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Mandaeism (wikipedia.org)
83 points by mr_golyadkin on May 21, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 41 comments

Oh hey, I was raised Mandaean. Neither of my parents spoke the language and were some of the first immigrants to America so I didn't really participate in the community much. A priest visited the area in my youth and I was baptized.

Later in life I came into possession of a translated copy of the Ginza Rba. It's a pretty cool holy book, lots of interesting symbolism and mystery. Light and darkness intermingle in interesting ways in these texts. Since most of the significance of these religious elements is taught priest-to-priest and through oral traditions I did not take part of, it's difficult to examine it more deeply.

Although I don't practice religion these days, on occasion I'll reflexively mutter a prayer under my breath. In a more secular light, being a Mandaean strongly informed my material circumstances due to geopolitics and I'm always struck by the weirdness of being part of a dwindling ethnic group swept up by the tides of history.

I'm mandaean as well if anyone is interested in asking anything

It's almost always fascinating to listen to a spiritual/philosophic teacher representing a distinct tradition you have not encountered before. Even if you are not a spiritual teacher, might you perhaps share some interesting details of the Mandaean world view, philosophy, practices and society? I believe the majority of people here have Christian/Judaic/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist cultural background, could you possibly name some things that make your religion/culture different and that can teach others something new, cool and wise? Some interesting concepts and/or quotes by some renowned Mandaean scholars or some Mandaean proverbs perhaps?

The Wikipedia article suggests that Mandaeans haven't liked to discuss their religious beliefs and traditions with outsiders, but then sort of goes on to reflect a lot of variation in this.

Do you have a sense of how this impulse toward secrecy has worked over time, what's motivated it, and how Mandaeans might understand it today? Are there other Mandaeans you know of who might be unhappy that you're happy to talk about the tradition with strangers on an Internet forum?

How unified do you think different Mandaean communities have been in their beliefs and practices?

I think there are 2 reasons (for me at least) for why Mandaeans don't like to discuss their religion.

1. The lack of need for evangelicalism, unlike most religions, you can't become a Mandaean unless you're born with it, other religions want to spread their message to expand. 2. In Iraq (when I was living there at least) Mandaeans were very much prosecuted for being Mandaeans, a lot of them didn't identify as Mandaean in public for fear of being ostracised or prosecuted. Eg. a lot of my relatives that had restaurants/cafes would have to lie about their religion to be able to sell, Muslims wouldn't buy from us otherwise.

I'm not sure how unified Mandaeans are right now, there are different communities in every country, where I live (UK) there's a small number of Mandaeans (around 1000) where there is almost no community, this is the case in most countries, we're pretty much spread out all over the world where's there's a 1000 people in Norway, 1000 in the States, it's really to create a sense of community when the people are so sparsed out. The internet (Facebook especially where there are pages/groups that have tens of thousands of Mandaeans together) is the only thing that brings us together, for example when sending Eid (similar to Christmas) greetings and so on.

Anything us outsiders can do to help keep your community going?

Don't think so. The biggest problem facing us is because we're so sparsed out, it's become a lot harder for our people to marry from each other, and anyone who marries from outside (non-mandaean) is no longer considered Mandaean. A lot of Mandaeans in Europe have to marry from outside so our numbers have been decreasing - I think one solution would be for our religion to start accepting people from outside to become Mandaean (this is hard, our religion is immutable and doesn't accept such change) or the other solution for all of us to be together in one region (before most mandaeans were in either Iraq or Iran)

The Samaritans have started accepting marriages with Jews and the resulting children, and that's a pretty recent development. No idea how Mandaeans to find a way around their scriptures though, but I don't think the leaders can insist on an interpretation of their scriptures that mandates extinction.

I would be curious to hear what geographic regions your parents hail from, if you don't mind sharing. Thanks!

One lived in Iraq and the other lived in Iran. I prefer not to be more specific.

Wow, surprised I get to see this on the front page of Hacker News. Gnostic sects are quite interesting. I've seen a good handful jaded ex-religious people who turned to Gnostic beliefs because of their dissatisfaction with modern religion, since they believe that Gnosticism is more "philosophical".

The Gnostics were hated during their times by the Neoplatonists for their over-emphasis on theurgy (religious rituals focused on awakening), and they were rejected by mainstream Christians after the first Ecumenical Council for being heretics (Gnostics believe that matter is intrinsically evil; orthodox Nicene Christians, in contrast, believe that matter is a "lesser good").

It seems that, from this article, Mandaeism also has some dualistic tendencies (believing that the world is a prison for the soul; and that the world was created by a god of Darkness). It's also quite radical to me that they consider Jesus, Abraham, and Moses to be false prophets, and that the Holy Spirit is an evil creature.

If you are interested in Gnosticism, you may be even more interested in simply reading the Neoplatonic philosophy of Plotinus and Proclus; or you might be interested in the early Christian theurgical writings of Pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor. I think that these traditions are more internally consistent than Gnosticism.

Gnosticism is mostly just Greek Neoplatonism filtered through older near eastern religions.

Really multiple waves of Greek philosophy swept through the near and Middle East after Alexander, leaving new religions in its wake — including mainstream Christianity.

It seems eerily reminiscent of those terrible passages in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus warns of those of those who "shall not be forgiven", "either in this age or in the age to come". https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+12:22-3... It's almost tempting to think that the author of that gospel knew about Mandaeism and put those passages in there specifically to discourage it.

I wonder why a religion that seems to have always been from around-about southern Iraq is so concerned with the prophets out of Jewish history.

It makes sense if the religion appeared fairly late, so that Roman Christians could make that history a big thing that others pay attention too. But it is more puzzling if the Mandaens are pre-Christian as they seem to claim.

Other possibilities are (a) Judaism itself is was bigger deal among non-Jews than I imagined or (b) it's a selection effect under Islam: people who happened to revere Jewish prophets could make a strong claim to being "People of the Book" and were thus allowed to keep their religion.

The Jewish people were dispersed when Israel was conquered, first by Assyria and then by Babylon (modern day Iraq). This led to the exile (diaspora).

In addition to the people the ideas were dispersed. A good example of this are the magi who come to visit the young Jesus following an astrological sign - an odd mix of Jewish and Persian syncretism.

During Roman times Jews could be found all over the Roman Empire. In particular Alexandria, which was a center for scholastic thought (see philo)

So it doesn't seem a stretch that religions may have been influenced by Judaism fairly early.

Due to the exile, the Jewish people were widely dispersed throughout the entirety of the Roman Imperial era [1], even more so after the suppression of the revolts. So regardless of whether Mandaeism is pre-Christian or not, Judaism must have been nearby. Especially in Babylon.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_diaspora#Dispersion_of_...

Mandaeans are heavily persecuted in Iran and much of the rest of the Middle East. Here's the story of a colleague of mine:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gb5SoJdEnA (13 min, but well worth it)


I’m interested in these, older, yet still active lesser known religions.

Aside from this I’m aware of the Ahmadiyya and Baha’is (offshoots of Islam, but with distinct founders claiming to bring a revelation). They’re in the 5 to 10 million range. And Jainism of course, but that seems to be a little better known.

Then there’s Zoroastrianism and Yazdânism with under 1 million.

Does anyone have a complete list of these smaller religions?

For the Near Eastern landscape, you might also be interested in





I first found out about the Karaites when I asked a theologian why there was no Jewish equivalent to the Protestant notion of "sola scriptura". It turns out that there is. :-)

There are also some parts of Eastern Christianity that aren't very familiar to many westerners, like Syriac Christians.



Don't forget the Yazidis


The other commenter already mentioned "Yazdânism", which Wikipedia considers to include Yazidism. :-)


I also found this article about the Mandaeans in Massachusetts:


> The religion does not allow for conversion to the faith. If a Mandaean man or woman marries someone who is not part of the religion, the couple’s children are not considered to be Mandaeans.

That’s interesting. Seems like the religion is “doomed” to forever remain that of a small and shrinking minority.

I guess they think they have this covered:

"Mandaeans believe in marriage and procreation"

But this article speaks precisely to your statment: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-11-16/news/081116007...

That's obviously not inevitable, seeing as that the population of Mandaeans grew and existed for more than a millennium. It just sets a constraint between fertility and the rate of outside marriage.

This is also true of some ultra orthodox sects of judaism that are thriving.

Can you name the sect? I was raised as an Ultra-Orthodox Jew and this is not normative.

The Syrian Jews in Brooklyn, New York are near-impossible to convert into. I don't see it as inconceivable some other sect banned it altogether.

They do marry other Jews or descendants of converts from other courts, they just don't marry converts or convert using their own courts. Therefore they are not a real endogamous population.

Also, the edict is only since 1937, they were accepting converts earlier than that. So fundamentally they aren't a success story - they haven't been doing this very long.

> They do marry other Jews

Other Jews can marry in, but even this is limited. The majority of self-identifying Jews in the US would not have the qualifications to marry in. Any how, they are an insular community.

From TFW:

"Mandaeism or Mandaeanism (Arabic: مندائية‎ Mandāʼīyah) is a gnostic religion[1]:4 with a strongly dualistic worldview. Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enos, Noah, Shem, Aram, and especially John the Baptist. The Aramaic manda means "knowledge", as does Greek gnosis.[2][3]

"According to most scholars, Mandaeaism originated sometime in the first three centuries AD,[4] in Mesopotamia.[citation needed] They are Semites and speak a dialect of Eastern Aramaic known as Mandaic. There is a theory that they may be related to the Nabateans who were pre-Islamic pagan Arabs[5] whose territory extended into southern Iraq.[6]

"The religion has been practised primarily around the lower Karun, Euphrates and Tigris and the rivers that surround the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, part of southern Iraq and Khuzestan Province in Iran. There are thought to be between 60,000 and 70,000 Mandaeans worldwide.[7] Until the 2003 Iraq war, almost all of them lived in Iraq.[8] Many Mandaean Iraqis have since fled their country because of the turmoil created by the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation by U.S. armed forces, and the related rise in sectarian violence by Muslim extremists.[9] By 2007, the population of Mandaeans in Iraq had fallen to approximately 5,000.[8]

"The Mandaeans have remained separate and intensely private. Reports of them and of their religion have come primarily from outsiders: particularly from Julius Heinrich Petermann, a scholar in Iranian studies,[citation needed] as well as from Nicolas Siouffi, a Syrian Christian who was the French vice-consul in Mosul in 1887,[10][11] and British cultural anthropologist Lady E. S. Drower."

Why did you copy and paste the article?

Because, in practice, a lot of people commenting don't actually read the article. As a convenience I've copied the opening paragraphs from the Wikipedia article. Is that against HN rules / norms?

Because, in practice, a lot of people commenting don't actually read the article.

Someone else made a habit of doing this a few months ago, with an almost word-for-word excuse as yours. They were asked to quit doing it. At best, based on empirical evidence, you'll just invite a flurry of downvotes.

Not against per se, but this serves little to no purpose and just adds noise to the comments.

Wait but what? Why is a religon being posted to HN?

The test of a good HN submission is intellectual interest, and there's plenty of that here.


Why is just a wikipedia page posted?

Many interesting Wikipedia pages have been posted over the years.


A lot of Wikipedia pages are posted to HN. I learned something new today. It's interesting.

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