This article is about the Middle Eastern ethno-religious group. For the Gnostic religious belief, see Mandaeism.

Mandeans praying in Ahvaz, Iran, 2013
Total population
60,000[1] to 70,000[2]
Regions with significant populations
 Iraq 10,000[3]
 Iran 5,000 to 10,000 (2009)[4]
 Jordan 49 families[1]
 Syria 1,250 families[1]
 Sweden 8,500[5]
 Australia 3,500 to 5,000 [6][7]
 United States 1,500 to 2,000
 United Kingdom 1,000[8]
 Canada 1,500[6]
 Germany 2,200[9]
 Denmark 650[10]
 Indonesia 23 [11]
Ginza Rba, Qolusta
Mandaic as liturgical language
Neo-Mandaic, Arabic and Persian

Mandaeans (Modern Mandaic: מנדעניא Mandaʻnāye, Arabic: الصابئة المندائيون aṣ-Ṣābi'a al-Mandā'iyūn) are an ethnoreligious group indigenous to the alluvial plain of southern Mesopotamia and are followers of Mandaeism, a Gnostic religion. The Mandaeans were originally native speakers of Mandaic, a Semitic language that evolved from Eastern Middle Aramaic, before many switched to colloquial Iraqi Arabic and Modern Persian. Mandaic is mainly preserved as a liturgical language. In the aftermath of the Iraq War of 2003, the indigenous Mandaic community of Iraq, which used to number 60–70,000 persons, collapsed; most of the community relocated to nearby Iran, Syria and Jordan, or formed diaspora communities beyond the Middle East. The other indigenous community of Iranian Mandaeans has also been dwindling as a result of religious persecution over that decade.[4]



There are several indications of the ultimate origin of the Mandaeans. Early religious concepts and terminologies recur in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and "Jordan" has been the name of every baptismal water in Mandaeism.[12] This connection with early baptismal sects in the eastern Jordan region and the elements of Western Syrian in the Mandaean language attests to their Levantine origin.[12] The ultimate Jewish origin of the Mandaeans can still be found despite the vehement polemics against the Jews in Mandaean literature, in which Moses is a false prophet and Adonai (one of the names used in the Jewish bible) is an evil god.[13][14] There are fewer indications of a relation between early Christians and Mandaeans, which make the connection more problematic. Some scholars, including Kurt Rudolph connect the early Mandaeans with the Jewish sect of the Nasoraeans.[14]

The emigration of early Mandaeans from the Jordan Valley took place the latest at the second century due to pressure from "'orthodox' Jews".[12] The migrants first went to Harran in Assyria and entered the southern provinces of Mesopotamia during the third century. It appears that Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, was partly influenced by the newcomers. The Mandaeans had also hostile relations with the Byzantine Church and the Babylonian Jews.[12]

Early Persian periods

A number of ancient Aramaic inscriptions dating back to the 2nd century CE were uncovered in Elymais. Although the letters appear quite similar to the Mandaean ones, it is doubtful whether the inhabitants of Elymais were Mandaeans.[15] Under Parthian and early Sasanian rule, foreign religions were tolerated. The situation changed by the ascension of Bahram I in 273, who under the influence of the zealous Zoroastrian high priest Kartir persecuted all non-Zoroastrian religions. It is thought that this persecution encouraged the consolidation of Mandaean religious literature.[15] The persecutions instigated by Kartir seems to temporarily erase Mandaeans from recorded history. Traces of their presence can still however be found in the so-called Mandaean magical bowls and lead strips which were produced from the 3rd to the 7th centuries.[16]

Islamic Caliphates

The Mandaeans re-appear at the beginning of the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia, when their "head of the people" Anush son of Danqa appears before Muslim authorities showing them a copy of the Ginza Rabba, the Mandaean holy book, and proclaiming the chief Mandaean prophet to be John the Baptist, who is also mentioned in the Quran. The connection with the Quranic Sabians provided them acknowledgement as People of the Book, a legal minority religion within the Muslim Empire. They appear to have flourished during the early Islamic period, as attested by the voluminous expansion of Mandaic literature and canons. Tib near Wasit is particularly noted as an important scribal centre.[16] Yaqut al-Hamawi describes Tib as a town inhabited by Nabatean (i.e. Aramaic speaking) Sabians who consider themselves to be descendants of Seth son of Adam.[16]

The status of the Mandaeans became an issue for the Abbasid al-Qahir Billah. To avoid further investigation by the authorities, the Mandaeans paid a bribe of 50,000 dinars and were left alone. It appears that the Mandaeans were even exempt from paying the Jizya, otherwise imposed upon non-Muslims.[16]

Late Persian and Ottoman periods

Early contact with Europeans came about in the mid-16th century, when Portuguese missionaries encountered Mandaeans in Southern Iraq and controversially designated them "Christians of St. John". In the next centuries Europeans became more acquainted with the Mandaeans and their religion.[16]

The Mandaeans suffered persecution under the Qajar rule in the 1780s. The dwindling community was threatened with complete annihilation, when a Cholera epidemic broke out in Shushtar and half of its inhabitants died. The entire Mandaean priesthood perished and Mandeism was restored due only to the efforts of few learned men such as Yahia Bihram.[17] Another danger threatened the community in 1870, when the local governor of Shushtar massacred the Mandaeans against the will of the Shah.[17] As a result of these events the Mandaeans retired to the more inaccessible Central Marshes of Iraq.

Modern Iraq and Iran

Following the First World War, the Mandaeans were still largely living in rural areas in the lower parts of British protected Iraq and Iran. Owing to the rise of Arab nationalism, Mandaeans were Arabised at an accelerated rate, especially during the 1950s and '60s. The Mandaeans were also forced to abandon their stands on the cutting of hair and forced military service, which are strictly prohibited in Mandaenism.[18]

The 2003 Iraq War brought more troubles to the Mandaeans, as the security situation deteriorated. Many members of the Mandaean community, who were known as goldsmiths, were targeted by criminal gangs for ransoms. The rise of Islamic Extremism forced thousands to flee the country, after they were given the choice of conversion or death.[19] It is estimated that around 90% of Iraqi Mandaeans were either killed or have fled after the American-led invasion.[19]

The Mandaeans of Iran lived chiefly in Ahvaz, Iranian Khuzestan, but have moved as a result of the Iraq-Iran War to other cities such as Tehran, Karaj and Shiraz. The Mandaeans, who were traditionally considered as People of the Book (members of a protected religion under Islamic rule) lost this status after the Islamic Revolution. Local authorities in Iranian Islamic Republic are known to encourage harassment and persecution of the Mandaeans.[20]


Mandaean house of worship in Nasiriya, southern Iraq -2016

Mandaeans in Iraq

Further information: Iraqi minorities § Mandaeans

Pre-Iraq War, The Iraqi Mandaean community was centered in Baghdad. The Mandeans originate, however, from southern Iraq in cities like Nasiriyah. Many also live across the border in Southwestern Iran in the cities of Ahvaz and Khorramshahr.[21] Mandaean emigration from Iraq began during Saddam Hussein's rule, but accelerated greatly after the American-led invasion and subsequent occupation.[22] Since the invasion Mandaeans, like other Iraqi ethno-religious minorities (such as Assyrians, Armenians, Yazidi, Roma and Shabaks), have been subjected to violence, including murders, kidnappings, rapes, evictions, and forced conversions.[22][23] Mandaeans, like many other Iraqis, have also been targeted for kidnapping since many worked as goldsmiths.[22] Mandaeism is pacifistic and forbids its adherents from carrying weapons.[22][24]

Many Iraqi Mandaeans have fled the country in the face of this violence, and the Mandaean community in Iraq faces extinction.[25][26] Out of the over 60,000 Mandaeans in Iraq in the early 1990s, fewer than 5,000 to 10,000 remain there; as of early 2007, more than 80% of Iraqi Mandaeans were refugees in Syria and Jordan as a result of the Iraq War. [27]

Iranian Mandaeans

The number of Iranian Mandaeans is a matter of dispute. In 2009, there were an estimated 5,000 and 10,000 Mandaeans in Iran, according to the Associated Press.[4] Whereas Alarabiya has put the number of Iranian Mandaeans as high as 60,000 in 2011.[28]

Until the Iranian Revolution, Mandaeans had mainly been concentrated in the Khuzestan province, where the community used to exist by side with the local Arab population. They had mainly been practising the profession of goldsmith, passing it from generation to generation.[28] After the fall of the shah, its members faced increased religious discrimination, and many sought a new home in Europe and the Americas.

In Iran, the Gozinesh Law (passed in 1985) has the effect of prohibiting Mandaeans from fully participating in civil life. This law and other gozinesh provisions make access to employment, education, and a range of other areas conditional upon a rigorous ideological screening, the principal prerequisite for which is devotion to the tenets of Islam.[29] These laws are regularly applied to discriminate against religious and ethnic groups that are not officially recognized, such as the Mandaeans, Ahl-e Haq, and Baha'i.[30]

In 2002 the US State Department granted Iranian Mandaeans protective refugee status; since then roughly 1,000 have emigrated to the US,[4] now residing in cities such as San Antonio, Texas.[31] On the other hand, the Mandaean community in Iran has increased over the last decade, because of the exodus from Iraq of the main Mandaean community, which used to be 60,000–70,000 strong.

Other countries in the Middle East

Following the Iraq War, the Mandaean community dispersed throughout the Middle East. Living as refugees the Mandaeans in Jordan number 49 families,[1] while in Syria there are as many as 1,250 families.[1] Some Mandaeans might also have reached the Persian Gulf countries.


There are small Mandaean diaspora populations in Sweden (c. 7,000), Australia (c. 3,500 as of 2006), the USA (c. 1,500), the UK (c. 1,000), and Canada.[25][32][33][34][35][36] Sweden became a popular destination because a Mandaean community existed there before the war and the Swedish government has a liberal asylum policy toward Iraqis. Of the 7000 Mandaeans in Sweden, 1,500 live in Södertälje.[32][37] The scattered nature of the Mandaean diaspora has raised fears among Mandaeans for the religion's survival. Mandaeism has no provision for conversion, and the religious status of Mandaeans who marry outside the faith and their children is disputed.[4][23]

The contemporary status of the Mandaeans has prompted a number of American intellectuals and civil rights activists to call upon the U.S. government to extend refugee status to the community. In 2007, The New York Times ran an op-ed piece in which Swarthmore professor Nathaniel Deutsch called for the Bush administration to take immediate action to preserve the community:

The United States didn’t set out to eradicate the Mandeans, one of the oldest, smallest and least understood of the many minorities in Iraq. This extinction in the making has simply been another unfortunate and entirely unintended consequence of our invasion of Iraq—though that will be of little comfort to the Mandeans, whose 2,000-year-old culture is in grave danger of disappearing from the face of the earth. . . . . When American forces invaded in 2003, there were probably 60,000 Mandeans in Iraq; today, fewer than 5,000 remain. . . . Of the mere 500 Iraqi refugees who were allowed into the United States from April 2003 to April 2007, only a few were Mandeans. And despite the Bush administration’s commitment to let in 7,000 refugees in the fiscal year that ended [September 30, 2007], fewer than 2,000, including just three Iraqi Mandean families, entered the country. If all Iraqi Mandeans are granted privileged status and allowed to enter the United States in significant numbers, it may just be enough to save them and their ancient culture from destruction. If not, after 2,000 years of history, of persecution and tenacious survival, the last Gnostics will finally disappear, victims of an extinction inadvertently set into motion by our nation’s negligence in Iraq.
Nathaniel Deutsch, professor of religion, Swarthmore College, October 7, 2007[38]

Iraqi Mandaeans were given refugee status by the US State Department in 2007. Since then around 1200 have entered the US.[4]


Mandaeans are a closed ethno-religious community, practicing Mandaeism, which is a Gnostic religion[39]:4[40]:4 (Aramaic manda means "knowledge," as does Greek gnosis) with a strongly dualistic worldview. Its adherents revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, Aram and especially John the Baptist, but reject Abraham, Moses and Jesus of Nazareth.[41][42]

The Mandaeans group existence into two main categories: light and dark. They have a dualistic view of life, which encompasses both good and evil; all good is thought to have come from the World of Light (i.e. lightworld) and all evil is considered to be a product of the World of Darkness. In relation to the body-mind dualism coined by Descartes, Mandaeans consider the body, and all material, worldly things, to have come from the Dark, while the soul (sometimes referred to as the mind) is a product of the lightworld. Mandaeans believe the World of Light is ruled by a heavenly being, known by many names, such as “Life,” “Lord of Greatness,” “Great Mind,” or “King of Light” (Rudolph 1983). This being is so great, vast, and incomprehensible that there are no words to fully depict how awesome Life is. It is believed that an innumerable number of beings, manifested from the light, surround Life and perform cultic acts of worship to praise and honor this great being (1983). They inhabit worlds separate from the lightworld and are commonly referred to as emanations from First Life; their names include Second, Third, and Fourth Life (i.e. Yōšamin, Abathur, and Ptahil ) (1983).

The Lord of Darkness is the ruler of the World of Darkness and was formed from dark waters representing chaos (1983). A main defender of the darkworld is a giant monster, or dragon, with the name “Ur;” an evil, female ruler also inhabits the darkworld, known as “Ruha” (1983). The Mandaeans believe these malevolent rulers created demonic offspring who consider themselves the owners of the Seven (planets) and Twelve (Zodiac signs) (1983).

According to Mandaean beliefs, the world (i.e. Earth) is a mixture of light and dark created by the demiurge (Ptahil) with help from dark powers, such as Ruha, the Seven, and the Twelve (1983). Adam’s body (i.e. believed to be the first human created by God in Christian tradition) was fashioned by these dark beings; however, his “soul” (or mind) was a direct creation from the Light. Therefore, many Mandaeans believe the human soul is capable of salvation because it originates from the lightworld. The soul, sometimes referred to as the “inner Adam” or “hidden Adam,” is in dire need of being rescued from the Dark, so it may ascend into the heavenly realm of the lightworld (1983). Baptisms are a central theme in Mandaeanism, believed to be necessary for the redemption of the soul. Mandaeans do not perform a single baptism, as in religions such as Christianity or Judaism; rather, they view baptisms as a ritualistic act capable of bringing the soul closer to salvation (McGrath 2015). Therefore, Mandaeans get baptized a numerous number of times during their lives. John the Baptist is a key figure for the Mandaeans; they even consider him to have been a Mandaean himself (2015). John is referred to as a “disciple” or “priest,” most known for the countless number of baptisms he performed, which helped close the immense gap between the soul and salvation (Rudolf 1983).

Today, many Mandaeans are refugees and are not willing to accept converts into their religion (McGrath 2015). Sunday, as in other religious traditions, is their holy day, centered largely on mythical beliefs. The Mandaeans usually acknowledge only mythological redeemers and deny historical ones, such as Jesus Christ (1983). Many Mandaeans consider Jesus an “apostate Mandaean” (McGrath 2015), and today they tell a story of how a Mandaean messenger went to Jerusalem and tried to expose Jesus Christ as a liar and false prophet (Rudolf 1983).


Main article: Mandaic language

The Mandaic language is an eastern dialect of Aramaic, although its alphabet is unique.[43] It has mainly survived as a liturgical language.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Who Cares for the MANDAEANS?, Australian Islamist Monitor
  2. Iraqi minority group needs U.S. attention, Kai Thaler,Yale Daily News, March 9, 2007.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Contrera, Russell. "Saving the people, killing the faith – Holland, MI". The Holland Sentinel. Retrieved 2011-12-17.
  5. Ekman, Ivar: An exodus to Sweden from Iraq for ethnic Mandaeans
  6. 1 2 The Mandaean Associations Union:Mandaean Human Rights Annual Report November 2009
  7. Hinchey, Rebecca: MANDAENS, a unique culture
  8. Crawford, Angus: Mandaeans – a threatened religion
  9. Verschiedene Gemeinschaften / neuere religiöse Bewegungen, in: Religionswissenschaftlicher Medien- und Informationsdienst|Religionswissenschaftliche Medien- und Informationsdienst e. V. (Abbreviation: REMID), Retrieved 9 October 2016
  10. Schou, Kim and Højland, Marie-Louise: Hvem er mandæerne? (Danish),
  11. Society for Threatened Peoples:Leader of the world's Mandaeans asks for help
  12. 1 2 3 4 Rudolph 1978, p. 5
  13. Deutsch 1999, p. 4
  14. 1 2 Rudolph 1978, p. 4
  15. 1 2 Buckley 2002, p. 4
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 Buckley 2002, p. 5
  17. 1 2 Buckley 2002, p. 6
  18. Mandaean Human Rights Group 2008, p. 5
  19. 1 2 Zurutuza, Karlos (29 January 2012). "The Ancient Wither in New Iraq". IPS. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
  20. Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen. "Mandaean Community in Iran". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
  22. 1 2 3 4 Ekman, Ivar (April 9, 2007). "An exodus to Sweden from Iraq for ethnic Mandaeans". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  23. 1 2 Newmarker, Chris (February 10, 2007). "Survival of Ancient Faith Threatened by Fighting in Iraq". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  24. Lupieri (2002), p. 91.
  25. 1 2 Iraq's Mandaeans 'face extinction', Angus Crawford, BBC, March 4, 2007.
  26. Genocide Watch: Mandaeans of Iraq Archived May 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. Deutsch, Nathaniel (October 6, 2007). "Save the Gnostics". The New York Times.
  28. 1 2 "Iran Mandaeans in exile following persecution". 2011-12-06. Retrieved 2011-12-17.
  29. Ideological Screening (ROOZ :: English)
  30. Annual Report for Iran, 2005, Amnesty International.
  31. Updated 33 minutes ago 12/17/2011 8:29:41 AM +00:00 (2009-01-07). "Ancient sect fights to stay alive in U.S. - US news – Faith –". MSNBC. Retrieved 2011-12-17.
  32. 1 2
  33. Survival of Ancient Faith Threatened by Fighting in Iraq, Chris Newmarker, Associated Press. February 10, 2007.
  34. The Plight of Iraq's Mandeans, John Bolender., January 8/9, 2005.
  35. An exodus to Sweden from Iraq for ethnic Mandaeans, Ivar Ekman. International Herald Tribune, April 9, 2007.
  36. Mandaeans persecuted in Iraq. ABC Radio National (Australia), June 7, 2006.
  37. Ekman, Ivar (April 9, 2007). "An exodus to Sweden from Iraq for ethnic Mandaeans". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  38. "Save the Gnostics" by Nathaniel Deutsch, October 6, 2007, New York Times.
  39. Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2002), The Mandaeans: ancient texts and modern people (PDF), Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195153859
  40. Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2002), The Mandaeans: ancient texts and modern people, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195153859
  41. Mandaeism – Page 15 Kurt Rudolph – 1978 This tradition can be explained by an anti-Christian concept, which is also found in Mandaeism, but, according to several scholars, it contains scarcely any traditions of historical events. Because of the strong dualism in Mandaeism ...
  42. The Light and the Dark: Dualism in ancient Iran, India, and China Petrus Franciscus Maria Fontaine - 1990 "Although it shows Jewish and Christian influences, Mandaeism was hostile to Judaism and Christianity. Mandaeans spoke an East-Aramaic language in which 'manda' means 'knowledge'; this already is sufficient proof of the connection of Mandaeism with the Gnosis...


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