Who are the Mandaens?

Who are the Mandaens? They are an ancient Gnostic sect, (probably the last Gnostic sect remaining). They revere John the Baptist, but they don’t think much of Jesus. (Or Christians, Jews, or Muslims for that matter.) Their most important religious rite is baptism (no surprise there). They managed to survive to this day, mostly along the Iran/Iraq border, by trying to stay under the radar. But after the US invasion of Iraq they were severely persecuted, and most of them fled to Worcester, Massachusetts. There is more I could say, but I’ll keep it short and sweet.

Anyway, could the existence of this group be why the Gospel of John makes such a big deal about John the Baptist being not the light, inferior to Jesus, and so forth?

1 Like

Considering how they did not exist until centuries later, probably not. Unless you are suggesting than John knew they would exist, if so, then maybe. Why John would warn against a small, insignificant religion is unknown though. Warning against Islam would make more sense.

Their origins are shrouded in mystery, but there were followers of John the Baptist around back in the day who didn’t know about Jesus. (Paul actually ran into a few of them.) As for Islam, Mohammad wasn’t born until the 6th century.

1 Like

I was referring to Islam in the context that John may have been warning against future religions. Since you mentioned there were worshippers of John in his lifetime, yes you may be right.

I don’t think they went so far as worshiping John, but they did revere him. It would be interesting to meet these guys!

1 Like

I just stumbled on this, @beaglelady, and was intrigued by gnostic influence. It certainly seems that Paul is arguing against Gnosticism. A friend of mine was just reading 1 Cor 2: 10-16, which sounds a bit gnostic; it seems that Paul was both arguing against Gnosticism that replaced righteousness with the pride of “knowledge” (that puffs up) and used gnostic imagery to aid in communicating with the Greeks:

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.[c] 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”[d]

But we have the mind of Christ.

Paul, as I recall, is happy to use local images to communicate his message–such as when he encountered the altar “to the unknown God,” he said he would teach them about the God that they worshipped; and he also said he tried to be all things to all men, so that by all means he might save some.

1 Like

Relative to my point of view, much of Christianity is Mandaen, both in their rather Gnostic gospel of salvation by correct dogma, and their non-Biblical respect for John the Baptist. The story told in both the gospel of John and the gospel of Matthew doesn’t give us much reason for admiration.

John 1 tells us both how God gave JB the direct revelation of who Jesus was and how poorly JB received this. The most you can say is that he dutifully related this information to others. But his responses to the priests and Levites was pathetic and he basically refused to follow Jesus himself.

Then we hear in Matthew 11 that he all but retracted his testimony in sending people to Jesus in order to ask Jesus whether He was really the messiah. Jesus’ response to John which follows there is a scathing criticism and condemnation which I am flabbergasted to hear many Christians glossing over.

In searching for a way to understand why this is so, I believe it is because they largely follow in JBs own footsteps in admiring their own religiosity and believing that this should be sufficient for their own salvation. JB is the quintessential example of the great evangelical preacher who does so much fantastic work for God that you find it incomprehensible that they should be rejected simply because when it comes to faith in the actual living God then they are a little lacking. They would do well to abandon their attitude of entitlement and experience a little fear and trembling for their own salvation.

Perhaps to make this more clear… consider the following direct contradiction between the words of JB and Jesus.

John 1:19-21

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Eli′jah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

Matthew 11:13-14

13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Eli′jah who is to come.

Where is this “scathing criticism and condemnation” you speak of? Is it where Jesus tells everybody that the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John … just after he (without any hint of retraction) declares that nobody born of women is greater than John? (both in Matthew 11 and Luke 7). Then he goes on to state that “for those who care to accept it, John is Elijah who was to come.” I’m still looking for the scathing part and coming up dry. It’s hard for Christendom to gloss over something that’s not even there. John getting doubts and sending off to inquire of Jesus isn’t doing anything worse than any of the other disciples did on a regular basis. “Get behind me, Satan” – now that’s blistering criticism! But Peter seems none the worse for such wear. Nor should the person who lived on locusts and honey in the desert, exhorted people toward repentance and living right be confused in any way with Pharisees for whom John himself had scathing words: “Brood of vipers!” (Matt.3:7) I’m seeing lots of scathing criticism in the Bible. None of it directed toward John.


Matthew 11:6-15

"And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. 9 Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee. 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Eli′jah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Who has taken offense at Jesus? John the Baptist.
Who is a reed shaken by the wind? John the Baptist.
Who was expecting a man clothed in soft rainment? John the Baptist.
Who was a prophet yet denied being a prophet? John the Baptist.
Who was born with the greatest mission from God since the beginning of time? John the Baptist.
Who is not in the kingdom of God because he had no faith in Jesus? John the Baptist.
And whose fault was it that the kingdom of heaven suffered violence? John the Baptist.

For those who are given much, a great deal is expected. John the Baptist was given a direct message from the Father about the identity of Jesus and yet He did not follow Jesus and essentially retracted His rather lame testimony in the end, leaving Jesus to say that John the Baptist was the Elijah who is to come even though John the Baptist denied this. Being born or being chosen for great things does not make you great in the final analysis – it just means that you are measured against high expectations. How, you may ask, could John the Baptist know he was the Elijah who is to come? He could have followed a great teacher who was able to explain everything to him, but he did not.

The fact that Jesus had an even greater criticism of other religious people only goes to show the Jesus usually expected a great deal from those who were given much.

I haven’t consulted commentaries on this -perhaps you have, and I’ll gladly accept correction on this if necessary. But methinks you’ve got John almost completely wrong. Jesus is asking rhetorical questions (for which there is the expected answer: “NO”) when he asks if people are going out to see a reed shaken by the wind or a man clothed in soft raiment. John most certainly was not a soft denizen of palace luxury. In fact the only palace time he would be getting would turn out to be in the palace dungeon before he loses his head. I’m nearly certain you have badly misread these passages.

Oh, I know what is in the commentaries. I disagree with them. And thus my effort to understand why the commentaries say what they do. The meaning of a text depends on the context, and the context here is John sending someone to ask Jesus if He is the messiah, when JB was the one given the mission to testify who Jesus was. He made Jesus look like a liar and a fake. The OT ended with a prophesy that God would send Elijah to herald the coming of the messiah and in fact this same prophesy was made of John while he was yet in the womb. So Jesus had to tell people that John the Baptist was the Elijah who is to come even though John the Baptist denied this. So I am sorry. I really really don’t get why anyone can have a good opinion of John the Baptist.

No no no! I think you’ve got John the Baptist all wrong.

It isn’t difficult since Jesus obviously did. I guess we’ll just have to disagree about that. Oh well. Life wouldn’t be much fun if we all agreed with each other all the time.

1 Like

Yeah it is probably time to end my derailment of the topic from the Mandaens to John the Baptist and get back to those who are historically identified as Mandaeans. After all, I cannot deny that there are some pretty big differences. I just wanted to mention that I go a bit in the opposite direction as they do.

1 Like

Exactly. And Jesus accommodated John’s wavering faith. The Bible is full of great men and women of God who waver in their faith–yet in the end stand firm. Even the mother of Jesus said that he was beside himself and tried to make him go home.


Moat of what I know about the Mandaeans I know from Gerard Russell’s interesting book, ‘Heirs to Forgotten kingdoms’. They have an interesting religion which dates back to elements of Babylonian religion, such as astral worship.

1 Like

I learned about them in our theology class at church. They are still around today, mostly in Worcester, Massachusetts.

1 Like

John the Baptist (JtB) and Christ, JtB’s followers and Christians have a curious relationship, given what we have in the Gospels.

Firstly, we are told that John is a messenger sent to prepare a way/path for Christ, and yet, John, who so highly thought of Jesus, did not become Jesus’ disciple. Why not?

Secondly, according to John’s Gospel, JtB continues to baptize even as Jesus’ disciples baptize in the same area. We are told by GJohn that disciples of Jesus baptized more people, implying a bit of a competition that was going on between John’s and Jesus’ followers.

Thirdly, according to the Synoptic Gospels (GMatthew, GMark and GLuke), people confuse Jesus for John the Baptist risen from the dead! And, according to the Peter’s confession narratives in GMark, GMatthew and GLuke, this error persists while Jesus tells the disciples to not talk about him. In other words, let the crowds remain confused.

Fourthly, familial connection between Jesus and JtB seems to grow between GMark/GMatthew and GLuke.
There is no hint that JtB and Jesus are related in the first Gospels and then, they are cousins in Luke’s Gospel!

Fifthly, Jesus says that there have not been any greater man born of a woman than JtB which, strangely, makes John greater than Jesus (since both were born of a woman).

I guess the point of this rambling is that the relationship between JtB and Jesus is mysterious, to say the least. Which means that Mandeans (JtB’s followers) could be rivals or friends of Christians, depending on the interpretation.

1 Like

I think that John the Baptist always was a follower of Jesus, but he just continued with his God-given mandate of preparing the way of the Lord, and calling the people to repentance and baptism. He had his job to do, and he did it until his martyrdom.

Perhaps you have in mind John 3.

22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testifiedabout—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

One fellow tried to frame it as a competition, but John explains that it is not.

John the Baptist certainly was a mysterious figure, a bridge between the Old Testament and the New.

And next Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. We remember both the first coming of Jesus, as well as the second coming. And the Scriptures concerning John the Baptist will come up in the lectionary.


Are there religions which follow Peter rather than Jesus, or Paul rather than Jesus? No. There are the Jewish Christians who might be considered followers of Jesus and not Paul but not the other way around. At least in the case of Peter and Paul there is no ambiguity whether they were followers of Jesus, and those they preached to were brought to Jesus. Why is this not the case with John the Baptist? Why do the Mandaeans even exist, who teach that Jesus is an apostate Mandaean?

Oh I know! God wanted John the Baptist to start his own religion. It all makes sense now.

1 Like

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.