views updated


GINZA . Among their many books, the Gnostic Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran rank the voluminous Ginza ("treasure"), their "holy book," as the most important. It is studied by priests, and its presence is required at the performance of the major Mandaean rituals. In the seventh century of the common era, during the Islamic conquest, the Mandaeans assembled the Ginza in order to gain status as a "people of the book," allowed to resist conversion to Islam. The work, separated into Right Ginza and Left Ginza, contains a number of myths concerning the creation of the world and of human beings, descriptions of the human lot on earth, moral teachings, polemics against other faiths, and hymns. In Mandaeism generally, "right" and "left" are connected to the otherworldly and the earthly realms, respectively. However, in the case of the two parts of Ginza, the designations seem to contradict this pattern, for Right Ginza contains a great deal of cosmogonic and anthropogonic material, while the left part deals with the otherworldly fate of the soul.

Left Ginza, which has been called a "book of the dead," falls into three parts. Left Ginza 1.12 describe the death of Adam, who is reluctant to leave behind his body as well as his wife and children. Part 1.4 portrays the soul's journey through the purgatories (matarata ) between the earth and the Lightworld, the pristine upper world. The last two parts are composed of hymns for the soul rising to the Lightworld after the death of the body. The hymns of the twenty-eight sections of Left Ginza 2 concentrate on the complaints of the soul (here, mana, "vessel") in the earthly world. A helper is sent from the Lightworld to aid the soul. Some of the sixty-two Left Ginza 3 hymns are among the ritually used death-mass (masiqta ) hymns, the oldest datable texts in Mandaeism (c. third century ce). Thus, these cultic texts testify to the antiquity of the masiqta, the "raising up" ceremony for the soul and the spirit at the death of the body.

In Right Ginza, helper figures command a central position. Two main envoys are Manda d-Hiia and Hibil, although a large tractate, Right Ginza 15, portrays several other messengers. In Right Ginza 5.1, Hibil descends to the underworld prior to the creation of the earth, in order to prevent an attack on the Lightworld by the powers of the underworld. He returns with Ruha, the spirit, the vital element necessary for human and earthly life. Extensive stories about the creation of the world and the human lot are found in Right Ginza 3 and 10. John the Baptist, the Mandaean prophet, expounds his teachings in Right Ginza 7. In view of the use of the Arabic form Yaya for John in this text, it was probably written in the seventh century. Polemics against Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other religions characterize Right Ginza 9.1, and moral instructions and warnings against surrender to evil powers recur in Right Ginza 1, 2, 8, 13, 16, and 17. Right Ginza 18, written in the seventh century, is a Mandaean "history of the world" that ends in an apocalypse. This tractate closes Right Ginza.

Several European libraries possess Ginza manuscripts. The oldest, in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, dates from 1560. In 1867, Heinrich Petermann published a largely useless edition and translation of Ginza. Mark Lidzbarski's 1925 version remains thus far the classical edition and translation. The new translation of Ginza undertaken by Kurt Rudolph will take into account the many discoveries of Mandaean texts and the advances made in studies on Mandaeism since Lidzbarski's time.

See Also

Manda d'Hiia; Mandaean Religion.


The most reliable edition and translation of the Mandaean "holy book" was published in German under the editorship of Mark Lidzbarski as Ginza: Der Schatz; oder, Das grosse Buch der Mandäer (Göttingen, 1925; new edition in preparation by Kurt Rudolph). Representative Ginza material is included in Gnosis: A Selection of Gnostic Texts, vol. 2, Coptic and Mandean Sources (Oxford, 1974), edited by Werner Foerster. Kurt Rudolph's Theogonie, Kosmogonie und Anthropogonie in den mandäischen Schriften (Göttingen, 1965) offers a historical analysis of the traditions portrayed in the Ginza tractates. For his most recent view on Ginza, one may consult Rudolph's "Die mandäische Literatur," in Zur Sprache und Literatur der Mandäer: Studia Mandaica I (Berlin, 1976), edited by Rudolf Macuch.

New Sources

Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen. The Mandaeans. Ancient texts and Modern People. Oxford, 2002. The most refreshing and comprehensive book on the Mandaeans, including an overview of Mandaean literature. For the Ginza see pp. 1011, mentioning the 1998 first-ever printed edition of the Mandaean holy book

Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley (1987)

Revised Bibliography