The Human Truth Foundation

The Nasorean Mandaeans / Sabians

By Vexen Crabtree 2023

#australia #christianity_historical #islam #nasorean_mandaeans #sweden

The Nasoreans were founded in the 1st century BCE as followers of John the Baptist, speaking Aramaic. They are often called Mandaeans by scholars (which in Aramaic means 'Gnostics')1. In Muslim countries, they are called Sabians, where they have been heavily and violently persecuted2. The largest communities are 10,000 - 20,000 in Sweden and about half that in Australia. They are pacifists2, emphasize baptism as the most meaningful ritual, hold that John the Baptist remains the last true prophet and that their religion stems directly from that of Adam and Noah. They were never convinced in the 1st century by early Christians that Jesus was a replacement for John the Baptist. The earliest Gospel texts support the Nasorean view.3

1. History

#iran #iraq #islam #jordan #syria

There are a few historical groups with similar names, and so, the title of 'Nasorean Mandaeans' may help counter ambiguity. In Muslim countries they are called Sabians, however, that term also refers to other unrelated communities too2.

Traces of antagonism crop up between the disciples of John and the followers of Jesus by the end of the first century (as one might infer from the emphatic depiction of John as precursor, in John 3:22-30, 4:1, 5:36, 10:41), and during the second and third centuries (Pseudo-Clementine literature: Homiliae 2.23 f.; Recognitiones 1.54, 1.60, 2.8). From the Acts of the Apostles (19.1-5) and the Pseudo-Clementines we may deduce that there were small groups or communities of followers of John the Baptist in Ephesus and somewhere in the province of Syria (less plausibly in Egypt: Acts 18:24 f.; cf. Lupieri, 1988, pp. 51-96). They do not seem to have been interested in migrating elsewhere, nor were they forced to.

Encyclopedia Iranica (2012)3

A document from the 2nd century CE called Clementine Recognitions, says that they use 'clever arguments' to defend their beliefs:

[In] Clementine Recognitions, a second-century Apocryphal Acts novel [we] read of a public debate between all the notable contemporary Jewish sects in Jerusalem, including Pharisees, Sadducees, Christians, and John the Baptist followers. We learn of the clever arguments the Baptists mounted against Jesus, demonstrating that John must be the true Messiah.

The sect seems to have continued to evolve over the centuries and still exists today in Iraq and over the borders of neighboring states.

"Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?"
Robert M. Price (2003)4

A number of ancient Aramaic inscriptions dating back to the 2nd century CE were uncovered in Elymais [in Iran]. Although the letters appear quite similar to the Mandaean ones, it is impossible to know whether the inhabitants of Elymais were Mandaeans. Rudolf Macúch believes Mandaean letters predate Elymaic ones. Under Parthian and early Sasanian rule, foreign religions were tolerated and Mandaeans appear to have enjoyed royal protection. 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. The persecutions instigated by Kartir seems to temporarily erase Mandaeans from recorded history. Their presence, however can still be found in Mandaean magical bowls and lead strips which were produced from the 3rd to the 7th century.


By 2007, through intense and violent persecution in Iraq, over 80% had fled to countries such as Syria and Jordan, although they have not been safe there either2.

Mandaean elders use words like annihilation and genocide - they believe Islamic militants, both Sunni and Shia, offer them two choices - convert or die.

"Some will not consider us people of the book... they see us as unbelievers, as a result our killing is allowed," says Kanzfra Sattar, one of only five Mandaean bishops left worldwide.

BBC News (2007)2

2. The Nasoraeans Were Closer to the Truth

2.1. John the Baptists Followers Continued Unabated by the Baptism of Jesus


The 2nd century CE Clementine Recognitions text says that followers of John the Baptist were present amongst several other sects, debating their views with them, and sticking to their belief that John was the true Messiah4. This instantly casts doubt on the Christians account in some of the gospels, who have John the Baptist declare that Jesus is the messiah. How could this be, if John the Baptist's followers continued as if the Jesus proclamations hadn't happened? This is because it was only some Christian sects that had come up with the idea of Jesus as the incarnated messiah, and then they attempted to write John's assent to this, into their writings. Hence, some gospels go one way, and others go the other way (e.g. Mark 10:17-18 has Jesus deny that he is part of divine goodness).

In the Baptist (Nasoraean) view, Jesus is a mere face in the crowd, getting baptized just like everyone else, and even if a voice did say to him that God was pleased with Jesus, this doesn't amount to him being a Messiah. This is, actually, how much of the Christian gospels were written. So, in Mark 1:9-11, John baptises Jesus, and then, the Christians said, Jesus then saw a dove and heard a voice. Jesus was not proclaimed to be a messiah, or anything special. It was written like this because if they wrote that the crowd all saw the event, then, you have to explain why no-one in that crowd made any note of the event to others. It was only the later Christians, writing about it, who knew. That's because no-one else knew, because, no-else heard the voice. Luke has the story even more discrete, simply stated later on by John, in retrospect (Luke 3:21-22) with no statement on who saw the dove.

In Acts 19:1-7, Paul meets a community in Ephesus with whom who interacted as with Christians, except, that they had been baptized by John, not in the name of Jesus. Paul says that they willingly had Paul convert them into baptism by Jesus. This may well be a conversion of some Nasoreans into Pauline Christians. It's clearly the case that John the Baptist hadn't been telling people that they ought to be baptized in Jesus' name4.

[John the Baptist's community of followers] continue[d] to baptize (by having the initiate kneel in the water and bend over face-first into it), and they teach that the true Messiah was the Primal Man Enosh Uthra (the transfigured Gen. 4:26 patriarch Enosh). His prophet on earth was John the Baptist, and Jesus was naught but a false Messiah sent to deceive.

"Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?"
Robert M. Price (2003)4

There are plenty of signs in the gospels that this account of John's community is more correct than the later view that John preached about the primacy of Jesus - which he couldn't been doing, as his own community continued unchanged:

Book CoverAccording to Mark 1:9-11, John baptizes Jesus simply as one more face in the crowd. There is no hint that he recognizes him or knows who he is. [...] Luke actually has John arrested and jailed before he relates the baptism of Jesus in a flashback tucked away in a subordinate clause! 'When all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying' (3:21). [...]

In Acts 19:1-7 Luke is careful not to give the impression that John proclaimed Jesus as the Coming One, even though Luke himself believes he was. [...]

John's gospel (1:29-34) takes the most drastic approach to the embarrassment of Jesus having been baptized by John-it doesn't happen! Yes, John sees the Spirit descend upon Jesus, but this happens offstage, and John merely says he has seen it at some previous point, and this is what tipped him off to Jesus being the Elect of God (unlike Matthew, where John knows Jesus before the Spirit descends upon him). In John's gospel, there is no voice from heaven proclaiming Jesus as God's Son. It is John the Baptist himself who proclaims the news! And if these two versions of John's recognizing and endorsing Jesus as Messiah did not contradict one another, they both contradict the earlier Mark-Q-Luke version. The controlling factor is the increasing urgency of satisfying the qualms of Baptist sectarians and attracting them to the Christian camp.

"Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?"
Robert M. Price (2003)6

The New Testament Matthew has a radically different description from the others - because Matthew wants Jesus to be the provider of repentance, John cannot be. Hence, the details in his story are different.

Matthew (3:13-17) has a very different story. John immediately recognizes Jesus as the Coming One and protests that it is not his right to baptize Jesus, who should instead be baptizing him! That is, of course, the way Matthew and other early Christians wish it had happened! In addition, now the voice from heaven speaks to all present. [...]

Matthew [writing later than Mark, presents] a more advanced stage of Christological reflection, and it is interesting to see what he does with this element of the baptism story. In 3:1, introducing the Baptist, he omits from his Markan text the description of the rite as a baptism of repentance (Matt. 19:16-17).

"Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?"
Robert M. Price (2003)6

2.2. Jesus Didn't Baptize, and So Wasn't the 'One to Come' as Prophesized by John

Book CoverJohn the Baptist had spoken of the difference between the ritual he was performing, that is, baptising with water, and the rite to be performed by him whose shoes he was not worthy to bear. 'He,' John exclaims 'shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire' (Matthew 3:11). The baptismal scene in Mark 1:7/11; Luke 3:16 and 21/22 and John 1:26/34 contains the promise that Jesus will 'baptise with the Holy Ghost'. [...]

Jesus himself is not reported to have baptised anybody, with or without the Holy Spirit.

"Jesus Versus Christianity" by Alfred Reynolds (1993)7

It's interesting to note that the gospel writers wanted Jesus to baptise; John 3:22 starts off by saying that he did, but he admits in John 4:2 that actually he didn't.

Why didn't John the Baptist's community cease operating, now that John the Baptist had been replaced by someone who could baptise with the Holy Spirit? Why didn't Jesus baptise anyone? The early gospels, as understood by the Nasoreans/Madaeans/Sabians, makes sense, whereas the later interpretations, however popular they became, created contradictions that have never been resolved.

3. Other Forms of Christianity


  1. Mithraism and Christianity (200BCE +)
  2. The Nasorean Mandaeans / Sabians (1st Century BCE+)
  3. The Therapeutae (10CE)
  4. The Dead Sea Scrolls (170BCE to 68BCE)
  5. Ebionite Christians (1st-4th Century)
  6. Gnosticism (1st-7th Century)
  7. Docetism (1st-7th Century)
  8. Arian Christians (2nd-8th Century)
  9. Marcionite Christians (2nd-5th Century)
  10. Roman Christianity / Pauline Christianity (4th Century +)
  11. Others (Melitians, Donatists, Monothelites)