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my ugrad thesis

Religious Syncretism: A Look at Manichaeism
by greywolf
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of The Requirements for The
Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology at
The College of William and Mary in Virginia
April 29, 1998


The comparative study of religion (i.e., the cross-cultural study of religious beliefs) is an area of anthropology that has had little attention, outside of what has been traditionally considered primitive societies, compared to work in such areas as kinship studies or gender roles. The study of myth is a notable exception. Nevertheless, its an area that is in need of more work. The study of the religious belief systems within particular cultures provides for invaluable insights into the cultures of which they are a part.

But what is the examination of these systems in relation to others? Can valuable information and insight be gained from looking at how such systems differ, or resemble each other, from one culture to another? I would argue that anthropology can make such gains. In fact, it is very important for the discipline to make such efforts. Insight into the structure of a belief system, its relation the believers, and the role the belief system has in shaping the culture as a whole through outcomes of religious beliefs and practices (or the changing of one segment of a culture due to such beliefs and practices being introduced) are essential parts of understanding the culture to the fullest degree.

It should pointed out before getting into the body of the text that there are a number of concepts and terms in this work that may seem foreign to one who has never read about Manichaeism. Efforts shall be made to clarify such concepts and terms.


In this work the focus of study will be religious syncretism with regard to the religion of Manichaeism. This is the worlds first premeditated world religion, and therefore particularly inclusive in its practices. Though it is interesting to point out that one aspect of the system, its cosmology, is especially rigid, and only a literal interpretation was to be allowed by the religions founder, Mani. The questions that come into being when looking at the roots and influences of the religion are as follows: To what extent did the Elchasaites play on Manis ideas? What are the beliefs (summary of the belief system) embodied in Manichaeism? What were the influences on Manichaeism? Where to did Manichaeism spread? What were the belief systems of the people whom lived in those areas? What are the similarities (if any) between Manichaeism and these native beliefs? Can evidence be found of transference of beliefs from one belief system to another? If so: What is this evidence? What does this evidence mean to the study of religious syncretism?


With these questions in mind, a set of four goals materializes that this work should address. These are as follows. 1) Identify the influences other belief systems had on the religion of Mani. 2) Identify the changes it Manichaeism underwent, or differences that existed regionally throughout its spread. In order to do this, three things must be done. First, it will be necessary to identify the pre-existing beliefs of regions into which Manichaeism spread. This is needed in order to know what existed before the coming of the religion. Second, any similarities that may exist between these pre-existing belief systems and Manichaeism before its spread should be identified. Such information in needed in order to find points of common ground, where concepts may have been easily translated. Thirdly, there must be an identification of any similarities that may exist between these pre-existing belief systems and Manichaeism after its spread. This is important to show which ideas may have been picked up by the incoming system. Also, this step is crucial in showing any ideas that may have been rejected. 3) Once this has been done, the significance of these findings to the study of Manichaeism shall be offered. 4) And finally the significance of these findings to the study of syncretism in comparative religion shall be offered.


Some possible outcomes of this work are as follows. 1) Influences may be present in the religions found in the geographic areas from which the religion began and the areas into which the religion spread. 2) Changes did occur in the religion as it spread outside of its birthplace. Two point can further be made concerning changes. First, these changes resulted in an adaptation of the original system to the belief system already in place in Central Asia (and Roman Empire?). Second, this adaptation resembles the original Manichaeism more than the native religions, yet contains qualities distinctly different to the original. A set of beliefs central to Manichaeism should survive any changes the religion undergoes in order for the religion to exist as Manichaeism. 3) This is significant to the study of Manichaeism in its identification of how and why the religion evolved. And lastly, 4) this is significant to the study of syncretism, and the study of comparative religion, in that this will show that religion is not a static system of ideas that completely pre-exist its believers. Also, the set of beliefs that make up a religion change both through time and space, the process being both diachronic and synchronic. As beliefs are introduced to new regions and new cultural surroundings, those beliefs are augmented and on the whole re-examined by a new set of values, thereby creating the possibility of change.

In the following pages there has been provided a summary of the cosmology, as well as the beliefs and practices of the Religion of Light (Manichaeism). This is necessary in order to move on to discussing Manichaeism's place in the realm of religious syncretism.

First to be outlined is the texts available to scholars of the religion. Second, a section on the historical figure of the prophet Mani is provided. Third, Manichaean cosmology will be outlined in terms of the Two Principles (Light and Dark, eternal and opposing forces of the cosmos, discussed later), and the Three Moments (the Former, Present, and Future Moments, also discussed later), concepts instrumental to the understanding of the basis for Manichaean cosmology. Finally, the beliefs and practices is included.


The teachings of Mani are contained in seven works in Aramaic: The Living Gospel, The Treasure of Life, The Pragmateia, The Book of Mysteries, The book of Giants, The Letters, and Psalms and Prayers. Also, a Middle Persian summary, the Sabuhragan, was presented to Shapur I. Western texts (Latin) found in Algeria in 1918 include: The Letters of Mani, The psalm Book, The Kephalaia, The Commentary on the Living Gospel, and The Homilies, as well as some unidentifiable fragments.

During this century a vast collection of texts has came to light, including greater portions of the works cited above, as well as many works without which a paper such as this would not have been possible. These discoveries include finds in Central Asia and China, the latter has been examined extensively by Lieu (1985, and others). Klimkeit's work, Gnosis on the Silk Road deals with texts from throughout the Silk Road, north of the Karakorum Range through to beyond the Hexi Corridor, somewhat south of the Gobi Desert. Mary Boyce has done work in the field of Manichaeism, as well as a great deal in Zoroastrianism.


Mani was born in 216 CE (in Mardinu in Babylonia. At the age of four his father took him to live in a Jewish ascetic group known as the Mughtasilah (Elchasaites). He was raised as a member of the sect and stayed there until the age of 24. It was then that he left the group charged with the task of missioning to the world as one who received revelation from his Syzygos (the personification of the Paraclete, his divine twin). Mani enjoyed initial success in the land of his birth, under the support of Shapur I, son of Ardashir, who founded the Sassanian dynasty. Later, however, pressure from Zoroastrian priests led him to leave Persia and mission throughout India, Central Asia, and China. He returned to Persia, again finding favor for a while. It was a descendant of Shapur I, however, Vahram (273-276), whom had him killed, flayed, stuffed, and displayed as an exaample to other heretics in 277. The mission began by Mani 35+ years before survived for over a millennium before dying out in its last strongholds in Asia and China.


In the following paragraphs I am relying on the work of Samuel Lieu (1985) and Hans-Joachim Klimkeit (1993), as well as to a lesser extent Geo Widengren (1965a) and A. V. Williams Jackson (1932). At this time, however, it should be pointed out that the writings of Lieu and Jackson are based on primary texts available to Burkitt (1978, 1924) and Arendzen (1913), but also on Manichaean texts found and translated this century, only some found in Jackson.




The first aspect of Manichaeism that must be under stood concerns Manis justifications, of how things come to be the way they are. These revelations concern the nature of the cosmos. Mani speaks of Two Principles, Lightness and Darkness. These principles are eternal, and have always existed. They are equal in power, creating as were a dual force of opposition, the exact nature of the relationship will be discussed later below. He also speaks of Three Moments: The Former Time, The Present Time, and The Future Time. These are also called the Three Epochs. These moments correspond with what the modern Western would equate with procession of time, the diachronic consideration. It is within these two concepts, two principle forces of power and a framework of time, that Mani elaborately explains the creation of the visible, material existence and the eternally existing cosmology of the universe we dont see.

Essentially, before the disturbance, the cosmos consists of purely separate realms of Light and Dark. Light resides in the West, East, North, and points up, led by the Father of light, or Time Eternal. Blissfully existing without material presence in peace, the Realm of Light, with its twelve Aeons surrounding his throne, each with twelve Aeons surrounding them, is the perfection of Good. This Kingdom of Light consists of five elements: air, wind, light, water, and fire.

Along with the Great Father, and both sets of Aeons there are two other entities in the Kingdom of Light (total of five, a recurring number in Manichaeism). These are the Living Air and the Land of Light. The Living Air blows in the other four and feeds them with Light. There are five dwellings, or worlds, wich are Intelligence, Knowledge, Reason, Though, and Deliberation, which collectively make up the Land of Light. The five Spiritual qualities of the Kingdom of Light are Love, Faith, Fidelity, Benevolence, and Wisdom. The Father of Greatness is also known as the Tree of Life.

Darkness is the opposite of this Good, being utter Evil and Chaos. It controls places South and downward. It was not the Platonic "absence of Good" Western thinkers are accustomed to, but a place, a material-form filled realm (there is a sense of a no-form form dichotomy between the two realms). There is not a single leader, as in the Kingdom of Light, but a chaotic separation of authority. The Five Archons lead the five worlds each symbolized by an animal. Smoke, home of the bipeds, is led by the Demon. Fire, home of the quadrupeds is led by the Lion. Wind, home of the flying things is led by the Eagle. Water, home of the swimming things, is led by the Fish. Darkness, home of the reptiles, is led by the Dragon. These five rulers are collectively referred to as the Prince of Darkness. The worlds of darkness are cavern-like, and have deep gulfs, abysses, pits, quagmires, dikes, fens, and pools. Together, the five worlds spew forth the Tree of Death, the fruit of which, even the limbs are in opposition to its own existence. Such is the action of all in the Kingdom of Darkness, to be in opposition to everything else, and to be in random motion, a state of chaos.


In the Former Time, a disturbance occurred between the two principles. Some of the Dark dwellers, bipeds, became fascinated with the light realm and soon after a mass of darkness invaded the Light. The Kingdom of Light was caught off guard. The Aeons were not endowed with defenses, as this was a realm of peace. The Father of Greatness "evoked" the Mother of Light, who in turn evoked the Primal Man. The Primal Man evoked the five original light elements (air, light, wind, water, and fire) to use as armor against the Prince of Darkness.

The Father of Greatness did this in order to trick the Prince, knowing that the Dark would take the Primal Man in battle and swallow part of the Light Particles contained in his armor that attracted Darkness from the first. Now that the darkness had taken in some of the light particles, the Dark demons were then dependant on the Light and therefore enslaved by the Father of Greatness.

In order to free the Primal Man, the Father of Greatness then evoked the Friend of the Lights, who evoked the Great Builder, who in turn evoked the Living Spirit. The Living Spirit then evoked five Sons: the Custodian of Splendor, the Great King of Honor, Adamas of Light, the King of Glory, and Atlas. Together with these deities the Living Spirit went to the frontier of Dark and called out a cry in the form of a sword and revealed the Primal Man. This call and the Primal Mans response symbolize the message of redemption and salvation of humanity. In this sense, the Primal Man is representative of humanitys divine intelligence, or Nous (Lieu 1985:13). Through this Call and Answer, humanity is able to return to the Kingdom of Light. Therefore, a knowledge of the divine goodness of the light particles trapped within the dark, repulsive material existence of this world is necessary for salvation.

From this point the story then concerns the salvation of the Light particles that were trapped by the archons of Darkness. In order to free these particles of Light the universe as we know it came to be. It is a place of refinement for the soiled Light Elements, as well as a prison to ensnare the Darkness. The Living Spirit and his five sons descended again in order to combat the demons, this time the defeat the them. From the corpses of the demons the Living Spirit created the eight planets, the ten heavens. Their fragments were made into the Earth and their bone the Mountains. He captured and chained the surviving archons of Darkness the ground. This was done in order to rescue the trapped Light Particles from the Archons. The heavens are held in place by the Custodian of Splendor, and the Earth held up by Atlas.

The material universe created from the corpses, as well as the chained archons, contained Light Elements that required a complex plan for freeing. The Living Spirit evoked three Wheels of wood, water, and fire.

He then evoked the Third Messenger, who, together with his evocation, the Maiden of Light, or Twelve Maidens, played on the archons lustful tendencies. They appeared to the archons with an alluring capacity. The male archon spew forth in excitement the light particles trappe d inside him Raining down on the Earth, taking the form of vegetation. Sin which was within the archons tried to mingle with the Light Elements, but the Third Messenger prevented this and the sin fell back onto the archons. The archons rejected their ejected sin, like as Lieu puts it "a man who feels disgust at his own vomit"(1985:15) and it fell upon the Earth. The female archons aborted her Light Particles in the form of foetuses.

According to Klimkeit, the abortions were the product of the archons copulation with each other after being excited by the Light deities. This account doesnt represent the difference in the amount of Light particles between animals and plants, plants having more Light, because the males semen brought them about. If the archons copulated thereby producing the animals of the world, then the amount of Light particles trapped in animals would equal that of humanity, because as you will find later, the creation of man mirrors this process. It is therefore more likely that the abortions were the result of the females self swelling and miscarrying. Even though this is biologically impossible, the fact that follower believed as taught by Mani animals contained less Light than plants makes it theologically valid and necessary. Such a distinction between male and female in the realm of Darkness indicates an example of the religious justification of the inferiority of women, similar to the Christian Adam and Eve notion of Eve being created second and from Adams rib; a topic better left to for another time, except to point to a similarity between Manichaean and Christian concepts of gender and power.

These abortions then copulated (in Lieus account) and gave rise to the every species of animal. The males vegetables contain more Light Particles than the product of the female archon, to reiterate this distinction for emphasis.

The Third Messenger also evoked the Column of Glory, the visible evidence of which is the Milky Way. When the Wheels are set in motion, the Light Elements, which include souls (or the part of the soul/Nous trapped within material form) are freed from the universe, refined, and travel along the Column of Glory from the moon to the sun (purest sources of Light Elements in the universe). The sun and moon are both receivers of Particles and means of conveyance. From there the Light Elements are taken to a New Earth created by the Great Builder ruled by the Primal man. This place is not the same as the Kingdom of Light but is made of the same substance. Its function is to be a home for the evoked beings and the freed Light Elements.

The Prince of Darkness (the collective term for the Archons of the Dark, knowing that the plan to free the trapped Particles (i.e. souls) was in way and having success, engendered two demons: a male, Ashqalum (or Saclas), and a female, Namrael (or Nebroel). Ashqalum persuaded some of the animals to hand over their offspring to him, by promising to make them an image of the Third Messenger after whom the abortions lusted. They did so. Ashqalum then devoured the male offspring and gave the female ones to Namrael to devour. The two then engaged in intercourse and produced a son, Adam, and a daughter, Eve, in that order. Man was a microcosmic replica of the Cosmos; intended by this to ensnare Light in a body weighted down by evil. The creation of man and the struggles that ensue bring the cosmology in the Present Moment.


Because man is a microcosm of the universe, he is destined to perpetuate the bondage of Light Particles in the universe. It was through such bondage, through man, that the forces of Darkness intended to rule the world. The Third Messenger, the Mother of Light, the Primal Man, and the Spirit of Life together sent the Jesus of Light to free man from his ignorance of the Light that was trap inside him. Jesus of Light descended and found man in a deep sleep. He woke him and stirred him to life. Jesus of Light chased away the deceiving demon and the great archontess. Most of all he showed him the glory of the Father existent within him that was enslaved by darkness, by the material world, in flesh. He raised him and made him eat from the Tree of Life. Adam then cried and denounced the Darkness that imprisoned the Light, the dwellings if the Kingdom of Light (intelligence, knowledge, reason, thought, deliberation), with him.

Now Adam recognized the divine origins of his soul and the defiled state of his body. Jesus of Light then warned him of the dangers of lust (a dark, material emotion) and told him not to copulate with Eve, thereby perpetuating the entrapment of Light. Though Adam did as Jesus of Light told him to do, the male archon had intercourse with Eve and she gave birth to Cain. Cain in turn coupled with her mother and she gave birth to Able. Each in turn coupled with Eve, giving rise to daughter each of the sons then married, producing more incestuous offspring, the beginnings of Human Kind. In this Manichaean account, Cain kills able because Able implies that Cain committed adultery with Ables wife/daughter, thereby producing twins.

The archon (al-Sindid in Arabic) then taught Eve how to seduce Adam, by the use of magic. She then gave birth to a son. This child, being a product of Adam, contained more Light in him than the rest of Eve offspring and was seen as a stranger to the archon who he wished to kill. Adam took care of him and asked for help from the Father of Greatness, the Mother of Light, and the Spirit of Life. They aided Adam and sent him a Crown of Splendor to repel the demons. This child was nursed from the milk of the of the lotus. Adam later named the child Seth. The archon again used Eve to trap Adam, but Seth prevented it, telling his father to go the East with him, toward the Light and Wisdom of God. It was because of this that Adam was able to enter the Kingdom of Light. Eve and her incestuous offspring went to hell upon their deaths.

At some point after this, some of the archons chained to the earth rebelled and were captured by their guardian the King of Honor. Two hundred of them escaped capture, and reveal mysteries to man, perpetuating all kinds of evils in the world. Four archangels, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Istrael, were sent down to apprehend them. The archons assumed the shape of man an hid. They were singled out by the archangels and recaptured. The archons were then placed in prisons in thirty-six towns constructed by the Living Spirit. The sons of these archons (referred to as giants, compare with biblical similarity), produced in union with humans, were destroyed.

The Messengers up to Mani

Jesus of light was the first of the messengers sent to redeem humanity from the ensnarement of the flesh and of Darkness, being entrusted with special knowledge, or revelation (not to be confused with Jesus of Nazareth, who comes later. This is the Jesus of light referred to earlier). His role as redeemer is continued in the world as the Great Nous, intelligence, which emanated from him (according to Klimkeit, the deity emanated from the Living Spirit). This Nous is the source of the message that all the worlds true religious leaders brought. He is the father of all apostles on earth. The human soul, i.e., the trapped Light Elements (air, wind, light, water, fire), is adorned by the Great Nous with his five limbs or sons, the hypostases of the five attributes of the Kingdom of Light (intelligence, knowledge, reason, thought, and deliberation), which in turn engender the five virtues (love, faith, contentment, patience, and wisdom) in the soul. These virtues aid the human soul in withstanding the attack from the Kingdom of Darkness and its attempt to perpetuate the existence of Light in the world. The presence of this divine intelligence is witnessed in a line of perfect men: Seth, Noah, Abraham, Shem, Nikotheos, Enoch, as well as Buddha, Zoroaster, and Jesus the Messiah. The last and most perfect of these is Mani, whose teaching was imparted to directly by the Jesus if Light.(Lieu 1985:18)

Such knowledge, once known by the human soul, does not bring about immediate salvation. It is a constant battle between the soul and the forces of Darkness. The Dark constantly tries to lull humanity into slipping back into sin and worldliness. Mani calls this the struggle between the 'Old Man' of the world and the 'New Man' of the light. (Language borrowed from Paul, referenced in Lieu 1985:18) It is through forgetfulness that the soul sins. Therefore, it becomes a constant, diligent process, ever mindful of the dangers of this world, to reach the Kingdom of Light in the Future Moment. Sin is therefore an act of forgetfulness, not an act of violation.


At a point in the future, when most of the Light Particles have been freed from the universe and rests in the New World, a great fire will be sent to purge the universe of the material form with the remaining Light Particles collected up by the Primal Man and returned to the Kingdom of Light. At that point the universe will cease to exist.

The balance between the Kingdoms of Light and Dark will once again be equal. As can be seen, this cosmology views the universe as a result of a disturbance in the balance and thus a transitory, an unfortunate consequence of a battle between two eternal forces. This battle is not, as is sometimes alluded to by those who don't know the cosmology, an eternal one. It is the forces who are eternal.


Geo Widengren reports in his book Mani and Manichaeism, as does Lieu in his work, of the astrological aspects of Manichaeism. Astrology seems to have played an important role in the religion. Mani used astrology extensively in his writings and considered the signs to be archons from the five worlds of Darkness chained to the firmament. The creatures of the Zodiac were assigned to the five worlds of Darkness, two to each world with two worlds assigned three. Another fashion in which the creatures are grouped involved four triangles arranged pointing to the four corners(NW, SE, NE, SW), three creatures (one per side) to a triangle.

Lieu states that astrology is a necessary part of the religion (any Dualist or Karmic religion) where evil is not apart of the self (the New self) and is therefore not within ones control. This leads one to feel helpless. Astrology thus gives back the feeling of knowing from where and when the next attack from the Dark will come. (Lieu 1985:141)


Below is a description of the manifestations in the lives of the followers of the Religion of Light brought about by the cosmology above. The historical framework of this cosmology emerges both as a the literal historical truth of creation and as a symbolic lesson on the correct way to live, to think of the universe and of your place in it. The central consideration when trying to understand the actions of Manichaeans is to realize the importance of the Light World, the New Earth, and the salvation of the Light trapped in this existence. Of which their (the followers) essence is constituted.

Therefore, their own salvation, as well as the salvation of all Light Particles 'devoured' by the archons when they subdued the Primal Man and took from him his armor, his five sons or limbs (air, wind, light, water, and fire), requires them to make this aim the central aim in life. This is done by first accepting the knowledge provided by the last and most perfect messenger, Mani. From there, salvation comes about by living in order to be a savior of Light, both the humans souls and the Light in the world. Constant awareness of Manis teaching and strict adherence to the correct life provides for salvation, or for reincarnation into a position of access to salvation (explained below). As will be seen, however, this system is not as exclusive as this statement would suggest. Prayer and confession (as well as fasting) play important roles in daily life. To begin with, we will look at the social framework of Mani's followers, and the rules governing their lives.

The Elect and the Auditor

There are two levels of believers in the Religion of Light: Elect and Auditors. The Elect are the true Manichaeans who may reach salvation, conditional salvation during their lifetime, and eternal salvation after death. They are the missionaries, spreading the knowledge imparted by Mani to the world. They can be men or women. Though gender is not, as the cosmology would suggest, something that is proper to raise as a distinction, there is a distinction made, in that female Elect members prepare the food for Male members (cultural mores subduing reason). (Klimkeit 1993:21) There are five commandments for the Elect. (Klimkeit 1993:22) These commandments are the adherence of 1) Truthfulness, 2) non-injury (nonviolence), 3) Chastity (given the utter evil of this world and the role copulation had in the cosmology, this commandment is central to the elect), 4) "Purity of Mouth", and 5) "Blessed Poverty". The first two are self explanatory. As mentioned above, Chastity is the central requirement for the Elect. To perpetuate the cycle of life that traps Light in the corporeal form is a grave sin. "Purity of Mouth" concerns the abstention from eating meat, since there are fewer Light Particles trapped in the animals (the female archons abortions) than in vegetation (the male archons product). The role of the Elect as freer of trapped Light Particles is better fulfilled consuming vegetables, his or her body acting as a refiner for the Light, ingesting and separating the Good from the Evil, material substance. "Blessed Poverty" refers to the Elect only being permitted to posses enough food for one days journey, and clothing for one year. Since the trapped light particles exist throughout the world, permeating all material, simply walking along a path injures the light under their feet. Labors such as agriculture are not possible for the members of the Elect, a role fulfilled by the Auditors (Hearer). Because it is impossible to prevent the injury of light particles in the course of performing missionary work, traveling, regular confessions are needed.

The Auditors provide for the Elect and live correct lives in the hopes of some day being reborn as a member of the Elect. They support the Elect, thereby earning merit (both reincarnation and alms giving, the pursuit of merit, are Buddhist/Indian concepts). They can marry, though having children is not recommended (though not forbidden, as with the Elect).

There are ten commandments mentioned for the Hearer ('Auditor' and 'Hearer' suggest the relationship between the two classes, Elect providing the Call to the Hearer, the Hearer responding with the Answer acknowledgment, acceptance, and service toward the cause). These commandments are not listed in list form, instead a description is given of the prohibitions the commandments encompassed. These are prohibitions against: killing, lying, making false accusations, leading an unchaste life (though Lieu recounts that Hearers were permitted mistresses (1985:21), and both Klimkeits and Lieus speak of allowance of marriage), stealing, and engaging in black magic.

Another general way of speaking of the abstentions of Manichaeism is to speak of the "Three Seals" (Lieu 1985:19-20, St. Augustine De Moribus Manichaeorum Chapter 10 accessed via Internet, see bibliography below). These are the Seals of the Mouth, Hands, and Breast (meaning to seal off form the outside world (Klimkeit 1993:22)). The Seal of the Mouth means to abstain from speech that is not in accordance with living as ones New Self, Ones Light soul would have. Similarly, the Seal of the Hand refers to actions, and the Seal of the Breast to carnal sins (the aforementioned tolerance afforded to Hearers being an exception).

Klimkeit says in his work that the symbolic aspect of the cosmology make this possible. (1993:20-23) Though the religion does have Gnostic roots, it is difficult to say that a gnostic interpretation was maintained everywhere the religion spread. Lieu speaks in fact of the Literalism with which Mani treated the cosmology. (1985:23) The place of the cosmology as outside of the direct historical relationship of the people allowed for the insertion of local beliefs, therefore making an otherwise static religion somewhat flexible.

Forms of Expression

Manichaeism maintained, as have all other religions throughout time as it is known, ways of expressing its beliefs in the form of action, what may be called ritual. The important forms of expression in Manichaeism include three categories. The first of these is regular prayer. The Elect made ritual prayers four time daily. The Hearers prayed seven times a day (Klimkeit 1993:23 reference to a text called the Fihrist, the work of Ibn an-Nadim, from which this information came). Within this category is included confession.

The second of these expressions are services. Services were held on Mondays, something like the Christian Sunday service. The recital or reading of hymns along with prayer.

Not much is provided on this service, how it was conducted. If possible, a description of this service, through texts and perhaps polemical accounts, may make for interesting work. However, this is not the task at hand. It is mentioned here because such an endeavor might prove useful in this work, in order to point to possible similarities in ceremony.

The third of these expressions is the fast. Seven two-day fasts are performed per year. In addition to this there is a month-long fast once a year. It should also be said that these expressions are found in combinations. Prayer accompanies fasts, as well as services. Such relationships between expressions is hard unique. Therefore no more will be said.

One expression of the religion that stands out for the purposes of this work is the Bema Festival. This was a festival commemorating the death of the prophet Mani. In the west the feast was celebrated around Easter. The East saw the Festival taking the place of a Buddhist holiday. (Klimkeit 1993:24)



The influence of Judaism on Manichaeism is said to be strong. After the discovery of the Cologne Mani Codex, there was little question that Judaism played a role in the formation of the basis of some of Manis teachings. In this work, the early years of Manis life are mentioned, and the story of his induction (or abduction) in the Elchasaites, a Jewish-Christian sect mentioned earlier. This group must have been formative in his learning.

There is also evidence that one of the canons of the religion, The Book Of Giants, is based on a segment found in the Jewish, Pseudepigraphal I Enoch 6-11 (Reeves 1992:22), and especially the Qumrans Book of Giants segments found in I Enoch (Reeves 1992:51-129). This passage resembles Genesis 6:1-4, and is the story of "Angels" (I Enoch 6:2) or Sons of God (Gen. 6:2, not a typo, both book references are the same chapter and verse)took human daughters and the fruit of those unions were giants. This account resembles the story recounted earlier concerning the escaped archons.

Besides the references to Enoch, Qumran, and Genesis 6, there are several biblical accounts and names used, such Adam and Eve (by names at least), their children, names of angels, and members of the group who shared in the Nous (mentioned above), to name a few examples. The influence Jewish ideology and myth had on the Manichaean religion is certainly identifiable. Of course, to look ahead just a bit, was this completely the influence of Judaism, or were there other (Abrahamic) influences at work here?


Before the answer to that Question is tackled, the paper shall now turn to the religion that dominated the region in which Mani lived, and where he preached for the most part of his career. Zoroastrian strains, particularly the notions of dualism and much of the terminology, are found throughout Manis teaching. Where terms are concerned, it is important to note that , as with gnostic concepts, many terms that are changed in Central Asian and to lesser extent Roman regions are translated into the languages that the local followers inhabiting the region speak.

One clear distinction between Zoroastrian and Manichaean religious beliefs is the definition of substance with regard to good and evil. Zoroastrianism holds that the good in the world is the visible, material world, with the incursion of evil being a state of "inexistance" (Bianchi: 1987: 13-18). Manichaeism, on the other hand, views the world as a place of filth, of impureness due to the invasion of the Kingdom of Darkness into Light. However, there is a pattern between the two. Both belief systems view evil as an intruding force into Good; a imbalance of the harmony being the result of this intrusion.

It is this sort of commonality that fuels the debate between which religion, Zoroastrianism or Judaism, was the dominant influence on Manichaeism. It may come down to two yard sticks with regard to this question: one can look at the number of references to each religion in the primary texts, and in so doing one must remain aware of from where the texts come. We must also consider that Gnosticism, and even Christianity are contenders for this title, if we look at all points of view. Van Tongerloo (1987:213-219) makes the point that when Manichaean Missionaries encountered areas where Monotheistic religions were already for the most part firmly established the elements of Manichaeism that more closely fit the belief structure already in place were emphasized, sometimes the religion was disguised as the pre-established belief system, as he points out in the case of Christianity and Islam (this point we will return to in the section on Christianity and the work of Nils Arne Pedersen). With this in mind, the result of evaluating the surviving texts in the above manner would likely result in skewed outcomes. Given his upbringing in a Jewish-Christian Sect, and if the information found in the Codex Manichaicus Coloniensis where we learn this is accurate, then perhaps the earliest form of the religion was in fact more Jewish, Christian, or Gnostic than Zoroastrian.


The spread of Manichaeism into Central Asia and into Medieval China, though not visibly important when one first looks at the literature, is of great importance to the religious movement as a whole. This is because Manichaeism thrived in Asia for a millennium after it was exterminated in the West, excluding neo-Manichaean movements such as the Bogmolis in Eastern Europe. It is Manichaeism in the East that we recognize as giving it a long sense of history.

The borrowing of terms witnessed in other places is seen here as well. "Buddha of Light," Avalokiteshvara being equated with a figure in the cosmology, the Great Builder, are just a couple examples of the use of native concepts in Asia. Of course is ironic that, especially in China, these terms were approximations of Indian concepts, Pali and Sanskrit, that were themselves native ideas borrowed to fit the original terms, or transliterations of those terms. One rather big loan from Chinese Mahayana Buddhism was the association of the New world, the cosmic way station for the deities and saved Light with the Pure Land. Also, as mentioned earlier, the Bema Festival was celebrated around a Buddhist Festival. The association of this festival with local ritual is consistant with the tendency for Manichaeism to adapt to the some aspects of native belief systems.


As mentioned earlier, there are numerous Abrahamic elements found in Manichaean conceptions and cosmology. Jesus is mentioned as one of the earlier messengers, a line of which Mani is the last and perfect completion. Particularly in the West one sees this influence.

Pedersen (1987:157-190) states that in the western sources the figure of Christ and Christian concepts are dominant in the structure and content of the surviving tests and criticisms. This is not surprising, given Manichaeisms recurrent tendency towards adaptation.

It is curious to point out that it was this adaptive force in Manichaeism that may actually have led to its eventual extinction. This practice began with Mani himself with the development of the religion, and the insistence that texts be translated into the local language. It was of course an initial aid in converting native follower. However, as foreign ideas were translated into terms that already had an identity, particularly in Buddhism, and where local theology was used in connection with Manichaean themes, in both Buddhism and Christianity, traditional authority rebuked them as perverted form of local religions instead of independent religions. That is to say, the authority influenced by the original belief systems or won back by them eventually saw Manichaeism not as an introduced religion, but as a twisted form (a heresy in the West) that was subversive. There is a lesson in this for the study of religion and culture, to be discussed in the sections below.


To Manichaism

The significance these data have on the study of Manichaeism is that the knowledge gained by scholars in the 20th century has had the result of opening the field up for massive synthesis. The work of Samuel Lieu and Mary Boyce are good examples of what is possible with the discoveries for one who is proficient in the necessary languages (German, Chinese and Japanese in modern languages, and a vast array of ancient language, some of which were not known, even their existence, until the last 150 years).

To Syncretism

The significance of these findings points to what can be an irony in the effectiveness of Manichaeism as a world religion. Manis use of a wide range of religious concepts that would not have been thought of as not compatible non-the-less fit together to form a cohesive and adaptive religious movement. It was this montage that led to the persecution of the movement first from the heart of the religion, Persia, and later from the peripheries. Each aspect of the religion that lent itself to the local populace carried with it concepts that were alien to that following. By emphasizing the similarities of Manichaeism to the native system in question, the differences were also imported, to be used against the movement by its antagonists.

One point that is brought up in Park (1994) is that the wide spread religions in the world -- Cristianity, Islam -- and Buddhism could be classified universal, yet were born from ethnic religions Judaism, pre-Islamic Arab religions, and Hinduism. Each took on aspects of the cultures they encountered, yet did not claim to presuppose them.*

To end with, a call for the need for more translation of the Eastern texts is in order. Much of the Silk Road texts are left in their respective countries, and not translated into a modern language for the academic community to examine them without years of specific language training, and the necessary traveling expenses. This is particularly true of the chinese texts that were available to Lieu and Lin Wushu (1987:89-93).

Religious syncretism is elusive in written documentation, but common in religious expression. It is like anthropology in that the resources of the anthropologist are rarely limited to the anthropological record, instead are the whole of the record of humanity, whether in written form or in expression in daily life. Anthropological inquiry is not just an inquiry of a book in front of you. It is the study of the world of people around you, their thoughts and actions, as well as the realm that exists within the inquirer. The only way this would not be the case is if the inquire wasn't human. To date, I have not come across an ethnography written by such an individual.




* Islam's view that Allah sent his messengers to all corners of the world, the religions now in existence being pervert form of those messengers original, true words, the same message brought by Muhammad to the Arabs may well be an exception to the rule in one sense. Yet this view does not allow for the adaptation of Islam to Local religion, as Manichaeism practices were to bring.

Buddhism went through significant change, yet the change was not seen as an adaptation of Buddhism to the local culture, instead was an effort to 'uncover' the true Buddhism.



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