Word Origin & History

an adherent of a religious sect mentioned thrice in the Qu'ran (in which they are classified with Christians, and Jews as "true believers" worth of toleration by Muslims), 1614, from Arabic, of uncertain origin. Perhaps the ref. is to a Gnostic sect akin to the later Mandæans (if the word derives,
as some think it does, from Arabic ch'bae "to baptize"); but it has the appearance of derivation from the Sem. root of Heb. tzabha "host" (see Sabaoth), and as the Sabians were thought in the Middle Ages to have been star-worshippers, it was interpreted as referring to the "host of heaven."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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