The Mandaeans, a still-existing Gnostic sect of ancient origin that Elizabeth Kendall of the World Evangelical Alliance calls the “first cousins to Christians,” are being persecuted by Shiite Muslims in Iraq. Few, of course, have noticed. Five Mandaean houses of worship have been closed by Muslims in Iraq in the past few months. Several fatwas by Shiite clergy have been issues against the Mandaeans since the fall of the Hussein regime, stating that they are unclean people. Since they are not technically “People of the Book” — who enjoy a specific (although still inferior) status in Islamic law — they are more vulnerable than even Christians and Jews.
There have also been several horrendous murders by Muslim mobs against
Mandaean men and a number of rapes of Mandaean women. They are particularly vulnerable while celebrating their liturgy, as it includes frequent baptisms by rivers. So, their mandis (their houses of worship) must always be by rivers and they are visible — and therefore vulnerable — while performing their baptism rituals, wrapped in white cloths with white hoods.
Also, their cultural patrimony is being destroyed. Here is a recent firsthand account of their plight, forwarded to me by Fr. Keith Roderick:
“The MandÃ¦ans have a vast literature in Aramaic, written in MandÃ¦ic script. Much of this literature is very ancient. The man usually thought to be the most ancient MandÃ¦an scribe, Zazai of Gawazta, is datable to around the year AD 270. Recent research in the colophons of MandÃ¦an manuscripts dates a woman scribe, Slama daughter of Qidra, to approximately AD 200. The MandÃ¦an Holy Book, the GINZA (Treasury), contains the teachings of John the Baptist. For two millenia, the Ginza has been transcribed by MandÃ¦an priests, always in the same format. The Ginza is separated into a right and left part, Ginza Right and Ginza Left, and the two parts are organized in such a way that on reaching the end of Right Ginza, a reader must turn the volume upside down to read Ginza Left. The two parts face each other in the manner of two inscribed bowls enclosing the text within. Some scholars think that this may very well be the Ginza’s model, for traditional MandÃ¦an inscribed clay bowls are often found buried in this same fashion. The Ginza does not incorporate the Old Testament but does include much related to it. For example, the Ginza includes an interesting recension of psalm 114, which some scholars have argued preserves the original better than does the Massoretic Text (while other scholars have not accepted that view). On 19 December this year the MandÃ¦an Church will celebrate their Commemoration of Noah. Tractate 8 of Right Ginza is words of wisdom of John the Baptist, a fascinating document which I hope (D.V.) to do some work on next year. The Ginza is always a codex, as is the Drasia d-Iahia, while other MandÃ¦an books are commonly scrolls. Christians early adopted the codex form exclusively for their Scriptures and other books, while Jews continued to use scrolls exclusively. MandÃ¦ans continue to use both forms. The Ginza contains significant parallels and points of contact with both the Old Testament and the New Testament, particularly in tractate GR 8, which is made up of words of wisdom from John the Baptist.
“Supplementary to the Ginza is the Drasia d-Iahia, (sometimes called Book of
the Angels) which, besides much else, also contains some material attributed to John the Baptist. This appears to be later than the Ginza. The Qolasta is the canonical prayer book of the MandÃ¦ans. It includes interesting references to John the Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth and her cousin Mary. Most MandÃ¦an manuscripts remain in MandÃ¦an hands in Iraq and Iran. These include many works unknown in the West. We fear that these may now be destroyed by Muslims. Three days ago a heartbroken MandÃ¦an priest was telling me how his beloved library of 20,000 books, including 40 esoteric MandÃ¦an manuscripts with wonderful MandÃ¦an artwork, had been destroyed by Shi’ite Muslims shortly after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. The MandÃ¦an Corpus should be seen as part of the cultural inheritance of mankind. Its destruction by ignorant Muslim fanatics would be a loss to all humanity.”