Survival of an ancient faith threatened by fighting in Iraq





TRENTON, N.J. -- Among the casualties of the Iraq war is a little-known religious faith called Mandaeanism that has survived roughly two millennia and whose adherents believe that John the Baptist was their great teacher.

While there were more than 60,000 Mandaeans in Iraq in the early 1990s, only about 5,000 to 7,000 remain. Many have fled amid targeted killings, rapes, forced conversions and property confiscation by Islamic extremists, according to a report released last week by the New Jersey-based Mandaean Society of America...

Mandaean leaders say tens of thousands of their brethren are scattered around the world, including a U.S. community centered around New York and Detroit.

With the dispersion comes concern that the faith is withering, especially as more Mandaeans marry non-Mandaeans, with no mechanism to bring their children into the fold.

"There's not much hope for us to survive to two or three generations," Nashi said.

Scholars who study the Mandaean religion and culture say its extinction would be a great loss, the end of an ancient religious movement. Dating to the time of the Roman Empire, it survived primarily in what is today Iraq and Iran, a branch of the Gnostic movement that borrowed elements of Christianity.



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