Review of Authentic Mandaean Stories and Fairy Tales

Mandaeans worldwide today comprise small and comparatively isolated communities, a situation greatly magnified by the wars in Iran then Iraq.  To help bridge this isolation, this collection of authentic Mandaean tales will help to ground Mandaeans in their tradition once more.  While there is a tendency to belittle stories such as these, a critical eye over the evidence presented here shows that these tales derive from varying eras but reveal the underlying concerns of the Mandaean communities then and now.

That such tales, though never previously written down, remain stable for hundreds if not thousands of years is now being acknowledged by scholars (e.g. Charles Häberl’s recent publication “From Jerusalem to the Karun” pp. 56-87 in The Gulf in World History: Arabia at the Global Crossroads, 2018), unlike their predecessors who largely discounted oral stories.

For example, the stories about Mandaeans’ high regard for bread and fear of the evil eye reveal concerns going back to the foundation of the religion or even to the Pagan era preceding this.  Human foibles are especially on display, while tales about famous religious-mythical figures, notably Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, confirm the existence of vast repository of such tales.  The particular Solomon and Sheba tale also refers to the mirror pool as found in the Quran sura 27 but not Jewish or Christian literature; nevertheless it is not a tale derivative from Islam but a separate Solomonic tradition.

Most importantly, the stories only tangentially connect with the extensive written Mandaean sacred texts so represent traditions largely excluded from the sacred.  There is much more than touched on here too, hence Mandaeans and others wishing to know more about these traditions will find this book essential for understanding the Mandaean mentality through the ages.