Gnosticism arose some time in the centuries before and after the time of Christ. Although it was mostly known for many years through the writings of early Christian theologians who attached Gnostic beliefs as heretical and dangerous, since the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts in Egypt in 1948, understanding and awareness of this ancient tradition has grown greatly.
One of the oldest modern communities that traces its roots back to the first century is the Mandaeans, who live in the borderlands of Iran and Iraq. They revere scriptures that date back to the 2nd or 3rd centuries c.e., give special honor to John the Baptist, and believe that human beings are exiles in a dualistic world, caught in the struggle of good and evil.
Unfortunately, as one might well imagine, this community, belonging to neither Sunni, Shi’a, or Kurd factions, has suffered greatly from the warfare around them. By estimate, only some 5,000 people remain in Iraq of a community that numbered 60,000 in 2003, before the war. Many have become refugees.
A recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Nathaniel Deutsch, a professor of religion at Swarthmore College, called on the United States to offer sanctuary to Iraqi Mandaeans on the grounds of religious persecution.
- Save the Gnostics
(New York Times, October 6, 2007)
- Mandaeism (Wikipedia)
- Mandaean Associations Union