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The Mandaean community today make up the last uninterrupted surviving tradition to itentify, or be identified, explicitly as Gnostics (Mandaeans - 'Knowers', or Gnostics).
According to Mandaean history, they are said to have left the environs of Jerusalem around 70 AD after the destruction of the city and migrated to northern Mesopotamia. From there, their communities spread up and down the lengths of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers - and there they remained through the millenia up until the modern era. Now, due to the region's political tumult and religious persecution, much of the Mandaean community has been forced to flee their homeland and finds itself concentrated in such far-flug places as Wesrern Europe and Australia.
The Mandaean belief system has been closed to outsiders for centuries, however in diaspora they have begun to open up to academics and outsiders for the sake of both studying and preserving their ancient traditions. Like (for example) Sethian Gnosticism, the Mandaean system has strong elements of both dualism and monistic emanationism. The main cosmological difference being that the Mandaeans (much like the Manichaeans) believe 'evil' and all that is negative to have an entirely seperate source rather than simply being the result of ignorance of, or distance from, the Monad. The material world to them is a mixture of both dark and light elements (the latter of which can be redeemed while the former cannot), with the traditional role of the Gnostic Demiurge being roughly divided between two personified emanations - Abathur and Ptahil, the latter of which is responsible for creating the material cosmos by mixing light with darkness, while the former sits in judgement over said creation. The highest deity and ultimate divine source in Mandaeism is known as Hayyi Rabbi, who - much like the Gnostic Monad in other traditions - is said to be utterly ineffable and unknowable in every way, and yet wholly good in essence. In opposition, the realm of darkness is emanated by a being named Krun and his female counterpart Ruha, acompanied by a host of lesser emenations roughly equivalent to the archons of classical Gnosticism.
Unlike in most other Gnostic groups, the principle prophet and Saviour figure to the Mandaeans is not Jesus Christ, but is instead John the Baptist (known to them as Yahia-Yohanna), though other figures such as the biblical Seth also retain the same importance they had in other Gnostic traditions (while the Platonic influence on classical Gnosticism is replaced by a Babylonian one). Much like in other Gnostic traditions, the human soul is also portrayed as being essentially in exile and awaiting a return to the realm of light.
The most important rituals of Mandaeism are the regular baptism (masbuta) - a cleansing ritual which must be performed in flowing water ('living water', or yardna, seen as symbolic of divine emanation) every Sunday, and a spiritual ascent ceremony (masiqta) - held to speed the return of Mandaean souls back up to the realm of light. Regular prayers are performed three times a day at dawn, noon, and dusk. During prayer Mandaeans face toward the North Star as the symbolic entrance to the realm of light where Abathur sits in judgement.
The drapped cross (Darfash) of the Mandaeans symbolises not the crucifixion of Jesus, but the four corners of the universe; while the white silken cloth drapped over it represents the permeating light of the divine.
Though threatened, Mandaeism is a living breathing tradition practiced and followed today by up to 70,000 people. For the Mandaean holy texts and and links to Mandaean organisations see our Ancient Gnostic Scriptures and Online Resources pages.
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