Ginza Rabba The Holy Book of the Mandaeans

Ginza Rabba : Great Treasure
The Holy Book of the Mandaeans in English
Although Mandaeans neglected to document their history and have lost much of their oral traditions, they were quite eager to keep their religious heritage by copying their manuscripts. They therefore adopted strict regulations for copying their sacred manuscripts, to maintain and preserve them from one generation to the next.
The Ginza Rabba, or Great Treasure, is Mandaeans’ largest collection of religious principles and instructions. According to their beliefs, the Ginza was the first revelation of God to Adam and thus considered as their holy book. Among Mandaeans, the book is also known as Sidra Rabba, the great codex or Sidra ’d Adam, the codex of Adam.
As unique as these people are, their holy book is specially arranged: it consists of two volumes, the yamina or “right” and smala or “left” Ginza. The “right” volume is larger and contains 18 chapters divided into individual tractates, whereas the “left” volume includes 3 main chapters containing many hymns. The way of binding both volumes together is very particular and used by the Mandaeans only for this book. Both parts have to be bundled together in one tome; the “left” part is placed upside-down to the “right” part, so that both parts can be read from right-to-left according to the Mandaic alphabet.
The Ginza Rabba varies in its contents and deals with spiritual, even metaphysical aspects. It also deals with the mortal life of human beings and describes ancient visions concerning life after death. In particular, the “right” volume depicts the Mandaean theology, cosmogony and anthropogeny, i.e. the Mandaeans’ dogma of monotheism and the creation story of the cosmos and mankind; in this part, Mandaean ethics are outlined by a detailed account of moral duties. On the other hand, the “left” volume is concerned entirely with the return of the soul to its origin in the world of light; it is about the ascent of the soul after death and the idea of eternal life.
Generally, the Ginza Rabba represents consecutively the principles of the Mandaean doctrine: the belief of the only one great God, Hayyi Rabbi, to whom all absolute properties belong; he created all the worlds, formed the soul through his power, and placed it by means of angels into the human body. So he created Adam and Hawa/Eve, the first man and woman. Since the soul was brought down to the material world, it has to stay for a defined period of time in the human body and is obliged to suffer its worldly fate; however, the soul as a part of the divine creation should encourage human beings to do good deeds and to confront evil with God’s help. God therefore sent the saviour to protect the soul, along with messengers to guide the people to a pious life according to His will. When the soul completes its predestined lifespan, the saviour will come to accompany it back from the body to its origins, whereupon it has to pass through several stations of purification.
In more recent times, Mandaeans have been facing serious difficulties in reading and understanding the Ginza Rabba, and explaining its contents to their children and neighbors because of its original Mandaic language.
In the past, there were several serious attempts to translate the Ginza Rabba into foreign languages by scholars as part of their studies of Mandaean religion. This began with the attempt of the Swedish Orientalist Mathias Norberg to translate it into Latin in 1815/1816. The first printed version of the Ginza Rabba was copied by the German Orientaliest Heinrich Julius Petermann in 1867. Then the German scholar Wilhelm Brandt attempted to translate the whole book into German, but only published some portions in 1839. His colleague Mark Lidzbarski produced the first translation of the whole book into German in 1925. Other scholars included in their publications some passages translated into English, usually relying upon the German version.
Despite these considerable efforts, Mandaeans were unable to use these editions in Iraq and Iran due to the unfamiliarity of German and Latin there. As the result of an increasing need to have a comprehensible Ginza in Iraq, the headship of the Mandaeans decided to translate the Ginza Rabba into Arabic.
Since the last quarter of the twentieth century, the Mandaeans have been forced to leave their homelands. They have escaped to many countries, so that three-quarters of them are now living in the Diaspora.
Due to their emigration to foreign countries, the new generation of Mandaeans is becoming fully integrated into their new societies. They are deeply influenced by the cultures and the languages of these new “homelands”. However, they have to sustain their identity by means of understanding their own religion and presenting their faith to other interested people.
As a result of this, it became necessary to translate the Ginza Rabba into English, so that coming generations will maintain their religious education in a language which is of common use.
Even though this edition represents a translation of the meaning, reflecting the intentions behind the original text rather than a literal translation, we were quite careful and attentive towards conveying the spiritually worded text from its Mandaic origins to an understandable language. The Ginza Rabba should be easily read and understood by everyone; our aim is to make its ancient heritage coherent with modern usage, so that readers are not confused.
This project was according to the permission and supervision of Rishema Sattar Jabbar Hillo the head of the Mandaeans in the world and Rishema Salah Jabbar Tawos the head of the Mandaeans in Australia. I would like to thank them for involving me in this important project.