Tsabians

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The word Sabians (Σοβιαΐ) refers to the Judeo-Baptists and related sects such as Rambam's Sabiah Mushrikun (Harranians) or Yazdaeans and Sabiah Hunafa. Although these groups may share some common concepts or heritage, they actually refer to completely different groups of people.

This article focuses on the original Judeo-Baptists sometimes called Sebomenoi in Greek sources being nothing more than an alternative way of refering to Noahites.

At one end of the Sabian spectrum Trinitarians have a place according to some authorities (e.g. Rabbi Harvey Falk), while at the other end there is no need to think along such lines.

Ger Toshav, Theosebeia, Sebomenoi and Sabiun

  • Sebomenoi/Sebeoi a monotheistic community God Fearers referred to by Greek manuscripts from the Hellenistic-Roman period, modern research indicates that the greek word TheoSeBeia is derived from the hebrew ger ToShaB, and evolved into the word TSaBian [1]

Overview

In the latter ninth century of the Common Era, Arab authors focused upon the "Polytheist" Sabians (Sabi'ah Mushrikun) and went into much detail on the Harranian period before the time of Abraham. Most of this knowledge was translated in 904 CE into the book called "The Nabatean Agriculture" which was considered by Maimonides to have been an accurate record of the Gnostic beliefs of the Sabi'ah Mushrikoon (Gnostic Sabians) in the Harranian area. However, there is really no reason to assume that the Harranians were ever Sabians at all, and only began to use this ethnicon after the time of Caliph Mai'mun.

Though Arabic sources go into detail on the origin of Sabiah Hunafa from Sabiah Mushrikun, the Sabiah Hunafa themselves consider their path to be a return to orthodoxy of the religion of Noah.

Despite all this substantial and clear documentation about both Harranians and Sabians spanning many centuries from sources as diverse as Greek Christian, Arabic Muslim, Arabic and Persian Bahá'í, as well as Jewish sources, the actual nature of the Sabians has remained a matter of some heated debate among western orientalists.

Confusion with other groups

  • The confusion of Mandaeans with Sabians. The confusion of western orientalists was due the fact that it was once important for the Mandaean Nasaraeans to seek protection under Islamic law by paying the jizyah tax when Christians began to object to them being classified as Nosaari. By adopting some of Yazdâeans' beliefs, they tried to relate their origins to the Harranians who had already made claim to the title "Sabian". Therefore, "Sabian" has been used mistakenly in many literary references for decades and though, the spelling "Sabian" usually refers to one of "people of the book" as mentioned in the Qur'an, it has also been used by the Mandaeans as an appellation adopted to appease local Muslim authorities.
  • The confusion of Harranian with Sabians. The variation "Sabean", has been employed in English to distinguish the ancient Harranian origins and Gnostic Yazidi beliefs prior to their rejection of Gnosticism and adoption of Monotheism. In 830 CE the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun was passing through Harran on his way to a campaign against Byzantium who forced the Harranians to convert to either one of the 'religions of the book', meaning Judaism, Christianity or Islam. The people of Harran identified themselves with the Sabians in order to fall under the protection of Islam. The Harranian Sabians and the ones mentioned in the Quran have nothing in common. The term Pseudo-Sabian has been used not only by orientalists who take the side of the Mandaeans against the Harranians, but also by orientalists who take the side of the Harranians against the Mandaeans, rendering that term practically useless.
  • The confusion of Sabaeans with Sabians began with Marmaduke Pickthall's spelling mistake in his translation of the Qur'an. The word "Sabaeans" comes from a completely different root spelling beginning with the letter "Sin" instead of the letter "Sad". The Sabaeans were in fact the people of ancient Saba in Yemen who have been discredited by scholars as to having any connection to the Sabians of the Qur'an except for their Ansar tribe which practiced Qur'ānic Sabi'ism (Seboghatullah: "submersion in the divine mystery").

References

  1. God-Fearers and the Identity of the Sabians
  2. ibid.