Mendaeans (or Mendians)
Mendaeans (Or Mendians)
also known as CHRISTIANS OF ST. JOHN, are an Eastern religious sect of Christians, who appear to retain some New-Testament principles, tainted, however, very much with Jewish doctrines and customs, and even with many heathen practices and phases of religious opinion. SEE HEMEEROBAPTISTTE. They style themselves Mendei Yochanan, i.e. Disciples of John.
Names. — The name מנדָּיֵא, Mandaye, derived from Manda de-Chaye, דּחִיֵּא, the λόγος τῆς ζωῆς, or word of life, is equivalent to οἱ λογικοί, in opposition to those holding different views, who are designated by them as ἄλογοι. But it is only among themselves they use that appellation; in public they call themselves Sobba (from the Arabic tsabbah), and allow themselves to be considered by the Mohammedans as the followers of the Sabceans mentioned in the Koran. This erroneous opinion, it is said, took its rise from their habit of turning to the polar star when praying. The name of Christians of St. John was never assumed by them, and originated with travellers. Their most learned and distinguished men are called by them Nasoraye, נָצוֹרָיֵא.
Sacred Books. — Most of their standard works, which might have given us authentic views of their principles, were destroyed by the Turks, and their religious works now extant are only,
1. the סַדרָא רִבָּא, Sidra Rabba, "the great book ;" also called גַּנזָא, Gensa, "the treasure." This is their principal work, and contains their doctrines, only in unconnected fragments, evidently the production of a number of different persons. It is divided into two parts, the first forming about two thirds of the whole, is written for the living, and is called יָמַינָא, "the right;" the other, smaller, for the dead, is called סמָלָא, "the left," and contains an account of the death of Adam, as also the prayers to be used by the priests on the occasion of deaths and funerals. Norberg has given some information on that work under the title "Liber Adami," which is quite improper, and which he probably took from Abraham Ecchellensis; his version also is full of errors arising from erroneous interpretation of the text, which he gives also incorrectly, so that this work can only be used with great caution.
2. סַדרָא נֶשׁמָתָא, "the book of souls;" it contains the prayers of the priests, and constitutes the liturgy, which every priest is to know by heart.
3. קוֹלִסתָּא. This contains the marriage ritual.
4. בָּאוָתָא דרִחמֵא, in which are found the prayers for each day.
5. עֶניָנֵי דַדרִבשָׁא, prayers to be recited before the cross, both at home and in the church, but exclusively by the priests.
6. דּרָשָׁא דיִחנָא, a history of John the Baptist.
7. אִספִּר מִלוָשֵׁיא, a treatise on astrology. Aside from these they have formulas for all kinds of sorcery, and amulets for sickness and other misfortunes which evil spirits may bring; these charms are to born on the breast. Those used against incurable diseases are called קמָחֵיא, those against curable disorders פַּשׁרֵיא. According to Ignatius a Jesu, they also possess another work, entitled "Divan," of which he gives an account; yet the characteristics he furnishes of it seem to apply equally to the Sidra Rabba, and it is thought that the latter may be the work he refers to.
Belief. — Their religion, which is a singular mixture of the most opposite systems of antiquity, is very obscure and confused, the more as, in the course of time, it underwent different and often contradictory modifications, which we find in their religious works. Another very perplexing feature of the system for those who study it is that the same deities or angels are sometimes designated by entirely different names, until it becomes almost impossible to establish their identity.
In a single abstract from the Sidra Rabba (i. 130236) we find no less than three conflicting accounts of the creation. They agree in placing at the beginning of all things פַּירָא רִבָּא, Pira Rabba, "the great fruit," the בּצוֹ פַּירָא רִבָּא, Bego Pira Rabba, "in the great fruit." This recalls the Orphean myth of a world's egg, containing the germ of all that exists. Norberg, in his preface, remark 3, not being able to understand פירא, transformed it into פֶרחָא, which, in his Onomasticon, he explains "volucris, sc. Phoenix," and translates the preceding words "(fuit) Ferho per Ferho," which, in the Onom., he explains by "Summum Numen per se exstitit." At the same time with the great fruit was the מָאנָא רִבָּא דֶעֶקָרָא, "Mana the Lord of Glory," and the אָיִר זַיוָא רִבָּא, "the Ether of great brilliancy," which latter is the world, in which the Mana Rabba reigns, and which contains the יָרדּנָא רִבָּא, " the great Jordan" (they call all rivers Jordans), which proceeds from him. Mana Rabba finally called forth "the life," חיא (sc. קִדמָיֵא, "the first"). This accomplished the act of creation, and the Mana Rabba at once went into the most absolute retirement, where he dwells invisible to all but the purest emanations, and the most pious among the Mendaeans, who, after their death, are permitted, but only once, to contemplate the Almighty. As the revealed, active, and governing deity-but not similar to the semigods of the Gnostics-stands the Chaye Kadnaye, "the first life," which is therefore entitled to the first worship and adoration. Hence also it is it, and not the Mana Rabba, who is first invoked in all prayers, and with whose name every book begins. It is designated under a variety of names, even sometimes by those applied to the Mana Rabba, with whom it is occasionally confounded. Like him, it dwells in the pure, brilliant ether, which is considered as a world in itself, in which all that exists is pervaded by the waters of the fire of life, and is inhabited by numberless Uthre, עיּתרֵיא, "angels," who dwell there in eternal blessedness. From the Chaye Kadmhye emanated first the Chayi Thinyane, חִיֵּא תַניָנֵיא, "the second life," often called also יוּשָׁמַין, and then the מִנדָּא דחִיֵּא. Mande de-Chaye. This is sometimes (ii. 208) called : דִּכיָא, the "pure," yet is described as susceptible of impure thoughts: thus it attempted to usurp the place of the first life, and was on that account exiled from the pure ether into the world of light, being separated from it by the הֲפַיקֵיא מָיֵא (the Cabalists call them מים אפיקי). It is similar to Cain, while its younger brother, Mandi de-Chaye, represents Abel. He is called the father, master, and king of the UthrE, lord of the worlds, the beloved son, the good shepherd, the high-priest, the word of life, the λόγος, the teacher and redeemer of mankind, who descended into hell and chained the devil: he is, in short, the Christ of the Mendseans; and as the followers of our Saviour, so are they named after the founder of their faith. He dwells with the father, who is supposed to be sometimes Chaye Kadmaye, sometimes Mana Rabba, and is, like the "first life," called קִדמָיָא אָדָם (comp. in the Cabala, אָדָם קִדמוֹן). He revealed himself, however, to humanity in his three sons, who are also called his brothers, הַיבַיל, שַׁיתַיל, and אָנוּשׁ: (Abel, Seth, and Enoch). In another place it is said that Hebil alone is his son, Shethil his grandson, and Anush his great-grandson. Hebil, the most important among them, is almost equally venerated with the Manda de-Chay, receives the same names, and is often confounded with him. He is generally named זַיוָא הַיבַיל. Among the Uthre, " angels," who emanated from Chaye Thinyank, the first and most eminent is. תלַיתָיֵא חִיֵּא, "the third life;" often also called אָבָתוּר, Abathur. This is not the "buffalo," as erroneously asserted by Gesenius (in Ersch und Gruber, Encyklop. s.v. Zabier), but only has that name because of his being called κατ᾿ ἐξχήν, "the father of the Uthre," דעוּתרֵיא אָבָא. He is also called "the old, the hidden, the watcher." He sits at the limit of the world of light, where, at the door which leads to the middle and lower regions, and in a scale which he always holds in his hand, he weighs the deeds of the departed as they appear before him to gain admittance. Under him there was in the beginning an immense void, and at the bottom of it the troubled, black waters, מִיֵּא סַיָאוֵיא. As he looked down and saw his image reflected in it, arose פּתָאחַיל, who is also called Gabriel, and retains in part the nature of t he dark waters from which he proceeded. He received from his father the mission to build the earth and to create man. This he is represented sometimes as having performed alone; at others, with the aid of the daemons. When he had created Adam and Eve, he found himself unable to give them an upright posture, or to breathe the spirit into them. Hebil, Shethil, and Anush then interfered, and obtained from Chayv Kadmayd (or took from Pethahil at his instigation) the spirit of Mana, and infused it into man, that he might not worship Pethahil as his creator. The latter was on that account exiled from the world of light by his father, and consigned to a place below, where he is to remain until the day of judgment. He will then be raised up by Hebil-Siva, be baptized, made king of the Uthre, and will be generally worshipped. The nether world consists of four entrances into hell, or limbo, each of which is governed by a king' and queen. Then only comes the real kingdom of darkness, divided into three parts, governed by three old, single kings-Shedum, the grandson of darkness; Gio, the great; and Krun, or Karkum, "the great mountain of flesh," who, as the oldest and greatest among them, the first-born king of darkness, inhabits the lowest region. In the entrances to hell there is yet dirty, slimy water; in the real hell there is none, and Krun's kingdom consists only of dust and vacancy. In hell and its entrance there is no longer any brilliancy in fire, but only a consuming power. Hebil-Siva (or Manda de-Chayi), sustained by the power of Mana Rabba, descended into it, unravelled the mysteries of the lower regions, took all power from their kings, and closed the door of the different worlds. By subterfuge he brought out Rucha, daughter of Kin, the queen of darkness, and prevented her return to the nether world. She then bore the worst of all devils, אוּר, the fire, i.e. the destroyer, whom Hebil-Siva, when in his zeal he sought to storm the worlds of light, threw into the black waters, bound, and surrounded with iron and seven golden walls. While Pethahil was occupied in the creation of the world and of man, Rucha bore first seven, then twelve, and again five sons to the fire. These twenty-four sons were by Pethahil transplanted into the heavens; the first seven are the seven planets, one for each of the seven heavens; the sun, as the greatest, stands in the central or fourth heaven; the twelve became the signs of the zodiac; the fate of the remaining five is unknown. They are intended to be serviceable to man, but only seek to injure him, and are the source of all evil and wrong upon earth. The seven planets have their stations, מִטָרָתָא, where they return always, after accomplishing their course in the heavens. They, like the earth, and another world situated in its neighborhood, to the north, rest on anvils which Hebil-Siva placed on the belly of the " fire." The Mendaeans consider the heavens as built of the clearest, purest water, but so solid that even diamond will not cut it. On this water the planets and other stars are sailing; they are of themselves dark, being evil daemons, but are illuminated by brilliant lights carried by the angels. The clearness of the sky enables us to see through the seven heavens as far as the polar star, around which, as the central sun, all the other stars are revolving. It stands at the dome of heaven, before the door of the Abathur, and is therefore the place to which the Mendseans direct their prayers. They consider the earth as a circle, inclining somewhat to the south. It is surrounded on three sides by the sea; on the north, on the contrary, is a great mountain of turquoise, whose reflection causes the sky to appear blue. Immediately on the other side of that mountain is another world, in which Pharaoh, a king and high- priest of the Mendaeans, and the Egyptians, who did not perish in the Red Sea, but were saved, lead a happy life. Both worlds are surrounded by the outer sea, יִמָּא רִבָּא דסוּŠ (which Norberg erroneously translates " the Red Sea"), and immediately behind this are the stations of the seven planets. Man consists of three parts: the body, פִּגרָא; the animal soul, רוּחָא; and the heavenly soul, the spirit, נַשׁמתָא, or σῶμα, ψυχή, νοῦς. It is Rucha, ψυχή, who leads him into evil; one virtue only is assigned to hershe plays the part of Juno Lucina at confinements.
Although the Mendaeans were originally Christians. they have entirely estranged themselves from the true principles of Christianity. When in the Syriac N.T. they found the Holy Spirit called Rucha de-Kodsha, as for them Rucha, as ψυχή, was the mother of the devil, they identified them, considered the Messiah as her son, and therefore looked upon him as a sorcerer, and, as Mercury, placed him among the planets. They consider the earth as altogether 480,000 years old, during which it has been alternately under the influence of the various planets for an equal length of time; the human race has been three times destroyed by the sword, fire, and water, only one couple remaining alive after each time. At the time of Noah the world was 466,000 years old; 6000 years after him, when the sun (whom they call also אַיל אַיל, אֲדוּנִי, קָרוּשׁ) came to reign over the world, and Jerusalem (called אוּרִשׁלִם) was built at its command, her first prophet, Abraham, אִברָחַים, appeared; her second was. Moses, מַישָׁא, after whom came Shlimun bar-Davith, to whom the daemons yielded obedience. As' the third false prophet, they name משַׁיחָא יַשׁוּ, whom they consider as an impostor, taught by the Rucha de-Kodsha, calling himself God and the son of God, but was unmasked as an impostor by Anush (perhaps so called in view of the בִּר אֶנָשָׁא of the Syriac N.T.), and was put to death by the Jews. Anush himself was baptized by John the Baptist, the only true prophet, and he performed the miracles and resurrections attributed by Christians to Christ. The last of the false prophets was Mohammed, whom they call Achmat, and there will be none after him. After 4000 or 5000 years mankind will again be destroyed: this time by a terrific storm. But the world will be again repeopled by a man and a woman from the upper world, and their descendants shall dwell on the earth for 50,000 years in piety and innocence. Then will the fire, also called leviathan, destroy the earth and the other medium worlds, as well as the nether worlds; their spirits will be annihilated, and the universe become a realm of light.
Priesthood. — There are different degrees in their priesthood. The lower class is called Sheganda, שׁגִנדָּא, and forms a sort of medium between the clergy, properly so called, and the laity. The members of it are actually but assistants, διάκονοι, of the priests, and can be received into it while yet mere boys. They are consecrated to that office by the imposition of hands, and the recital of a short formula at baptism. Many remain always in this subordinate position; if they desire to go higher, which they are not permitted to do before they are fifteen years of age, they must study diligently the religious books and customs of their people, undergo a strict trial for sixty days, and pass seven days and nights awake and in prayer with a priest; if admitted, they then become Tarmides, תִּרמַידָא (probably for תִּלמַידָא, "scholars"), to which office they are consecrated by seven priests. This is the true 'priestly order, which qualifies them for every ecclesiastical office. Those who distinguish themselves by their science and conduct can become גִּנזברָא which probably is equivalent to גַּזָּבָר, גַּזבָּר, Ezr 1:8; Ezr 7:21, or "thesaurarius," he who possesses the great treasure in himself. It corresponds to the office of high-priest or bishop, and requires only a short probation and the consecration by another of that rank. His functions are only to consecrate others, and to preside at marriages, which can, however, be legally administered by the tarmides, without his participation. A priest who officiates at the marriage of a woman not a maiden, a widow, or a woman divorced from her husband loses the right to perform afterwards any religious ceremony except such marriages; he is then called פּוֹיסֵק, " one cut off." Finally, the highest ecclesiastical dignity, similar to that of patriarch or pope, is that of the רישׁ עִמָּא, " chief of the people," who is also considered as their civil chief. Their princes-when they had princes-were to be at the same time their highpriests, as they assert was the case with Pharaohs At present they have none. Women are also allowed by them to become members of the clergy: they must be virgins to enter into the order of shegandi, but when they enter the order of tarmides they must at once marry a priest of that order or of a higher. They can in this manner arrive to the degree of Resh Amma, if their husband is invested with that title, for in no case can the woman have a higher title than her husband. The official dress of the priests is pure white, is very simple, and consists of white linen underclothing, and a shirt of the same material tied with a white belt. From both shoulders hangs a white stole, about the width of the hand, extending down to the feet. They wear a white cloth on their head, twisted like a turban, the end of which, about a yard in length, hangs down on the left side in front. On the right forearm they wear, during divine -worship only, the תָּגָא, "crown," which consists of a piece of white linen, two finger-lengths in breadth, sewed on three sides, and which, when not in use, is put under the turban. On the little finger of the right hand the tarmides wear a gilt and the superior priests a golden seal-ring, bearing the inscription שׁוּם יָוָר זַיוָא, " the name of the JavarSiva," and carry an olive-branch in the left hand. They must always be barefooted in exercising their functions.
Houses of Worship. — The churches, which are only intended for the use of the priests and their assistants, the laymen remaining in the entry, are so small that only two persons can stand in them at the same time. They are built from west to east, and are distinguished by gable-roofs. They have no altar and no ornaments, only a few boards in the corners to put things on when needed, but they must be provided with flowing water for baptism.
Religious Worship, Practices, and Observances.-Their year is the solar year of 365 days, divided into twelve months of thirty days each; the remaining five days do not belong to any month. Their months are generally named after the signs of the zodiac; they have also retained for them the Jewish appellation, with a few alterations. They observe the Sabbath, and have besides four ecclesiastical festivals:
1, on New-year's-day, at the beginning of the "Waterman;"
2, on the 18th day of "Taurus;"
3, between the Virgin and the Balance;
4, on the first day of the Capricorn. Their greatest festival is the Pantesha, the five days of baptism: it is the third in the above list. On this occasion all Mendseans are baptized again; the most pious among them are baptized every Sunday. The Lord's Supper is always connected by them with baptism; for it they use paste, prepared in the church by the priest, instead of bread, and water in the place-of wine. It is only on the occasion of marriage, which is always preceded by baptism, that the laymen commune with wine, prepared also in the church by the priest. The priests, on the contrary, always commune with wine.
Number. — In the 17th century the Mendaeans still counted some 20,000 families; they have since considerably decreased in number. They are located, some on the Euphrates and Tigris, south of Bagdad, or between the two rivers; some in various cities of Kurdistan, where they carry on the trades of jewellers, blacksmiths, shipbuilders, carpenters, or joiners. The statement of Germanus Conti, that there are persons of the same creed in Lebanon, appears to have originated in a mistake between them and the Nosairians. The Mendaeans do not outwardly distinguish themselves from the Mohammedans among whom they reside. They should, however, according to their law, dress entirely in white; but, as the Mohammedans claim the exclusive use of that color, the Mendaeans wear mostly brown, or brown and white garments. They must void dark colors, as belonging to the kingdom of darkness, yet this rule cannot always be observed. Polygamy is not only permitted, but advised, as their "great book" repeatedly recommends them to diligently increase the race. It is a very general practice with them, although, according to the statement of the priests, they do not usually have more than two wives. See Herzog, Real- Encyklop. 9:318 sq.; also Farrar, Ecclesiastes Dict. s.v.; Deutsche Zeitschri tf; christl. Wissenschaft u. christl. Leben, 1854, No. 23; 856, No. 42, 43,46,49; Burckhardt, Les Nazorses ou Mcandai-Jahja appelgs ordinairement Zabiens et Chretiens de St. Jean Baptiste (Strasb. 1840) ;
Chwolsohn, Die Szabier (Petersb. 1856); Petermann, Reisen imn Orient, (1861), vol. ii.