Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ancient Near-Death Experiences in Mandaean Scriptures

Ancient Near-Death Experiences in Mandaean Scriptures
Copyright January 1997
By James Bean




(Photo of a Mandaean Scroll written in Mandaic, a dialect of Aramaic)

The following is found in the Mandaean Gnostic scriptures of Iraq. They sound somewhat like ancient NDEs or near-death experiences. When crossing over, the soul meets "a discharge of Radiance." This inner guide brought the ascending soul a garment made of Light, often a theme in Mandaean and in Mesopotamian traditions (Books of Adam and Eve, Hymn of the Pearl in the Acts of Thomas). The soul was escorted by this heavenly guide to "the Place of Light" where God, called "the Great Life," resides. The soul is then 'embraced by the Light.'

EMBRACED BY THE LIGHT

The mystical encounters recorded in the scriptures of the Mandaeans may seem at times like ancient near-death experiences (NDE's), the visions of souls who were embraced the Light long ago:

"When I arrived at the water-brooks, a discharge of Radiance met me. It took me by the palm of my right hand and brought me over the streams of death. Radiance was brought and I was clothed in it. Light was brought and I was wrapped in it...

"[Prayer] Son of the Good Ones, show me the way of the divine beings (spirits, angels) and the ascent upon which your father rose up to the Place of Light.

"He [the discharge of Radiance] rose and took me with him and did not leave me in the perishable dwelling." (Canonical Prayerbook)
This is my interpretation. In the above account, after this soul crossed over to the other side, it was met by a "discharge of Radiance," (according to another translation) a deliverer or guide who not only escorted the soul into the beyond, but also gave the soul its heavenly robe of Radiance -- a garment made of Light. It's unclear to me if the soul literally was given a robe to put on, or if perhaps this is another way of describing the process of leaving the body at death, taking OFF the robe of the physical body, which caused the soul to see itself as a being of Light. In any event, the soul then prays for its helper and guide to be escorted upward to the Place of Light. In another version of this account it says:

"I lifted mine eyes to heaven and my soul waited on the House of Life. And the Life (God) who heard my cry sent toward me a deliverer."

This version also describes the encounter with the heavenly being (discharge of Radiance) who escorted the soul over the waters of death, and accompanied it during the ascension up to the Light-world. The hymn concludes with these words:

"Life supported life, Life found its own. Its own self did Life find, and my soul found that for which it had looked. Renowned is Life and victorious." (Canonical Prayerbook)

VISIONS OF THE GREAT LIFE IN THE PLACE OF THE LIGHT

Souls in the Place of the Light are described as luminous beings living in a world of infinite Light with a Supreme Being of Light. The heavens of hyperspace are traversed by spiritual streams of "Living Waters," tributaries of the Heavenly Jordan river of Light. And souls are described as radiant beings that shine upon each other like stars do in the center of our galaxy:

"They are a thousand thousand miles distant from one another and yet one is illumined by the other's Radiance."

The primary name for the highest God in the Mandaean tradition is "The Great Life." Many of the hymns in the Canonical Prayerbook begin with this invocation:

"In the Name of the Great Life, Sublime Light be Praised."

More Visions of the Beyond in the Mandaean Gnostic Scriptures of Iraq

"The jordan's of the worlds of Light are full of white waters, whiter than milk, cool and tasty, and their aroma is stronger than the great aromatic vines.....

"Those beings of Light are made up of many kinds and fall into earths, skinas [abodes], jordans, trees, uthras [good beings of Light], and angels, as well as radiance, Light, and brightness which rest upon them.

"Their form is luminous and bright and the look of their faces is clear and bright like pure beryl. Every day strength and voice, utterance and victory are planted by the King of all the worlds of Light and sent to them.....

"They are clothed in garments of Radiance and are arrayed in a covering of Light. They sit and dwell together, without offending one another and without sinning against one another. They are honored in their firmament and match as the eyelash the eye. Their thoughts are open to one another, and they know the First and the Last. They are a thousand thousand miles distant from one another and yet one is illumined by the other's radiance, one is fragrant through another's fragrance......"

-- "Gnosis II," Werner Forester, Oxford University Press, out of print