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MANDAEANS

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Originally appearing in Volume V17, Page 557 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MANDAEANS, also known as Sabians, Nasoraeans, or St John's Christians,' an Oriental sect of great antiquity, interesting to the theologian as almost the only surviving example of a ' The first of these names (not Mendaeans or Mandaites) is that given by themselves, and means 'yvuai toot, followers of Gnosis (N"wiiss, from HvK7, Hebr. y,n). The Gnosis of which they profess themselves adherents is a personification, the on and mediator " knowledge of life " (see below). The title Nasoraeans (Nasoraye), according to Petermann, they give only to those among themselves who are most distinguished for knowledge and character. Like the Arabic Nasara, it is originally identical with the name of the half heathen half Jewish-Christian Nai'cupaZoi, and indicates an early connexion with that sect. The inappropriate designation of St John's Christians arises from the early and imperfect acquaintance of Christian missionaries, who had regard merely to the reverence in which the name of the Baptist is held among them, and their frequent baptisms. In their dealings with members of other communions the designation they take is Sabians, in Arabic Sabi'una, from M;=y:s, to baptize, thus claiming the toleration extended by the Koran (Sur. 5, 73; 22, 17 ; 2, 59) to those of that name. religion compounded of Christian, heathen and Jewish elements on a type which is essentially that of ancient Gnosticism. The Mandaeans are found in the marshy lands of South Babylonia (al-bataili), particularly in the neighbourhood of Basra (or Bussorah), and in Khuzistan (Disful, Shuster).' They speak the languages of the localities in which they are settled (Arabic or Persian), but the language of their sacred books is an Aramaic dialect, which has its closest affinities with that of the Babylonian Talmud, written in a peculiar character suggestive of the old Palmyrene.2 The existence of the Mandaeans has been known since the middle of the 17th century, when the first Christian missionaries, Ignatius a Jesu a and Angelus a Sancto, began to labour among them at Basra; further information was gathered at a somewhat later date by Pietro della Valle' and Jean de Thevenot 5 (1633–1667), and in the following century by Engelbrecht Kaempfer (1651–1716), Jean Chardin (1643–1713) and Carsten Niebuhr. In recent times they have been visited by A. H. Petermann6 and Albrecht Socin, and Siouffi' published in 188o a full and accurate account of their manners and customs, taken from the lips of a converted Mandaean. For our know-ledge of their doctrinal system, however, we still depend chiefly upon the sacred books already mentioned, consisting of fragments of very various antiquity derived from an older literature.' Of these the largest and most important is the Sidra rabba (" Great Book "), known also as Ginza (" Treasure "), consisting of two unequal parts, of which the larger is called yamina (to the right hand) and the smaller s'mala (to the left hand), because of the manner in which they are bound together. The former is intended for the living; the latter consists chiefly of prayers to be read at the burial of priests. As regards doctrine, the work is exhaustive; but it is diffuse, obscure, and occasionally self-contradictory, as might be expected in a work which consists of a number of unconnected paragraphs of various authorship and date. The last section of the " right-hand " part (the " Book of Kings ") is one of the older portions, and from its allusion to " the Persian and Arabian kings " may be dated somewhere between A.D. 700 and 900. Many of the doctrinal portions may in substance well be still older, and date from the time of the Sassanids. None of the MSS., however, is older than the 16th century.' The following sketch represents, as far as can be gathered from these heterogeneous sources, the principal features of the Mandaean system. The ground and origin of all things is Pira, or more correctly Pera rabba (" the great abyss," or from Iva, " to split," cf. the Gnostic (3vOos, or more probably cf. Heb. peri, " the great fruit "), associated with whom, and forming a triad with him, are the primal aeons Ayar zivd rabba, " the great shining aether," and Mana rabba d'eieara, " the great spirit of glory," usually called simply Aland rabba. The last-named, the most prominent of the three, is the king of light properly so called, from whom the development of all things begins. From him emanates Yardena rabba, " the great Jordan," which, as the higher-world ' In 1882 they were said to have shrunk to 200 families, and to be seeking a new settlement on the Tigris, to escape the persecutions to which they are exposed. 2 See T. Noldeke's admirable Mandaische Grammatik (Halle, 1875). Narratio originis, rituum, et errorum Christianorum S. Joannis (Rome, 1652). ° Reisebeschreibung, part iv. (Geneva, 1674). 6 Voyage au Levant (Paris, 1664). 6 Reisen im Orient, ii. 447 seq. ' M. M. Siouffi, Etudes sur la religion . . . des Soubbas (Paris, i88o). ' Mandaean MSS. occur in the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, the Bibliotheque Nationale of France, and also in Rome, Weimar and Berlin. A number of Mandaean inscriptions relating to popular beliefs and superstitions have been published by H. Pognon, Inscriptions mandaites (2 vols., Paris, 1898-1899), also by M. Lidzbarski In his Ephemeris (Giessen, 19oo seq.). The first printed edition and translation of the Sidra rabba, by Matth. Norberg (Codex Nazaraeus, liber Adami appellatus, 3 vols., Copenhagen, 1815-1816, followed by a lexicon in 1816, and an onomasticon in 1817), is so defective as to be quite useless; even the name Book of Adam is unknown to the Mandaeans. Petermann's Thesaurus s. Liber magnus, vulgo " Liber Adami " appellatus, opus Mandaeorum summi ponderis (2 vols., Berlin and Leipzig, 1867), is an excellent metallographic reproduction of the Paris MS. A Germansoul, permeates the whole aether, the domain of Ayar. Along-side of Mana rabbd frequent mention is made of D'mi thy, his " image," as a female power; the name " image of the father " arises out of the same conception as that which gives rise to the name of Evvoia among the Greek Gnostics. Hanel rabba called into being the highest of the aeons properly so called, Hayye X admdye, " Primal Life," and then withdrew into deepest secrecy, visible indeed to the highest but not to the lowest aeons (cf. Ionia and IIpoira-rn,p), yet manifesting himself also to the souls of the more pious of the Mandaeans after their separation from the body. Primal Life, who is properly speaking the Mandaean god, has the same predicates as the primal spirit, and every prayer, as well as every section of the sacred books, begins by invoking him.10 The extremely fantastic delineation of the world of light by which Hayye 1(admaye is surrounded (see for example the beginning of Sidra rabbd) corresponds very closely with the Manichaean description of the abode of the " king of the paradise of light." The king of light " sits in the far north in might and glory." The Primal Light unfolds himself by five great branches, viz. " the highest purest light, the gentle wind, the harmony of sounds, the voice of all the aeons, and the beauty of their forms," all these being treated as abstractions and personified. Out of the further development and combination of these primary manifestations arise numerous aeons (' Uthre, " splendours," from sins, " is rich "), of which the number is often stated to be three hundred and sixty. They are divided into a number of classes (kings, hypostases, forms, &c.); the proper names by which they are invoked are many, and for the most part obscure, borrowed doubtless, to some extent, from the Parsee angelology. From the First Life proceeds as a principal emanation the " Second Life,"Hayye Tinyane, generally called Yoshamin. This last name is evidently meant to be Hebrew, "Yahweh of the heavens," the God of the Jews being of a secondary rank in the usual Gnostic style. The next emanation after Yoshamin is " the messenger of life " (Mandy d'hayye, literally yvwvis Tits Nrls), the most important figure in the entire system, the mediator and redeemer, the X6yos and the Christ of the Mandaeans, from whom, as already stated, they take their name. He belongs to the heathen Gnosis, and is in his essence the same as the Babylonian Marduk. Yoshamin desired to raise himself above the Primal Light, but failed in the attempt, and was punished by removal out of the pure aetherial world into that of inferior light. Manda, on the other hand, continues with the First Life and Mana rabba, and is called his " beloved son," the " first born," " high priest " and " word of life." The " Life " calls into existence in the visible world a series of three great Helpers, Hibil, Shithil and Anosh (late Judaeo-Babylonian transformations of the well-known names of the book of Genesis), the guardians of souls. The last son of the Second Life is Hayye t'lithaye, the " Third Life," usually called father of the Uthre (Aba d"Uthre, Abathur). His usual epithet is " the Ancient " ('Atiga), and he is also called " the deeply hidden and guarded." He stands on the borderland between the here and the hereafter, translation of about a quarter of this work has been published in W. Brandt's Mandaische Schriften, with notes (Gottingen, 1893). A critical edition still remains a desideratum. Next in importance to the Sidra rabba is the Sidra d' Yahya, or " Book of John," otherwise known as the D'rasche d'Malke, " Discourses of the Kings," which has not as yet been printed as a whole, although portions have been published by Lorsbach and Tychsen (see Museum f. bibl. u. orient. Lit. (1807), and Staudlin's Beitr. z. Phil. u. Gesch. d. Relig. u. Sittenlehre 1796 seq.). The Kolasta (Ar. Khulasa, " Quintessence "), or according to its fuller title 'Enyane uderashe d'masbutha umassektha (" Songs and Discourses of Baptism and the Ascent," viz. of the soul after death), has been admirably lithographed by Euting (Stuttgart, 1867). It is also known as Sidra d'neshmatha, " Book of Souls," and besides hymns and doctrinal discourses contains prayers to be offered by the priests at sacrifice and at meals, as well as other liturgical matter. The Mandaean marriage service occurs both in Paris and in Oxford as an independent MS. The Diwan, hitherto unpublished, contains the ritual for atonement. The Asfar malwashe, or " Book of the Zodiac," is astrological. Of smaller pieces many are magical and used as amulets. ''' The use of the word " life " in a personal sense is usual in Gnosticism; compare the Zwr) of Valentin and el-hayat el-muallama, " the dark life," of Mani in the Fihrist. like the mysterious rpev( &Trls rpiros or senex terdius of Mani, whose becoming visible will betoken the end of the world. Abathur sits on the farthest verge of the world of light that lies towards the lower regions, and weighs in his balance the deeds of the departed spirits who ascend to him. Beneath him was originally nothing but a huge void with muddy black water at the bottom, in which his image was reflected, becoming ultimately solidified into P'tahil, his son, who now partakes of the nature of matter. The demiurge of the Mandaeans, and corresponding to the Ialdabaoth of the Ophites, he at the instance of his father frames the earth and men—according to some passages in conjunction with the seven bad planetary spirits. He created Adam and Eve, but was unable to make them stand upright, whereupon Hibil, Shithil and Anosh were sent by the First Life to infuse into their forms spirit from Mdna rabbd himself. Hibil, at the instance of the supreme God, also taught men about the world of light and the aeons, and especially gave them to know that not P'tahil but another was their creator and supreme God, who as " the great king of light, without number, without limit," stands far above him. At the same time he enjoined the pair to marry and people the world. P'tahil had now lost his power over men, and was driven by his father out of the world of light into a place beneath it, whence he shall at the day of judgment be raised, and after receiving baptism be made king of the `Uthre with divine honours. The underworld is made up of four vestibules and three hells properly so called. The vestibules have each two rulers, Zartay and Zartanay, Hag and Mag, Gaf and Gafan, Anatan and Kin. In the highest hell rules alone the grisly king Sh'dum, " the warrior "; in the storey immediately beneath is Giv, " the great "; and in the lowest is Krim or Karkum, the oldest and most powerful of all, commonly called " the great mountain of flesh " ( Turd rabbd d'besra), but also " the first-born of darkness." In,the vestibules dirty water is still to be met with, but the hells are full of scorching consuming fire, except Krun's domain, where is nought but dust, ashes and vacancy. Into these regions descended Hibil the brilliant, in the power of Mdnd rabbd, just as in the Manichaean mythology the " primal man," armed with the elements of the king of light, descends to a contest with the primal devil. Hibil lingers, gradually unfolding his power, in each of the vestibules, and finally passing from hell to hell reaches Karkum. Hibil allows himself to be half swallowed by the monster, but is unhurt, and compels his antagonist to recognize the superiority of Aland rabbd, the God of light, and to divulge his profoundest secret, the hidden name of darkness. Armed with this he returns through the successive hells, compelling the disclosure of every secret, depriving the rulers of their power, and barring the doors of the several regions. From the fourth vestibule he brought the female devil Ruha, daughter of Kin, and set her over the whole four. This Ruha, the mother of false-hood and lies, of poisoning and fornication is an anti-Christian parody of the Ruha d'Qudsha (Holy Spirit) of the Syriac Church. She is the mother of Ur, the personified fire of hell, who in anger and pride made a violent onset on the world of light (compare the similar occurrence in the Manichaean mythology), but was mastered by Hibil and thrown in chains down to the " black water," and imprisoned within seven iron and seven golden walls. By Ur, Ruha, while P'tahil was engaged in his work of creation, became mother of three sets of seven, twelve and five sons respectively; all were translated by P'tahil to the heavenly firmament (like the Archons of Mani), the first group forming the planets and the next the signs of the zodiac, while the third is as yet undetermined. Of the names of the planets Estera (Ishtar Venus, also called Ruha d'Qudsha, " holy spirit "), Enba (Nebo, Mercury), Sin (moon), Kewan (Saturn), Bil (Jupiter), and Nirig (Nirgal, Mars) reveal their Babylonian origin; Il or 11 11, the sun, is also known as Kadush and Adunay (the Adonai of the Old Testament); as lord of the planetary spirits his place is in the midst of them; they are the source of all temptation and evil amongst men. The houses of the planets, as well as the earth and a second world immediately to the north of it, rest upon anvils laid by Hibil on the belly of Ur. In the Mandaean representation the sky is an ocean of water, pure and clear, but of more than adamantine solidity, upon which the stars and planets sail. Its transparency allows us to see even to the pole star, who is the central sun around whom all the heavenly bodies move. Wearing a jewelled crown, he stands before Abathur's door at the gate of the world of light; the Mandaeans accordingly invariably pray with their faces turned northward. The earth is conceived of as a round disk, slightly sloping towards the south, surrounded on three sides by the sea, but on the north by a high mountain of turquoises; behind this is the abode of the blest, a sort of inferior paradise, inhabited by the Egyptians who were saved from drowning with Pharaoh in the Red Sea, and whom the Mandaeans look upon as their ancestors, Pharaoh himself having been their first high priest and king. The total duration of the earth they fix at four hundred and eighty thousand years, divided into seven epochs, in each of which one of the planets rules. The Sidra Rabba knows of three total destructions of the human race by fire and water, pestilence and sword, a single pair alone surviving in each case. In the Mandaean view the Old Testament saints are false prophets; such as Abraham, who arose six thousand years after Nu (Noah) during the reign of the sun, Misha (Moses), in whose time the true religion was professed by the Egyptians, and Shlimun (Solomon) bar Davith, the lord of the demons. Another false prophet and magician was Yishu M'shiha, who was in fact a manifestation of the planet Mercury. Forty-two years before his day, under King Pontius Pilate, there had appeared the true prophet Yahya or John son of Zechariah, an incarnation of Hibil, of whose birth and childhood fantastic stories are told. Yahya by a mistake gave baptism to the false Messiah, who had feigned humility; on the completion of his mission, after under-going a seeming execution, he returned clothed with light into the kingdom of light. As a contemporary of Yahya and the false Messiah Hibil's younger brother Anosh `Uthra came down from heaven, caused himself to be baptized by Yahya, wrought miracles of healing and of raising the dead, and brought about the crucifixion of the false Messiah. He preached the true religion, destroyed Jerusalem (" Urashlam," i.e. " the devil finished it "), which had been built by Adunay, dispersed over the world the Jews who had put Yahya to death, and previous to his return into the worlds of light sent forth three hundred and sixty prophets for the diffusion of the true religion. All this speaks of intense hatred alike of Jews and Christians; the fasts, celibacy and monastic and anchoret life of the latter are peculiarly objectionable to the Mandaeans. Two hundred and forty years after the appearing of the false Messiah there came to the world sixty thousand saints out of Pharaoh's world to take the place of the Mandaeans, who had been completely extirpated; their high priest had his residence in Damascus. The last false prophet was M'hammad or Ahmat bar Bisbat (Mahomet), but Anosh, who remained close beside him and his immediate successors, prevented hostilities •against the true believers, who claim to have had in Babylonia, under the Abbasids, four hundred places of worship. Subsequent persecutions compelled their withdrawal to `Ammara in the neighbourhood of Wasit, and ultimately to Khuzistan. At the end of the world the devil Ur will swallow up the earth and the other intermediate higher worlds, and thereupon will burst and fall into the abyss of darkness where, along with all the worlds and powers of darkness, he will ultimately cease to be, so that thenceforward the universe will consist of but one ever-lasting world of light. The chief depositaries of these Mandaean mysteries are the priests, who enjoy a high degree of power and social regard. The priest-hood has three grades: (I) the Sh'kanda or deacon is generally chosen from episcopal or priestly families, and must be without bodily blemish. The candidate for orders must be at least nineteen years old and have undergone twelve years' preparation; he is then qualified to assist the priesthood in the ceremonies of religion. (2) The Tarmida (i.e. " Talmida," " initiated ") or priest is ordained by a bishop and two priests or by four priests after a long and extremely painful period of preparation. (3) The Ganzivrd (" treasurer ") or bishop, the highest dignitary, is chosen from the whole body of the Tarmidas after a variety of tests, and possesses unlimited authority over the clergy. A supreme priestly rank, that of Rah 'amnia, or " head of the people." is recognized, but only in theory; since the time of Pharaoh this sovereign pontificate has only once been filled. Women are admitted to priestly offices as well as men. The priestly dress, which is all white, consists of drawers, an upper garment, and a girdle with the so-called toga (" crown ") ; in all ceremonies the celebrants must be barefoot. By far the most frequent and important of the religious ceremonies is that of baptism (masbutha), which is called for in a great variety of cases, not only for children but for adults, where consecration or purification is required, as for example on all Sundays and feast days, after contact with a dead body, after return from abroad, after neglect of any formality on the part of a priest in the discharge of his functions. In all these cases baptism is performed by total immersion in running water, but during the five days' baptismal festival the rite is observed wholesale by mere sprinkling of large masses of the faithful at once. The Mandaeans observe also with the elements of bread (pehla) and wine (mambuha, lit. " fountain ") a sort of eucharist, which has a special sanctifying efficacy, and is usually dispensed at festivals, but only to baptized persons of good repute who have never willingly denied the Mandaean faith. In receiving it the communicant must not touch the host with his finger; otherwise it loses its virtue. The hosts are made by the priests from unleavened fine flour. The Mandaean places of worship, being designed only for the priests and their assistants (the worshippers remaining in the forecourt), are excessively small, and very simply furnished; two windows, a door that opens towards the south so that those who enter have their faces turned towards the pole star, a few boards in the corner, and a gabled roof complete the whole structure; there is neither altar nor decoration of any kind. The neighbourhood of running water (for baptisms) is essential. At the consecration of a church the sacrifice of a dove (the bird of Ishtar) has place among the ceremonies. Besides Sundays there are six great feasts : (1) that of the New Year (Nauruz rabbet), on the first day of the first month of winter; (2) Dehwa h' nina, the anniversary of the happy return of Hibil Ziva from the kingdom of darkness into that of light, lasting five days, beginning with the 18th of the first month of spring; (3) the Marwana, in commemoration of the drowned Egyptians, on the first day of the second month of spring; (4) the great five days' baptismal festival (pantsha), the chief feast, kept on the five intercalary days at the end of the second month of summer—during its continuance every Mandaean, male and female, must dress In white and bathe thrice daily; (5) Dehwa d'daimana, in honour of one of the three hundred and sixty 'Uthras, on the first day of the second month of autumn; (6) Kanshe Zahlet, the preparation feast, held on the last day of the year. There are also fast days called m'battal (Arab.), on which it is forbidden to kill any living thing or eat flesh. These, however, are really " rest-days," as fasting is forbidden in Mandaeism. The year is solar, and has twelve months of thirty days each, with five intercalary days between the eighth and the ninth month. Of the seven days of the week, next to Sunday (habshaba) Thursday has a special sacredness as the day of Hibil Ziva. As regards secular occupation, the present ]Mandaeans are goldsmiths, ironworkers, and house and ship carpenters. The Sidra Rabbet, lays great stress upon the duty of procreation, and marriage is a duty. In the 17th century, according to the old travellers, they numbered about 20,000 families, but at the present day they hardly number more than 1200 souls. In external appearance the Mandaean is distinguished from the Moslem only by a brown coat and a parti-coloured headcloth with a cord twisted round it. They have some peculiar deathbed rites: a deacon with some attendants waits upon the dying, and as death approaches administers a bath first of warm and afterwards of cold water; a holy dress, consisting of seven pieces (rasta), is then put on; the feet are directed towards the north and the head turned to the south, so that the body faces the pole star. After the burial a funeral feast is held in the house of mourning. The Mandaeans are strictly reticent about their theological dogmas in the presence of strangers; and the knowledge they actually possess of these is extremely small. The foundation of the system is obviously to be sought in Gnosticism, and more particularly in the older type of that_ doctrine (known from the serpent symbol as Ophite or Naassene) which obtained in Mesopotamia and Further Asia generally. But it is equally plain that the Ophite nucleus has from time to time received very numerous and often curiously perverted accretions from Babylonian Judaism, Oriental Christianity and Parsism, exhibiting a striking example of religious syncretism. In the Gnostic basis itself it is not difficult to recognize the general features of the religion of ancient Babylonia, and thus we are brought nearer a solution of the problem as to the origin of Gnosticism in teneral. It is certain that Babylonia, the seat of the present Iandaeans, must be regarded also as the cradle in which their system was reared ; it is impossible to think of them as coming from Palestine, or to attribute to their doctrines a Jewish or Christian origin. They do not spring historically from the disciples of John the Baptist (Acts xviii. 25; xix. 3 seq.; Recog. Clem. i. 54) ; the tradition in which he and the Jordan figure so largely is not original, and is therefore worthless; at the same time it is true that their baptismal praxis and its interpretation place them in the same religious group with the Hemerobaptists of Eusebius (H. E. iv. 22)and Epiphanius (Haer., xvii.), or with the sect of disciples of John who remained apart from Christianity. Their reverence for John is of a piece with their whole syncretizing attitude towards the New Testament. Indeed, as has been seen, they appropriate the entire personale of the Bible from Adam, Seth, Abel, Enos and Pharaoh to Jesus and John, a phenomenon which bears witness to the close relations of the Mandaean doctrine both with Judaism and Christianity—not the less close because they were relations of hostility. The history of religion presents other examples of the degradation of holy to demonic figures on occasion of religious schism. The use of the word " Jordan," even in the plural, for " sacred water," is precisely similar to that by the Naassenes described in the Philosophumena (v. 7) ; there o sayas 'IopSavns denotes the spiritualizing sanctifying fluid which pervades the world of light. The notions of the Egyptians and the Red Sea, according to the same work (v. 16), are used by the Peratae much as by the Mandaeans. And the position assigned by the Sethians (En8tavot) to Seth is precisely similar to that given by the Mandaeans to Abel. Both alike are merely old Babylonian divinities in a new Biblical garb. The genesis of Mandaeism and the older gnosis from the old and elaborate Babylonio-Chaldaean religion is clearly seen also in the fact that the names of the old pantheon (as for example those of the planetary divinities) are retained, but their holders degraded to the position of demons—a conclusion confirmed by the fact that the Mandaeans, like the allied Ophites, Peratae and Manichaeans, certainly have their original seat in Mesopotamia and Babylonia. It seems clear that the trinity of Anu, Bel, and Ea in the old Babylonian religion has its counterpart in the Mandaean Pira, Ayar, and Malta rabba. The D'mutha of Mana is the Damkina, the wife of Ea, mentioned by Damascius as Darien, wife of 'Aos. Mandy d'hayye and his image Hibil Ziva with his incarnations clearly correspond to the old Babylonian Marduk, Merodach, the " first-born " son of Ea, with his incarnations, the chief divinity of the city of Babylon, the mediator and redeemer in the old religion. Hibil's contest with darkness has its prototype in Marduk's battle with chaos, the dragon Tiamat, which (another striking parallel) partially swallows Marduk, just as is related of Hibil and the Manichaean primal man. Other features are borrowed by the Mandaean mythology under this head from the well-known epos of Istar's descensus ad inferos. The sanctity with which water is invested by the Mandaeans is to be explained by, the fact that Ea has his seat " in the depths of the world sea." Cf. K. Kessler's article, " Mandaer," in Herzog-Hauck's Realencyklopadie, and the same author's paper, " Ueber Gnosis u. altbabylonische Religion," in the Abhandh. d. funften internationalen Orientalisten-congresses zu Berlin (Berlin, 1882) ; also W. Brandt's Mandaische Religion (Leipzig, 1889), and M. N. Siouffi's Etudes sur la religion des Soubbas (Paris, 188o). (K. K.; G. W. T.)
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