Mandaic language

Mandāyì, Raṭnā, ࡓࡀࡈࡍࡀ
Native toIraq and Iran
RegionIraq – Baghdad, Basra Iran – Khuzistan
Native speakers
5,500 (2001–2006)[1]
Mandaic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
mid – Mandaic
myz – Classical Mandaic
mid Neo-Mandaic
 myz Classical Mandaic

Mandaic (Arabic: ٱلْمَنْدَائِيَّة‎, al-Mandāʾīyah) is a southeastern Aramaic dialect type in use by the Mandaean community for their religious books. Classical Mandaic is still employed by Mandaean priests in liturgical rites.[2] The modern descendant of Classical Mandaic, known as Neo-Mandaic or Modern Mandaic, is spoken by a small section of Mandaeans around Ahvaz[3] and Khorramshar[4] in the south Iranian province Khuzistan. Liturgical use of Classical Mandaic is found in Iran (particularly the southern portions of the country), in Baghdad, Iraq and in the diaspora (particularly in the United States, Sweden, and Germany). It is an Aramaic dialect notable for its abundant use of vowel letters (mater lectionis with aleph, he only in final position, ‘ayin, waw, yud)) in writing, so-called plene spelling (Mandaic script)[5] and the amount of Iranian[6] and Akkadian[7] language influence on its lexicon, especially in the area of religious and magical terminology.

Classical Mandaic belongs to the group of Southeastern Aramaic and is closely related to the Aramaic dialect in the major portions of the Babylonian Talmud,[8][9] but less to the various dialects of Aramaic and Syriac appearing in the incantation texts on unglazed ceramic bowls so-called incantation bowls[10] found mostly in central and south Iraq as well as the Iranian province of Khuzistan.[11] It is less related to the northeastern Aramaic dialect of Syriac.

This southeastern Aramaic dialect is transmitted through religious, liturgical, and magical manuscripts[12] as well as a unique astronomical and astrological omen manuscript,[13] most of them stored today under the Drower Collection, Bodleian Library (Oxford),[14] and in the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris), the British Library (London) and others. More specific written objects and of linguistic importance on account of their early transmission (5th – 7th centuries CE) are the earthenware incantation bowls and lead rolls (amulets), including silver and gold specimens[15] that were often unearthed in archaeological excavations in the regions of their historical living sites between Wasiṭ and Baṣra,[16][17] and frequently in central Iraq, for example (Bismaya,[18] Kish,[19] Khouabir,[20] Kutha,[21] Uruk,[22] Nippur[23]), north and south of the confluences of the Euphrates and Tigris (Abu Shudhr,[24] al-Qurnah[25]), and the adjacent province of Khuzistan (Hamadan).[26]  

Mandaic is written in a specific alphabet consisting of 23 graphemes with the last being a ligature.[27] Its origin and development is still under debate.[28] Graphemes appearing on incantation bowls and metal amulet rolls differ slightly from the late manuscript signs.[29]


Neo-Mandaic represents the latest stage of the phonological and morphological development of Mandaic, a Northwest Semitic language of the Eastern Aramaic sub-family. Having developed in isolation from one another, most Neo-Aramaic dialects are mutually unintelligible and should therefore be considered separate languages. Determining the relationship between Neo-Aramaic dialects is difficult because of poor knowledge of the dialects themselves and their history.[30]

Although no direct descendants of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic survive today, most of the Neo-Aramaic dialects spoken today belong to the Eastern sub-family of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic and Mandaic, among them Neo-Mandaic that can be described with any certainty as the direct descendant of one of the Aramaic dialects attested in Late Antiquity, probably Mandaic. Neo-Mandaic preserves a Semitic "suffix" conjugation (or perfect) that is lost in other dialects. The phonology of Neo-Mandaic is divergent from other Eastern Neo-Aramaic dialects.[31]

Three dialects of Neo-Mandaic were native to Shushtar, Shah Vali, Masjed Soleyman, and Dezful in the northern Khuzestan Province, Iran before the 1880s. During that time, Mandeans moved to Ahvaz and Khorramshahr to escape persecution. Khorramshahr had the most Neo-Mandaic speakers until the Iran–Iraq War caused many people to leave Iran.[32] Ahvaz is the only community with a sizeable portion of Neo-Mandaic speakers in Iran as of 1993.[33]


  1. ^ Mandaic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Classical Mandaic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Ethel Stefana Drower, The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran (Leiden: Brill, 1937; reprint 1962); Kurt Rudolph, Die Mandäer II. Der Kult (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht; Göttingen, 1961; Kurt Rudolph, Mandaeans (Leiden: Brill, 1967); Christa Müller-Kessler, Sacred Meals and Rituals of the Mandaeans”, in David Hellholm, Dieter Sänger (eds.), Sacred Meal, Communal Meal, Table Fellowship, and the Eucharist: Late Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity, Vol. 3 (Tübingen: Mohr, 2017), pp. 1715–1726, pls.
  3. ^ Rudolf Macuch, Neumandäische Texte im Dialekt von Ahwaz (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 1993), pp. XXXVI–XXXVIII, 1–101.
  4. ^ Charles Häberl. 2009. The Neo-Mandaic Dialect of Khorramshahr. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  5. ^ Theodor Nöldeke, Mandäische Grammatik (Halle: Waisenhaus, 1875), pp. 3–8.
  6. ^ No comprehensive and individual study exists yet except for some word discussions in Geo Widengren, Iranisch-semitische Kulturbegegnung in parthischer Zeit (Köln: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1960) and the etymological sections in Ethel Stefana Drower and Rudolf Macuch, A Mandaic Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963).
  7. ^ Stephen A. Kaufman, The Akkadian Influences on Aramaic (Assyriological Studies 19; Chicago: The University of Chicago: 1974).
  8. ^ Theodor Nöldeke, Mandäische Grammatik (Halle: Waisenhaus, 1875), pp. XXVI–XXVII
  9. ^ Franz Rosenthal, Das Mandäische, in Die aramaistische Forschung seit Th. Nöldeke’s Veröffentlichungen (Leiden: Brill 1939), pp. 228–229.
  10. ^ Tapani Harvaianen, An Aramaic Incantation Bowl from Borsippa. Another Specimen of Eastern Aramaic “Koiné”, Studia Orientalia 53.14, 1981, pp. 3–25.
  11. ^ Christa Müller-Kessler, "Zauberschalen und ihre Umwelt. Ein Überblick über das Schreibmedium Zauberschale," in Jens Kamran, Rolf Schäfer, Markus Witte (eds.), Zauber und Magie im antiken Palästina und in seiner Umwelt (Abhandlungen des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 46; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2017), pp. 59–94, figs. 1–2, 5, pls. 2, 4, 7–8, map.
  12. ^ Ethel Stefana Drower, The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran (Leiden: Brill, 1937; reprint 1962).
  13. ^ Ethel Stefana Drower, The Book of the Zodiac (sfar Malwašia) D.C. 31 (Oriental Translation Fund XXXVI; London: The Royal Asiatic Society, 1949).
  14. ^ Ethel Stefana Drower, "A Mandaean Bibliography", in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1953, pp. 34–39.
  15. ^ Christa Müller-Kessler, "A Mandaic Gold Amulet in the British Museum," in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 311, 1998, pp. 83–88.
  16. ^ M. Thevenot, Relations de divers voyages curieux, première partie (Paris, 1663–1672), map with Mandaean villages.
  17. ^ J. Heinrich Petermann, Reisen im Orient, Vol. II (Leipzig: Veit, 1861), pp. 66, 83–123, 447–465.
  18. ^ Henri Pognon, "Une incantation contre les génies malfaisantes, en Mandaite," in Mémoires de la Soceté de Linguitiques de Paris 8, 1892, p. 193
  19. ^ Peter R. S. Moorey, Kish Excavation 1923 – 1933 (Oxford: Oxford Press, 1978), pp. 123–124.
  20. ^ Henri Pognon, Inscriptions mandaïtes des coupes de Khouabir (Paris: H. Wetter, 1898; reprint Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1979), pp. 1–5.
  21. ^ Christopher Walker apud Jehudah B. Segal, Catalogue of the Aramaic and Mandaic Incantation Bowls in the British Museum (London: British Museum Press, 2000), pp. 35–39.
  22. ^ Rudolf Macuch, "Gefäßinschriften," in Eva Strommenger (ed.), Gefässe aus Uruk von der Neubabylonischen Zeit bis zu den Sasaniden (Ausgrabungen der deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft in Uruk-Warka 7; Berlin 1967), pp. 55–57, pl. 57.1–3.
  23. ^ J. P. Peters, Nippur or Explorations and Adventures on the Euphrates, Vol. II (New York: , 1897); Hermann V. Hilprecht, Explorations in Bible Lands During the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia: A. J. Molman and Company, 1903), p. 326; James A. Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur (Publications of the Babylonian Section 3; Philadelphia, 1913), pp. 37–39, 242–257; Christa Müller-Kessler (ed.), Die Zauberschalentexte der Hilprecht-Sammlung, Jena und weitere Nippur-Texte anderer Sammlungen (Texte und Materialen der Frau Professor Hilprecht-Collection 7; Wiesbaden 2005), pp. 110–135, 143–147.
  24. ^ François Lenormant, Essai sur la propagation de l’alphabet phénicien dans l’ancien monde, vol. II (Paris, 1872), pp. 76–82, pls. X–XI; Edmund Sollberger, "Mr. Taylor in Chaldaea," in Anatolian Studies 22, 1972, pp. 130–133.
  25. ^ Christa Müller-Kessler, "Interrelations between Mandaic Lead Rolls and Incantation Bowls," in Tzvi Abusch, Karel van der Toorn (eds.), Mesopotamian Magic. Textual, Historical, and Interpretative Perspectives (Ancient Magic and Divination 1; Groningen: STYX, 1999), pp. 197–198, pl. 209.
  26. ^ Cyrus H. Gordon, "Two Magic Bowls in Teheran," in Orientalia 20, 1951, pp. 306–311.
  27. ^ Rudolf Macuch, Handbook of Classical and Modern Mandaic (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1965), p. 9.
  28. ^ Peter W. Coxon, “Script Analysis and Mandaean Origins,” in Journal of Semitic Studies 15, 1970, pp. 16–30; Alexander C. Klugkist, “The Origin of the Mandaic Script,” in Han L. J. Vanstiphout et al. (eds.), Scripta Signa Vocis. Studies about scripts, scriptures, scribes and languages in the Near East presented to J. H. Hospers (Groningen: E. Forsten, 1986), pp. 111–120; Charles G. Häberl, “Iranian Scripts for Aramaic Languages: The Origin of the Mandaic Script,” in Bulletin for the Schools of American Oriental Research 341, 2006, pp. 53–62.
  29. ^ Tables and script samples in Christa Müller-Kessler, “Mandäisch: Eine Zauberschale,” in Hans Ulrich Steymans, Thomas Staubli (eds.), Von den Schriften zur (Heiligen) Schrift (Freiburg, CH: Bibel+Orient Museum, Stuttgart Katholisches Bibelwerk e.V., 2012), pp. 132–135, ISBN 978-3-940743-76-3.
  30. ^ Charles Häberl, The Neo-Mandaic Dialect of Khorramshahr, (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009).
  31. ^ Rudolf Macuch, Neumandäische Chrestomathie (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 1989).
  32. ^ Charles Häberl, The Neo-Mandaic Dialect of Khorramshahr, (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009).
  33. ^ Rudolf Macuch, Neumandäische Texte im Dialekt von Ahwaz (Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz, 1993).


  • Theodor Nöldeke. 1862. "Ueber die Mundart der Mandäer," Abhandlungen der Historisch-Philologischen Classe der königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen 10: 81-160.
  • Theodor Nöldeke. 1964. Mandäische Grammatik, Halle: Waisenhaus; reprint Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft with Appendix of annotated handnotes from the hand edition of Theodor Nöldeke by Anton Schall.
  • Svend Aage Pallis. 1933. Essay on Mandaean Bibliography. London: Humphrey Milford.
  • Franz Rosenthal. 1939. "Das Mandäische," in Die aramaistische Forschung seit Th. Nöldeke’s Veröffentlichungen. Leiden: Brill, pp. 224–254.
  • Ethel S. Drower and Rudolf Macuch. 1963. A Mandaic Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Rudolf Macuch. 1965. Handbook of Classical and Modern Mandaic. Berlin: De Gruyter.
  • Rudolf Macuch. 1989. Neumandäische Chrestomathie. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz.
  • Rudolf Macuch. 1993. Neumandäische Texte im Dialekt von Ahwaz. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz.
  • Joseph L. Malone. 1997. "Modern and Classical Mandaic Phonology," in Phonologies of Asia and Africa, edited by Alan S. Kaye. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
  • Rainer M. Voigt. 2007. "Mandaic," in Morphologies of Asia and Africa, Phonologies of Asia and Africa, edited by Alan S. Kaye. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
  • Kim, Ronald (2008). "Stammbaum or Continuum? The Subgrouping of Modern Aramaic Dialects Reconsidered". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 128 (3): 505–510.
  • Christa Müller-Kessler. 2009. "Mandaic Language," in Encyclopaedia Iranica [1]
  • Charles Häberl. 2009. The Neo-Mandaic Dialect of Khorramshahr. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Häberl, Charles G. (2012). "Neo-Mandaic". The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook. Berlin-Boston: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 725–737. ISBN 9783110251586.
  • Burtea, Bogdan (2012). "Mandaic". The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook. Berlin-Boston: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 670–685. ISBN 9783110251586.

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