I came across Dame Elisabeth S. Drower’s The Secret Adam: A Study of Nasoraean Gnosis earlier this week, much to my delight. It is published in the Mandaean scriptures section of a website administered by the “open-source” Thelemite Church named Ecclesia Gnostica Universalis by its founders. I am going to give the link to the section here – both due to the fact that the online document is in Acrobat PDF format, and out of respect for the pioneering spirit and effort made by those responsible.
This dissertation does a rather arcane subject some justice.
It has been alleged that the Mandaeans are the only surviving religion or tradition associated with Gnosticism in antiquity, moreover there has always been a mystique attached to the Mandaeans, about whom it has also been alleged they in the middle ages, when encountered by Christian travellers, would profess to be “Christians of St.John” – it would only take a few scarce centuries before this profession of affiliation was brought into question, some saw the colourful reports of this strangely serene people, untouched by western and eastern Christian orthodoxies and the painfull controversies which lead to the great schism over the Filioque clause in the 11th century – as direct ancestors of a type of Christianity in direct rivalry with the mainstream of tradition from the onset, as followers of St.John the Baptist, not St.John the Apostle. Eventually some missionaries, Jesuits would you not guess it, with their orientalist appetites and sensibilities, hoarded sacred scriptures and manuscripts, not only from the Mandaeans, but also from Zoroastrians, Nusairies (so-called “Ansiree”, also associated with a St.John) and Yezidis (Ms. Drower also published a study on the Kurdish Yezidis titled Peacock Angel, published at www.avesta.org ) and other living traditions of the Middle and Near East. Such hoardings and loot did indeed serve as kindling for a new activation of consciousness about context, meaning,wholeness and eternity in the minds of Western intellectuals, among whom there were many Christians with a proclivity for simplifying and generalising. Among these, notably, a Professor named Lidzbarski associated with the German “religionsgeschichte” school, went so far ahead with a few of the Mandaean scriptures he was translating as to assert that Christianity had sprung out of the Mandaean, and thus, indirectly, Gnostic movement, rather than vice versa; he was inclined to consider the sacraments of the Mandaean religion as more pure, primitive expressions of the sacraments found in the Church, i.e. the Catholic Church contemporary to himself. The Theosophist G.R.S. Mead made a similar observation upon publishing his translation of the Mandaean scripture Sidra D’Yahia – which he titled The Gnostic Book of John the Baptist, based on a discovery found within the text itself: Here we find asserted that John and Jesus grew up together and held familiar ties, John being his cousin, but that John was the result of a divine intervention whereas Jesus, although elect and priveleged to be party to the Nasirutha, the initiatory Gnosis of their religion – they were Mandaeans, eventually went astray, because he spoke of the secret and forbidden mysteries of the religion he belonged to, to basically everyone and did not observe the strict discipline of his forefathers, he became a betrayer, whereas John became a prophet, a rescuer of the tradition – but not a savior or Messiah.
Drower, The Secret Adam.
“Only as manuscript after manuscript is studied does a picture gradually form of an ancient theosophy true to the type we call gnostic, which developed in the syncretistic centuries which preceded the fall of classical paganism. This theosophy was hybrid. It embraced the star-knowledge and wisdom of Babylon and Egypt, the dualism of the Iranian sages and Plato, the high speculation of the Greeks, and the stern morality of the Jews and its book of books. Deeper roots may have reached yet farther east. If one may venture into hypothesis, seedbeds in which Nasirutha (secret knowledge) could well have germinated were the flourishing Jewish colonies in commercial towns in Parthia,Media, and Babylonia.These were, of course, in constant touch, not only wih one another, but with Jerusalem. I suggest that such a sect may have spread into the Jordan valley, Galilee, and Judaea, where it would naturally have split into sub-sects, one of them possibly Christianity, which recognized in Jesus its crowned and anointed king – the Messiah. It is a striking fact that in all the Mandaean texts the word msiha (Messiah, Christ) is only used with the qualification “lying” or “false” of Jesus, and this is the more suprising as every priest is a king (malka), crowned and anointed, as microcosm of the macrocosm Adam Kasia, the crowned and anointed Antrophos, Arch-priest and creator of the cosmos made in his form.
The word oil of unction is msia and the verbs for its application are RSM and ADA.The implication is that the word msiha (the anointed one) was so inextricably connected with the hated Jew and Christian that the root MSH was banned from Nasoraean use.
Having set foot on the slippery road of speculation, I assume that it might well follow that after the destruction of Jerusalem, when the Jewish Christians for the most part settled in East Jordan, our Nasoraeans, hating, and hated by, both Jew and Jewish-Christian, would naturally seek harbour in the friendlier atmosphere of Parthia and the Median hills – exactly as the Haran Gawaitha related,and, according to that manuscript, a number of them migrated later under Parthian protection into Babylonia and Khuzistan.
Did they find in the well/watered marsh districts there a baptizing gnostic sect like – or affiliated to – their own?
It might explain much,but here I can only refer the reader to Chapter X of this book.”
“In the “secret scrolls” Jesus and John are unmentioned. In the two condices accessible to the uninitiated (Ginza Rba and Drasha d’ Yahia, the Book of John)the former is represented as a perverter of Nasoraean teaching. In contrast, when Jesus appears in the Coptic Christian gnostic manuscripts (TdB: Drower refers to the discoveries and publications of the Codex Askew and Codex Brucianus and the first published fragments from the Nag Hammadi Library. She wrote this book in the late 1950’s to 1962)he is used as a mouthpiece of gnosis.There is no attempt to represent him as an historical figure, although by use of his name the Coptic gnosis is given a Christian aspect.”
pp.xi-xii, Introduction, The Secret Adam, E.S. Drower, Oxford University Press, 1962.
“That Nasoraeans were originally a Jewish group or partly Jewish group is suggested by their claim that John the Baptist was a member of theirs ect, and by the fact that the Jordan is an essential and central feature of their tradition. Today the word yardna (jordan) is applied not only to running water as used in baptism and immersion, but to any flowing stream; yet the conjunction of John the Baptist and Jordan is significant.
Epiphanius (Adversus Haereses, xxix:6) says that there were Nasoraeans amongst the Jews before the time of Christ. The name could have been applied to any strictly law-observing Jewish sect for the root (TdB:in Hebrew,sorry I have no means to transcribing it) means to “keep,observe, guard” and could have been used as a laudatory term for more than one group of dissidents, particularly if they had secret teachings. Nasoraeans of the Mandaean type “keep and observe” ritual law with zealous fidelity and “keep back” – even from their own lairy – mysteries considered deep and easily misunderstood by the uninitated.Nasoraean hatred for Jews must have originated at a period at which Nasoraeans were in close contact with orthodox jewry and at a time when the orthodox Jews had some authority over them. All this points to the truth of the Haran Gawaitha tradition. Heterodox Judaism in Galilee and Samaria appears to have taken shape in the form we now call gnostic, and it may well have existed some time before the Christian era. In the Schweich Lectures given by Dr.Moses Gaster in 1923 on the Samaritans, the lecturer, speaking of settlements of Jews and Samaritans in the Diaspora, mentioned similarities which exist between Parseeism, Judaism and Samaritanism, and pointed out the possibility that Mandaeism might also have sprouted in such seedbeds.
The figure of Pthahil and its connexion as demiurge with the Egyptian god Ptah, the Mandaean tradition that they once had fellow religionists in Egypt, and the apparently ancient belief transmitted by word of mouth that they dove slaughtered before the masiqta is called a ba (unsatisfactory though these may be as evidence, for I find little to justify them in the texts) must be considered contributory when assessing the possibility that Nasirutha originated in semi-paganized Jewish circles.
In this book I have tried to view Nasoraean gnosis as a whole and have not concealed my belief that the secret teaching, based upon the Mystic Adam, goes back to the first and second centuries. Vitally significant aspects of that gnosis are evident in unpublished scrolls held as a closely-guarded heritage by the inner circle, the Nasoraeans. These a layman, however pious, is not allowed to see or hear. They contain tenets imparted only to an initiated few; indeed, Nasirutha could be called truly esoteric – a religion within a religion, a gnosis within a gnosis, and its heart is the interpretation which it attaches to sacramental acts.”
The latter assertion makes Drower’s brief introduction to this tradition in the form of her study The Secret Adam quite interesting reading for both Gnostics and those who for whatever reason pursue a study of ancient Gnosticism. At the end of the introduction Drower lists some principal features of the gnosis, the Nasirutha:
“1. A Supreme formless Entity, the expression of which in time and space is creation of spiritual, ehteric, and material worlds and beings. Production of these is delegated by It to a creator or creators who originated in It. The cosmos is created by Archetypal Man, who produces it in similitude of his own shape.”
TdB:This bears very close resemblance to the system found in the Apocryphon of John.
“2. Dualism: A Cosmic Father and Mother, Light and Darkness, Right and Left, syzygy in cosmic and microcosmic form.
3.As a feature of this dualism, counter-types, a world of ideas.
4.The soul is portayed as an exile, a captive; her home and origin being the supreme Entity to which she eventually returns.
5.Planets and stars influence fate and human beings, and are also places of detention after death.
6.A saviour spirit or saviour spirits which assist the soul on her journey through life and after it to the “worlds of light.”
7. A cult-language of symbol and metaphor. Ideas and qualities are personified.
8. Mysteries, i.e. sacraments to aid and purify the soul, to ensure her rebirth into a spirituyal body, and her ascent from the world of matter. These are often adaptations of existing seasonal and traditional rites to which an esoteric interpretation is attached. In the case of the Nasoraeans this interpretation is based on the Creation story, especially on the Divine Man, Adam, as crowned and anointed King-priest.
9. Great secrecy is enjoined upon initiates; full explanation of 1, 2 and 8 being reserved for those considered able to understand and perserve the gnosis.”
“Other features and developements occur in various syncretic and gnostic systems, but the above are, upon the whole, the distinguishing features of Nasoraean gnosis, Nasirutha.”
She also comments that many of the writers of the secret scrolls appear to be, in the eyes of westerners, poor literary craftsmen, who “dilate upon matters repellent to the Western mind, such as the organs and the functions of the Body of the Secret Adam.”
Which shows she might not have been exposed to overmuch of the Kabbalistical tradition, perhaps, although she does quip Gershom Scholem occasionally, with regards to the hypothesis of a Jewish proto-gnosticism. She explains this, though, eloquently:
“To a Nasoraean the human body is a replkica of the glorious cosmic Body, the holiest of mysteries, and every organ in it, including those necessary to digestion, reproduction, and evacuation, has for him deep symbolical significance and is revered as an expression of the Divine chemistry of genesis, purification, and catharsis.”
If we visualize, if we imagine, if we allow ourselves for a moment to enter a universe – a wholeness, a completion, an expanse having no boundary which simultaneously is reflected in the form of a man – necessarely, this physique, especially when he is explicitly the Antrophos, the Arch-Propator of humanity, the Autogenes (self-generate) Adam itself, and moreover, which every single, particular man is a perfect microcosmos of; there can be no more bashfulness and indignation over its naked and raw qualities as far as its physique, its anatomy goes. I am also reminded that the form of Adam also received an inside in both the first and second phase of his evocation into the earthly sphere by the Archons, as we find the process in the aforementioned Gnostic mythical and metaphysical text the Apocryphon of John – here each of the Archons attempt to stamp their mark upon him, as so many engineers, and gain dominion over him. Since every part portrayed in matter exists in the ideal, ehteral, astral.. Pleromic realm, and is presently subject to the dominion of … well, demons, small infernal busy-bodies whose inclinations appears to me to become more and more comparable to those busy-bodies which exist in the particular mythology called biology and the subject matter of the empirical human anatomy.. the secret knowledge of both the order of creation of each organ, its function and the name of its hierarchic lord, a demonology of the human body – followed and became part of what might be called “Gnostic Folk Medicine”. Curiously aspects of this survived until the time of Paraclesus and perhaps beyond, it became en vouge in the Renaissance, especially in France, which fostered its own brief generation of “gnostic mages” long before the time of Monsignor Jules Stanys Doinel.
Abstracts from E.S.Drower’s pioneering work in more thorough, modern manner on the Mandaeans ; The Mandaeans of Iran and Iraq, first published in 1962 can be found at the “Holy Order of ONE” website, which contains spread throughout a lot of information about Manichaeanism and the Mandaean tradition. Introduction, continued here. ,
which Drower reports a census made 30 years before the book was published: “According to the last census (April 1932) the number of Subba in Iraq is given as 4,805”. Fortunately this is not currently the case but the Mandaeans are struggling against great odds. The Middle East has historically not been a good climate for minority groups, etnic or religious, who have little in common with the major power-houses of raw political power, be they secular or religiously inclined. This people with a symphathy for the Christian Gnosis of the first centuries are painfully aware of. If anything, it is feasible for modern students to project a motif of an extremely hostile environment as a background for the Cosmological Agon between the powers of Light and the powers of Darkness.Share on Facebook