Mandaean Language Games and Obstacles

Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley

in The Mandaeans

Published in print November 2002 | ISBN: 9780195153859
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834051 | DOI:

Series: An American Academy of Religion Book

 Mandaean Language Games and Obstacles

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The Mandaean alphabet, the abagada, consists of 24 letters and is so named because of the first four of these (A, B, G, D); one of them is not a real letter, for the D, the relative particle “of”, is added on as the penultimate letter of the alphabet, and the first letter, A, is repeated at the very end of the abagada in order to make the auspicious number, 24. The abagada comes from the female, primordial Wellspring, the aina (often paired with its corresponding male principal, the Datepalm), and the letters, created prior to the universe and human beings, are the Wellspring's children. It could be said that no universe could have been made prior to the letters because neither speech nor writing were possible until the abagada came into being. The Mandaeans accord a somewhat disturbing autonomy to the abagada, and it is a question of how much power human beings have in their use of it: who is in charge, the letters or the people? To explore this problem, this chapter focuses on errors, subversive word games, jokes, double entendres, and polemics – in short, they are the kinds of language games that people play on the alphabet, or that it plays on them. If it is assumed that Mandaeism sides with the letters, and therefore in a sense against itself, then religion is playing a joke on itself.

Keywords: alphabet; language games; Mandaeans; Mandaeism; word games

Chapter.  4589 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Religion

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