In the Guide, Maimonides talks about the religion of the Sabians (first idolators). He tells us that he has spent much time learning about the Sabian religion (he was sort of an anthropologist). After much study, he discovered that Sabianism revealed cows, so much so, that they prohibited their slaughter:

"As for the slaughter of oxen, the majority of idolaters abominated it, as all of them held this species in very great esteem. Hence you will find that up to our time, the Indians do not slaughter oxen, even in countries where other species of animals are slaughtered." (Guide, 3:46)

Is Maimonides telling us that the Ancient Sabians where Indians, since Hinduism was the first polytheism religion and since Hindus revere/worship cows?[1]

[1] Though scholars still debate who exactly were the Sabians.

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    I touched on this in my book on the history of idolatry: books.google.co.il/… Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 11:17
  • Thank you for your book. I look forward to reading it whole. Some questions regarding this topic though. You write on pg 54 (footnote 74) that Adam found a tree in India: does this point to the Sabians as being of Hindu stock? Second, you write that the Sabians said that Adam had a mother and a father like you and me. Kabbalist Rabbi Michael Laitman felt that Adam did have parents. He was the first person to have a soul-infused-to body. What do you think of this?
    – Jonathan
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 17:37
  • @Jonathan, just a note: I'd stay away from Laitman's writings. He's a known cult leader and if I'm not mistaken he's not even really a rabbi. It's hard to know if any of his writings are trustworthy in any sort of way.
    – Harel13
    Commented Apr 11, 2020 at 17:45
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    Thank you @Harel13 for your concern for me. I will take his writings with a grain of salt and delve deeper into his views. He's a kabbalist and generally, I don't subscribe to kabbalistic/mystical view anyway. Thanks.
    – Jonathan
    Commented Apr 12, 2020 at 17:18

2 Answers 2


That doesn't seem to be the case, according to the lines before what you quoted:

Moreh Nevochim 3:46:

" וכן היו כיתות מן הצאבה עובדים לשדים והיו חושבים שהם ישובו בצורת העזים - ולזה היו קוראים לשדים 'שעירים' - וכבר התפשט הדעת הזה מאד בימי 'משה רבינו'"

Translation: And so there were some sects among the Sabeans that worshipped demons, and imagined that these assumed the form of goats, and called them therefore "goats" [se‘irim]. And by the time of Moshe, this became widespread.

It seems that it was a practice that started in Sabean sects and eventually spread world-wide. So too seems to be the case of not slaughtering cows - some ancient sects started it, until eventually it reached the Indians of Rambam's time.

As to the identity of the Sabeans, Rambam in his commentary on the mishnah in Avodah Zara 4:7 writes:

"ועיקר זה באומה הנקראת צאבים והם האומה שיצא אברהם אבינו ע"ה מביניהם וחלק על טעותם וסברתם המקולקלת"

Translation: And this was an important principal in the nation called "Sabeans" and they were the nation that Abraham our forefather peace be upon him came from among them and disagreed with their mistake and their faulty argument [/belief].

And as Abraham is known to have come from the Kasdim, also known as the Babylonians, it seems that "Sabean" was another word for Babylonian.

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    Thank you for your answer. I would add that some scholars feel that the Babylonians might have derived from India. But this may not fit with the context of Rambam. Meaning, that idolatry began in Mesopotamia.
    – Jonathan
    Commented Apr 10, 2020 at 17:11
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    Very interesting, didn’t know that Commented May 13, 2020 at 7:43

Historically in the Islamic Middle East, Sabians either refer to the Gnostic Mandaeans, or to the similar religious Gnostic group, the Yazidis.

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