Yesterday's NY Times had an OpEd piece by Nathaniel Deutsch about Saving Modern Gnostics.
The Mandeans are the only surviving Gnostics from antiquity, cousins of the people who produced the Nag Hammadi writings like the Gospel of Thomas, a work that sheds invaluable light on the many ways in which Jesus was perceived in the early Christian period. The Mandeans have their own language (Mandaic, a form of Aramaic close to the dialect of the Babylonian Talmud), an impressive body of literature, and a treasury of cultural and religious traditions amassed over two millennia of living in the southern marshes of present-day Iraq and Iran.
Practitioners of a religion at least as old as Christianity, the Mandeans have witnessed the rise of Islam; the Mongol invasion; the arrival of Europeans, who mistakenly identified them as “Christians of St. John,” because of their veneration of John the Baptist; and, most recently, the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein, who drained the marshes after the first gulf war, an ecological catastrophe equivalent to destroying the Everglades. They have withstood everything — until (the invasion of Iraq).
When American forces invaded in 2003, there were probably 60,000 Mandeans in Iraq; today, fewer than 5,000 remain. Like millions of other Iraqis, those who managed to escape have become refugees, primarily in Syria and Jordan, with smaller numbers in Australia, Indonesia, Sweden and Yemen.
In September, the Senate took a step in the right direction when it unanimously passed an amendment to a defense bill that grants privileged refugee status to members of a religious or minority community who are identified by the State Department as a persecuted group and have close relatives in the United States. But because so few Mandeans live here, this will do little for those seeking asylum. The legislation, however, also authorizes the State and Homeland Security Departments to grant privileged status to “other persecuted groups,” as they see fit.
If all Iraqi Mandeans are granted privileged status and allowed to enter the United States in significant numbers, it may just be enough to save them and their ancient culture from destruction. If not, after 2,000 years of history, of persecution and tenacious survival, the last Gnostics will finally disappear, victims of an extinction inadvertently set into motion by our nation’s negligence in Iraq.
Here's some information about the bill.