From Sasanian Mandaeans to Ṣābians of the Marshes


This historical study argues that the Mandaean religion originated under Sasanid rule in the fifth century, not earlier as has been widely accepted. It analyzes primary sources in Syriac, Mandaic, and Arabic to clarify the early history of Mandaeism. This religion, along with several other, shorter-lived new faiths, such as Kentaeism, began in a period of state-sponsored persecution of Babylonian paganism. The Mandaeans would survive to become one of many groups known as Ṣābians by their Muslim neighbors. Rather than seeking to elucidate the history of Mandaeism in terms of other religions to which it can be related, this study approaches the religion through the history of its social contexts.

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Kevin T. van Bladel (Ph.D. 2004, Yale University), is Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at The Ohio State University. He is the author of many studies on the classical Near East including The Arabic Hermes (Oxford 2009).
"Van Bladel’s book is a significant contribution to the field of Mandaeism and will hopefully spur further interest in its neglected texts. Its interdisciplinary import is no less substantial... Van Bladel’s book is (...) not only a story of the Mandaean past, but a window into Sasanian Mesopotamia and the forging of “religious communities” beyond the “Greco-Roman” boundaries. For these reasons, it demands serious consideration among scholars interested in situating the Bavli in its Iranian context, the Church of the East, and the Sasanian Empire in general."
Jae H. Han in Ancient Jew Review, March 2018.
1. Early Contacts between Arab Muslims and Aramaean Mandaeans and the Date of Zazay
2. Theodore bar Konay’s Account of Mandaean Origins (circa 792)
3. Three Sixth-Century References to Mandaeans by Name
4. On the Kentaeans and Their Relationship with the Mandaeans
5. The Account of al-Ḥasan ibn Bahlūl (Bar Bahlul), second half of tenth century
6. Identifying Abū ʿAlī
7. The Marshes of the Ṣābians
8. Other Reports on the Mandaeans after Abū ʿAlī
9. Back to the Question of Origins
10. Pre-Mandaean Nāṣoraeans
11. The Religious Environment of Sasanian Iraq
12. Mandaeism as a Changing Tradition
Appendix 1. Bar Konay on the Kentaeans, Dostaeans, and Nerigaeans, in English
Appendix 2. Ibn Waḥšīya on Aramaic Dialects
Students of Sasanian Iran and the period following the Muslim conquest as well as those interested in so-called Gnosticism will take special interest in this monograph.
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