southern Babylonia, the son also was brought up in the religious doctrines and exercises of this sect. These Baptists (see the Fihrist) were apparently connected with the Elkesaites and the Hemerobaptists, and certainly with the Mandaeans. It is probable that this Babylonian sect had absorbed Christian elements. Thus the boy early became acquainted with very different forms of religion. If even a small part of the stories about his father is founded on fact, it was he who first introduced Mani to that medley of religions out of which his system arose. Manichaean tradition relates that Mani received revelations while yet a boy, and assumed a critical attitude towards the religious instruction that was being imparted to him. This is the more incredible since the same tradition informs us that the boy was as yet prohibited from making public use of his new religious views. It was only when Mani had reached the age of twenty-five or thirty years that he began to proclaim his new religion. This he did at the court of the Persian king, Shāpūr I., and, according to the story, on the coronation day of that monarch (241/2). A Persian tradition says that he had previously been a Christian presbyter, but this is certainly incorrect. Mani did not remain long in Persia, but undertook long journeys for the purpose of spreading his religion, and also sent forth disciples. According to the Acta Archelai, his missionary activity extended westwards into the territory of the Christian church; but from Oriental sources it is certain that Mani rather went into Transoxiana, western China, and southwards as far as India. His labours there as well as in Persia were not without result. Like Mahomet after him and the founder of the Elkesaites before him, he gave himself out for the last and highest prophet, who was to surpass all previous divine revelation, which only possessed a relative value, and to set up the perfect religion. In the closing years of the reign of Shāpūr I. (c. 270) Mani returned to the Persian capital, and gained adherents even at court. But the dominant priestly caste of the Magians, on whose support the king was dependent, were naturally hostile to him, and after some successes Mani was made a prisoner, and had then to flee. The successor of Shāpūr, Hōrmizd (272-273), appears to have been favourably disposed towards him, but Bahrām I. abandoned him to the fanaticism of the Magians, and caused him to be crucified in the capital in the year 276/7. The corpse was flayed, and Mani’s adherents were cruelly persecuted by the king.
Mani’s Writings.—Mani himself composed a large number of works and epistles, which were in great part still known to the Mahommedan historians, but are now mostly lost. The later heads of the Manichaean churches also wrote religious treatises, so that the ancient Manichaean literature must have been very extensive. According to the Fihrist, Mani made use of the Persian and Syriac languages; but, like the Oriental Marcionites before him, he invented an alphabet of his own, which the Fihrist has handed down to us. In this alphabet the sacred books of the Manichaeans were written, even at a later period. The Fihrist reckons seven principal works of Mani, six being in the Syriac and one in the Persian language; regarding some of these we also have information in Epiphanius, Augustine, Titus of Bostra, and Photius, as well as in the formula of abjuration (Cotelerius, PP. Apost. Opp. i. 543) and in the Acta Archelai. They are (1) The Book of Secrets (see Acta Archel.), containing discussions bearing on the Christian sects spread throughout the East, especially the Marcionites and Bardesanites, and dealing also with their conception of the Old and New Testaments; (2) The Book of the Giants (Demons?); (3) The Book of Precepts for Hearers (probably identical with the Epistola Fundamenti of Augustine and with the Book of Chapters of Epiphanius and the Acta Archelai; this was the most widely spread and most popular Manichaean work, having been translated into Greek and Latin; it contained a short summary of all the doctrines of fundamental authority); (4) The Book Shāhpūrakān (Flügel was unable to explain this name; according to Kessler it signifies “epistle to King Shāpūr”; the treatise was of an eschatological character); (5) The Book of Quickening (Kessler identifies this work with the “Thesaurus [vitae]” of the Acta Archelai, Epiphanius, Photius and Augustine, and if this be correct it also must have been in use among the Latin Manichaeans); (6) The Book πραγματεία (of unknown contents); (7) a book in the Persian language, the title of which is not given in our present text of the Fihrist, but which is in all probability identical with the “holy gospel” of the Manichaeans (mentioned in the Acta Archel. and many other authorities). It was this work which the Manichaeans set up in opposition to the Gospels. Besides these principal works, Mani also wrote a large number of smaller treatises and epistles. The practice of writing epistles was continued by his successors. These Manichaean dissertations also became known in the Graeco-Roman Empire, and existed in collections. There also existed a Manichaean book of memorabilia, and of prayers, in Greek, as well as many others, all of which were destroyed by the Christian bishops acting in conjunction with the authorities. A Manichaean epistle, addressed to one Marcellus, has, however, been preserved for us in the Acta Archelai.
Manichaean System.—Though the leading features of Manichaean doctrine can be exhibited clearly even at the present day, and though it is undoubted that Mani himself drew up a complete system, many details are nevertheless uncertain, since they are differently described in different sources, and it often remains doubtful which of the accounts that have been transmitted to us represents the original teaching of the founder.
The Manichaean system is one of consistent, uncompromising dualism, in the form of a fantastic philosophy of nature. The physical and the ethical are not distinguished, and in this respect the character of the system is thoroughly materialistic; for when Mani co-ordinates good with light, and evil with darkness, this is no mere figure of speech, but light is actually good and darkness evil. From this it follows that religious knowledge involves the knowledge of nature and her elements, and that redemption consists in a physical process of freeing the element of light from the darkness. Under such circumstances ethics becomes a doctrine of abstinence in regard to all elements which have their source within the sphere of darkness.
The self-contradictory character of the present world forms the point of departure for Mani’s speculations. This contradiction presents itself to his mind primarily as elemental, and only in the second instance as ethical, inasmuch as he considers the sensual nature of man to be the outflow of the evil elements in nature. From the contradictory character of the world he concludes the existence of two beings, originally quite separate from each other—light and darkness. Each is to be thought of according to the analogy of a kingdom. Light presents itself to us as the good primal spirit (God, radiant with the ten [twelve] virtues of love, faith, fidelity, high-mindedness, wisdom, meekness, knowledge, understanding, mystery and insight), and then further as the heavens of light and the earth of light, with their guardians the glorious aeons. Darkness is likewise a spiritual kingdom (more correctly, it also is conceived of as a spiritual and feminine personification), but it has no “God” at its head. It embraces an “earth of darkness.” As the earth of light has five tokens (the mild zephyr, cooling wind, bright light, quickening fire, and clear water), so has the earth of darkness also five (mist, heat, the sirocco, darkness and vapour). Satan with his demons was born from the kingdom of darkness. These two kingdoms stood opposed to each other from all eternity, touching each other on one side, but remaining unmingled. Then Satan began to rage, and made an incursion into the kingdom of light, into the earth of light. The God of light, with his syzygy, “the spirit of his right hand,” now begot the primal man, and sent him, equipped with the five pure elements, to fight against Satan. But the latter proved himself the stronger, and the primal man was for a moment vanquished. And although the God of light himself now took to the field, and with the help of new aeons (the spirit of life, &c.) inflicted total defeat upon Satan, and set the
- A βιβλίον ἐπιστολῶν is spoken of in the formula of abjuration, and an Epistola ad virginem Menoch by Augustine. Fabricius has collected the “Greek Fragments of Manichaean Epistles” in his Bibliotheca Graeca (vii. 311 seq.).
- The Canticum amatorium is cited by Augustine.
- Zittwitz assumes that this epistle was in its original form of much larger extent, and that the author of the Acts took out of it the matter for the speeches which he makes Mani deliver during his disputation with Bishop Archelaus. The same scholar traces back the account by Turbo in the Acts, and the historical data given in the fourth section, to the writings of Turbo, a Mesopotamian, who is assumed to have been a Manichaean renegade and a Christian. But as to this difference of opinion is at least allowable.