Friday, May 28, 2021


I was curious about the Mandaeans. I'd heard they consider John the Baptist to be the Messiah.

That seems not to be an ideal description of them. They regard him as the last and greatest of the prophets, but I don't think John would recognize them.

They're the last of the ancient gnostics. Baptism is an important weekly ritual. They have a curious sacred book--the Ginza Rba, which is divided into two parts: a Right and Left Ginza, printed on alternate pages upside-down wrt each other. The Right's current version seems to date from "early Islamic" era; the Left's is much older. If you want a sample: The Book of John the Baptist is a collection of "proverbs", such as straightforward ones like "The first of your care is: know your account and then speak." and "The unjust is like a pomegranate, showing a resplendent face from the outside, but inside is full of mold." and some that are confusing "The words of the wise man at the gates are like pearls on a pig." I gather that "at the gates" has to do with the gates of ignorance and evil--did I mention that they are gnostics?

Their funeral ceremonies--The Mandaean į¹¬abahata Masiqta--are complex, involving raisins in water, a pigeon, and many rituals, some of which seem vaguely Egyptian (they have an opening of the mouth, etc). This is a diagram of part of the ceremony. The new body is in the Light-world, of course.

Apparently a Mandaean who marries outside the faith is deemed to have left it, and nobody is allowed to convert into it, so it's a strictly ethnic religion at this point--and a persecuted one.

If you are curious about what the ancient pagan rituals were like, you could do worse than read that funeral exposition. It seems so wildly different from what you usually think of when you hear "gnostic" that I wonder if it came from merging two different religions--maybe a long forgotten compromise. "We aren't going to choose between the old cult and the new elite gnostics--we'll do both"


Korora said...

I read "Gospel" of Thomas. Note; in case anyone complains, the format of the work is anecdotal and there is therefore no immediate context to take these passages out of. And as for the cultural context, those passages that are intelligible are either alterations to actual quotes by Jesus or else treating the voice of fashion as the voice of God.

7. "Jesus said: 'Blessed is the lion which the man shall eat, and the lion become man; and cursed is the man whom the lion shall eat, and the lion become man.'"

42. "Jesus said: 'Become passers-by.'"
That could be interpreted any number of different ways.

114. "Simon Peter said to them: 'Let Mary go forth from among us, for women are not worthy of the life.' Jesus said: 'Behold, I shall lead her, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.'"
Oooooooooooookay. I sense a bait-and-switch on Satan's part with the whole Gnosticism-liberates-women claim.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Fascinating group. some of their overall division into World of Light and World of Darkness sound like the writings of the Essenes. though this dualism is in a lot of religions in the area, including Zoroastrianism and Manicheism.

As for other gospels and writings in general, because everything was by word of mouth beliefs could morph quickly, but once something was written it was regarded as extremely solid, often magical.