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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Sabians

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(sometimes confounded with Saboeans), a very ancient sect, said to be named after Sabi, son of Enoch, reputed to have been the founder of their religion in its original and purest form. Their creed comprehended the worship of one God, the Governor and Creator of all things, who was to be addressed through a mediator, which office was to be performed by pure and invisible spirits. An admiration of the heavenly bodies, and an undue idea of their influence over earthly objects, soon produced an idolatrous worship of the heavenly luminaries, in which they conceived that the mediative intelligences resided. At first the Sabians worshipped towards the planets, as the residences of the mediating spirits between God and man; hence soon arose star worship. Then they made images to represent the stars, in which, after consecration, they imagined the intelligences came to reside; they named the images after the planets, and hence arose idolatry and its corruptions. They taught that the sun and moon were superior deities and the stars inferior ones; that the souls of the wicked were punished for nine thousand years, and then pardoned. They highly valued agriculture and cattle, and it was unlawful to kill the latter. The principal seats of Sabianism were Harran and "Ur of the Chaldees." Maimonides says that Abraham was originally a Sabian, till he was converted and left Chaldaea. Maimonides also says that it was very prevalent in the time of Moses. It is to Sabianism that Job alludes (Job 31:26-27), "If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand" i.e. in token of salutation. Also in different parts of the second book of Kings, and in Zephaniah 1:5; Jeremiah 19:13, the idolatrous worship of the host of heaven is mentioned. The Sabians of later times, when praying, turn towards the north pole; pray at sunrise, noon, and sunset; abstain from many kinds of vegetables; believe in the ultimate pardon of the wicked, after nine thousand years of suffering; keep three yearly fasts one in February of seven days, one in March of thirty days, and one in December of nine days; offer many burned offerings, or holocausts; adore the stars; teach that mediators live in the seven planets, whom they call lords and gods, but the true God they call Lord of lords; each planet, they teach, has his distinct region, office, and objects of guardianship; they believe that an intercourse is kept up between the planetary intelligences and the earth, and that their influence is conveyed by talismanic mystic seals, made with spells and according to astrological rules. They go on pilgrimage to Harran, in Mesopotamia, respect the temple at Mecca, and venerate the pyramids in Egypt, which they believe to be the sepulchres of Seth, Enoch, and Sabi; and they offer there a cock and black calf, and burn incense (Sale, Koran). (See TSABIANS).

The name of Sabians is often given by the Mohammedans and Eastern Christians to a sect in and about Bagdad and Bassorah, whose proper appellation is Mendaites, or "Disciples of John," sometimes improperly called "Christians of St. John," as they have in reality no pretensions to Christianity. The name of their founder is John, but it is not quite clear that he is John the Baptist, as has been supposed by their using a kind of baptism. Their sacred books are a ritual, the book of John, and the book of Adam; the latter has been published, and is extremely mystical and obscure. It sets out with the Gnostic tenet of two eternal, self-existent; independent principles. It teaches that Jesus is one of the seven planets viz. Mercury; that he was baptized in Jordan by John, but corrupted the doctrines of John, wherefore the good genius Anush delivered him up to be crucified. These Sabians pray at the seventh hour and at sunset; assemble at the place of worship on the first day of the week, on which day they baptize their children; they use extreme unction, decry celibacy, forbid the worship of images, permit all kinds of meat, but abstain from meat dressed by infidels; sign their children with a particular sign, and contemn all reverence for the planets. The Rev. Joseph Wolf mentions in his Journal having met with some of these Sabians, or rather Mendaites, about Bassorah; but they evidently wished to impose on him and give a favorable impression of their doctrines. They affected a great reverence for Christ, as the Messiah, and the Word of God; they professed to require the mediation of Christ and John, and to believe that Christians would be saved, and to expect the second advent, and taught that sin was washed away by rebaptizing. Their remaining tenets, such as sealing their children, abstaining from meats cooked by Mohammedans, etc., are the same as have been before quoted. (See MENDEANS).


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

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