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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Zabism

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the religion of the Zabians (q.v.), or Haranian idolaters. It was formerly understood that they were a distinct race, and that their religion was composed of Chaldaism, Parsaism, Judaism, Christianity, Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, and cabalistic speculations. This is not, however, strictly true. They might best be described as Syrians, who, partly descended from Greek colonists, had been subject so long to Syrian influences that they became in a manner Syrianized. Their religion was the old heathenism of their fathers, which had, with incredible obstinacy, resisted not only Christianity, but rendered even Mohammedan ill-will harmless by stratagem. But there were certain nonpagan elements which crept into it during the early centuries, and many other additions of later years. We mention, first of all, a number of legends about Biblical personages, from whom they pretend to be descendants. There are also laws of purity and impurity, and of sacrifices, which are very similar to Judaism. Then again, names of Greek and Roman gods, such as Helios, Ares, and Kronos, occur, a circumstance which may be explained from the prevailing tendency of the period of exchanging the names of native divinities for Greek and Roman names. There are also certain metaphysical and physical views incorporated in their creed, which are distinctly traceable to Aristotle, and finally, the Neo-Platonic philosophy of heathenism, as presented by Porphyry, Proclus, Iamblichuls, and others. All these elements, infused into it by the circumstances of the period, do not prevent it from being in reality heathenism.

The sources of information in reference to the creed are written in Arabic, in Hebrew, and in Greek. The Arabic are the most copious; the Hebrew are chiefly, represented by Maimonides; and the Greek are ascribed to various pseudonymous writers, among whom are Aristotle and Hermes Trismegistus. From these, though somewhat various and contradictory, the following facts may be gathered in reference to the creed. The Creator is one in essence, primity, originality, and eternity; but manifold in his manifestations in bodily figures. He is chiefly personified by the seven leading planets, and the good, knowing, and excellent of earthly bodies. But his unity, their claim, is not thereby disturbed; and it is "as if the seven planets were his seven limbs, and as if our seven limbs were his seven spheres, in which he manifests himself, so that he speaks with our tongue, sees with our eyes, hears with our ears, touches with our hands, comes and goes with our feet, and acts through our members."

Zabism expresses the idea that God is too great and too sublime to occupy himself directly with the affairs of this world; that he therefore has handed over its ruling to the gods, and that he himself only takes the most important things under his special care; and that man is too weak to address himself directly to the highest, and is therefore obliged to direct prayers and sacrifices to the intermediate deities to whom the rule of the world is intrusted. Thus the veneration of the planets, and even the worshipping of idols, is nothing but a symbolical act, the consequence of that original idea. There are many gods and goddesses in Zabism of this intermediate stamp. It is not the planets themselves, but the spirits that direct them, conceived as deities that stand to the spheres in the relation of soul and body. Apart from these there are those gods who cause or represent every action in this world. Every universal natural deed or effect emanates from a universal deity, every partial one from a partial deity that presides over part of nature. These gods know our most secret thoughts, and all our future is open to them.

The female deities seem to have been conceived of as the feeling or passive principle. These gods or intelligences emanate directly from God without his will, as rays do from the sun. They are of abstract forms, free of all matter, and neither made of any substance nor material. They consist chiefly of a light in which there is no darkness, which the senses cannot appreciate, by reason of its immense clearness, which the understanding cannot comprehend, by reason of its extreme delicacy, and which fancy and imagination cannot fathom. Their nature is free from all animal desires, and they themselves are created for love and harmony, friendship and unity. Their existence is full of the highest bliss, by reason of their nearness to the Most High; they have a free choice, and always incline to the good; and are the "lords and gods" of the Zalians, their "intermediators and advocates with the Lord of lords and God of gods." All substances and types of the bodily world emanate from the spiritual world, which is one from which everything flows and to which everything returns, and which is full of light, sublime and pure.

These two worlds correspond to each other, and are to each other like light and shadow. The way to approach these gods, and through them the highest essence, is by purifying the soul from all passions, by keeping a strict guard over one's words and deeds, by fasting, sincere prayer, invocations, sacrifices, fumigations, and incantations. By steadfastly persevering in these and similar acts of devotion, man may reach so high a step of perfection that he may communicate even directly with the Supreme Power. The planets, as the principal representative and intermediate gods, are to be carefully observed, especially as regards (1) the houses and stations of the planets; (2) their rising and setting; (3) their respective conjunctions and oppositions; (4) the knowledge of their special times and seasons, the hours and days of the ruling of special planets; (5) the divisions of the different figures, forms, climates, and countries, according to their dominant stars in fact, everything below heaven, according to their belief, was subject in some way to the influence of the stars or the spirits which inhabit them. Every substance and every action, every country and every hour, had its special planetary deity. It is important, therefore, to study carefully the special conjunctions and figures, as well as the special mixtures of incense, which might render the individual numen propitious. Thus, for example, the first hour of Saturday stands under Saturnus, and it is right and advisable at that time to select such prayers, seals, amulets, dresses, and fumigations as might be especially pleasing to that planetary god.

In order to address themselves to visible mediators, some of the Zabians are supposed to have directed their devotions to the stars themselves. But they soon found a worship that addressed itself to things that appeared and disappeared in turn very unsatisfactory. Accordingly they manufactured permanent representatives of them in the shape of idols, wrought in as complete accordance as possible with the themurgical rules derived from the nature of the deity to be represented. They were of gold to represent the sun; of silver, to represent the moon. The very temples in which they were placed were of as many corners as were supposed to correspond to the form of certain stars. Zabism teaches that man is composed of contradictory elements, which make him the vacillating, struggling creature he is. Passions and desires rule him and lower him to the level of the brute creation, and lie would utterly lose himself were it not for such religious rites as purifications, sacrifices, and other means of grace, by which he may be enabled to approach the great gods once more and attempt to become like them. The soul of man partakes partly of the nature of the animal soul and partly of that of the angelic soul. The soul never dies, and rewards and punishments will affect only it.

These, however, will not be wrought in any future world, but in this, only at different epochs of existence. Thus all our present joys are rewards for good deeds done by us in former epochs, and the sorrows and griefs we endure spring in the same manner from evil actions we committed at former stages. As to the nature of the general world-soul itself, they say it is primitive, for if it were not so it would be material, as every newly-created being partakes of the material nature. Kathibi says, "The soul, which is thus an immaterial thing, and exists from eternity, is the involuntary reason of the first types, as God is the first cause of the intelligences. The soul once beheld matter and loved it. Glowing with the desire of assuming a bodily shape, it would not again separate itself from that matter by means of which the world was created. Since that time the soul forgot itself, its everlasting existence, its original abode, and knew nothing more of what it had known before.

But God, who turns all things to the best, united it to matter which it loved, and out of this union the heavens, the elements, and composite things arose. In order that the soul might not wholly perish within matter, he endowed it with intelligence, whereby it conceived its high origin, the spiritual world, and itself. It further conceived through this that it was but a stranger in this world, that it was subject to many sufferings in it, and that even the joys of this world are but the source of new sufferings. As soon as the soul had perceived all this. it began to yearn again for its spiritual home, as a man who is away from his birthplace pines for his homestead. It then also learned that, in order to return to its primitive state, it had to free itself from the fetters of sensuous desires, and from all materialistic tendencies. Free from them all, it would regain its heavenly sphere again, and enjoy the bliss of the spiritual world."

The life of the sect holding this creed was but short. After having first been on terms of great friendship with the ruling powers of Mohammedanism, as well as with Christians and Jews, and having filled many of the highest and most responsible posts at the courts of the caliphs, they were, by degrees, made the butt of fanaticism and rapacity. Mulcted, persecuted, banished at different periods, they disappear from history since the middle of the 11th century. Thus obscurely ended a sect which for two hundred years had produced a host of men pre-eminent in every branch of learning and literature, in philosophy, astronomy, history, natural history, poetry, medicine, and the rest. See Chwolsohn, Die Sabien und die Sabismus (St. Petersburg, 1856, 2 volumes).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Zabism'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/z/zabism.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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