A Mandaean priest or Rabbi refers to an ordained religious leader in Mandaeism.


All priests must undergo lengthy ordination ceremonies, beginning with tarmida initiation.[1] Mandaean religious leaders and copyists of religious texts hold the title Rabbi or in Arabic 'Sheikh'.[2][3]

All Mandaean communities traditionally require the presence of a priest, since priests are required to officiate over all important religious rituals, including masbuta, masiqta, birth and wedding ceremonies. Priests also serve as teachers, scribes, and community leaders. Many Mandaean diaspora communities do not have easy access to priests.[1] Due to the shortage of priests in the Mandaean diaspora, halala (Classical Mandaic: ࡄࡀࡋࡀࡋࡀ) or learned Mandaean laymen who are ritually clean (both individually and in terms of family background) can sometimes assume minor roles typically assumed by ordained priests. Such laymen taking on limited priestly roles are called paisaq (Classical Mandaic: ࡐࡀࡉࡎࡀࡒ).[4]: 338  Ritually clean laymen who are literate in Mandaic and can read Mandaean scriptures are known as yalufa (Classical Mandaic: ࡉࡀࡋࡅࡐࡀ, romanized: ialupa).[5]: 15 


In Mandaean scriptures, priests are referred to as Naṣuraiia (Classical Mandaic: ࡍࡀࡑࡅࡓࡀࡉࡉࡀ, lit.'Naṣoraeans')[6] or occasionally as Tarmiduta. On the other hand, laypeople are referred to as Mandaiia (Classical Mandaic: ࡌࡀࡍࡃࡀࡉࡉࡀ, lit.'Gnostics, Knowers, Enlightened Ones').[7]: 116  Naṣuraiia are considered to have naṣiruta, or esoteric divine knowledge. (Brikha Nasoraia describes naṣiruta as the esoteric strand of Mandaeism, similar to how Sufism is related to Islam.)[7]


There are three types of priests in Mandaeism:[1]

Priests have lineages based on the succession of ganzibria priests who had initiated them. Priestly lineages, which are distinct from birth lineages, are typically recorded in the colophons of many Mandaean texts. The position is not hereditary, and any yalufa (yalupa), or Mandaean male who is highly knowledgeable about religious matters, is eligible to become a priest.[4]

Traditionally, any ganzeḇrā who baptizes seven or more ganzeḇrānā may qualify for the office of rišama. The current rišama of the Mandaean community in Iraq is Sattar Jabbar Hilo al-Zahrony. In Australia, the rišama of the Mandaean community is Salah Choheili.[8][9]

A shganda (šganda) or ashganda (ašganda)[6] is a ritual assistant who helps priests with ritual duties. Prior to ordination, many priests have typically served as shganda as young men, although this is not a requirement.[1]


Zazai of Gawazta, who was active during the 270s AD during the reign of Sasanian Emperor Bahram I, is widely considered to be one of the first Mandaean priests. During the Muslim conquests of the 630s, the Mandaean priest Anush bar Danqa, led a delegation before the Muslim authorities to have the Mandaeans recognized as a People of the Book.[10][1]

The contemporary Mandaean priesthood can trace its immediate origins to the first half of the 19th century. In 1831, a cholera pandemic in Shushtar, Iran devastated the region and eliminated all of the Mandaean religious leaders there. Two of the surviving acolytes (šgandia), Yahia Bihram and Ram Zihrun, reestablished the Mandaean priesthood in Suq esh-Shuyuk on the basis of their own training and the texts that were available to them.[4]

Although Mandaean priests have been exclusively male since the 1900s, Buckley (2010) presents evidence that there had historically been Mandaean priests who were women, including Bibia Mudalal (the wife of Ram Zihrun during the 19th century) and Shlama beth Qidra (Šlama, daughter of Qidra, from the 3rd century AD).[4]


Left: A Mandaean wearing a burzinqa (turban) and pandama (cloth covering the mouth) with a margna (staff), at a 2019 Parwanaya festival in Maysan Governorate, Iraq

See also: Baptismal clothing

Ritual clothing and accessories worn by Mandaean priests include:[1]

Mandaean priests are dressed completely in white to symbolize radiant uthras from the World of Light.[1]


Mandaean priests regularly receive zidqa (alms)[11] from laypeople, since priesthood is typically a full-time occupation.


Symbolically, a Mandaean priest represents an uthra on earth (Tibil).[1]

Shishlam is the personification of the prototypical or archetypal Mandaean priest.[1]


See also: List of Mandaean priests

As of 2016, Rishama Salah Choheili estimated a total number of 43–44 Mandaean priests in the world, including tarmidas, ganzibras, and rishamas.[12][13]

There are also a few Mandaean priests in Sweden, including Tarmida Qais Edan of Malmö.[17] Buckley (2023) reported that in 2015, there were 8 Mandaean priests in Sweden.[16]: 23 

In 2016, Salah Choheili also estimated a total number of 16 shgandas in the world who could potentially become tarmidas, 4 of whom were in Australia.[13]

Rishama Abdullah Ganzibra Najam (died 2009) was one of the few high-ranking Mandaean priests in the Netherlands.[18]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2002). The Mandaeans: ancient texts and modern people (PDF). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515385-5. OCLC 65198443.
  2. ^ McGrath, James F. (2010). "Reading the Story of Miriai on Two Levels: Evidence from Mandaean Anti-Jewish Polemic about the Origins and Setting of Early Mandaeism". ARAM Periodical. p. 583-592. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  3. ^ Holy Spirit University of Kaslik - USEK (27 November 2017), "Open discussion with the Sabaeans Mandaeans", YouTube, retrieved 10 December 2021
  4. ^ a b c d Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2010). The great stem of souls: reconstructing Mandaean history. Piscataway, N.J: Gorgias Press. ISBN 978-1-59333-621-9.
  5. ^ a b Häberl, Charles (2022). The Book of Kings and the Explanations of This World: A Universal History from the Late Sasanian Empire. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. doi:10.3828/9781800856271 (inactive 2024-02-17). ISBN 978-1-80085-627-1.((cite book)): CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of February 2024 (link)
  6. ^ a b Drower, E. S. 1960. The Secret Adam: A Study of Nasoraean Gnosis. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  7. ^ a b Nasoraia, Brikha H.S. (2021). The Mandaean gnostic religion: worship practice and deep thought. New Delhi: Sterling. ISBN 978-81-950824-1-4. OCLC 1272858968.
  8. ^ "الريشما ستار جبار حلو رئيس ديانة الصابئة المندائيين". Mandaean Library مكتبة موسوعة العيون المعرفية (in Arabic). Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  9. ^ "Harmony Day - Liverpool signs declaration on cultural and religious harmony". Liverpool City Champion. 25 March 2019. Archived from the original on 5 November 2021. Retrieved 5 November 2021.
  10. ^ Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2010). The great stem of souls: reconstructing Mandaean history. Piscataway, N.J: Gorgias Press. ISBN 978-1-59333-621-9.
  11. ^ Gelbert, Carlos (2011). Ginza Rba. Sydney: Living Water Books. ISBN 978-0-9580346-3-0.
  12. ^ "Rishamma Salah Choheili: July 2016, Chapter 2". The Worlds of Mandaean Priests. 2016-07-01. Retrieved 2023-09-27.
  13. ^ a b "Rishamma Salah Choheili, Chapter 2(Ba)". The Worlds of Mandaean Priests. Retrieved 2023-09-27 – via YouTube.
  14. ^ "Tarmida Behram Khafajy: April 2015". The Worlds of Mandaean Priests. 2015-03-01. Retrieved 2023-09-30.
  15. ^ "Tarmida Behram Khafajy". YouTube. Retrieved 2023-09-30.
  16. ^ a b Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2023). 1800 Years of Encounters with Mandaeans. Gorgias Mandaean Studies. Vol. 5. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. ISBN 978-1-4632-4132-2. ISSN 1935-441X.
  17. ^ "Tarmida Qais Edan: Chapter 1". The Worlds of Mandaean Priests. 2018-03-01. Retrieved 2023-09-27.
  18. ^ "Tarmida Khaldoon Majid Abdulla: Chapter 2 V1". The Worlds of Mandaean Priests. Retrieved 2023-09-27 – via YouTube.