In his recent book From Sasanian Mandaeans to Ṣābians of the Marshes, Kevin T. van Bladel reopens old questions on the origins of Mandaeans and, armed with his characteristic erudition, fixes the topic on more secure historical and social footings. He has three major arguments: 1) the Mandaeans emerged as a distinct community in fifth-century Sasanian Persia not in the third century, as is widely assumed; 2) Mandaeans not only absorbed earlier teachings and texts from an earlier group called the Nazoreans, but they also distinguished themselves from a rival “sister” community called the Kentaeans; 3) The Sasanian emperors had a habit of pillaging pagan temples, which led to their decline and the emergence of Mandaeans, Kentaeans, and other types of “Syro-Mesopotamian” groups. Methodologically, van Bladel breaks with other scholars of Mandaeism by moving away from a “comparative religions” approach that approaches the emergence of Mandaeism through other “Syro-Mesopotamian” religions in favor of a historical approach that tracks the development of Mandaeism “with respect to larger social contexts situated in specific times” (4). Van Bladel thus works from within the Mandaean tradition and with a careful eye to external references to uniquely Mandaean ideas in order to tease out a reliable historical scaffolding for the emergence of Mandaeism.I noted the publication of the book here in 2016.
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