World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000277994
Reproduction Date:

Title: Mandeans  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Arab people, Aramaic language, Demographics of Jordan, Persecution of Christians, Semitic languages, Saddam Hussein, Universalism, Babylonia, Semitic people, Moirai
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


This article is about the Middle Eastern ethno-religious group. For the Gnostic religious belief, see Mandaeism.
Total population
60,000[1] to 70,000[2]
Regions with significant populations
 Iraq 3,000[3] to 7,000 (as of 2010)
 Iran 5,000 to 10,000 (2009)[3]
 Jordan 49 families[1]
 Syria 1,250 families[1]
 Sweden 8,500[4]
 Australia 3,500 to 5,000 [5][6]
 United States 1,500 to 2,000
 United Kingdom 1,000[7]
 Canada 1,500[5]
 Germany 1,200[8]
 Denmark 650[9]
 Indonesia 23 [8]
Ginza Rba, Qolusta
Mandaic as liturgical language
Arabic and Persian

Mandaeans (Template:Lang-mid Mandaʻnāye, Arabic: الصابئة المندائيونaṣ-Ṣabi'a al-Mandā'iyūn) are an ethnoreligious group indigenous to the alluvial plain of southern Mesopotamia and are followers of Mandaeism, a Gnostic religion. The Mandaeans were originally native speakers of Mandaic, a Semitic language that evolved from Eastern Middle Aramaic, before many switched to colloquial Iraqi Arabic and Modern Persian. Mandaic is mainly preserved as a liturgical language. During the century's first decade the indigenous Mandaic community of Iraq, which used to number 60–70,000 persons, collapsed in the aftermath of the Iraq War of 2003; most of the community relocated to nearby Iran, Syria and Jordan, or formed diaspora communities beyond the Middle East. The other indigenous community of Iranian Mandaeans has also been dwindling as a result of religious persecution over that decade.[3]



There are several indications of the ultimate origin of the Mandaeans. Early religious concepts and terminologies recur in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and "Jordan" has been the name of every baptismal water in Mandaeism.[10] This connection with early baptismal sects in the eastern Jordan region and the elements of Western Syrian in the Mandaean language attests to their levantine origin.[10] The ultimate Jewish origin of the Mandaeans can still be found despite the vehement polemics against the Jews in Mandaean literature, in which Moses is a false prophet and Adonai (one of the names used in the Jewish bible) is an evil god.[11][12] There are fewer indications of a relation between early Christians and Mandaeans, which make the connection more problematic. Some scholars, including Kurt Rudolph connect the early Mandaeans with the Jewish sect of the Nasoraeans.[12]

The emigration of early Mandaeans from the Jordan Valley took place the latest at the second century CE due to pressure from orthodox Jews.[10] The migrants first went to Harran in Assyria and entered the southern provinces of Mesopotamia during the third century CE. It appears that Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, was partly influenced by the newcomers. The Mandaeans had also hostile relations with the Byzantine Church and the Babylonian Jews.[10]

Early Persian periods

A number of ancient Aramaic inscriptions dating back to the 2nd century CE were uncovered in Elymais. Although the letters appear quite similar to the Mandaean ones, it is doubtful whether the inhabitants of Elyamis were Mandaeans.[13] Under Parthian and early Sasanian rule, foreign religions were tolerated. The situation changed by the ascension of Bahram I in 273, who under the influence of the zealous Zoroastrian high priest Kartir persecuted all non-Zoroastrian religions. It is thought that this persecution encouraged the consolidation of Mandaean religious literature.[13] The persecutions instigated by Kartir seems to temporarily erase Mandaeans from recorded history. Traces of their presence can still however be found in the so-called Mandaean magical bowls and lead strips which were produced from the 3rd to the 7th centuries.[14]

Islamic Caliphates

The Mandaeans re-appear at the beginning of the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia, when their "head of the people" Anush son of Danqa appears before Muslim authorities showing them a copy of the Ginza Rabba, the Mandaean holy book, and proclaiming the chief Mandaean prophet to be John the Baptist, who is also mentioned in the Quran. The connection with the Quranic Sabians provided them acknowledgement as People of the Book, a legal minority religion within the Muslim Empire. They appear to have flourished during the early Islamic period, as attested by the voluminous expansion of Mandaic literature and canons. Tib near Wasit is particularly noted as an important scribal centre.[14] Yaqut al-Hamawi describes Tib as a town inhabited by Nabatean (i.e. Aramaic speaking) Sabians who consider themselves to be descendants of Seth son of Adam.[14]

The status of the Mandaeans became an issue for the Abbasid al-Qahir Billah. To avoid further investigation by the authorities, the Mandaeans paid a bribe of 50,000 dinars and were left alone. It appears that the Mandaeans were even exempt from paying the Jizya, otherwise imposed upon protected non-Muslims.[14]

Late Persian and Ottoman periods

Early contact with Europeans came about in the mid-16th century, when Portuguese missionaries encountered Mandaeans in Southern Iraq and controversially designated them "Christians of St. John". In the next centuries Europeans became more acquainted with the Mandaeans and their religion.[14]

The Mandaeans suffered persecution under the Qajar rule in the 1780s. The dwindling community was threatened with complete anhililation, when a Cholera epidemic broke out in Shushtar and half of its inhabitants died. The entire Manaean priesthood perished and Mandeism was restored due only to the efforts of few learned men such as Yahia Bihram.[15] Another danger threatened the community in 1870, when the local governor of Shushtar massacred the Mandaeans against the will of the Shah.[15] As a result of these events the Mandaeans retired to the more inaccessible Central Marshes of Iraq.

Modern Iraq and Iran

Following the First World War, the Mandaeans were still largely living in rural areas in the lower parts of British protected Iraq and Iran. Owing to the rise of Arab nationalism Mandaeans were arabised at an accelerated rate, especially during the 1950s and '60s. The Mandaeans were also forced to abandon their stands on the cutting of hair and forced military service, which are strictly prohibited in Mandaenism.[16]

The 2003 Iraq War brought more troubles to the Mandaeans, as the security situation deteriorated. Many members of the Mandaean community, who were known as goldsmiths, were targeted by criminal gangs for ransoms. The rise of Islamic Extremism forced thousands to flee the country, after they were given the choice of conversion or death.[17] It is estimated that around 90% of Iraqi Mandaeans were either killed or have fled after the American-led invasion.[17]

The Mandaeans of Iran lived chiefly in Ahvaz, Iranian Khuzestan, but have moved as a result of the Iraq-Iran War to other cities such as Tehran, Karaj and Shiraz. The Mandaeans, who were traditionally considered as People of the Book (members of a protected religion under Islamic rule) lost this status after the Islamic Revolution. Local authorities in Iranian Islamic Republic are known to encourage harassment and persecution of the Mandaeans.[18]


Mandaeans in Iraq

Template:See The pre-Iraq War Iraqi Mandaean community was centered around Baghdad. Mandaean emigration from Iraq began during Saddam Hussein's rule, but accelerated greatly after the American-led invasion and subsequent occupation.[19] Since the invasion Mandaeans, like other Iraqi ethno-religious minorities (such as Assyrians, Armenians, Yazidi, Roma and Shabaks), have been subjected to violence, including murders, kidnappings, rapes, evictions, and forced conversions.[19][20] Mandaeans, like many other Iraqis, have also been targeted for kidnapping since many worked as goldsmiths.[19] Mandaeism is pacifistic and forbids its adherents from carrying weapons.[19][21]

Many Iraqi Mandaeans have fled the country in the face of this violence, and the Mandaean community in Iraq faces extinction.[22][23] Out of the over 60,000 Mandaeans in Iraq in the early 1990s, only about 5,000 to 7,000 remain there; as of early 2007, more than 80% of Iraqi Mandaeans were refugees in Syria and Jordan as a result of the Iraq War.

Iranian Mandaeans

The number of Iranian Mandaeans is a matter of dispute. In 2009, there were an estimated 5,000 and 10,000 Mandaeans in Iran, according to the Associated Press.[3] Whereas Alarabiya has put the number of Iranian Mandaeans as high as 60,000 in 2011.[24]

Until the Iranian Revolution, Mandaeans had mainly been concentrated in the Khuzestan province, where the community used to exist by side with the local Arab population. They had mainly been practising the profession of goldsmith, passing it from generation to generation.[24] After the fall of the shah, its members faced increased religious discrimination, and many sought a new home in Europe and the Americas.

In Iran, the Gozinesh Law (passed in 1985) has the effect of prohibiting Mandaeans from fully participating in civil life. This law and other gozinesh provisions make access to employment, education, and a range of other areas conditional upon a rigorous ideological screening, the principal prerequisite for which is devotion to the tenets of Islam.[25] These laws are regularly applied to discriminate against religious and ethnic groups that are not officially recognized, such as the Mandaeans, Ahl-e Haq, and Baha'i.[26]

In 2002 the US State Department granted Iranian Mandaeans protective refugee status; since then roughly 1,000 have emigrated to the US,[3] now residing in cities such as San Antonio, Texas.[27] On the other hand, the Mandaean community in Iran has increased over the last decade, because of the exodus from Iraq of the main Mandaean community, which used to be 60,000–70,000 strong.

Other countries in the Middle East

Following the Iraq War, the Mandaean community dispersed throughout the Middle East. Living as refugees the Mandaeans in Jordan number 49 families,[1] while in Syria the are as many as 1,250 families.[1] Some Mandaeans might also have reached the Gulf countries.


There are small Mandaean diaspora populations in Sweden (c. 7,000), Australia (c. 3,500 as of 2006), the USA (c. 1,500), the UK (c. 1,000), and Canada.[28][22][29][30][31][32] Sweden became a popular destination because a Mandaean community existed there before the war and the Swedish government has a liberal asylum policy toward Iraqis. Of the 7000 Mandaeans in Sweden, 1,500 live in Södertälje.[33][34] The scattered nature of the Mandaean diaspora has raised fears among Mandaeans for the religion's survival. Mandaeism has no provision for conversion, and the religious status of Mandaeans who marry outside the faith and their children is disputed.[3][20]

The contemporary status of the Mandaeans has prompted a number of American intellectuals and civil rights activists to call upon the U.S. government to extend refugee status to the community. In 2007, The New York Times ran an op-ed piece in which Swarthmore professor Nathaniel Deutsch called for the Bush administration to take immediate action to preserve the community:

The United States didn’t set out to eradicate the Mandeans, one of the oldest, smallest and least understood of the many minorities in Iraq. This extinction in the making has simply been another unfortunate and entirely unintended consequence of our invasion of Iraq—though that will be of little comfort to the Mandeans, whose 2,000-year-old culture is in grave danger of disappearing from the face of the earth. . . . . When American forces invaded in 2003, there were probably 60,000 Mandeans in Iraq; today, fewer than 5,000 remain. . . . Of the mere 500 Iraqi refugees who were allowed into the United States from April 2003 to April 2007, only a few were Mandeans. And despite the Bush administration’s commitment to let in 7,000 refugees in the fiscal year that ended [September 30, 2007], fewer than 2,000, including just three Iraqi Mandean families, entered the country. If all Iraqi Mandeans are granted privileged status and allowed to enter the United States in significant numbers, it may just be enough to save them and their ancient culture from destruction. If not, after 2,000 years of history, of persecution and tenacious survival, the last Gnostics will finally disappear, victims of an extinction inadvertently set into motion by our nation’s negligence in Iraq.
—Nathaniel Deutsch, professor of religion, Swarthmore CollegeOctober 7, 2007[35]

Iraqi Mandaeans were given refugee status by the US State Department in 2007. Since then around 1200 have entered the US.[3] Many Mandaeans have began returning to Iraq during the past two years, as the circumstances in Iraq have improved.


Main article: Mandaic language

The Mandaic language is an eastern dialect of Aramaic, although its alphabet is unique.[36] It has mainly survived as a liturgical language.

See also



  • E. S. Drower, The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2002 reprint, 1937).
  • E. S. Drower, The Secret Adam: A Study of Nasoraean Gnosis (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960).
  • Edwin M. Yamauchi, Mandaic Incantation Texts (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2005 reprint, 1967).
  • Edwin M. Yamauchi, Gnostic Ethics and Mandaean Origins (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2004 reprint, 1970).
  • Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism (San Francisco: Harper, 1987) pages 343–366.
  • Edmondo Lupieri, The Mandaeans: The Last Gnostics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).
  • Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley, The Great Stem of Souls: Reconstruction Mandaean History (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2005).

External links

  • – Mandaean Associations Union
  • – resources of the language of the Mandaeans.
  • Mandaean Scriptures and Fragments
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.