Proxy baptisms not unique to LDS
By Leon D'Souza
The Salt Lake Tribune
For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
vicarious baptisms are a religious obligation to offer the dead a
chance at salvation in the afterlife.
Yet the practice isn't unique to the LDS Church. At least one
other group, Jordan's little-known Gnostic Mandaean sect, performs a
similar rite, albeit with one notable exception. The Mandaean
"baptism" isn't a baptism to admit a person into the Christian
community. It's a cleansing ritual that may be performed on an
individual who is ill or dying, and it may occur several times in the
"You have to be born a Mandaean, so they have no interest in
converts," said Jorunn J. Buckley, an authority on Gnostic religions
and as assistant professor at Bowdoin College in Maine. "For
Christianity, baptism is an initiation into a new life. For them, it's
a reconfirmation of their beliefs and they do it for the dead and
Mandaeans, who claim John the Baptist as their progenitor and
messiah, believe the faithful must die in a "clean state," preferably
washed in the waters of baptism. They traditionally have made their
homes close to rivers, originating along the banks of the River Jordan
and meandering over time to the area adjoining the Tigris River in
what is now Iraq.
"If a Mandaean dies from being torn apart by a wild animal, or by
falling from a date palm tree, then a baptism is done by proxy,"
The process is highly structured. Unlike the Mormon ritual,
proxies must resemble the dead in age and appearance, and the baptisms
are performed by priests only on a certain day of the Mandaean
Today, Mandaeans are concentrated mainly in Iraq and Iran, but
many, driven by political instability, have made their homes in
countries across the globe, including the United States.
Their numbers cannot be known with certainty, but the Toronto,
Ontario-based Mandaean Associations Union, an international federation
of Mandaean groups, has estimated that between 70,000 and 100,000
still live in Iraq.