by James Bean
Copyright August 2005Website Review: The Mandaean Scriptures: http://bit.ly/VUobuM
In the 1970’s, professor Kurt Rudolph wrote his definitive book on the nature and history of the Gnostic religion called, “Gnosis.” In the chapter titled, “A Relic: the Mandaeans,” he recorded that at the time there were only about 15,000 Mandaeans left, in places like Basra, Bagdad, as well as in the marshland areas in southern Iraq and Iran. They practice the ritual of baptism in “rivers of living water” and thus, many of them live near the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
The Prophet Mohammed called them “Sabians,” i.e. “baptists or “baptizers,” a name which occurs in the Quran and which enabled them to continue under Islam. John the Baptist is one of the greatest prophets of the Mandaean religion. According to scholars of Mandaean studies like Werner Foerster, indeed the origins of the Mandaeans do go back to the Jewish tradition of first century AD Palestine and the region of the Jordan River.
The term “Mandaeans” literally means, “possessors of secret spiritual Knowledge or Gnosis.” These days, there are some Mandaeans living in the US, Australia, and other Western nations. This has now lead to the establishment of websites about this rare faith left over from antiquity. The Mandaean scriptures available online include texts such as the Canonical Prayerbook, the Book of John the Baptist, also many, many prayers and psalms of great beauty. I have found some passages in the Mandaean scriptures which really do resemble modern-day near-death experiences, making these old Aramaic writings – the fragments of a faith forgotten authored by souls “embraced by the Light” long ago – to be some of the most fascinating I’ve ever encountered.