting to consider his activity as a reaction to a religious schism, of which we have both written and oral accounts, the schism of Qiqil. This Mandaean religious leader resided in T’ib, is said to have taken the wrong path, but in the end to have repented. According to Mandaean sources his activity is chronologically connected to John the Baptist (several centuries after him), since all the Mandaeans who accepted Qiqil’s teachings are considered to be the descendants of those Jews who were converted by John the Baptist, and therefore not ethnically Mandaeans. But this is heresiological acrimony, not historical reconstruction.

Bibliography

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  • C. Alonso, O.S.A., Los Mandeos y las Misiones Católicas en la primera mitad del s. XVII, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 179, Rome, 1967.
  • M. Back, Die sassanidischen Staatsinschriften, Acta Iranica 18, Tehran and Liège, 1978, pp. 384-489.
  • J. J. Buckley, “The Mandaean Appropriation of Jesus’ Mother, Miriai,” Novum Testamentum 35/2, 1993, pp. 181-96.
  • Idem, The Mandaeans: Ancient Texts and Modern People, Oxford, 2002.
  • R. Bultmann, review of H. Lietzmann, Ein Beitrag zur Mandäerfrage, in Theologische Literaturzeitung 56, 1931, pp. 577-79.
  • H. Chick, ed. and tr., A Chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia and the Papal Mission of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries, 2 vols., London, 1939.
  • L. Cirillo, Elchasai e gli Elchasaiti: un contributo alla storia delle comunità giudeo-cristiane, Cosenza, 1984.
  • A. Dondaine, “Ricoldiana. Notes sur les oeuvres de Ricoldo da Montecroce,” Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 37, 1967, pp. 119-79.
  • E. S. Drower, The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran: Their Cults, Customs, Magic, Legends, and Folklore, Oxford, 1937; repr., Leiden, 2002.
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  • Antonio de Gouvea, Relaçam em que se tratam as guerras e grandes victórias que alcançou o grande Rey de Persia Xa Abbas do grão Turco Mahometto e seu filho Amethe, Lisbon, 1611.
  • S. Gündüz, The Knowledge of Life: The Origins and Early History of the Mandaeans, Journal of Semitic Studies Supplements 3, Oxford, 1994.
  • Ignatius à Iesu (Carlo Leonelli), Narratio Originis, Rituum, & Errorum Christianorum Sancti Ioannis …, Rome, 1652.
  • E. Lupieri, Giovanni Battista fra storia e leggenda, Brescia, 1988.
  • Idem, I Mandei. Gli ultimi Gnostici, Brescia, 1993; English tr., The Mandaeans: The Last Gnostics, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Cambridge, 2002.
  • Idem, “Halakhah qumranica e halakhah battistica di Giovanni: due mondi a confronto,” in R. Penna, ed., Qumran e le origini cristiane, Ricerche Storico Bibliche 9/2, Bologna, 1997, pp. 69-98.
  • Idem, “Friar Ignatius of Jesus (Carlo Leonelli) and the First žScholarly’ Book on Mandaeanism (1652),” ARAM 16, 2004, pp. 25-46.
  • G. P. Luttikhuizen, The Revelation of Elchasai. Investigations into the Evidence for a Mesopotamian Jewish Apocalypse of the Second Century and its Reception by Judeo-Christian Propagandists, Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 8, Tübingen, 1985.
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  • S. A. Pallis, Mandaean Bibliography1560-1930, Copenhagen, 1933; repr., Amsterdam, 1974.
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  • H.-Ch. Puech, “Le plus ancien témoignage sur les Mandéens dans la littérature occidentale,” Revue d’histoire des religions 135, 1949, pp. 250-54.
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  • N. Siouffi, Études sur la religion des Soubbas ou Sabéens, leurs dogmes, leurs mɶurs, Paris, 1880.
  • Théodore bar Koni, Livre des Scolies:recension de Séert II, tr. Robert Hespel et René Draguet, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Scriptores Syri 188, Louvain, 1982 (containing Mimre VI-XI).
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MANDAEANS ii. THE MANDAEAN RELIGION

A major characteristic of the Mandaeans is the frequent ritual use of (running) water (for baptisms and ritual purifications); another is the possession of a rich literature in their own eastern Aramaic language and script, “Mandaic” (see v). They have their own priests and centers of worship (mandi), aside from which (or in place of which) there have recently been built cultural centers, especially in the non-Oriental areas. Their doctrines (theology, mythology) are centered within a dualistic philosophy of life (light ~ darkness; soul ~ body), derived from the Gnosis of Late Antiquity (see GNOSTICISM).

Self-designations. According to the Mandaean sources, the earliest self-appellations are: “elect of righteousness” (bhiri zidqa) and “guardians” or “possessors” (naṣuraiyi), i.e., of secret rites and knowledge. The word “Mandaean” (mandaiyi) refers back to an ancient term, manda “knowledge” or “gnosis,” and therefore means “Gnostic,” but today it denotes the “laity” as distinct from the priests (tarmidi “disciples”) and “initiates” (naṣoraiyi). In modern times, this term has increasingly been used for them by the Western scholarly tradition. Before that, Portuguese Catholic missionaries of the 17th century called them “disciples of John the Baptist,” and they were known in European literature until the 19th century under this name or as “John-Christians.” Actually, they considered John the Baptist to be only one of their prophets or priests; they are thus occasionally called “John the Bapist’s followers” today. The Muslims gave them the name ṣābeʾun, “Sabians” (in modern Arabic ṣobba), known from the Qurʾān (2:62, 5:69, 22:17) and early Arabic literature. This designation enabled them to belong to the “people of the book” who are tolerated by Islam (see also “Ṣābiʾa,” in EI2). The original meaning of this word is probably “baptists, baptizers” (from the Aramaic root ṣeba, “to immerse, baptize, wash”).

Literature. The written tradition of this small community is quite extensive and diverse (Rudolph, 1996, pp. 339 ff.). It consists of ritual books (liturgies, prayers, hymns) and commentaries, theological or mythological tractates, illustrated scrolls, legends, and magical texts. Since we do not know the names and dates of the authors, redactors, or compilers, it is very difficult to give exact information about the origin and age of the literature. Very often the nature of the texts create a problem for interpretation because early and late material is interwoven. Surely the collection of many writings into “books” had already started before the invasion of Islam into Mandaean settlements in Mesopotamia. Apart from these, other texts have been transmitted in the earlier form of scrolls (“divans”) rather than books, and they are illustrated in a peculiar artistic style. The oldest Mandaean magical texts, written on bowls and lead tablets, can be dated to the third or fourth centuries CE. Modern research in the written transmission of the texts, and comparisons of the special terminology, style, and phrases with non-Mandaean (Gnostic, early Christian, and Manichean) literature have shown that the existence of the liturgical and poetic writings must be postulated already in the third century CE. The script of the texts was probably developed in the second century or earlier in order to preserve the more ancient religious tradition, which probably originated in Palestine and Syria and was brought orally to Mesopotamia.

The more important Mandaean texts are the following: The “Treasure” (ginza) or “Great Book” (sidra rba) is the most complete collection of writings; it consists of two parts, the larger “Right Ginza” (ginza yamina) and the smaller “Left Ginza” (ginza smala). The former is a collection of 18 tractates with predominantly cosmological, theological, and didactic (including ethical) content, while the latter deals only with the ascent of the soul to the realm of light; therefore this part is also called “Book of the Souls”(sidra d-nišmata).

The “Book of John” (draša d-yahya or -yuhana) or “Books of the Kings” (i.e., Angels, draši d-malki) is also a collection of mixed content. The main parts report on the “sermons” (draši) of John the Baptist, the “discourses” of Šum (Shem), the appearance of Anōš (Enosh) in Jerusalem, and the story of the conversion of Miryai.

The liturgical hymns, prayers, and ritual instructions are assembled in the “Canonical Prayerbook,” in Mandaic commonly called Qolasta (“praise” or generally “collection” of hymns). The first two parts of it contain the liturgy for baptism (maṣbuta) and the mass for the dead, called “ascent” (masiqta) of the soul; both are still used today by Mandaean priests.

A series of other ritual texts or scrolls have been published in recent times based on manuscripts of the “Drower Collection” in Oxford, e.g., the wedding ceremony, a ritual for the ordination (“crowning”) of priests, a ritual for the purification of a polluted priest, esoteric interpretations of rituals and ceremonies (e.g., the “Great First World,” the “Small First World,” and the “Scroll of Exalted Kingship”). Similar texts are still unpublished. A large collection of writings only for priestly use is the so-called “1,012 Questions” (alf trisar šualia).

Some of the scrolls are illustrated, like the interesting Diwan Abathur, which deals with the ascent of the soul through the heavenly purgatories of the planets and the signs of the zodiac, or the “Diwan of the Rivers” (diwan nahrawata), which gives an impression of the traditional worldview of the Mandaeans. The only text with some historical information is the (fragmentary) “Diwan of the Great Revelation,” called Haran Gawaita (“Inner Haran”). The “Book of the Signs of the Zodiac” (asfar malwaši) serves the priest for horoscopes and for the bestowing of a Mandaean’s esoteric name (which is therefore called the “malwaša-name”).

The absence of sufficient historical evidence makes it difficult to trace the origin and early history of the Mandaeans (Rudolph, 1996, pp. 402 ff.). The oldest dateable sources are magic texts from the 3rd/4th centuries CE in Mesopotamia, which already contain elements of Mandaic mythology (names of spirits and demons). This fact is in agreement with the indications of research into the history and traditions of Mandaean literature, especially the mythological and theological traditions (Rudolph, 1965; 1996, pp. 363 ff., 402 ff., 433 ff.). This research points to the apparent origin of Mandaeism and to the history of influence on it by the surrounding cultural environment, which starts with the Jewish-Baptist and biblical features and with the old Mesopotamian after-effects (especially in the magic texts), the early Christian and Gnostic texts, and also the Iranian (Persian), in particular the Zoroastrian, traditions (see below, sec. iii). The originality of the Mandaeans consists in the unique processing of these components to form an autonomous religion, which previously was wrongly called “syncretism,” without taking into account that there exists no ‘pure’ religion, i.e., one without a history and the processing of ‘foreign’ traditions and ideas.

Doctrine (theology and mythology): A real problem for research in Mandaeism is the understanding of the origin, growth, and development of Mandaean traditions. No scholarly consensus has yet been reached with regard to source analysis and redaction. Such analyses would undoubtedly enable scholars to isolate early traditions and thus to trace their evolution throughout the extensive and diverse Mandaean literature. Here, only a brief summary of the main lines of Mandaean theology and mythology can be presented (Rudolph, 1965; 1996, pp. 363 ff., 370 ff., 402 ff.; texts in: Foerster, 1974, pp. 145 ff.)

The cosmology is marked by a strict dualism between a “World of Light” (alma d-nuhra) and a “World of Darkness” (alma d-hšuka). The world of light is ruled by a sublime being who bears different names: “Life” (hiia, haiyi), “Lord of Greatness” (mara d-rabuta), “Great Mind” (mana rba), “King of Light” (malka d-nuhra). He is surrounded by a countless number of beings of light (uthri or malki), living in “dwellings” (škinata) or “worlds” (almi), performing cultic acts and praising the Life. The world of light came into being from the “First Life” (haiyi qadmaiyi) by way of descending emanations or creations, which are called “Second,” “Third,” and “Fourth Life”; they also bear personal names, such as Yōšamin, Abathur, and Ptahil; the last one is the later demiurge.

The “World of Darkness” is governed by the “Lord of Darkness” (mara d-hšuka) and arose from the “dark waters” (meyi siawi, or ʿkumi, tahmi) representing the chaos. The main powers of the world of darkness are a giant monster or dragon with the name Ur (probably a polemic transformation of Hebr. ʿor “light”) and the evil (female) “Spirit” (ruha). Their offspring are demonic beings (daiwi) and “angels” (malaki). To them belong also the “Seven” (šuba), i.e., the planets (šibiahyi), and the “Twelve” (trisar) signs of the Zodiac; they are sons of Ur and Ruha.

The conflict between light and darkness, life and death, good and evil leads to the creation of the world (tibil) by the demiurge Ptahil with the help of the dark or gloomy powers, mainly Ruha and the “Seven” and “Twelve.” In this process, the body of first man, Adam, is created by the same bad beings, but his “animating essence” is derived from the World of Light. This “substance of light” in Adam is called “inner (hidden) Adam” (adam kasya, adakas, also adam rba “great Adam), and it represents the “soul” (nišimta) or “mind” (mana) in humans, which has to be saved or rescued from the dark, evil body (pagra) and the world (tibil) by heavenly beings of light. The wife of Adam, Eve (Hawwa), is created separate from him according to the heavenly “cloud of light” (who figures as the wife of the heavenly or “great Adam”; regarding another tradition on Eve, see below). The salvation of souls is the main concern of the Mandaean religion. One of its central creeds is the belief in several “messengers” (šganda, šliha), “helpers” (adyaura), or “redeemers” (parwanqa) sent by the Life in order to inform the pious of their “call” and to save their souls. The dominant figure of these “envoys of light” is the “Knowledge of Life” (Manda d-Haiyi), who is also called “Son of Life” (Barhaiyi) or “Counterpart of Life” (Dmuthaiyi). Beside him stand the three heavenly Adamites, Hibil (Abel), Šitil (Seth), and Anōš (Enosh). Actually, the Mandaeans know no “historical” redeemers but only the “mythological” ones appearing throughout the ages of the history of the world as a repetition of the first revelation to Adam, which is the prototype of redemption. In some texts the soul ascending after death is escorted and saved by one of the saviors mentioned. Probably after the confrontation with early Christianity, the Mandaeans developed the story that one of their messengers (Anōš or Manda d-Haiyi) appeared in Jerusalem as an antagonist of Jesus Christ in order to expose him as a liar and a false messiah. In this connection John the Baptist played the role of a true Mandaean “disciple” or “priest” (tarmida). Whether reliable information about early Mandaean history in relation to the movement of the followers of John the Baptist can be derived from these tales is a problem that remains unsolved (Rudolph, 1960, pp. 66-80). Clearly, for the Mandaeans John is not the founder of their religion but only one of their prominent representatives. Only the ritual of baptism in flowing water still reminds us of John’s practice (see below).

The rituals. The center of the Mandaean religion is the cult. For centuries the traditional cult sites have been the principal foci of the local communities. They formerly consisted of a small hut (maškna, bit manda, bimanda, mandi) made of mud; in front of it lay the pool or “Jordan” (yardna) with “flowing (living) water.” Therefore the sanctuaries were always situated next to rivers or canals. Otherwise the rituals were performed directly on the banks of the rivers or creeks close to the residences of the community. However, since the mid-1970s, the Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran have partly changed the tradition of their cultic areas in order to avoid polluted streams and rivers. Modern cultic structures are built of bricks, and often the ritual font is connected with the public water system. But émigré Mandaeans in the West, prefer to use natural waters, if it is possible and permitted.

The most important and oldest ceremonies are the “baptism” (maṣbuta, pron. maṣwetta) and the “ascent” (of the soul; masiqta, pron. masexta). The baptism or “immersion” takes place every Sunday (the first day of the week, habšaba) in “flowing water” (called yardna). It consists of two main parts: first is the actual baptismal rite, including a threefold immersion (the participants dressed in the sacral white garments, rasta), a threefold “signing” of the forehead with water, a threefold gulp of water, the “crowning” with a small myrtle wreath (klila), and the laying on of hands by the priest. The second part takes place on the banks of the “Jordan” and consists of the anointing with oil (of sesame), the communion of bread (pihta) and water (mambuha), and the “sealing” of the neophyte against evil spirits. Both parts are concluded by the ritual handclasp or kušṭa (“truth”). The purpose and meaning of the baptism is not only a purification of sins and trespasses but also a special kind of communion (laufa) with the world of light, because it is believed that all “Jordans” or “living waters” originate in the upper world of “Life.” There is no doubt that the basic constituent features of the water ceremonies are derived from baptismal practices (lustrations) of Judaism in the pre-Christian period (Segelberg, 1958, pp. 155 ff.; Rudolph, 1965, pp. 367 ff.; 1996, pp. 569 ff.; 1999; pictures in Drower, 1962; Rudolph, 1978; Tahvildar, 2001). Apart from this “full baptism” ritual, there exist two water rites, which can be done without priests and not only on Sunday (Rudolph, 1965, pp. 105 ff.).

The other chief ceremony is a kind of “mass for the dead,” or rather “for the soul” of the dead, called “ascent” (masiqta). It is performed at the death of a Mandaean and supports the “rise” of his soul to the world of Light and Life. It consists of lustrations with “running water,” anointing with oil, and “crowning” with a myrtle wreath. The main part starts three days after death, when the soul is released from the body and begins its forty-five-day “ascent” through the dangerous heavenly “watchhouses” (maṭarata, a kind of purgatory), until it reaches the “home of Life.” Recitations from the “Left Ginza” and ceremonial meals serve the ascending soul, including its symbolic nourishment, rebirth, and creation of a spiritual body (see below, iii, on the Iranian, Zoroastrian source of this “meal in memory of the dead”).

The Mandaeans have many more rituals such as the ordination of priests (tarmidi) and bishops (ganzibri, “treasurer”), the end-of-year ceremonies (parwanaiyi or panja; see iii), the cleansing of the cult-hut or “temple,” the marriage ceremony (which includes always the Masbuta), and several kinds of funeral and commemorative meals (lofani, zidq brikha).

A Characteristic of the Mandaean religion is the close connection between rituals and Gnostic ideas. It is not only “knowledge” (manda, madihta, yada) that brings salvation, but also the ceremonies, at first baptism and “offices for the soul,” which are indispensable means for release or salvation. One may, indeed, say that here Gnosis has been implanted into the ancient stock of a cultic community of presumably early Jewish origin (the so-called “baptismal sects”), but from this and other connections (e.g., Iranian or Persian) an authentic and even typical Mandaean (Nasoraean) offspring has been created—by whom we still do not know.

Bibliography

  • Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley, The Mandaeans. Ancient Texts and Modern People, Oxford, 2002.
  • Ethel S. Drower, The Mandaean of Iraq and Iran: Their Cults, Customs, Magic, Legends and Folklore, Oxford, 1937, repr. Leiden, 1962, New York, 2002.
  • Idem, “The Mandaeans To-day,” The Hibbert Journal 37, 1938-39, pp. 435-47.
  • Idem, The Haram Gawaita and the Baptism of Hibil-Ziwa. The Mandaic Text with Translation, Notes and Commentary, Vatican City, 1953.
  • Idem, The Canonical Prayerbook of the Mandaeans, Leiden, 1959.
  • Werner Foerster, ed., Gnosis. A Selection of Gnostic Texts, Eng. tr. ed. R. McL. Wilson, II: Coptic and Mandaean Sources, Oxford, 1974.
  • Hans Jonas, Gnosis and spätantiker Geist I: Die mythologische Gnosis, Göttingen, 1934, 2nd ed. 1988.
  • Mark Lidzbarski, Das Johannesbuch der Mandäer, 2 pts., Giessen, Germany, 1905 (text), 1915 (tr.); repr. Berlin, 1965.
  • Idem, Mandäische Liturgien, Berlin, 1920; repr. Berlin, 1962.
  • Idem, Ginza. Der Schatz oder das groβe Buch der Mandäer, Göttingen, 1925; repr. Berlin, 1979.
  • Edmondo Lupieri, The Mandaeans. The Last Gnostics, Grand Rapids, Mich. and Cambridge, 2002.
  • Rudolf Macuch, ed., Zur Sprache und Literatur der Mandäer, Berlin, 1976.
  • Mandaeans and Manichaeans, ARAM 16, 2004.
  • Majid Fandi al-Mubaraki, ed., Ginza Rba (The Great Treasure), Sydney, 1998.
  • Siegfried G. Richter, Die Aufstiegspsalmen des Herakleides. Untersuchungen zum Seelenaufstieg und zur Seelenmesse bei den Manichäern, Wiesbaden, 1997.
  • Kurt Rudolph, Die Mandäer I. Prolegomena: Das Mandäerproblem, Göttingen, 1960.
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  • Idem, “Problems of a History of the Development of the Mandaean Religion,” History of Religions 8, 1969, pp. 210-35.
  • Idem, Mandaeism, Iconography of Religions XXI, Leiden, 1978.
  • Idem, “The Baptist Sects,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism III.The Early Roman Period, Cambridge, 1999, pp. 471-500, 1135-39.
  • Idem, Gnosis und spätantike Religionsgeschichte. Gesammelte Aufsätze, Leiden, 1996.
  • Eric Segelberg, Masbuta. Studies in the Ritual of Mandaean Baptism, Uppsala, 1958.
  • Idem, Gnostica - Mandaica - Liturgica, Uppsala, 1990.
  • Abbas Tahvildar, Massoud Fourouzandeh, and Alain Brunet, Baptists of Iran/Les baptistes d’Iran/Ṣābeʾin-e Irān-zamin, Tehran, 2001.

MANDAEANS iii. INTERACTION WITH IRANIAN RELIGION

The assimilation and corresponding processing of Iranian (Persian) components within the Mandaean religion can be demonstrated on different levels: in the vocabulary, in the mythology or theology, in the cultic-ritual realm, and in the calendar. Apart from the widespread heritage of Old and Middle Iranian culture in ancient Oriental history of religion, evidence of which has mainly been preserved in the history of Aramaic linguistics, including Mandaic (see below, sec. v), the Mandaeans had sufficient opportunities for a direct encounter with the Iranian religious world, especially with Zoroastrianism. For several centuries (from about the 3rd to the 6th century CE), they lived under the rule of the Sasanians. Perhaps they even lived under the late Arsacids, insofar as an Artabanus (whom they called Ardvan), under whom they separated from the Jews and wandered to Media (?), has remained a historical memory (see, on the Haran Gawaita legend, Drower, 1953; cf. Rudolph, 1960, pp. 133 ff.; 1996, pp. 381 ff., 409 ff.; Lupieri, pp. 137 ff.). This could only be true of Artabanus II (r. 10/11-38 CE), III (r. 79-81 CE) or IV (213-24 CE), perhaps most probably Artabanus II or III. Otherwise the Mandaean texts (e.g., perhaps the Right Ginza) had no special information about the Parthian period (Rudolph, 1960, pp. 134 ff., 136, n. 3).

Polemics against Iranian ideas (e.g., the cult of fire) and the persecution by the Sasanians, when the Zoroastrian state religion was being built up under the Head Magian Kirder (ca. 276-93), somewhat clarify the varied story of the encounter between Mandaeans and Iranians (Rudolph, 1996, pp. 422, 551, 585, n. 42, 620 f.). The view, once represented by J. J. Modi that the Mandaeans were “Semi-Zoroastrians” or an “offshoot of Zoroastrism” (1932), which Lady E. S. Drower (1938-39) also adopted, does not correspond with the facts (Rudolph, 1960, pp. 132 f.). The subject, however, requires further investigations. What follows can merely be a survey of the present state of research.

First of all, the Middle Iranian (Parthian) stock of loanwords in Mandaean is considerable, as Widengren (1960) understood. It amounts to about 130 words, many of which concern almost all the realms of religious tradition, for example: Parts of the “ritual dress” rāsta (Pers. rāst “true, straight”), the sacred “girdle” himyāna (MPers. himyān) or qamar (MPers. kamar), the scarf for the mouth pandāma (MPers. pandām), the “crown” of the priest tāgā (MPers. tāg), the turban burzinqa (MPers. *barzang). Cult symbols: the “banner” drabša or drapša (Pers. derafš), the ritual “staff” margna (MPers. mārgan) or gawāza (Av. gavāza, MPers. gavāz). The cult hut (temple): mandi (MPers. māndan, “to remain,” mān “house, temple”; the older, classical term is maškna, Hebr.“place of worship”). Ritual actions: pasuk “response, answer” (MPers. passux, Pers. pāsoḵ), pugdāma “word,” “bidding” (MPers. padgām or pagdām). Proper names of celestial beings (see below) Abāthur, Bihrām, Rām, Yāwar, or of the legendary figure Dīnānūkht (Av. daēna naoxda, MPers. dēnānūxt “talking in according with religion”). Special terms: “redeemer, savior” parwanqa (MPers. parwānag, Pers. parwānak), “helper, assistant,” adyaura (MPers. adyāvar), “messenger” padibra (MPers. *pādēbār, padgam “walking on foot,” Pers. peyām-bār, peyḡam-bār, “messenger, prophet”), “spirit, mind” mānā (Av. mainyu, MPers. mān, mānag “mind”). Demons: “evil sprit” daiua (Av. daiva, MPers. dēv), “idol, demon” patikra (OPers. patikara, MPers. patkar). Mythological concepts: rāzā “mystery” (MPers. rāz), rwāz “vine, light-being” (Av. urvāza), zaina “weapon, fetter” (Av. zaēna, MPers. zēn), zīwa, zīwana “light, radiance, radiant” (Pers. zib, ziba), margānīta “pearl” (MPers. margārit, Pers. morwārid), zandīqa “heretic” (MPers. zandīk). Sacred feasts: naurūz, parwanaiia, panša (see below). It must, of course, be considered that some of these words are also used in Aramaic more generally, especially in East Aramaic, so that they have found their way into Mandaean. In the realm of cult their existence is instructive regarding certain borrowings from Zoroastrianism (see below). Of fundamental importance is the mythological-theological tradition regarding theogony, cosmogony, and anthropogony.

Cosmogony. An analysis of these subjects leads to the conclusion (Rudolph, 1965; 1996, pp. 362-69) that the older, strictly dualistic conception was later amended by a more monistic doctrine which considered the creation of the world (tibil) and man (adam) as an act of the “king of light” (malka d-nuhra). The classic, dualistic doctrine consists of the opposition between a world of life (hiia) or light (nuhra) and one of darkness (hšuka), each of which arose by itself and whose hostile relationship determined the future history of the world. This corresponds with the Iranian Zoroastrian concepts, once we disregard Zarathustra’s older views in the Gathas and in more recent Zurvanism. It was therefore not wrong of Hans Jonas to describe Mandaeism as a special form of the Iranian type of gnosis, which also had characteristics of the so-called “Syrian-Egyptian type” (Jonas, 1934, 1988, pp. 380 ff.). Its difference from the Iranian concept was, however, that it attributed creation to the act of a fallen demiurge (Ptahil) and his evil sons, the planets and zodiac creatures, so that the world became a part of darkness. The human being (Adam) is also part of the world in his material form. Only the “soul” (nišimta, mana; also called “hidden Adam,” Adakas), sent by the “Great Life” or “Great Mana,” enables Adam to live; the liberation of the soul from body and world then becomes the aim of the entire subject of redemption, an idea which corresponds with the Iranian one and is altogether typical of Gnosis.

The manifold Mandaean tradition contains passages which, like the Iranian Zoroastrian one, speak of impure and pure or evil and good creatures; the former are traced back to the “twelve” (trisar, the zodiac signs) or have come into being through their fall from the world of light—for instance, the “living water,” which alone is ritually pure, unlike the “still, dark water” (Rudolph, 1965, pp. 180 f., 208). In the above-mentioned “king of light” doctrine, which was conceived either under Manichean or under Iranian influence, the higher being acquires five qualities (light, fragrance, a charming voice, eloquence, and a beautiful aspect), suggesting the five qualities of Ahura Mazdā (Rudolph, 1960, pp. 118 f.).

This area of influence, that of symmetrical dualism, includes, at the opposite pole of the “king of light,” the “king of darkness” (malka d-hšuka). The position of the “king of darkness” varies in the context of cosmogony, insofar as a special underworld emerged which is dominated by ʿUr (“fire”), a snake-like being which is reminiscent of Aži Dahāka (MPers. Azdahāk/Aždahāk, NPers. Aždahā, Żaḥḥāk). Similarly, as in the case of the Iranian Thraētaona (MPers. Frēdōn, NPers. Ferēdun) , the Mandaeic version describes him as having been defeated on the course of a “road to hell” before the creation of the world, by a creature of light (Manda d-Haiya, Hibil; Rudolph, 1965, pp. 242 f.). Even his final role under the name of Leviathan (liwiatan), who then devours the evil powers, is evidently conceived from an Iranian model (Rudolph, 1965, pp. 343 f.). Just as, together with ʿUr, the evil world spirit Ruha represents the evil side of the cosmos, so the Iranian representatives of this side have a female figure near them: Ahriman has Az, Azdahāk has Otak. The king of darkness has also become the ruler of the world in the Mandaeic religion, just as in Zurvanitic Zoroastrianism Ahriman became the lord of the universe (after the agreement with Ohrmazd and until the end of time). The Mandaeans had no theory of temporal ages measuring from the cosmogony up to the end of time; only for the primeval time of the Adamites (Adam and his sons) was there a chronology with three periods (Rudolph, 1965, pp. 299 ff.).

Anthropogony. Mandaeaism has provided scarcely anything in this area that is typically Iranian apart from the strictly dualistic idea of the varying origin of body and “soul.” The fact that the soul which had entered into the body (of Adam) was also described as “radiance” (ziwa) naturally suggests the “glory” (xvarr, xwarrah; see FARR[AH]) which entered the first human couple (Bundahišn, tr. Anklesaria, chap. 14). We must also remember the negative view of the first woman in both religions: in one of the Mandaeic traditions, Eve (Hawa) was created according to the image of Ruha, the main representative of darkness, while in Zurvanism she is identical with the whore Jeh, and thus belongs to Ahriman’s side of the cosmos (Rudolph, 1965, pp. 283 ff. with references). By emphasizing Adam’s function as a model for the process of salvation, for the liberation of the soul from the body, we may also recognize an Iranian component, but in essence the Jewish and Gnostic parallels are more obvious.

More remarkable, on the other hand, is the Iranian contribution to soteriology. W. Brandt (1892) already investigated the ideas regarding the ascent of souls in this connection. Apart from the basic idea that the “soul” (Mand. nišimta, not the “spirit,” ruha) abandons the body on the third day after death, and starts its journey into the hoped-for realm of light, while the body falls into disregard (in Zoroastrianism the corpse is publicly exposed to decay; in Mandaeism traditionally there is no sign of a grave), there are few correspondences in the description of the journey of the soul (Rudolph, 1960, pp. 122 ff.). While the Mandaean soul has before it a difficult journey through the daemonic “stations” of the “seven” (planets) and “twelve” (signs of the zodiac), which only the pious withstand, the Zoroastrian soul has before it only the “bridge of the judge (Činvat),” which separates the good from the evil, and a judgment of souls. For the stars and planets belong to the good creation of Ohrmazd. Parallels exist in the assumption of a court in the shape of a scale: Rašnu razišta (Rašn i rāst), the “just judge,” judges over the Zoroastrians, the “scale man” Abatur (from Iranian *aba *tura “the one who has the scales”: Drower and Macuch, 1963, p. 2, s.v.) judges over the Mandaeans. Both are expressly placed on an equal level (Ginza rect. Lidzbarski, p. 284.10 f.; ed. Petermann, p. 286.7; Mubaraki, p. 276.30 f.).

There is also an angel of death, who in both traditions has the task of separating the soul from the body (Mand. Ṣauriel; Av. Astō.vidōtu, MPers. Astwihād; later, Av. Vīzarəša/MPers. Vīzareš has this function). The “messengers” of the world of light who assist the soul on its way bear Iranian names in Mandaic, such as “assistants” (adyaura), “messenger” (padibra), “savior, companion” (parwanqa). Hibil (Abel), Šitil (Seth) and Anōš (Enosh) are identified in the Ginza as Muht(u)r (Mihr), Ruš (Srōš), and Rast (Rašnu) (Ginza, rect. Lidzbarski. p. 284.14; Petermann, p. 286.11 f.; Mubaraki, p. 277.4 f.) That the soul is accompanied by its good deeds or encounters them corporally is commonly admitted, and so is the idea of the heavenly image (dmuta ) of the trusting soul, with which it unites after its ascent. In Iranian this is expressed by the old ideas of Daēna (see DĒN) and Fravaši, the relationship between the single earthly soul and the collective heavenly soul, of which the former is only a part.

The Mandaean idea of paradise, which is called “those carried away by truth” (msunia kušṭa; Rudolph, 1960, pp. 124 f.), may refer to the garden of Yima, although there are also early Jewish parallels with the Pardes Kušṭa (from the Greek paradeisos tēs dikaiosunēs “paradise of the just”; see Scholem, 1960, pp. 16 f.). Of course, the old Iranian conceptions about a general Last Judgment also play a part in Mandaean religion, even if they diminish in importance in view of the destiny of the soul and are clearly of secondary importance (Rudolph, 1960, pp. 124 f.). The “(great) day of the end” is connected with a “resurrection” (only rarely), the raging of the ruler of hell ʿUr (see above), a trial of the evil powers (including the planets and the demiurge) and the infidels, who suffer their “second death” in a blazing fire; for the pious, it is the “day of salvation” (yom purqana). The primal condition before the origin of the earthly world and the fall of the soul is reinstated; as for a paradisiacal life on earth according to the Iranian Zoroastrian faith, nothing is mentioned about it in Mandaeism.

Cult and ritual. The Iranian or specifically Zoroastrian elements in this area relate to the two major Mandaean ceremonies, the Sunday baptism (maṣbuta) and the mass for the souls, called “ascent”(masiqta); the remembrance meals (dukrana) also are prominent. We shall first point out that many parts of the Mandaean white sacral robe (rasta), especially that of the priests, bear Iranian names (see list, above). These include, above all, the “belt” (himyana), “head band” (burzinqa), priestly “crown” (taga), and “mouth band” (pandama). The last-mentioned definitely goes back to the Zoroastrian priestly garment, which was intended to protect the holy fire from being polluted by the breath. Among the Mandaeans, it is only worn during baptisms in water (Rudolph, 1961, pp. 54 f.). The outward similarity between the Zoroastrian and Mandaean priestly vestments is indeed striking, but upon closer observation each has its own background (ibid., pp. 60 f.). The title of the Mandaean high priest, a kind of bishop, is Ganzibra, meaning in Persian “treasurer” (see GANZABARA). The inevitable “banner” needed for all ceremonies (drabša, Pers. derafš ) is also of Persian origin; it symbolizes the world of light (Rudolph, 1961, pp. 31 ff.). An act often carried out during ceremonies is to extend one’s right hand—a gesture called kusta, i.e., “truth, justice” (ibid., pp. 144 ff.). A ritual greeting and handclasp ( hamāzōr ) was equally common among Iranians, and the like was also an old sign of faith and solidarity among Greeks, Romans, and Celts.

In the Mandaean water ceremonies, the repeated immersion (maṣbuta) in running water (called Yardna “Jordan”) has no parallel in Iranian custom. What Mandaeans and Zoroastrians share is merely the praise of clean, bubbling, and running waters (Yasna 38.3). The 10th day of the month was devoted to water (see ĀB i; day name: Av. Apąm, MPers. Ābān). The traditional great purification (Pers. barašnom ) is carried out with cattle urine; modern ritual ablutions (pādyāb) are done with water and resemble both the Islamic ḡosl or major ablution (of the whole body) and the daily ablutions (rišama) of the face, hands, arms, and feet of pious Mandaeans (Rudolph, 1961, pp. 105 ff., 407 f.). It is striking that an old Iranian deity (yazata) has ended up in the Mandaean formula of baptism: namely Bihram (Av. VərəΘraγna, MPers. Vahrām, Pers. Bahrām), the god of victory (equivalent of the Greek Heracles), a name widely used in the post-Achaemenid period. The etymology of the Mandaean name is sometimes incorrectly traced back by Mandaeans to Abraham/Ebrāhim: aside from references to him in a Jewish context, Abraham plays no part among the Mandaeans. Bihram is occasionally mentioned together with Rām (Pers.) and is considered as an entity of light and provided with “brilliance” (ziwa). A further figure of light, who acts as a redeemer and is identified with Hibil (Abel), is Yāwar-Ziwa; perhaps originally an attribute (Pers. yāvar “helper, savior”).

The rituals devoted to the souls of the dead are more closely connected with Irano-Zoroastrian parallels than are the water ceremonies (Modi, 1937, pp. 72 ff.; Drower, 1937, pp. 222 f., 225 ff.; Rudolph, 1961, pp. 411 ff.). Both the purpose (“to assist the ascent [of the soul]”) and, in part, the execution of the Mandaean Masiqta (“ascent” of the souls) corresponds with the Zoroastrian requiem mass (Pers. Yašt-e Gāhān, Guj. Gēh-sārnā, the recitation of Yasna 28-34; Modi, 1937, pp. 62-63; Boyce, 1994, p. 283; Stausberg, 2004, pp. 458 f.). Prayers (āfrinagān) are recited and meals (bāj) are offered to serve the support of the soul. Sraoša (Srōš)is to escort the soul; the evil spirits (Ahriman and the Dēvs) are to be vanquished, and the soul is to reach Ahura Mazdā/Ohrmazd by means of its good deeds (see the Parsi treatise Aogemadaēča, Jamaspasa, 1982; Boyce, 1975, pp. 325 ff.; Stausberg, 2004, pp. 461 f.). The correspondence with Mandaean ideas is here quite obvious: the dead are washed and dressed in their sacral clothes, the sacrament (dran) is offered, prayers or hymns and remembrance meals (Mand. zidqa brika; dukrana; Pers. yād, Guj. namgrahān) begin on the third day and are continued during the following weeks, as well as on the anniversary of the death. The great age of the Iranian ceremonies is confirmed by their being mentioned in Vīdēvdād 10.1-2. In the Mandaean literature, the hymns of the Left Ginza which serve the souls apparently belong to the oldest period, together with the corresponding ritual texts of the Canonical Prayerbook. There were similar ceremonies in Manicheism for the dead and their souls (Rudolph, 1961, pp. 415 ff.; Richter, 1997, pp. 60 ff.; see also Funk, Kephalaia 1.2, Lfg. 13/14, pp. 346 f. = chap. 144).

There are further striking correspondences between Mandaean and Persian traditions in regard to prayer times, repentance and confession disciplines, and marriage ceremonies. While there is evidence that the Mandaeans had different daily prayer hours in the course of their history (three, five, and seven times), the Zoroastrians have five (gāhān; see GĀH; Modi, 1937, pp. 219-20; Stausberg, 2004, pp. 488 ff.; concerning the relation between gāh and gāthā, see ibid., p. 59), as more or less constantly witnessed, which were evidently a model for the five Mandaean ones (Rudolph, 1961, pp. 224 ff.). It may also be assumed that the three possibilities of penance before an excommunication were a Persian legacy to the Mandaeans; the two religions shared a common formula for confessions (MPers. patīt), by which the (mainly ritual) sins were atoned for through repentance (ibid., pp. 243 ff., 252 f.). The marriage ceremonies include ablutions, the drinking of wine, and a curtain between the bridal couple during the rituals (ibid., p. 321).

An old interrelation can be noticed when one looks at the Mandaean calendar of festivities; it is connected with the Sasanian and Zoroastrian solar calendar (see Drower, 1962, pp. 83 ff.; Rudolph 1961, pp. 331 ff.), although nowadays it is integrated within the Islamic lunar year. Of the six principal feasts, two are devoted to the New Year; the other four are connected with Mandaean events, but in part also involve Persian customs. The “great New Year’s feast” (Dihba rba or Nauruz rba) is celebrated on the first day of the first winter month; the “little New Year’s feast” (Nauruz zuṭa) is on the 6th and 7th day of the same month, when the gates of heaven are open and the souls of the deceased are commemorated. The major feast is the Parwanaiya or Panja, which is celebrated in the last 5 days of the 8th month (šumbulta) and corresponds with the Persian farvardagān (MPers. frawardīgān “feast of the Frawahrs [Fravašis]”). The latter is divided into two five-day periods, the Panj-e keh “Lesser Five” and Panj-e meh “Greater Five.” The common features of the Panja are ablutions and baptism (among the Mandaeans a favorite occasion for celebration) and ceremonies (prayers, hymns, and meals) for the deceased or their souls, who are believed to visit their relatives at this time (the text of the Panja ritual is now published by B. Burtea, 2005). It is assumed that the Mandaean Panja replaced the Babylonian-Assyrian spring festival, the Akitu, under Persian influence and thus lost its old seasonal connection. This may have occurred under Yazdegerd III (r. 633-51), to whom a calendar reform is ascribed, according to Biruni (973-after 1050; see CALENDARS i.), and who set the leap days at the end of the 8th month, Ābān.

A survey of demonstrable Persian (Iranian or Zoroastrian) elements in the Mandaean religion clearly shows that the Mandaeans had, in the course of their history, diversely adapted to their greater surroundings without losing their identity. The correspondences with Zoroastrianism in practice and ritual are more prominent than any in mythology or theology. Mandaean mythology and theology, with its basic dualistic orientation, did not distance itself from the original Gnostic task for reflection, that is, an anti-cosmic view. This attitude, however, did not manifest itself in ascetic practice, and therefore the religion comes closer to the Iranian Zoroastrian view of the world as split into good and evil.

Bibliography

  • Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism, vol. 1. Handbuchder Orientalistik, 1st sect. Der Nahe und mittlere Osten, 8th vol., 1st section, Lfg. 2, issue 2A, Leiden, 1975.
  • Idem, A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism, based on the Ratanbai Katrak Lectures 1975, Oxford, 1977.
  • Idem, “Death,” in EIr. VII/2, 1994, pp. 179-81.
  • Wilhelm Brandt, “Das Schicksal der Seele nach dem Tode nach mandäischen und Persischen Vorstellungen,” Jahrbuch für Protestantische Theologie 18, 1892, pp. 405-38, 575-603.
  • Bogdan Burtea, Das mandäische Fest der Schalttage. Edition, Ьbersetzung und Kommentierung der Handschrift DC 24 Sarh d-Paruanaiia, Wiesbaden, 2005.
  • E. S. Drower and R. Macuch, A Mandaic Dictionary, Oxford, 1963.
  • Wolf-Peter Funk, Manichäische Handschriften, vol. 1, Kephalaia, 2. Hälfte, Lieferungen 13-14, Stuttgart et al., 1999.
  • Kaikhusroo M. Jamaspasa, Aogemadaeca, a Zoroastrian Liturgy, Vienna, 1982.
  • Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, “The Mandaeans (the so-called Christians of St. John the Baptist) of the Euphrates Valley, Influence of Zoroastrianism upon their Creed, Manners and Customs,” The Journal of K. R. Cama Oriental Institute 23, 1932, pp. 17-91.
  • Idem, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees, 2nd ed., Bombay, 1937.
  • K. Rudolph, “The Relevance of Mandaean Literature for the Study of Near Eastern Religions,” ARAM 16, 2004, pp. 1-12.
  • Michael Stausberg, Die Religion Zarathustras, Geschichte-Gegenwart-Rituale, Band 3, Stuttgart, 2004.
  • S. H. Taqizadeh, “An Ancient Persian Practice preserved by a Non-Iranian People,” BSOS 9, 1938, pp. 603-19.
  • Geo Widengren, Iranisch-semitische Kulturbegegnung in parthischer Zeit. Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Forschung des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, Geisteswissenschaften 70, Köln, 1960.
  • Idem, Die Religionen Irans, Die Religionen der Menschheit 14, Stuttgart, 1965.
  • Idem, ed., Der Mandäismus, Wege der Forschung 167, Darmstadt, 1982.
  • Ralph C. Zaehner, Zurvan, a Zoroastrian Dilemma, Oxford, 1955.
  • Idem, The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism, New York, 1961.

MANDAEANS iv. COMMUNITY IN IRAN

History, geography and people. According to the 15 September 2004 United States Department of State International Religious Freedom Report for Iran, Section 1, the current Mandaean population in Persia comprises between 5,000 and 10,000 persons. The United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees report on Iran (26 August 1997) puts the number at 6,200. Estimates by Mandaeans themselves hover about 10,000. The Mandaeans, whose official designation by their Persian and Iraqi neighbors is “Sabeans” (“dippers,” “dyers,” “baptizers”; see Fahd, p. 675), call themselves “Mandaeans” (“the knowledgeable ones,” from the Aramaic manda “knowledge”). These ancient Gnostic Baptists were wrongly considered by early European missionaries and travelers as “Christians of St. John” who consider John the Baptist as their prophet and as the renewer of their Adam-derived religion. The Mandaeans must have arrived into Persia from the west (i.e., Jordan, Palestine) as early as the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, although scholars disagree on the exact dates and places of a possibly gradual and segmented emigration of the Mandaeans from West to East. Jordan/Palestine; for a different view see, however, MANDAEANS i. History). An old, mostly discarded, hypothesis of the Mandaeans as indigenous to Babylonia has recently been revived (Lupieri, pp. 157, 163-64).

The Mandaeans settled in the mountains of Media and in Mesene (Characene), roughly present-day Khuzestan and lower Mesopotamia. Coins from Tang-e Sarvak, near the Mārun River, north of Behbahān, from the 2nd century, in late Arsacid times, attest to an Aramaic-speaking people whose language seems to have been influenced by the Mandaic language. Internal Mandaean literary traditions of their habitations in the mountains of Media have been considered somewhat suspect among some scholars, but attestations from sources such as the Mandaean legend Haran Gawaita should be taken seriously. Haran Gawaita offers historical evidence for early settlements near Bisotun. How early, is still a matter of dispute. As noted, it is not impossible that the Mandaeans had come to the rivers of Khuzestan as early as the 1st century. Today, the Mandaeans are found chiefly in Ahwaz (Ahvāz), Khuzestan’s provincial capital, which is the center of the Iranian Mandaeans, the site of their community center, and the home of their religious leaders. Khorramshahr (Ḵorramšahr, old Moḥammara) and Shushtar (Šuštar), towns that previously held considerable Mandaean populations, no longer do. After one of the better known massacres of the Mandaeans, that of Shushtar in the late 19th century, the few survivors left the city. About a century earlier, in 1782, the Mandaean priesthood in Persia had been horribly persecuted; and in 1818, the Persian Mandaean priests were thrown into exile. Many Mandaean colophons (i.e., postscripts written by copyists of the Mandaean literary sources) describe hardships on both Ottoman and Persian soil.

During the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, Mandaeans moved away from the war-torn towns Khorramshahr and Abadan (Ābādān). Bandar-e Māhšahr, Sarbandar, Susangerd, Howayza, Ḥamidiya, and Šādegān still have Mandaeans. In recent years, some Mandaean families have moved outside of “Mandaean territory,” to Tehran, Karaj, and Shiraz. Several of the Mandaean dwelling areas listed in 1880 by the French Vice-Consul M. N. Siouffi, such as Shahwali (Šāhwali), Dezful, and Kowaybdeh (Siouffi, p. 159), do not shelter Mandaeans anymore. In his days, Siouffi states, the Mandaeans of Shushtar were famous for the high level of their religious knowledge. Indeed, Mandaean colophons testify to Shushtar as a vigorous Mandaean religious and scribal center— in the 17th and 18th centuries, for example. The English adventurer Austen Henry Layard met Mandaeans in Howayza in 1841. Some of the earliest known Mandaean manuscripts in European collections come from Shushtar and Howayza in the 16th century. A source dating to the year 1480 (Drower Collection manuscript, no. 12, entitled Pashar Harshia, in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) testifies to large Mandaean populations in these towns. On the basis of documentation from Mandaean colophons, one may safely conclude that the Mandaeans have moved around a great deal, both as a result of persecutions and of natural disasters. For instance, a sudden change in the river course in Howayza in 1833 forced the resident Mandaeans to leave the area. Two years earlier, the epidemic of 1831 (“the plague of Shushtar”) had claimed the lives of the entire Mandaean priesthood, but two or three yalufas (learned laymen) managed to reestablish the Mandaean religion. Mandaeans also used to live on the Jarrāhi River (now called Abu Hanyour), but apparently not in recent centuries. (These events are recorded in Mandaean colophons, mainly in unpublished manuscripts; see Buckley, 2005.)

The largest population of Mandaeans is still in Iraq, where they live predominantly in Baghdad and Baṣra, much less so in their former centers of ʿAmāra on the Tigris, in An Nāṣeriya, and Suq-al-Šoyukҳ on the Euphrates, and in Qurna at the confluence of the two rivers. As in Persia, the Mandaeans must have access to rivers in order to perform their ancient baptism ceremonies. Running water, (yardna) is the form by which the heavenly world reflects itself on earth, according to the Mandaean view. Consequently, repeated immersions in running fresh water secure the contact with the heavenly regions. Baptism for babies, at marriage, at annual feasts, at priest initiations, and for the dying is part of the tradition. Other rituals include meals and ceremonies for the dead. The rituals are complex; they are liturgy-dependent, and they require priests. Traditional Mandaean society remains segmented into priests and laypeople, with the yalufas as an intermediary group.

The ritual and cultural building, the mandi, is a neutral-looking, large house (without any inscription revealing its nature) in the Mandaean quarter of Ahwaz. The house functions as a community center. Prayers and services, religious instruction, settling of internal Mandaean communal matters, and other community affairs take place in the mandi. At present, a new mandi is under construction in Ahwaz. A more traditional mandi, serving solely ritual purposes at certain religious feasts, is situated far off in the countryside north of Ahwaz. Priest initiations, which are, to a large extent, non-public rituals, are held here. Special annual baptisms such as the feast of Panja (the five intercalary days) take place in the courtyard and canal-dependent pool of this mandi. Otherwise, Sunday baptisms occur in open spaces along the Kārun River, though not during the coldest season of the year. Non-Mandaean neighbors and passers-by have long been used to seeing the Mandaean baptism rituals in full public view.

Currently, one ganzibra (the highest ranking priest), three tarmidas (the lower ranking priest), and several yalufas serve as leaders, keeping the Mandaeans focused around their rituals and securing the community’s life. The Mandaean leaders of Ahwaz are trying to rescue their spoken Mandaic language, the ratna, which seems to be extinct in Iraq. To instruct the Mandaean children and youth is especially vital, and the effort to secure the language is a fairly recent one. Only in Persia—and among a few Iranian Mandaeans in emigration— does the spoken language (as distinct from the ancient, East Aramaic, written ritual language) still survive, mainly among the community’s elders. Iranian Mandaeans living in emigration in Australia also try to keep the Mandaic tongue alive. In addition to their varied ritual roles, the religious leaders of Ahwaz also serve as links to local Muslim authorities when necessary. The Mandaeans are by tradition endogamous, pacifist in nature, and non-proselytizing, for converts are not accepted. Government regulations requiring schoolboys to cut their hair short have created difficulties for the recruitment to the Mandaean priesthood, as priests’ hair and beards must remain uncut throughout life. Islamic instruction in Muslim schools is required of Mandaean children, and Mandaeans must adhere to Muslim codes for dress and public behavior. Mandaean priests, with their long beards, white turbans, and aristocratic demeanor, continue to instill awed respect in public places. With cloaks over their white garments, they look somewhat like Shiʿite clerics or other religious dignitaries familiar in Islamic cultures.

The famous Mandaean jewelry work can still be seen in Persia, for the people continue their gold and silver trade, with Mandaean goldsmiths even now making up the majority of jewelers in Ahwaz. Even in the bazaars of Tehran, one may chance upon Mandaean silver objects, and a Mandaean can often identify the artisan by examining a particular piece of merchandise. A special technique is using a black substance (mina) in order to make exquisite patterns and miniature illustrations on silver. The recipe remains secret, but this much may be revealed: melted silver, copper, and lead are combined with phosphorus and an unspecified substance in order to produce a liquid whose top layer becomes black. This layer is poured off, allowed to solidify, made into a powder, and applied to the silver piece chosen for engraving. Heating and again melting this substance on the silver piece, the silversmith does his final work on the piece and polishes it. Mandaean silverwork even became famous in Victorian England. Later, Western soldiers serving in the Middle East and Americans in the oil trade learned to appreciate the jewelry (see Fourouzandeh and Tavildar, chapter 1).

In modern times, many Mandaeans have become highly educated, and there are engineers and other professionals among them. However, since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the opportunities for Mandaeans to take part in higher education have been severely curtailed. Mandaean businesses in Ahwaz include several small factories and workshops, and a few Mandaeans still till the soil. The traditional occupations in boatbuilding, fishing equipment, masonry, carpentry, and bridgebuilding seem to have declined in recent decades.

Present-day situation. Three Koranic verses (2:62, 5:69, 22:17) mention the Sabeans (Ṣābeʾin; perhaps a general term for baptist sects in the first century of Islam [7th century CE], clearly including the Mandaeans; see Fahd) together with the Jews and Christians, thus classifying them as a protected religion. These are “People of the Book,” (Ahl al-ketāb), that is, a people which possesses a sacred scripture and has a recognized prophet. Subsequently, Zoroastrians also were included in this category. By Ayatollah Khomeini’s decree after the 1979 Revolution, the Mandaeans lost their status as a protected religion in Persia, while the status of Jews, Zoroastrians, and Christians remained as before. The Mandaeans have worked, so far without success, to regain their position as a legally protected religion. Situated far from the power centers of Tehran and Qom, the Mandaeans are at the mercy of the local authorities of Khuzestan, legal powers that encourage and enforce increased harassment and persecution of the Mandaean population. (Records of many international cases for asylum-seeking Mandaeans may be found at: Amnesty International; International Rescue Committee; The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society; UNHCR; The United States Department of State, Office of International Religious Freedom.)

In April 1996, in Tehran, Ayatollah Sajjadi of Al Zahra University in Qom posed three questions to the present writer about Mandaean religious beliefs and behavior, and he seemed satisfied with the answers. Still, the official status of the Mandaeans has not been changed. Significantly, during those very days of the present writer’s visit (indeed on 11 April 1996) the cause of the Mandaeans was raised in the Persian parliament. Questions number 228 and 335 (in the parliamentary publication: Ayatollah Khamenei, Ajwabat al-esteftāʾāt, part 1. al-ʿEbādāt, Beirut, 1996, pp. 98, 100) concern the Mandaeans. With regard to question 228, the Sabeans are listed as Ahl al-Ketāb, along with “Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians.” The question seeks a clarification of the Sabean position. The answer specifies that, from a legal viewpoint, there is no prohibition for Muslims against associating with Mandaeans. Question 335 focuses on the Sabeans as followers of John the Baptist, and the explicit issue is whether these people are indeed identical with the possessors of sacred book mentioned in the Koran. The reply is affirmative. Nevertheless, these answers have not led to the inclusion of Mandaeans among the protected religions in Article 13 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic (q.v.).

Consequently, Mandaeans experience various forms of pressure and persecution from their Muslim neighbors, especially in Khuzestan. Non-Muslim purveyors of food must set up a sign declaring their religion in their shops, and Mandaeans, not being legally recognized, therefore cannot enter the grocery business. Public sector employment is closed to them, as is, very often, higher education (see U.S. Department of State, 2004, Iran, Section II, Restrictions on Religious Freedom). Mandaean health and education professionals lost their positions after the revolution. Mandi events in Ahwaz are monitored by the authorities. Only recognized religious minorities are permitted to have community centers but, despite the decree, the Mandaeans still retain theirs. As in Iraq, some Mandaeans have changed their names to “generic,” non-Mandaean ones, in order to become more anonymous. For instance, one finds last names referring to well-known tribes, villages, or towns, and Mandaeans may avoid specifically Muslim accouterments or greetings. Traditionally, and even today, some Mandaean families live in specific parts of a town, where they have been known for generations, and are often recognizable by name, dress, occupation, or behavior (see Buckley, 2005 for Mandaean names). Mandaeans tend to avoid Muslim first names, often preferring more neutral ones, such as pre-Islamic or even Western names.

Mandaean identities, however, are often recognized, and forced conversion to Islam has become common, especially with respect to women (see above references to immigration court testimonies in asylum cases; refugee organizations; U.S. Dept. of State; UNHCR; etc.) Harassment in schools has forced some Mandaean parents to break off their children’s education. The Mandaean graveyard in Ahwaz has been partially destroyed by local authorities. Old ties between Mandaeans and their Muslim business associates and friends have become severely strained, even severed.

Still, the community in Ahwaz continues to form the center for Iranian Mandaeans. The social structure and the rituals endure. One of the best sources documenting the present-day life of the Mandaeans in Ahwaz is a book featuring large color photographs (see Tahvildar, Fourouzandeh and Brunet, 2001). In three languages—English, French, and Persian—this book deals briefly with Mandaean social life, baptism, ceremonies for the dead, ritual slaughter of birds for food, prayer, and the five-day Panja ritual. The book’s stunning photographs are unrivalled and serve to illustrate, beyond doubt, that the Mandaeans of Persia are still extant. In contrast, at least one recent academic book (Eliz Sanasarian, Religious Minorities in Iran, Cambridge, 2000) makes no mention of the Mandaeans. For decades, other scholars have, as a matter of habit, declared the Mandaeans (whether in Iraq or in Persia) as a near-extinct group. On the whole, however, there is a re-emergence of international interest in Mandaeans and their religion. In 2002, Gorgias Press in the United States reissued Ethel Drower’s classic, but long unavailable, study of Mandaeans and their religion, The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran. European documentary filmmakers have come to Khuzestan in order to record the Mandaeans and their rituals; linguists realize that fieldwork among speakers of Mandaic can be conducted mainly in Persia, and also among a few Mandaeans in emigration. International conferences on Mandaeism have begun, and there are increased contacts between Mandaeans and Western scholars. Also, the Mandaeans themselves have taken initiatives to launch their own conferences outside of their traditional homelands, in order to secure connections between their often far-flung members and to foster a continued communal identity. An international association of Mandaeans has been formed— the Mandaean Associations Union.

The number of Mandaeans in emigration is increasing, with Mandaeans from Iraq and Persia now living in many countries around the world, often in very difficult situations as asylum-seekers without international recognition. During the early fall of 2004, the infamous detention camps in Australia finally released the last of its incarcerated Iranian Mandaeans, who have been granted refugee status. One must hope that the Mandaean refugee problem may come to an end and, likewise, that the traditional communities in the homelands may continue to exist and flourish, so that the unique Mandaean culture and religion are not lost. However, the current war in Iraq has further endangered the situation for Mandaeans, with many of them kidnapped, maimed, and killed. As a contrast, in Tehran in the spring of 1996 it became obvious that the present author’s public appearances—as a spokesperson for the Mandaeans to Iranian students, academics, clerics, and intellectuals—presented the audience with an opportunity to realize that their own country still shelters a small and little known group of ancient Gnostics recognized by the Koran.

Bibliography

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  • Rudolf Macuch, “Masʾala-ye qadimtarin tāriḵ-e maḏhab-e Ṣobbi wa ahamiyat-e ān barā-ye maḏāheb,” FIZ 8, 1960, pp. 23-36.
  • Rudolph Macuch and Klaus Boekels, Neumandäische Chrestomathie mit grammatischer Skizze, kommentierter Übersetzung und Glossar, Porta Linguarium Orientalium, N.S. 18, Wiesbaden, 1989.
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  • M. Nicolas Siouffi, Études sur la religion des Soubbas ou Sabéens: leurs dogmes, leurs moeurs, Paris, 1880.
  • Abbas Tahvildar, Massoud Fourouzandeh, and Alain Brunet, Ṣāeʾbin-e Irān-zamin/Baptists of Iran/Les baptistes d’ Iran, Tehran, 2001.
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  • U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, International Religious Freedom Report of 2004, available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/.
  • Mandaean websites: “Mandaean Associations Union,” at http://www.mandaeanu nion.com/. “Mandai Studies Center of Iran,” at http://www.iranmanda.com/.

MANDAEANS v. MANDAIC LANGUAGE

Introduction. Mandaic is the term for the Aramaic dialect of the last remaining non-Christian Gnostics from Late Antiquity, the Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran (Ḵuzestān). It belongs to the Southeastern Aramaic dialect group with Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic (Babylonian Jewish Aramaic) and Koiné Babylonian Aramaic. Mandaic and Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic have been formerly classified with Syriac as Eastern Aramaic, but this Southeastern Aramaic branch has now to be kept separate on account of clear isoglosses in phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicography according to the latest insights on both dialects. The roots of the Mandaic language go back to the early Parthian period (not Sasanian: Rosenthal, 1938, pp. 238-54). Its users and speakers, the Mandaeans, recruit from a former Babylonian Aramaean population. Leaving aside the constant debate on the origin of their religious doctrine and their background (see above sections), there exist no Western Aramaic linguistic traces in the Mandaic idiom which could be convincingly proven. However, Mandaic can be considered with its pre-classical text corpus (magic literature) as one of the purest Late Aramaic dialects of the Southeastern branch (Nöldeke, 1875, p. VI) comparable to Christian Palestinian Aramaic of the Western branch (see ARAMAIC).

So far no dialectal forerunners of Mandaic are known, since the Aramaic relics of the pre-Parthian times and Parthian period in Babylonia and neighboring Ḵuzestān are rather limited (a few scattered inscriptions, Middle Iranian ideograms, an incantation in syllabic cuneiform script and in Eastern standardized Aramaic from Uruk [Warka]). Nevertheless, Mandaic inherited abundantly phonetic, grammatical, and lexicographic features from Akkadian (Late Babylonian) that point to the fact that the Mandaeans’ origin cannot have been anywhere else than in Mesopotamia (Kaufman, 1974, pp. 163-64; Müller-Kessler, 2004). Only in the matter of loanwords Iranian had an impact on Mandaic. Pre-Pahlavi lexemes and, in the late literary period and Modern spoken Aramaic, contemporary Modern Persian words were integrated. With the growing corpus of early magical texts, Mandaic can be now subdivided into three language stages: pre-Classical Mandaic (incantation literature), 4th-7th centuries C.E.; Classical Mandaic (religious literature; astronomical omens, late incantations), from the 7th-8th centuries onwards, and Modern Spoken Mandaic or Neo-Mandaic (idioms of Ahvāz). According to the archeological data of the written artifacts on clay and metal (4th-7th centuries), certain topographical, cultural, and historical information indicate that Mandaic was a spoken dialect in the Central Babylonian cities (Babylon, Borsippa, Kutha, Khuabir, Nippur, Uruk), in the South Babylonian localities (Abu Shudhr, el-Qurna, Kashkar, Kish, Mesene), and in the province of Khuzistān (Shush, Shushtar, Matiene), Gedrosia, Media, and Persia (Müller-Kessler, 1999a, p. 201). The magic bowl and metal amulet texts, in part, have been found in situ, and some of them contain large demon accounts with geographical names. These magic text sources have turned out to be far more representative than the mythological accounts of scribes in colophons of late manuscript copies and the Haran Gawaitha myth. The latter story has often been used to claim Harran (Upper Mesopotamia) as an intermediate homestead of the Mandaeans (Müller-Kessler, 2004).

Orthography. Mandaic is written in a special alphabet of 23 graphemes, which are considered to be based on the script appearing in the Elymaean rock inscriptions (Tang-e Sarvak, Shimbar) and in legends of tetradrachm coins from Elymais and of coins from Characene (Mesene) dating to the 2nd-3rd centuries C.E. The sequence of the alphabet follows the Hebrew and other Aramaic ones (e.g., Syriac; cf. EIr. II/3, p. 255), except that the grapheme takes the place of h and vise versa. Each letter has a name, and the complete alphabet is called abāgādā. Frequently, the alphabet is written at the beginning of a text in a manuscript with magic content, since writing a Mandaic text is taken as a sacred, magical art in itself. The total breakdown of the pronunciation of the gutturals in the Mandaic phonemic inventory has reduced the consonant signs to seventeen plus two half consonants /w/ and /y/, and three graphemes ʾ, (former /h/), and ʿ, which only serve as matres lectionis, as do w and y. In this respect the sound system of Classic Mandaic is more completely represented in writing than are those of contemporaneous Aramaic dialects and its own pre-Classic texts, but there exists no distinction between the quality and quantity of the vowels. An extra ligature for the relative/genitive particle dy is taken as one grapheme. The second ligature kḏ serves as the conjunction “when, as.” Inscriptional writings on metal strips and earthenware bowls show less regular signs, whereas the letters in standard manuscript script can be considered quite consistent in form. On pre-Classic epigraphic writing material (clay, metal) the letter is a descender and is never connected to the right. The other writing rules have been fully observed in all periods up to the present with the exception of the final vowel marker , used for /ē/ and [ī], which tends to become confused with the letter ʾ in late manuscripts.

Phonology. In phonemic inventory and phonetic laws, Mandaic holds an isolated position within the range of Late Aramaic dialects. Typical is the non-existence in Mandaic of the Semitic guttural phonemes /ʿ/, /ḥ/, /h/, and /ʾ/, which are, however, fully represented by the Mandaic script. These signs are also well known in the Middle Persian (Inscriptional and Pahlavi) ideograms (see IDEOGRAPHIC WRITING): Mand. šwbʾ “seven” = Pahl. ŠBʾ /haft/ < *šbʿ, tynʾ “fig” = TYNʾ /anjīr/ < *tʾnʾ, tʾlʾ “fox” = TʿLH /rōbāh/ < *tʿlʾ; but they are not written [?] in the dialects closely related to Mandaic, such as Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic and koiné Babylonian Aramaic. The former etymological glottal /h/ and pharyngeal /ḥ/ are conventionally transliterated by h, but they are written in the script with the grapheme h—a practice comparable to the usage in Pahlavi ideograms, e.g., ḤYMN-WN /wurrōy-/ “believe, trust” < hafel *hymn; ZḤBʾ/DḤBʾ /zarr/ “gold” < *zʾhbʾ < dhbʾ; LḤT-WN /daw-/ “run”< •rhṭ. Spelling conventions show preservation of the Proto-Semitic interdental */ḏ/ in hʾzyn “this (masc.),” hʾzʾ “this (fem.)” and in the ideograms, e.g., zyqnʾ = Pahl. ZYQNʾ /rēš/ “beard.” In a secondary stage, */ḏ/ induced pseudo-spellings in Mandaic and Middle Persian: e.g., zʾhbʾ “gold” = Pahl. ZḤBʾ/DḤBʾ < *dhbʾ, zmʾ “blood,” < *dmʾ or dmʾ = Pahl. DM(Y)ʾ /xōn/. This effect is not seen in the relative/genitive particle - < *zy.

Another archaizing spelling represents as q (rarely as g, in ghk = ʿhk “to laugh”; Greenfield, 1962, p. 290) the still undefined Aramaic phoneme /?/ from Proto-Semitic */ḍ/ in ʾrqʾ /arā/ “earth” = Pahl. ʾRQʾ /zamīg/ < *ʾrḍ, qmrʾ /qamrā/ “wool” < *ḍmr, and ʾqnʾ /aqnā/ “small cattle” = Pahl. KYNʾ /gōspand/ and Parth. QYN < *ḍʾn. Two other examples are only attested in the Pahl. ideogram ʿLKTʾ /pahlūg/ ”rib” = *ʿlqtʾ < *ʿlḍ and in the Eastern Aramaic Uruk incantation iq “wood” < *ʿḍ (Müller-Kessler, 2002, pp. 196-98). Frequently the voiceless phoneme /t/ is dissimilated to the voiced /d/ in hdm “to seal” < *ḥtm, kdš “to fight” < *ktš, or kdpʾ “shoulder” < *ktpʾ. The interchange of /n/ and /1/ as positional variants in the imperfect prefix regularly occurs only in the pre-Classic literature. A Late Babylonian phonetic relic is the intervocalic shift of /w/ to /m/ or /b/ in the emphatic plural forms of dmwmʾtʾ “images” < *dmʾwʾtʾ and ʿwmʾwʾtʾ “oaths” < *ʿwmʾwʾtʾ, and in the Hebrew loan ṣbʾbwt, ṣbʾbtʾ “Ṣebaot” < *ṣybwʾt (Müller-Kessler, 2002b, p. 98). The opposite shift occurs as well: /b/ > /w/ in ʾwyl “to bring,” < *ʾwbl, šwš “to confuse” < šbš; /m/ > /w/ in šwʾlyʾ “servant” < Akk. šamallû. Characteristic is the regressive influence of labials on vowels (< Late Babylonian): hwmyʾnʾ < Mid. Pers. himiān- “belt”; hwtʾmʾ, hwdʾmʾ “seal” < */hātamā/; pwgdʾmʾ “word, instruction” < Old Pers. *patigāma-; šwbʾ “seven” < */šabʾā/; šwmʾ “name” < /šemā/. Another sound shift inherited from Babylonian (Geer’s law) is the dissimilation of the first emphatic consonant (in a root with two emphatic phonemes) to a phoneme, which may be voiced (gṭl “to kill” < *qṭl) or unvoiced (kwšṭʾ “truth” < qwšṭʾ; cf. Pahl. KḤMʾ /ard/ “flour” = Mand. qʾhmʾ < *qmh). Further, the Late Babylonian tendency to dissimilate the double consonants /dd/, /bb/, and /zz/ has been retained as phonetic law in Mandaic: to /nd/ in mʾndʾ “knowledge,” to /nb/, /mb/ in zrn/mby “to shake” and hmbl “to destroy,” to /nz/ in mʾnzyʾ “hair” The dissimilation of consonants in reduplicated roots is a feature that Mandaic partially shares with Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic: /r/ < /l/ in grglʾ “wheel” < *glglʾ •gll, /r/ < /q/ in drdqyʾ “small children” < *dqdqyʾ •dqq, /r/ ṣ/ in <imrmyṣyʾ “sucklings, infants” < *mrmyṣyʾmṣs. Regressive assimilation occurs in the composite noun byzrʾ = Pahl. BZRʾ <*br zrʿʾ “seed” (Utas, 1988, p. 65).

Based on the loss of the gutturals, Mandaic tends to frequent metatheses in words with former pharyngeal /hg/ as third radical: ʿwrhʾ “way” < *ʿwhrʾ, qhd “to scream”< *qdḥ, mhlʾ “salt” < *mlḥʾ (Malone, 1971, pp. 407-9); this also occurs in cases of former /ḥ/ as second root consonant: hmy “to strike” < *mḥy (Müller-Kessler, 2002c, p. 206). Similar metatheses are attested in the Middle Persian ideograms, e.g., Pahl. MḤŠYʾ /rōγn/ “oil” and Parth. MHŠʾ = myšʾ < *myḥšʾ, or KḤMʾ “flour” = qʾhmʾ < *qmḥʾ (Nyberg, 1978, p. 64; Voigt, 1989, pp. 381-83). It can be observed also in other metatheses: ydl “to give birth, beget” = Pahl. YLYDWN /zāy-/, but in pre-Classic texts mostly yld, yldʾtʾ or ydlʾtʾ “a woman giving birth” (Müller-Kessler, 2001-2, pp. 131-32), mylʾd yʾldyʾ “to give birth.” Epenthesis of /y/ is a specific feature of Mandaic roots and nouns, e.g., kwyhtʾ “blindness” < *khywtʾ •khy, sʾynʾ “hateful” < *snyʾ •sny, and qynʾ < *qnyʾ “reed.” Elision of consonants between vowels occurs in trnʾwlʾ “rooster” < *trnʾgwlʾ, zywʾ “spouse” (Gk. zugos) < *zwgʾ. Characteristic for Central Southeastern Aramaic, therefore for Mandaic, is the loss of the final short unstressed vowels in the pronouns of 2nd singular, in the perfect suffixes of the 3 person plural masculine, and in the imperative suffixes of the masculine plural form.

Morphology. Classical Mandaic shows individual forms for the pronouns. The modern dialect forms diverge and are indicated below in brackets. The independent personal pronouns are: hw [hay, hūy] “he”; hʿ(yʾ) [hid] “she”; ʾnt/ʾnʾt [at, at] “you (masc./fem. sing.)”; ʾnʾ [ana, an, ān] “I”; hynwn [honnī] “they (inanimate)”; ʿnyn, hynyn [hanni/ī] “they (fem.); ʾn(ʾ)twn [a/åton] “you (masc./fem. plur.)”; ʾnyn, ʾnʿn [a/āni/ī] “we.” The enclitics based on the independent pronouns are employed with the active and passive participles or adjectives: [-ye/a] (3rd sing. masc.); [-ī] (3rd sing. fem.); -t, -ʾt [ya/āt] (2nd sing. masc.); -yt [-yet] (2nd sing. fem.); -nʾ [-nån] (1st sing. common); [-nån, -no/ōn] (3rd plur. masc.); [-nen] (3rd plur. fem.); -twn [-(o)xon] (2nd plur. masc./fem.); -nyn [-an] (1st plur. com.). The possessive and object pronominal suffixes are: -ẖ [ī/i] “his/him”; -h(ʾ) [-a/ā] “her/her”; -ʾk [-ax] “your/you (inanimate sing.)”; -yk [-ex] “your/you (fem. sing.); -yʾ/nyʾ [ -e/ē/ey] “my/me”; -(h)wn [ -ū/u] “their/them (masc.)”; -(h)yn “their/them (fem.)”; -kwn [ -(o)xon] “your/you (masc.)”; -kyn “your/you (fem.); -ʾn [-an] “our/us.”

Mandaic has one set of demonstrative pronouns to denote the near object: hʾzyn “this (in.)”; rarely hʾdyn, hʾzʾ “this (fem.)”; rarely hʾdʾ, hʾzʾy ḏ- “this, which (fem.)”; h(ʾ)lyn “these (plur. common)”; only late hʾy “this (in.).” There are three sets for the far deixis: (1) the near demonstrative augmented by -k, hʾzʾk “that (in.)” and the shortened classical form hʾk “that (inan.)”; hʾzyk “that (fem.)”; hnyk “that (plur. com.)”; (2) the near demonstrative augmented by -hʾ plus the independent pronoun, hʾhw “that (in.)”; hʾhʿ “that (fem.)”; (3) a set which is only restricted to Mandaic without any comparable forms in other Aramaic dialects, hʾnʾtẖ “that (sing. com.)”; hʾnʾtwn “those (plur. masc.)”; hʾnʾtyn “those (plur. fem.)”.

The interrogative pronouns are the common Aramaic ones: mʾn [ma/ān] “who” and [ma/ā, mo/ō/u] “what.” The reflexive pronoun is derived from the noun npš- [nāḇš-, nāfš-] “soul.” The indefinite pronouns are ʾnš [enšī] “someone” and the dissimilated form mʿ/yndʾm [me/indī, ḇād, ḇādī] = Pahl. ideogram MNDʿM /tis/ “something.”

As in Aramaic in general, there is no evidence for cases. The article is suffixed to the noun: -ʾ /-ā/. For the noun one distinguishes between three states: absolute (undetermined), construct (dependent), emphatic (determined); two numbers: singular, plural, very rarely in fixed forms dual; two genders: masculine and feminine which are indicated by endings accordingly (TABLE 1).

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An exception to the above is the feminine ending -tyʾ for the emphatic state of certain adjectives and, rarely, nouns: rbtyʾ “large” (sing.), hdʾtyʾ “new” (plur.), sbty “old women.”

The Mandaic verbal system is based on the Semitic triliteral root and distinguishes the following stems: peal = basic stem qtʾl /qtal/, pael = intensive qtyl /qattel/, afel = causative ʾqtyl /aqtel/, šafel = causative šqtyl /šaqtel/, the rare safel = causative sqtyl /saqtel/, and their respective passive-reflexive stems: itpeel ʿyqtyl /itqtel/, itpaal ʿytqtl itqattal/, ittafal ʿtqtl /ittaqtal/, and the even rarer ištafal ʿštqtl /ištaqtal and istafal ʿstqtl /istaqtal/.

Mandaic has three finite verbal conjugations: perfect (past), imperfect (present-future), and imperative, three non-finite forms, an active and a passive participle, and one infinitive form (verbal noun; see TABLE 2).

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The two participles are active participle gʾṭyl “killing” and passive participle gṭyl “killed.” On the base of the two participles, two new tenses are formed, respectively active participle present (present future) gṭlnʾ “I kill, I am going to kill” or as historical present “I killed.” and the passive participle present (past action) gṭylnʾ “I am/was killed.” Later the last two developed into a complex tense system in Modern Mandaic.

The infinitive of the ground stem is nzygṭʾl “to kill,” and those of the derived stems: pael lhrwbyʾ “to destroy,” afel ʿwhdwryʾ “to return,” itpeel ʿwʾdkwryʾ “to remember,” itpaal ʿytgrwbyʾ “to rob.”

Noteworthy is the particle of existence ʾykʾ, ʿkʾ, mod. ext- “there is” and the negated variant lykʾ, mod. lexa- “there is not.” Mandaic shares this feature with Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic, and it was retained in some Iraqi colloquial Arabic dialects (Müller-Kessler, 2003).

In the group of Central Southeastern Aramaic, the number of prepositions, adverbs, and conjunctions is very small. They did not increase as in Western Aramaic. The prepositions are the enclitics: b– “in, with, by,” l– “to,” and the independent ones: ʾkwʾt “as, like,” bynyʾ, byt “between,” lwʾt “with,” mn “from, with” (ʾ)mnṭwl, ʿl mnṭwl “on account,” ʿl, ʾ1 “on, upon, against, ʿlʾwʾ “on,” ʿqʾdʾ, qʾd “with, to,” qwdʾm “in front of,” (ʾ)twtyʾ “under, beneath,” bʾtʾr “after”. The most frequent adverbs are: hʾštʾ “now,” hʾyzʾk “then,” twin “again,” “here,” lʿhwryʾ “behind,” tytyʾ “beneath,” hʾtʾm “there,” hdʾdyʾ “one another,” šʾpyr, ṭʾb “well” or the ones combined with l–, e.g., lbyš “evilly,” The coordinating conjunctions are w “and,” ʿw “or,” ʾp “also”; subordinating conjunctions: ḏ-, ʾ1mʾḏ- “until,” hyn, ʿyn “if,” kʾmʾḏ- “as, how,” kḏ “when,” (ʾ)m(y)nṭwl ḏ- “since.”

Syntax. In Mandaic and its related dialects, differentiation between the absolute state and the emphatic state (e.g., “the king”) is given up; therefore the marked (emphatic) form mʾlkʾ /malkā/ can express “a king/the king,” mʾlktʾ “a queen/the queen.” This applies also to the genitive construction, which is replaced by the use of the genitive particle ḏ-, as in mʾlkʾḏ-bbyl instead of mʾlk bbyl “the king of Babel.” In Mandaic, Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic, and Syriac, the syntactical passive construction qtyl l– is employed in the sense of the past tense, and it later developed into a complete tense system in the Northeastern Neo-Aramaic dialects. Its Iranian origin stays doubtful, since it is only attested in the mentioned Late Aramaic dialects and not in the earlier ones, Imperial Aramaic and Biblical Aramaic. This construction is not restricted to the verbs of saying and hearing (hʾzylẖ “he saw’) but can be employed with all kinds of verbs: pryqlʾ “she rescued,” gṭyrlʾ “she killed,” mtnʾlhʾ “she placed,” ʿsyrlyʾ “I bound,” mlyʾlyʾ “I filled.” Another syntactical feature is the use of the active and passive participles with the enclitic pronouns. The active participle present often continues the regular perfect as a historical present in sub-clauses. Restricted to Mandaic and Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic is the use of the shortened form of the active participle qʾym, before the active participle; it is hardly noticeable in pre-Classic Mandaic texts, but in the later religious corpus it can express a state or present time or the process of doing something. Modern Mandaic employs it regularly for the present-future (Macuch, 1993, p. 69). The position of the verb in pre-Classic Mandaic is not free. In general, the verb precedes the subject, but in later Mandaic this is given up.

Lexicography. The lexemes in Mandaic and Babylonian Talmudic Aramaic form a distinct group within the Late Aramaic vocabulary. Both dialects show rare and specific verbs. Some of them are early loans from Iranian, e.g., ʾ/hndz “to measure, to overlap,” bšqr “to search, discern,” prhz “to avert, turn away,” šhrz “to tremble.” Others are restricted to Mandaic only, and some are of unknown origin: pndl, pdl < *pld < Syriac plhd “to separate” or zrm/nby and sndr “to quake, tremble.” The safel stem ssṭm “to shackle a demon” is typical for the magic texts of Mesopotamia.

In the area of loanwords, Mandaic inherited from Akkadian an abundance of termini technici concerning religion, but also many words inn other areas. Despite the limitation in its attested lexicon, due to the loss of texts, Mandaic shows more Akkadian borrowings than any other Aramaic dialect. The Mandaean gnostic sect recruited from a Babylonian population, and a stock of Akkadian words had belonged to the idiom of that geographical area for some centuries. Particular borrowings in Mandaic are: priest classes, cult, divination, and magic terms: brʾyʾ < bartū “diviner,” zʾbʾ 2 “esoteric priests,” gynyʾ “sacrifice,” ʿ kwrʾ < ekurru “temple,” prykʾ < parakku “altar, shrine,” pyšrʾ < pišru “dissolving of a magic bond,” ʾšp < ašāpu “to bewitch,” šʾptʾ < šiptu “incantation”; terms concerning the gnostic doctrine and cult: gynyʾ < ginû “sanctuaries,” zywʾ < zīmu “brilliance,” nʾndbyʾ < nindabû “offering,” nʾṣwrʾyʾ “watcher of secrets,” nʾṣyrwtʾ “secrecy” < niṣirtu; architectional terms: ʾngrʾ < agāru “wall,”roof,” kšwrʾ < gušūru “beam, post”; body parts: gysʾ 2 “side”; ktʾ < qātu “hand, handle,” šʾyryʾnʾ < “vein, artery”; directions of the wind, name of winds, astronomical terms: šʾrʾ <šārū “direction of the wind,” stʾnʾ < ištānu north(wind), ywniʾ 2 <ūmu 3 “storm,” tʾlyʾ < attala “eclipse.”

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  • E. M. Yamauchi, Mandaic Incantation Texts, AOS 49, New Haven, 1967.

MANDAEANS vi. NEO-MANDAIC LANGUAGE

Introduction. Neo-Mandaic or modern Mandaic is the contemporary form of Mandaic, the language of the Mandæan religious community of Iraq and Iran. As such, it is the only known form of any of the classical literary dialects of Aramaic to survive to the present date, but it is severely endangered today. While the members of the greater Mandæan community, numbered at roughly 60,000 adherents throughout the world, are familiar with the classical dialect through their sacred literature and liturgy, only a few hundred Mandæans, located primarily in Iran, speak its contemporary form as a first language. As late as the 19th century, it was spoken by the Mandaeans of several cities in northern Khuzestan, including Šuštar, Dezful, and Šāh Wali, but during the reign of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah (1848-96) these communities departed for Khorramshahr (Ḵorram-šahr) and Ahvāz in southern Khuzestan, as well as the cities of southern Iraq which were then under Ottoman rule.

All Neo-Mandaic speakers are bi- or even tri-lingual in the languages of their neighbors, Persian and Arabic, and the influence of these languages upon the grammar of Neo-Mandaic is substantial, particularly in the lexicon and the morphology of the noun. Nevertheless, when compared to Classical Mandaic (see MANDAEANS v. MANDAIC LANGUAGE), Neo-Mandaic appears remarkably conservative, and most of the features that distinguish the two stages of the language (in particular, the restructuring of the nominal morphology and the verbal system) are the result of developments already attested in Classical and Postclassical Mandaic. Even the lexicon preserves the vocabulary of Classical Mandaic to a large degree; in a list of 207 of the most common terms in Neo-Mandaic collected by Häberl (2009, pp. 39-44), over 85 percent were also attested in the classical language, the remaining 15 percent deriving primarily from Persian and Arabic.

Two surviving dialects of Neo-Mandaic have thus far been documented, that of Ahvāz (in Macuch, 1965a, 1965b, 1989, and 1993), and Khorramshahr (in Häberl, 2009). These dialects are mutually intelligible to the extent that speakers of either dialect will deny that there are any substantive differences between the two.

History of scholarship. The first attempt at documenting Neo-Mandaic, a polyglot glossary including a column of lexical items from the now extinct Neo-Mandaic dialect of Basra, was produced in the mid-17th century by a Carmelite missionary whom Roberta Borghero (2000, p. 318) has identified with Matteo di San Giuseppe. This Glossarium was to have a perennial influence upon future Mandæologists; it was consulted by Theodor Nöldeke (1862, 1875) and Rudolf Macuch (1965a) in the preparation of their grammars, and the contents of its Neo-Mandaic column were incorporated into Drower and Macuch’s dictionary (1963). No complete Neo-Mandaic text was published until the beginning of the twentieth century, when Jacques de Morgan published facsimiles of five such texts in the fifth volume of his Mission scientifique en Perse (which were subsequently transliterated and translated in Macuch, 1989). The last few decades have seen a marked increase in the number of Neo-Mandaic texts available to scholarship (Macuch, 1965b, 1989, 1993) and a descriptive grammar (Häberl, 2009).

Orthography. Neo-Mandaic is generally unwritten. On the rare occasions on which it is written, in personal letters and in the colophons that are attached to manuscripts, it is rendered using a modified version of the classical script. With the exception of /ə/, all vowels are represented, but without any indication of length or quality. The letter <ʕ> consistently represents an epenthetic vowel, either /ə/ or /ɛ/. Additionally, the Arabic letter ʿayn has been adopted to indicate the voiced pharyngeal fricative as well as the glottal stop in loanwords. The letters, <g>, <k>, <p>, and <t> may represent stops (/b/, /g/, /k/, /p/, and /t/) or fricatives (/v/, /ʁ/, /χ/, /f/, and /Θ/). Formerly the fricatives were not distinctive segments but merely allophones of the stops after a vowel; the sound rule governing this alternation is now defunct. Neo-Mandaic orthography differs from that of Classical Mandaic by using to represent /w/ even when it is a reflex of Classical Mandaic /b/. As Neo-Mandaic contains several phonemes not found in Classical Mandaic, several letters from the original script have been modified with two dots placed below to represent these phonemes: <š̤> may represent /tʃ/, /ʒ/, or /dʒ/, <d̤> represents /ðˁ/, and <h̤> represents /ħ/. The private Mandaic schools in Iran and Australia employ a version of this same script with a few further pedagogic modifications (Choheili, 2004, pp. 312-14).

Phonology. There are 28 phonemic consonantal segments in Neo-Mandaic: eight stops (p /p/, b /b/, t /t/, d /d/, /tˁ/, k /k/, g /g/, and q /q/), ten fricatives (/f/, /v/, /Θ/, s /s/, z /z/, /sˁ/, š /ʃ/, /χ/, /ʁ/, and h /h/), six sonorants (m /m/, w /w/, n /n/, l /l/, r /r/, and y /j/), and four loan-phonemes: the postalveolar affricates č /tʃ/ and j /dʒ/ and the pharyngeal fricatives ʻ /ʕ/ and /ħ/, which are found only in vocabulary of foreign origin, particularly Arabic and Persian. The glottal stop /ʔ/ and two pharyngealized segments (a voiced alveolar stop /ðˁ/ and a voiced alveolar fricative /zˁ/) are found in a few Arabic loanwords. They have been excluded from the phonemic inventory of Neo-Mandaic due to their marginal status. The fricatives /f/, /χ/, and /ʁ/ are assigned the values f, x, and ġ when they appear in loan words rather than , , and as they are not subject to the same phonotactic constraints in words of foreign origin.

The vowel system in Neo-Mandaic is composed of seven distinct vowels, of which six (i /i/, u /u/, e /e/, o /o/, a /a/, and ā /ɒ/) are principal phonemes, and one (ə /ə/) is marginal. The vowels are distinguished by quality rather than quantity. Three of the principle vowels, the “tense” vowels i, u, and ā, are lengthened in open accented syllables to [iː], [uː], and [ɔː] or [ɒː]. /i/ and /u/ are realized as [ɪ] and [ʌ] whenever they occur in closed syllables, either accented or unaccented. The other three principle vowels, the “lax” vowels o, e, and a, appear only exceptionally in open accented syllables. e is realized as [e] in open syllables and [ɛ] in closed syllables. a is realized as [ɑ] in closed accented syllables, and as [a] or [æ] elsewhere. Schwa (ə) has the widest allophonic variation of all the vowels. It is regularly fronted, backed, raised, or lowered in harmony with the vowel of the following syllable.

There are also five diphthongs, ey /ɛɪ/, ay /aɪ/, aw /aʊ/, āy /ɔɪ/, and āw /ɔʊ/. The diphthongs /aɪ/ and /aʊ/, which had already collapsed in closed accented syllables to /i/ and /u/ in the classical language, have collapsed in all accented syllables in the dialects of Ahvāz and Khorramshahr, apart from those in words of foreign origin.

Word stress typically falls upon a tense vowel within a closed syllable. The placement of the stress is determined from the final syllable. Any final syllable (or ultima) that is closed and contains a tense vowel automatically receives the accent, e.g. qəmahrəḇāt [qə.ˌmæh.rɛ.ˈwɔːt] “you destroy.” If the final is open or contains a lax vowel, the accent will fall upon the penultimate syllable, provided that it is closed or contains a tense vowel, e.g. gaḇrā [ˈgæv.rɔ] “man.” Otherwise, the stress will fall on the final syllable, e.g. əχal [a.ˈχɑl] “he ate.” In words of three or more syllables, if neither the ultima nor the penultima is closed and contains a tense vowel, then the accent recedes to the antepenultimate syllable, e.g. gaṭelnāḵon [ga.ˈtˁɛl.nɒ.ˌχon] “I will kill you.” Several morphemes automatically take the accent, such as the negative morpheme , which (like Pers. ná-) causes the stress to shift to the first syllable of the verb. As is typical for Aramaic dialects, vowels in open pretonic syllables are regularly subject to reduction or even deletion.

The Noun Phrase. The morphology of the noun has been greatly influenced by contact with Persian. The classical system of states has become obsolete, and only vestiges of it survive in some frozen forms and grammatical constructions. As a result, the most common inflectional morphemes associated with the states have been replaced by morphemes borrowed from Persian, such as the plural morphemes ān (for native and nativized vocabulary) and (h)āˊ (for words of foreign origin), the indefinite morpheme i, and (occasionally in the dialect of Ahvāz, but not that of Khorramshahr) the eżāfa. This last morpheme indicates a relationship between two nouns (substantive or adjective) corresponding to a variety of functions (generally attributive or genitive). In Neo-Mandaic, the contextual form of the noun combines the functions of both the Persian eżāfa and the Classical Mandaic construct state. Whenever a noun bearing the nominal augment -ā is immediately followed by another noun or adjective expressing a genitive or attributive relationship, the augment is regularly apocopated, e.g. rabbā “leader” but rab Mandayānā “leader of the Mandæans” and kədāḇā “book” but kədāḇ Mandāyí “a Mandaic book.”

Despite the collapse of the system of states, and the obsolescence of the most common classical plural morpheme -ia, much of the morphology of the noun has been preserved. While most nouns, masculine and feminine alike, are marked with the plural morpheme ān, a number of other morphemes exist, which can indicate other distinctions beyond number. The feminine plural morpheme (w/y)āṯ- most commonly appears on nouns marked explicitly with the feminine singular morpheme t, although it can also be found on the plural forms of many feminine nouns not marked as such in the singular. Most loan words take the plural morpheme (h)āˊ, although a few retain the plural forms of their source languages (e.g. waxt “time,” pl. awqāt). Additionally, many of the heteroclite plurals attested in the classical language have been retained (e.g. eṯṯā “woman,” pl. enšā).

Pronouns. Personal pronouns are illustrated in Table 1 (all forms are listed from first to third person, singular [sg.] followed by plural [pl.]; masculine [m] and feminine [f] forms are distinguished where they exist). The independent personal pronouns are optionally employed to represent the subject of a transitive or intransitive verb. Whenever the singular forms appear before a verb, their final vowel is apocopated. The enclitic personal pronouns are in complementary distribution with them; they may represent the object of a transitive verb, a nominal or verbal complement or adjunct in a prepositional phase, or indicate possession on the noun. On nouns of foreign origin, they are affixed after the morpheme -d- (see Häberl, 2007). On the noun nap̄š- “self” they also serve to form the reflexive pronouns. Neo-Mandaic also has two reciprocal pronouns, ham “each other” and hədādā “one another.”

Table 1. Personal Pronouns and Inflectional Suffixes on the VerbTable 1. Personal Pronouns and Inflectional Suffixes on the VerbView full image in a new tab

The demonstrative pronouns are āhā “this,” aḵu “that,” and ahni “these; those.” When modifying a noun, these pronouns precede it. In this position, the final vowel of the singular demonstratives is regularly apocopated. Note that the plural demonstrative never appears in this position; instead, the singular forms are used before plural nouns (the plural morpheme indicating plurality on the whole noun phrase, e.g. ā šeršānā “these religions”). Neo-Mandaic also has two locative demonstrative pronouns, hənā/ehnā “here” and ekkāḵ “there.”

The interrogative pronouns are used to elicit specific information beyond a simple yes or no answer (which can be elicited simply by employing a rising intonation, as in English). Of these interrogative pronouns, only man “who” and mu “what” may substitute for either the subject or the object of a verb, obligatorily appearing at the beginning of the interrogative clause. Other interrogatives in Neo-Mandaic include elyā “where,” hem “which,” hemdā “when,” kammā “how,” kaṯkammā “how much/many,” mujur “how, in what way,” and qamu “why.”

The Verb Phrase. The Neo-Mandaic verb may appear in two aspects (perfective and imperfective), three moods (indicative, subjunctive, and imperative), and three voices (active, middle, and passive). The imperfective indicates habitual actions, progressive or inchoative actions, and actions in the future from a past or present perspective. The perfective indicates not only the preterite but also resultative-stative, which is most apparent from the verbs relating to a change of state, e.g. meḵtat eštā “she has died/is dead now.”

The indicative is used to make assertions or declarations about situations which the speaker holds to have happened (or, conversely, have not happened), or positions which he maintains to be true. It is also the mood used for questions and other interrogative statements. The perfective, by its very nature, refers to situations that the speaker holds to have happened or not to have happened, and thus generally indicates the past indicative, apart from explicitly counterfactual conditional clauses, e.g. agar an láhwit, lá-aṯṯat əl-yanqā “if I hadn’t been there, she wouldn’t have brought (=given birth to) the baby.” The imperfective, on the other hand, is used to describe situations which are ongoing, have yet to happen, or about which there may exist some uncertainty or doubt. When marked by the morpheme , it is used to express the indicative, but when it is not thus marked, it expresses the subjunctive. The subjunctive is most commonly used to indicate wishes, possibilities, obligations, and any other statements which may be contrary to present fact. As in the other Semitic languages, the subjunctive must be used in the place of the imperative for all negative commands and prohibitions.

As in other Semitic languages, the majority of verbs are built upon a triconsonantal root, each of which may yield one or more of six verbal stems: the G-stem or basic stem, the D-stem or transitivizing-denominative verbal stem, the C-stem or causative verbal stem, and the tG-, tD-, and tC-stems, to which a derivational morpheme, t-, was prefixed before the first root consonant. This morpheme has disappeared from all roots save for those possessing a sibilant as their initial radical, such as eṣṭəḇā ~ eṣṭəḇi (meṣṭəḇi) “to be baptized” in the G-stem or eštallam ~ eštallam (meštallam) in the C-stem, in which the stop and the sibilant are metathesized. A seventh stem, the Q-stem, is reserved exclusively for those verbs possessing four root consonants.

Verbs that begin with a vowel rather than a consonant are called I-weak. When the liquids w and y appear as the second or third radical of a triconsonantal root, they are susceptible to the general collapse of diphthongs described above. The verbs that are thus affected are known as II-weak and III-weak verbs. Those roots in which the second and third radical consonants were identical have been reformed on the analogy of the II-weak verbs; this process had already begun in Classical Mandaic.

The principal parts upon which all inflected forms of the verb are built are the perfective base (represented by the third masculine singular form of the perfective), the imperative base (represented by the masculine singular form of the imperative), and the imperfective base (represented by the masculine singular form of the active participle). In the G-stem, the second syllable of the perfective base can have one of three thematic vowels: /a/, /e/, and /o/. Transitive verbs predominantly belong to the first, which is the most common of the three, whereas the latter two typically characterize intransitives and stative verbs. Examples of the principal parts for all seven verbal stems are given in Table 2. Transitive verbs also commonly yield a passive participle, which in the G-stem takes the form CəCil, e.g. gəṭel “killed (m. sg.),” f. sg. gəṭilā, and pl. gəṭilen.

Table 2. The Principal Parts of the Seven StemsTable 2. The Principal Parts of the Seven StemsView full image in a new tab

Alone among the surviving dialects of Aramaic (save for a cluster of dialects spoken in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains of Syria), Neo-Mandaic continues to employ the old Semitic suffix conjugation in the perfective. Apart from the imperative forms, the prefix conjugation (the Classical Mandaic imperfect) has been replaced by imperfective, a process which had already begun in Classical Mandaic. The inflected forms are produced by appending the inflectional suffixes introduced in Table 1 to the principal parts introduced in Table 2 (e.g. gəṭalton “you [pl.] killed,” gəṭolyon, qəgaṭletton “kill!” [pl.]). The addition of these morphemes often causes the stress on the verb to shift, provoking the sound changes described in Phonology above (note the form qəgaṭletton “kill” (pl.), which combines the indicative morpheme qə-, the imperfective form gāṭel, and the inflectional suffice -etton). In transitive verbs, these inflectional suffixes may in turn be followed by an enclitic object suffix, which can have the same effect upon the syllables preceding it, including the personal suffix. All third person imperfective forms take the enclitic object marker l before the object suffix. The final consonant of the third plural personal suffix en regularly assimilates to this enclitic object marker, producing the form el(l). Additionally, the second singular and first plural morphemes assume the forms āt and nan(n) respectively before object suffixes.

A very large and productive class of verbs in Neo-Mandaic consists of a verbal element and a non-verbal element, which form a single semantic and syntactic unit, corresponding to (and in many cases directly calqued upon) Persian compound verbs. The non-verbal element is most often a noun such as əḇādā “deed” in the compound əḇādā əḇad ~ əḇod (āḇed) “to work or to do something” (lit. “to deed-do”), or an adjective such as həyānā “alive” in the compound həyānā tammā “to survive” (lit. “to alive-stay”), although prepositions such as qār “at,” in the compound qār tammā “to be born to someone” (lit. “to at-become”), are attested. As in Persian, the verbal element is often a “light” verb, which serves only to indicate verbal inflections such as person, tense, mood, and aspect. The most common light verbs are əḇad ~ əḇod (āḇed) “to do,” əhaḇ ~ əhoḇ (āheḇ) “to give,” məhā ~ məhi (māhi) “to hit,” and tammā “to become.” Although compound verbs similar to these are attested in Classical Mandaic, most Neo-Mandaic compound verbs are calqued upon Persian compound verbs, and many non-verbal elements are Persian or Arabic loan words.

Syntax. Neo-Mandaic generally preserves SVO word order despite its longstanding contact with Persian, although topic-fronting (which is typical of both languages) tends to obscure the word order. Simple sentences consist of a subject, which may be implied in the verb, and a predicate, which is headed by a verb or the copula. Compound sentences combine two or more simple sentences with coordinating conjunctions such as u “and,” ammā “but,” lo “or,” and the correlative conjunction -lo-lo “either… or.” Complex sentences consist of a main clause and one or more dependent clauses introduced by a relative pronoun, provided that the referent of the antecedent of the clause is definite—if it is indefinite, no relative pronoun is used. The Classical Mandaic relative pronoun d- has not survived, having been replaced by illi, an Arabic loan that introduces non-restrictive relative clauses, and ke, a Persian loan that introduces restrictive relative clauses, both of which appear immediately following the antecedent of the clause. The antecedents of restrictive relative clauses are marked with the restrictive morpheme -i, which resembles the indefinite morpheme in form but not function, e.g. ezgit dukkāni ke həzitu awwál “I went to the places which I saw (them) before.” If the antecedent is the object of the relative clause, it will be represented within the relative clause by a resumptive relative pronoun, as in the example above (həzitu “I saw them”).

The Copula. Neo-Mandaic expresses various types of predication, including equation, attribution, location, existence, and possession, by means of independent and enclitic forms of the copula (in the simple present tense) and a copular verb (in all other tenses). The enclitic (or “short”) forms of the copula found in Table 3 introduce attributive predicates, and the independent (or “long”) forms of the copula introduce equational predicates. The base of the independent form is ultimately derived from the Classical Mandaic existential particle ʻit but due to several regular sound rules (Häberl, 2009, pp. 76-77, 89-90) it only appears in two allomorphs, eḵt- (before a vowel) and eh- (before the preposition l- “to; for”), and indeed its original role in existential constructions has been assumed by the demonstrative pronoun ‘ka ekkā “there.”

Table 3. The Copula (Enclitic and Independent Forms)Table 3. The Copula (Enclitic and Independent Forms)View full image in a new tab

To express possession, Neo-Mandaic employs a predicate locative construction. In the simple present tense, this construction is derived from the existential particle *eṯ and the preposition l- “to/for,” which takes the enclitic pronouns introduced in Table 1. As noted above, the existential particle assumes the allomorph eh- before l-, yielding ehli “he has” (“there is for him”), ehla “she has,” and so forth. For all copular constructions in tenses other than the simple present, the copular verb həwā ~ həwi (hāwi) is used in the place of the independent or enclitic forms of the copula, e.g. agar pərāhā həwāle, turti zaḇnit “if I had money, I would have bought a cow.”

Table 1. Personal Pronouns and Inflectional Suffixes on the Verb.

Table 2. The Principal Parts of the Seven Stems.

Table 3. The Copula (Enclitic and Independent Forms).

Video. A short animation based upon the Neo-Mandaic story "Histoire de Chah Adel" in de Morgan, Jean-Jacques. 1904.

Bibliography

  • Roberta Borghero, “A 17th Century Glossary of Mandaic,” ARAM Periodical 11-12, 1999-2000, pp. 311-19.
  • Salem Choheili, untitled contribution in ARAM Periodical 16, 2004, 310-14.
  • Ethel Stefana Drower and Rudolf Macuch, A Mandaic Dictionary, Oxford, 1963.
  • Charles Häberl, “The Relative Pronoun d- and the Pronominal Suffixes in Mandaic,” in Journal of Semitic Studies 52/1, 2007, pp. 71-78.
  • Idem, The Neo-Mandaic Dialect of Khorramshahr, Wiesbaden, 2009.
  • Idem, “Neo-Mandaic,” in Stefan Weninger and Michael P. Streck, eds., Semitic Languages: An International Handbook/Ein internationales Handbuch, Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft, Berlin, forthcoming.
  • Jacques de Morgan, Mission scientifique en Perse V. Études linguistiques, deuxième partie: textes mandaïtes, Paris, 1904.
  • Rudolf Macuch, Handbook of Classical and Modern Mandaic, Berlin, 1965a.
  • Idem, “The Bridge of Shushtar. A Legend in Vernacular Mandaic with Introduction, Translation and Notes,” in Stanislav Segert, ed., Studia Semitica Philologica necnon Philosophica Ioanni Bakoš Dedicata, Bratislava, 1965b, pp. 153-72.
  • Idem, Neumandäische Chrestomathie mit grammatischer Skizze, kommentierte Übersetzung und Glossar, Wiesbaden, 1989.
  • Idem, Neumandäische Texte im Dialekt von Ahwāz, Wiesbaden, 1993.
  • Abd-al-Ḡaffār Najm-al-Molk, Safarnāma-ye Khuzestān, Tehran, 1962.
  • Theodor Nöldeke, “Ueber die Mundart der Mandäer,” in Abhandlungen der historisch-philologischen Classe der königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen 10, Göttingen, 1862, pp. 81-160.
  • Idem, Mandäische Grammatik, Halle, 1875.
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