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Mandaeans

'The Madai are not counted as belonging to Ruha and her seven Sons because there are amongst them (those) of Hibil Ziwa.'

John is brought to Jerusalem, where, apparently, there was a community from the Mountain of the Madai:

'And Anush 'Uthra brought him and came with him to the city of Jerusalem, amongst the community (kinta d kanat) founded by Ruha. All of them belonged to her and to her sons except those from the Mountain of the Madai.'

There is no account of John's baptism of Christ (as in the Drasha d Yahya), or of John's baptism of Manda-d-Hiia: indeed, the expression 'Manda-d-Hiia' is not used throughout. John is represented as teacher, baptist, and healer: 'he taught disciples (tarmid tarmidia)', and 'set the broken going upon their legs'.

Sixty years after his death, the manuscript relates, there was a persecution of Nasurai in Jerusalem, 'so that there did not escape of the disciples and Nasurai a man'. The escape of a remnant is indicated. The Jews in their turn were harried, and many of them driven 'by a flail' to a place called Suf Zaba ('stream of reeds') later glossed as 'Basra'. This migration is embroidered by the 'historian' with detail from the ancient flight from Egypt, as he describes a miraculous passage through the waters (of the marshes? Suf Zaba is evidently here the reedy marsh region of the Basrah district). No pursuing host is mentioned.

With the help of Ruha, the 'Yahutaiia' (here Chaldeans) built a strong new city with seven walls, 'each more magnificent than its fellow'. This city ('Baghdad') is destroyed utterly later by the powers of light, aided by the 'Madai' and seven guards (natria) from 'Mount Parwan'. A descendant of King Ardban is set up in 'Baghdad', and his rule established over the four corners of the world. Satraps are set up over the provinces, and these all have Mandaean names. This rule is throughly approved of by the Powers of Light.

Next comes a description of the destruction of Jerusalem by the powers of light.

'He (Anush 'Uthra) went and burnt and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and killed the Beni Israel (bnia Sriil) and the priests (kahnia) of Jerusalem and made it like mounds of ruins (akwath tilia d habarawatha).'

The period of prosperity in Babylonia is followed by divisions, many races, tongues and wars. The Hardabaiia (or harba baiia, 'seeking war'?) take the power from the descendants of Ardban and their king rules '360 years', till the Arab era.

The writer, however, is less concerned with invaders and rulers, such as the Hardabaiia, than with a split within the ranks of the Nasuraiia themselves. He chronicles a large settlement of Nasuraiia at Tib (i.e. the well-watered lowlands between the marshes of the Amarah Liwa and the Jebel Hamrin), and describes how, eighty-six years before the Moslem invasion, one Qibel, a rish 'ama (religious chief) of the Nasurai, was deluded by Ruha disguised as a spirit of light, so that he, together with his priests and many others, fell away from the true faith and wrote 'writings' inspired by the powers of darkness. That this was still a powerful heresy appears from the exhortations of the writer to avoid contact with these schismatics and to burn and destroy their works.

After this, the coming of the Arabs appears a minor disaster. Muhammad is sometimes termed 'Son of Harm, the Arab', and sometimes 'Muhammad, son of 'Abdallah'.

The writer relates how one 'Anush son of Danqa' 'from the mountains of Arsaiia' (mn tura d Arsaiia-tura is used for mountainous country as well as 'mount') approached the Arab king (malka) and explained to him that the Mandaeans had valuable and holy writings and an ancient religion. Thus he won protection for his co-religionists.

Here ends the relation of the past, and prophecy for the future begins-ending with the ultimate confusion of the Arabs, the reign of the false Messiah, the eventual return of Anush 'Uthra, and then, a final debacle before the end of the world under the domination of 'Amatit, daughter of Qin'.

The importance of the document lies in the implication that the Nasurai are identical with the Parthians, since the latter correspond most nearly with the bnia d bnia d Ardban Malka, who came from the Tura d Madai. That this was a mountainous country and stretched to Harran is clearly indicated, also, that not all the 'Madai' were Nasurai. Noteworthy also is the fact that the expression 'Manda d Hiia' does not occur, nor the expression 'Mandai' for Mandaeans. It may be argued that 'Madai' refers to the Mandaeans, but in that case, Mandaean cannot mean 'gnostic' but refers to nationality.

I had long been concerned with this question of origins. When I questioned the priests and got the answer 'We came from the North', I did not attach much literal value to the answer, for dwellers in the Middle East cannot distinguish between religion and race, and the divine ancestors naturally resided in the north, the seat of the gods.

But there seemed something more than this in their refusal to acknowledge Lower Iraq as the original home of the race. There is an arrogance, almost worthy of the present 'Nordic' propaganda, about the following, culled from the seventh fragment of the eleventh book of the Ginza Rba:

'All the word calls the north a highland and the south a lowland. For the worlds of darkness lie in the lowlands of the South....Whose dwelleth in the North is light of colour but those who live in the lowlands are black and their appearance is ugly like demons.'

Pinned down to detail, the Mandaean priests produced a hotch potch of legend and tradition, but the Mountain of the Maddai always figured in their accounts. When I pressed for information as to its whereabouts, answers differed. Some thought it must be identical with Mshunia Kushta, that ideal world which corresponds to our own. Others were more precise. 'It is, I think, in Iran, for Madia is in Iran.' One priest ventured, 'Some say the Tura d Maddai is in Turkestan, and I have heard that the Arabs call it Jebel Tai.' Significant was the remark of another Subbi when speaking of baptism: 'the Subba of old time were with the Persians in a place where there were springs which were hot in winter and cold in summer.' The Mountain of the Mandai described in one of the legends has an equable climate and hot springs. Less direct evidence is furnished by the references, so common in the texts, to 'black water' which 'burns like fire'. This can be nothing else but the black oil seepages and outcrops of burning oil and gas so common in oil-bearing districts.

Oddly enough, the priests do not place the creation of man in the north. Adam, the First Man, they say, was in Serandib (Ceylon). Still more inexplicable is the assertion that the Egyptians were co-religionists, and that the original ancestors of the Mandaean race went from Egypt to the Tura d Madai. Yearly, a ritual meal is eaten in memory of the Egyptian hosts who perished in the waters when following the wicked Jews. This story must come through some Israelitish source, and one is inclined to wonder if that portion of the Israelites who were taken captive by Sargon were in truth settled near the Caspian, converted to Mazdaism, and merged into the people of the district, as some have suggested.

However, legend, tradition, and the Haran Gawaitha point all in one direction, namely, that at one time a community whose beliefs approximated to those held by the Mandaeans, inhabited a mountainous country to the north, that this country stood in some relation to Harran, that a sect in Jerusalem which afterwards emigrated to the south were of the same faith, and that Maddai or Mandai originally had no reference to religion. Further, it appears not only from the narrative of the Haran Gawaitha but, as I shall show in this book, from all the cults and the ideas which underlie them, that the faith held by all these people was in fact closely related to Mazdaism, or to early Zoroastrianism, as well as to some ancient Babylonian cults.

I now approach, with some diffidence, a series of philological and historical coincidences. What does 'Madai' or 'Mandai' mean? In the extract from the Haran Gawaitha quoted above, the expression 'they built mandis and dwelt' is used. To-day, the ordinary cult-hut, called in the literary language mashkhana (dwelling), is known in ratna (colloquial modern Mandaean) as the 'mandi'. In the roll 'Sharh d Parwanaia' (D.C. 24) the cult-hut is called the manda. Priests explain, 'the word is Persian and means a dwelling'. The word occurs again in a compound from in the term mandilta (mand-ilta), the name of the curious triple betyl erected in the courtyard of a house where a member of the familly has died, the meaning here being obviously 'dwelling-of-the-spirit', or 'dwelling-of-the-god'.

Now on the strength of similarities of religious phraseology in Syriac and Aramaic, 'Manda d Hiia' has hitherto been translated 'knowledge of life', i.e. gnosis; and by analogy, 'Mandai' as 'gnostics'. As Prof. Pallis has already pointed out, the form would be an imported one. The word for 'knowledge' in Mandaean literature is madita, yadutha, madda or madihtha, and nowhere is the n imported into any form of the verb 'ada, 'to know'. Why is this? Moreover, when separated from the name 'Manda d Hiia' the translation as 'knowledge' or 'gnosis' becomes a little strained, as in the sentence:

'Thou (Manda d Hiia) art... the great Tree which is all mandia' (plural)'. The Tree is a common religious symbol in Mandaean books for Divine Life, and the souls of Mandaeans are not seldom represented as birds, taking refuge in the shelter of a Vine, or Tree, against the tempests of the world. Here, to translate the word mandia by 'dwellings' or 'shelters' would make sense.

There was actually a district known as Manda in late Babylonian times; Winckler in Untersuchungen zur altorientalischen Geschichte 1889, p.112, places this 'Manda', 'am kaspischen Meere und oestlich davon'. Nevertheless, the whereabouts of the province is not certain. About 553 b.c. (see the Cambridge Ancient History, vol. iii, p. 220), the god Marduk, appearing to Nabonidus in a dream, bade him restore the ancient and famous moon-temple of Harran. The king urged that it was still in the hands of the Umman-Manda, and asked how could a Babylonian king-

'interfere with their share of the spoil obtained by Cyaxares? The god answered that the Umman-Manda were dead or scattered, for in the third year of Nabonidus, Cyrus, the king of Anzan, had defeated them, carried Ishtumegu (Astyages) into captivity and had spoiled their city of Ecbatana.'

Ecbatana is the modern Hamadan. Winckler surmises that the Umman-Manda were possibly a Median tribe. R.W. Rogers, in his A History of Ancient Persia (p. 12), ventures to equate the Manda with the Madai, or Medes. Delattre (Le Peuple et l'empire des Medes, 1883, p. 195), says:

In the Babylon inscription under the name of Cyrus, the king of all far east devides his subjects , in three categories, people of Quti or Guti, people of Tsalmat-qaqqadi, and people of Manda. The Quti People were from Armenia, people of Tsalmat-qaqqadi were the whole nation under roule of Semitic Empire of Niniv and Babylon. The people of Manda were the subjects of Medes King . Nabonide gave Astyage the title "the King Of Manda men" . The nomination of Manda men was applied by Asarhaddon of Gimirriens (Gimmirriens were people of Gomer, which is on the Black Sea shore )which bible assigns the affinity with Medes and help them to demolish and collaps the empire of Ninive.looking at all these aspects, Could we come to this conclusion that the name of 'people of Manda' was an ethnic attribute chose for Aryen people neighbours of Caucase, such as Cimmeriens, and also for the people of Iran.

The word manda occurs in several Iranian dialects, or languages in which Iranian words occur; for instance, in northern India the word mandi means a 'covered-in market' or 'bazaar'. In Gujarati there is the word mandap or mandava, meaning a 'shed' or 'temple', derived from the Sanskrit mandapa with the same meaning. The Todas of the Nilgiris in southern India, who have a tradition of migration from the Caspian, call their village, or group of thatched huts with a dairy for the sacred buffaloes, a mand. Ma-da occurs in Sumerian as meaning 'land, or settlement' (philologists arc undecided as to whether Semitic matu is related to it or not. Does Mada lead us back to the Medes?)

Philology is a quicksand for all who are not philologists, and I do not venture, therefore, to do more than ask those who are qualified, if it is, or is not, possible, that the word mada or manda originally had the meaning of a 'settlement', 'dwelling-place', or 'shelter', and indicated a building or collection of buildings in contrast to the temporary erections of wandering tribes.

Were this so, Manda-d-hiia would mean something equivalent to 'House-of-the-Life', or 'Indwelling-of-Life' and would be a personification (once again) of the group-spirit of Man, whose body is the tenement of the soul. Or, as was suggested by Lidzbarski in the case of another Mandaean light-being, he might be a personification of race. I can only leave it to others to unravel the trangled mass of clues which I have here laid before them.

Against the theory that the Mandaeans came from the north, as Prof. Burkitt points out, is their language.

Noeldeke stated Mandaean to be a Babylonian dialect:
'Mandaean is closely related to the ordinary dialect of the Babylonian Talmud. Both the dialects are neighbours, geographically speaking... actually, we may assume that the language of the Babylonian Talmud was that used in Upper, and Mandaean that used in Lower Babylonia.' (N., pp. xxv ff.)

Elsewhere he wrote:
'Close relationship between Mandaean and the Talmudic language is apparent throughout the grammar: the Mandaean, however, appears to be a later from than the Talmudic, but not throughout, for the Mandaean texts are purer linguistically and not so mixed with foreign elements, and represent the Aramaic speech of Babylon better than the Talmud. Had the Arabs preserved for us something more than a few accidentally introduced words of the dialect of the Iraqi Nabateans, (i.e. the Aramaic-speaking inhabitants of Babylonia), we should again find the main features of Mandaitic and Talmudic, and far more clearly than is now possible.' (N., p. xxvi.)

The lack of gutturals in Mandaean, the frequent confusion between s and sh, s and z, k and q are paralleled to some extent in the old Babylonian language, but the fact that one h is made to do duty for the hard and soft Semitic h does seem to indicate that the tongue was at one time foreign to the people who spoke it, or that there were considerable Aryan (if one dare use so abused a word), or non-Semitic elements. There is, in fact, a soft h, but as it is used exclusively and only for the third person suffix, and pronounced i or a, according to gender and number, it cannot be counted in.

Leaving the doubtful question of origins, and turning to the history of the race in Iraq, the Sabians are mentioned three times in the Qur'an in conjunction with Jews and Christians, as people of a recognized religion. I have referred already to the Arab sources of information gathered by Chwolson in his monumental work. He gives a full account of the brilliant Sabian scholars of the Baghdad Court. Greek learning first became accessible to Europe through Arab translations of the classics, and amongst the first translators into Arabic were Harranian Sabians at the Caliph's capital city. Physicians, astrologers, philosophers, and poets, the Sabians were an adornment to Arab civilization and helped to found its fame.

Abstracted from : Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran, E.S. Drower, Leiden, 1962

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