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Index / Religions / Historical /
Sabaeans of Harran
Arabic: sābi' (sing.), sābi'ūn (pl.), 'as-sābi'a (collective)
Other spelling: Sabians


Extinct religion of northern Mesopotamia, with Harran (today in Turkey) as central cult centre. The religion bears a similarity to Gnosticism. Some sources claim that the religion has survived in Baghdad, Iraq, but only as a small group.
Links have been suggested to the religion of Yazdanism.
What their original designation was, is no longer known. It is assumed that they took the name "Sabaeans" in order to avoid persecution from the Muslim rulers; Sabaeans was a religion mentioned in the Koran as one of the religions that a Muslim ruler could tolerate, but the Sabaeans had never been identified. Their main challenge of a Muslim ruler came in the 9th century, from Caliph al-Ma'mun. Whether this process made them take the name "Sabaeans", or if it had happened well in advance is not known.
Their religion had ancient roots, but was successfully destroyed in the 11th century, when their temple was destroyed by Muslim mobs.
Core elements of their faith were the belief in great astral spirits. These spirits were without any characteristic of living beings, and had no form of body.
They derived their religion mainly to two philosopher-prophets, Adhimun and Hermes. There had been other prophets too, like Orpheus.
The world had been created by a divine being, who could only be reached by the aid of the spirits. Contact with the spirits could only be achieved by those purifying their souls and controlling their passions.
The Sabaeans had 3 prayers. They had many regulations on purity, and could not eat pork, birds with talons and pigeons. Bigamy was prohibted, and divorce could only be granted by a judge.
They had temples for their cult, and rituals were performed using Syriac language.
In 872, a new branch of Sabaeanism was founded in Baghdad, by Thabit bin Qurra. For about 100 years, this branch was tolerated by the Muslim Caliph. But they would survive condemnation of the caliphate. It is by some suggested that it is from this group that the Mandeans have occurred, although many others see no link, rather trace the origins of the Mandeans to John the Baptist, as they do themselves.
The Sabaeans produced a large number of important scientists of its time.




By Tore Kjeilen