The distortion of the translation of The Mandaean Book of John

Sinan Al Jader
mandaean@swedguld.se

2023 / 5 / 24

The two scholars, Prof. Charles Hä-;-berl and Prof. James F. Mcgrath have translated one of our Mandaean holy books. It is Drasha dMalki/ Speech of the Angels. They called it: The Mandaean Book of John.
The issue present with their translation is that they did it from a non-neutral standpoint, going back to their ideology. They deliberately deleted paragraphs from the book that they did not like, while also making up phrases that simply did not exist in the original manu-script-.

For this reason, I have made a summary of some of those distortions that have affected the translation of the book. Most of them are self-evident, but there is a clear paradox where the translators above have insisted on their distorted translation being correct.
In March 2023 Mr. Hä-;-berl published a defamatory letter against me 1, but he wrote an old date on it. It contained a lot of aggression and threats. Nevertheless, I will not respond to him in the same way, as that contradicts the Mandaean morals which forbid insulting people in any situation. I would also like to remind him that we Mandaeans are the original followers of Shem and we have his books and teachings.

The political goals wrapped in religious stories have been a major cause of wars and conflicts between nations since ancient times up to our present era. An example would be that the main reason for the occupation and destruction of Iraq in 2003 was George Bush, President of The United States fearing that Gog and Magog would emerge from Babylon because they would destroy Israel and the Christian West! This is what Jacques Chirac, the former French president mentioned in his memoirs 2 about the logic they tried to convince him with it, to join that war.
There are of course other stories from the twentieth century about the emergence of modern colonial state, also based on religious stories. That is done to give legitimacy to their establishment.

In conclusion, religious stories were and are still being used, to persuade the political elites in many countries to carry out dangerous actions: such as wars and military occupations of other countries.
For this reason, researchers who have a political interest have persevered in distorting the religious stories of all religions, including the Mandaean. The process began during the twentieth century with attempts to falsify the Mandaean religion and its history, based on distorted translations and pieces of fabricated evidence that took place in several stages.

I will, in the following reply answer the letter that Mr. Hä-;-berl published, in the hope that the topic will become clear to him and also to the honorable readers.

First and foremost, Mr. Hä-;-berl complained at the beginning of his letter about the lack of validated research in my name. Please take into account that I have an engineering major and not in languages and humanitarians. Because of this, Mr. Hä-;-berls point of view was that I did not have the right to discuss the translations related to the Mandaean books with him, which he has distorted simply because he holds an academic degree in humanitarian studies and I do not!
I am not sure why he did not write this about E. S. Drower as an example, although she did a lot of good research on the Mandaeans and their history. But she, on the other hand, did not have an academic degree except for the honorary certificates that she received at the end of her life. On top of that, she was neither a Mandaean nor a descendant of the priesthood family like me.

I would also like to point out the following: We are a non-proselytizing religion that holds most of its teachings secret. Our peaceful religion has not had any political goals since ancient times, and therefore our strategy is based on not spreading our secret religious philosophy because it is only for the Mandaean religious community. This is because we do not seek to win people and try to -convert- them to our religion.
We however have no problem explaining our history, which is part of the history of Mesopotamia. We are also responding to those who try to manipulate our philosophy.

As for me personally, I have a rank in the religion which is called Ishkenda and in its definition means the equivalent of an assistant to the priest. I also have the title Yalofa, which means educated in the matters of the Mandaean religion. This is within our religious structure, as we are a very small community and do not have the great capabilities of other religions to create universities and academic research centers. Even though I have published hundreds of research articles on our religion, most of them are in Arabic and are -dir-ected internally toward other Mandaeans.

Bearing in mind that I also come from an ancient priesthood family where my ancestors have inherited priesthood degrees, for thousands of years without interruption 3.

On the other hand, we belong to the very old Mesopotamian philosophy which is rich in metaphorical expressions that only its people can understand. Because of this, the new Western translations either showed a level of distortion, were empty of meaning,´-or-were completely incorrect. The translations of this book have been done on the same principle as a translating machine that takes the sentence and reconstructs it word-for-word, without taking into account the overall meaning of the text and intended wisdom.

As for Mr. Hä-;-berl saying that the differences I have attached are too small compared to the size of the book, my reply is that I did not evaluate this book as being of significant value. We would have otherwise found many of those distortions. For them to no longer say that these are mere allegations, I have enclosed more grave mistakes that they have done in these weak translations.

I would also like to explain that we Mandaeans are not following the exact understanding of Lidzbarsky, Drower, and Macuch for the Mandaean vocabulary, as we have our original understanding of it. We might either agree with´-or-simply reject their suggestions. Not to forget that they were also not Mandaeans and did not inherit religious knowledge. They could also not speak Iraqi Arabic which is close to the Mandaean language, as they were looking at the Mandaean religious texts from the Hebrew perspective which is different.
One of their worst failures was the translation of the word Yardina, which means flowing water. An example could simply be the word referring to any flowing river, especially the Euphrates River. Yardina s name originally came from Eridu, they call the river Yardo. Lidzbarsky, however, had distorted its translation to mean the Jordan River! Even though he knew with certainty that the word ‘’Yardina’’ had nothing to do with the Jordan River. This was part of the attempts to seize the Mandaean history and cut it off from its Mesopotamian roots.

References
1. Hä-;-berl, C. (2022, 9 11). Charles Hä-;-berl. Academia Edu. https://www.academia.edu/98037639/Response_to_Mr_Sinan_Al_Jader
2. Brown, A. (2009, August 10). Bush, Gog and Magog | Andrew Brown. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2009/aug/10/religion-george-bush
3. Al-Jader, S. (2021, May 2). ÇáßõäíÉ ÇáãäÏÇÆíøÉ ÇáÓæãÑíøÉ “ÅßæãÇ – ÃÓæóÏ” – Mandaean Historical Research. ÇáÈõÍæË ÇáãóäÏÇÆíÉ ÇáÊÃÑíÎíøÉ. https://rb.gy/1265w
Examples from the misrepresentations of the translation of The Mandaean Book of John

New examples

1. -convert-ing the name of Mandaean Nasoraian/Nasoraeans into the Judeo-Christian Nazoreans/Nazaraeans from the dead sea scrolls

▪-;- Their translation at P93 for the Mandaean text at P92 saying:
If there were going away and returning, there would not be Nazoreans in the world.

▪-;- The correct translation saying:
If there was going (death) and returning (revival), then there would be no Nasoraian in the world.

Analysis: The name of the Nasoraian is the designation of the ancient high priestly class, which was distinguished for bringing Mandaean teachings and also communicating with divine knowledge.
The Nazoreans´-or-Nazaraeans however, are a Judeo-Christian group known only according to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Therefore, this was an attempt to distort the name to say that the Nasoraians are the same as the Nazoreans for non-expert readers.
Read the book of Epiphanius, who distinguished between the two groups and said that the Nazoreans were a Jewish Christian group, while the Nasoraian he called them Nasareans are pre-Christian and they were not Christian nor Jews. (Edwin M. Yamauchi, Gnostic Ethics and Mandaean Origins, P60-62)
It will be difficult for the authors to say that they did not know about the differences between Nasoraian and Nazoreans. Since Mr. McGrath wrote a review about that. James F. McGrath Reviews From Sasanian Mandaeans to Sabians (van Bladel). Reviews of the Enoch Seminar 2019.01.01

2. Using modern phrases to translate the antiquity text
▪-;- Their translation at P107 for the Mandaean text at P106 saying:
Those birds, our brothers, what have the winds and storms done to them?
What will you take to them?” He said to them,
“Do not seek to see, my brothers what becomes of those birds.
35 Clay bullets tore them from me, and broke the wings they had,

▪-;- The correct translation saying:
.. What did the winds and storms do to them?..
He said to them: If you want to know my brothers, then those birds were thrown away from me, and their wings were broken.

Analysis: Since the text was talking about the winds and storms that could throw away the birds and break their wings. The scholars have included the term (Clay bullets)?
It is not possible to use this translation for ancient -script-s. Were there bullets two thousand years ago? This kind of translation is using modern terms like this to give the impression to the recipient that the texts are modern and not old.
This story was about the murder of Miriai and the others newly -convert-ed to Mandaeism by John the Baptist, on the bank of the Euphrates River.

Old examples with a new discussion for the reply of Mr. Hä-;-berl:

1. A non-existing term was deliberately added to the translation (Wailing wall).
▪-;- Their translation at P93 for the Mandaean text at P92 saying:
I came into being from Elizabeth, in Jerusalem the city quaked.
Jerusalem City quaked, so that the Wailing Wall was shaken.
Eleazar of the Great House, stood, and his whole body shook.
Jews gathered, and came to elder father Zechariah.

▪-;- The correct translation saying:
I was born from Anshby in the city of Jerusalem.
The city of Jerusalem which is surrounded by priests was shaken.
Eleazar, who had built the great house, shook and his body trembled.
The Jews gathered and went to the elder father Zacharias.

Analysis: The term ‘’Wailing wall’’ never existed in the original -script-s. This term will probably inflict political effects.

Discussion for the reply of Mr. Hä-;-berl
1.1. Mr. Hä-;-berl insisted that the use of John mothers name must be -convert-ed to Elizabeth, even though it was written Anshby in the Mandaean manu-script- because he thinks this name is more familiar to English readers!
Ans: This is supposed to be a professional translation from an ancient manu-script-, it is not a novel they are writing so that they can modify the names and events as they want. But in case they don’t know then I can explain: the name Elizabeth is a Jewish name that originated from Elisheva, It’s not Mandaean. If I translated a text from the Old Testament and replaced the names there with various Mandaean names, what would the researcher then think about the source of that text?

1.2. He mentioned the phrase Shura dKahni and that it can give the in-dir-ect meaning of the Wailing wall.
Ans: The word Shura means "Chain, Wall, something to surround, Road, Quarrel, Navel, Marshy ground" As the Mandaean language is small, the same term can have multiple meanings.
Shura dKahni here is a metaphor meaning that there were many priests in Jerusalem who metaphorically surrounded the city, as the priests stand near each other during rituals.´-or-even means the road of priests´-or-chain of priests and all that indication for the effect that happens to the entire religious organization because of the birth of John. The term ’’Wailing Wall’’ was never present in the -script-. They have -convert-ed the phrase to an archaeological place from another religious story, with a debate over its existence.

1.3. Eleazar of the Great House.
Ans: Again it is difficult for someone who has never used the Mandaean metaphorical language to understand the true meaning of the Mandaean texts. Eleazar, who had built the great house, does not mean that he was an architect and literally built it! What this refers to is that he was the leader who was behind the temple’s organization.

2. The reversal of the meaning of Jesus’s rejection of the Sabbath, removing the term ‘’Yam Suf’’.

▪-;- Their translation at P85 for the Mandaean text at P84 saying:
If I have cut seed off from men, then may I not pass the great Ocean.
If I have cut labor and pregnancy from women, then may a judge be established in my presence.
If I have undone the Sabbath, then may a burning fire consume me.

▪-;- The correct translation saying:
If I cut the semen from men (monasticism)
Then I shall not pass the great sea of Suf (Yam Raba ad Suf).
If I cut pregnancy and childbirth from women
Then I shall be held in court.
If I legislated Sabbath (If I followed the law of Moses)
Then let the blazing fire eat me.

Analysis: The translation of Jesus’s rejection of the Sabbath was reversed by scholars. The term ‘’Yam Suf’’ was also removed from the translation, while its definition in the Mandaean language is a great celestial sea, that the soul needs to traverse during ascension. ‘’Yam Suf’’ is an important term for the Mandaeans, also appearing in other religious -script-ures.

Discussion for the reply of Mr. Hä-;-berl
2.1. They argue that ‘’Yam Suf’’ was translated to the Great Ocean so that its familiar to Anglophone readers.
Ans: The concept of ‘’Yam Suf - The Great Celestial Sea’’ was originally related to Mesopotamia philosophy and the story of creation, The Enuma Elish, which is the Babylonian version of an older Sumerian religious story. It was later taken by the Greeks and other subsequent religions. Since the same phrase was used by another religious story, why the need to remove it?

2.2. If I have undone the Sabbath. He translated the verb “š-;-araitha” as -I have undone it-.
Ans: Now this is a pity, as he can not be this wrong! But let anyone go to the dictionary of
Drower and Macuch (P474) and check that it means ‘’Agree, Submit, Consecrate, Solve’’ while the meaning of it will be according to the total paragraph meaning. The text, in general, was talking about Jesus asking John to Baptize him, and then after that, he was explaining to him that he was not following another religion, for John to consecrate him to become a Mandaean priest. Since he was talking about Sabbath which is a religious law, then the correct translation is to be related to that and to be If I legislated Sabbath.

3. The removal of the term ‘’Old Man’’ from Yahana.

▪-;- Their translation at P73 for the Mandaean text at P72 saying:
“Rab Johannes, take the true letter, which came to you from your ancestors.”

▪-;- The correct translation saying:
Oh great old man Yahana, This is the message of righteousness that came to you from your forefathers.

Analysis: The removal of the term ‘’old man’’ before Yahana in the translation. According to the Mandaean texts, he was born 42 years before Jesus and passed away at 64.

Discussion for the reply of Mr. Hä-;-berl
Sab Rab Johannes, he is saying that Sab here is imperative and not an adjective and it means Take not Old man.
Ans: I’ll translate more of the text in order to make it clear, the translation is:
They took the letter and put it in Yahana’s hand
and said to him: great old man Yahana,
this is the message of righteousness that came to you from your forefathers.
Yahana opened the letter, and read it.
From that, we understand they already put the letter in Yahana’s hand. The original text is a continuous paragraph. -Sab mean old man even according to their suggestion of Drower and Macuch, p.308, however, it might also mean -take but it is unlikely here in this situation.

4. The removal of Bayt Maqdsi and the name of the Mandaean temple (Mashkanah) from the text. The meaning of Miriai ‘’Daughter of the priests of Babylon’’, is -convert-ed instead to ‘’Daughter of the kings of Babylon’’.

▪-;- Their translation at P101 for the Mandaean text at P100 saying:
Meryey am I, daughter of Babylon’s kings, daughter of Jerusalem’s mighty rulers.
Jews gave birth to me, and priests nurtured me.
They carried me in their hems, and brought me up to the disturbed house, the Temple.
Adunay placed into my hands and my two arms a burden.
I sweep and wash the house in which there is no stability,
..
I wanted to go to the synagogue, but my way took me to the tent house.

▪-;- The correct translation saying:
I am Miriai, the daughter of the priests of Babylon.
The daughter of the powerful people of Jerusalem (city).
I was born a Jew and raised by priests over their degradation.
They brought me up to the house of gloom to "Bait Maqdsi".
Adonai was given to my hand and both my arms, that I have to sweep and clean it, the house where there was no
trustiness.
..
I wanted to go to the temple, but my way led me to the Mashkanah (Mandaean temple).

Analysis: The translation of ‘’priests of Babylon’’ was changed instead to ‘’kings of Babylon’’. These scholars were not the first to make this clear distortion for this paragraph. They also omitted the name Bayt Maqdsi, which is mentioned beforehand in the text as the name of the temple in which Adonai was worshipped. It is not synonymous with the name of the city of Jerusalem, but a temple in it.
There has also been the removal of the name of the Mandaean temple ‘’Mashkanah’’, which was instead changed to ‘’Tent House’’. We have also noted that there are differences between the book version written by Lidzbarsky and the original Mandaean manu-script-s. The scholars, in their published work, referred to the version written by Lidzbarsky as a source. This version houses some differences from the original manu-script-s, where terms are altered to give a different meaning, an example is the word ‘’degradation’’ in the previous text, which in the work of Lidzbarsky is -convert-ed into ‘’hems’’.

Discussion for the reply of Mr. Hä-;-berl
4.1. He insisted that Miriai is the daughter of Babylon’s kings not the daughter of Babylon’s priests.
Ans: The word Malki in Mandaean Malka is singular, it means Angel, king,´-or-priest. As the priests in Mandaeism are also wearing a crown of silk, as a symbol to be kings in heaven. The complete text was telling about Miriai, she was from a priest s family and her father was a priest, while she decided to leave her creed and -convert- to the Mandaean religion. The text describes them as the mighty rulers in Jerusalem and not in Babylon, however, they are considered to have influence there due to their work as priests, not as kings. The text is also historically correct since the kings of Babylon were not Jews. The texts of the book describe the village of Jerusalem, as it is located in the marshes land in southern Iraq near the Euphrates River.
The priest in Mandaean is not called Tarmida as Mr. Hä-;-berl wrote, but it is a religious degree in Mandaean priesthood. The priest in Mandaean is called Malka which means King in heaven. This text explains how scholars from another religion, are having difficulties understanding the Mandaean language and philosophy. It will make their efforts for translation very wrong, especially if they were not familiar with the history and religions of Mesopotamia.

4.2. (Miriai) Jews give birth to me, and priests nurtured me. He insisted on this translation.
Ans: The story of the text was explaining that Miriai, wanted to -convert- to Mandaeism. She was criticizing the religion she was born into, and she says bad things about the priests who raised her. She did not praise them.
We are relying only on authenticated original Mandaean manu-script-s, which remained within the possession of the Mandaeans. all other copies were taken by missionary missions centuries ago and they have signs of alteration and rewriting in various handwritings.

4.3. (Miriai) They brought me up to the disturbed house, the temple. He removed the term
‘’Bait maqdsi’’´-or-‘’The House of The Holy’’, as he thought it would be nicer to the readers!
Ans: the name of the temple was Bait Maqdsi, while Miriai described it as
’’Bait Nsisa/House of Gloom’’, however, they have removed the original name and kept only the de-script-ion. Again, this is not a novel that they are writing in order for them to be able to change the names and events as they want. I am sure that the readers would be happier to read a true and professional translation, rather than a manipulated one.

4.4. He removed the name of the Mandaean temple Mashkanah and -convert- it into a Tent house. Again, he argues that it is better for common sense and English orthography..
Ans: the word ‘’Mashkanah /The house´-or-Place of Worship’’, originated from the Akkadian word Mashkanu/ the place´-or-the settlement, (Concise Dictionary of Akkadian, Harrassowitz Verlag P202). This word is still used in Arabic. Common sense is to make an honest translation and not to cut the roots and links. When the researchers will come to read this translation, they can not find the sources of the words used nor can they link them to antiquity.

5. The term ‘’one king ‘’, implying monotheism is instead changed to ‘’one´-or-two kings’’, implying that there may be a duality of deities.

▪-;- Their translation at P39 for the Mandaean text at P38 saying:
Who will come, and tell me, whether it was one king´-or-two?
”Good people tell tales, instructing one another“
There were two kings, and two principals were created:
the king of this world and the king of the worlds beyond.

▪-;- The correct translation saying:
Who comes and who tells me?
One was a king, and he said two beautiful and clear sayings: (Tells two stories)
There were two kings with two different entities.
The king of this world and the king of the outside world.

Analysis: The term ‘’one king’’, implying monotheism is instead -convert-ed to ‘’one´-or-two kings’’. This changed term can give doubts about Gnosticism and the duality of the deity.

Discussion for the reply of Mr. Hä-;-berl
He insists on his translation, based on the singular´-or-plural of a single word. Even if the translation of the text becomes meaningless.
Ans: This text is talking about ancient Mesopotamian philosophy. The Sumerians and the Babylonians after them. They considered mankind s community another picture of the heavenly community. The text was criticizing mankind s community for their brutality, which is why it is called the World of Darkness. While the king of heaven community is ruling with justice and they are called the World of Light. But the one who was telling these two stories was the heavenly king who sent it with Mandaean holy text. It is difficult to translate Mandaean texts unless to be familiar with Mesopotamian religions and history.



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