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Manichaeism

This print version free essay Manichaeism.

Category: Religion

Autor: reviewessays 26 December 2010

Words: 1575 | Pages: 7

Roughly 1600 years before the inception of Manichaeism, the prophet Zarathustra began professing his holy words that would later lay the ground for the establishment of Zoroastrianism. Zarathustra’s concept of duality, which is the existence of two ultimate forces, an ultimate good and an ultimate evil, would later influence Manichaeism. The central figure of Manichaeism is Mani, a Syrian who preached of a dual deistical system of faith similar to Zoroastrianism. However, Manichaeism, and Mani himself, tied together Judeo-Christian ideologies along with dualistic Zoroastrian ideologies . The religion’s dogmatic practices, philosophical perspectives, and poetic mythologies exemplify the complexity of the culture encompassed by Manichaeism. The professions of Mani, some of which could be considered heretical by several of the very religions Mani draws from, speak of conflicted ideals, a strict spiritual detachment from the “material” world, a complex cosmogony as well as a complex eschatology.

The fundamental texts for the Manichaean religion are The Shabuhragan, The Evangelion, and The Book of Giants. It is within the pages of these scriptures that the religion is mapped out. The Shabuhragan was a book written by Mani near the end of his life, and was presented to King Shapur I, of the Sassanid Persian Empire. The book was Mani’s declaration of a new religion, one that had a significant tie to Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Buddhism. The three divine prophets of each religion were viewed by Mani, as one of many apostles whose purpose, on the material realm of existence, was to educate the followers of the Great Light, the supreme deity in Manichaeism, much like that of Ahura Mazda or Yahweh in the Zoroastrian and Christian traditions.

At the time the three predominant religions, who were also contending with each other, in the Persian Empire, were Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Buddhism. According to the Coptic Homilies, when King Shapur supersedes his father, Ardashahr, he calls for Mani who is in India preaching. Mani travels back to Persia, then to Babylon and visits King Shapur and presents him with The Shabuhragan. This text gave consent to Mani, allowing him to preach wherever he may choose. In the other three predominant religions at the time stories of each prophet travelling the known world speaking the word seems to reoccur numerous times. Mani’s unifying vision is powerful both religiously and economically. The three contending religions unified as one entity would drastically alter politics and economics influenced by each religion, independently.

The Shabuhragan, which is incomplete due to the loss of the majority of its scripture, speaks Mani’s version of the cosmogony, theogony, and the dogmatic practices of Manichaeism. The cosmogony correlates intimately with the Christian cosmogony. The description of how certain aspects of earth came to be are described differently, but maintain similar occurrences, such as the creation of vegetation and fauna, bodies of water, and light. This may show the agriculture differences between the cultures of each script. At the time the Christian cosmogony, which is also the same text for the Judaic religion, was written, less was known about the physical world. Mani, who existed and wrote The Shabuhragan years later, had a different concept of the surrounding physical world, and therefore might have described and placed the order of events with an agricultural and scientific subjective state of mind. The following quotations illustrate Mani’s hypothesized subjectivity. The scientific knowledge is quite evident in the quotations.

“[discussing creation of vegetation]…and by the semen of archonts plants, flowers and

meadows, and various growing things were sown and grew.” - The Shabuhragan [M7981.1]

“[discussing the measurement of times, months to be exact]…the day is completed in those

30 revolutions of that second threshold, then the month of Г‚ban is attached and becomes

visible. And in the month of Âban the day is 11 hours and the night 13.” - The Shabuhragan

[M 7981.2 (+ M 506V)]

Another difference that can be seen is Mani’s view of the creation of Adam and Eve, and it is here that the complexities of Mani’s dualistic ideologies begin to take form. To understand this, Mani’s ideologies relating to the theogony need to be developed.

There is one great being, known as The Twin, The Great Light, light, Mihr, and The Great Living Spirit; I shall refer to this deity as TGLS. There was no greater entity than TGLS; his equal was the One of Female Form, (OFF.) Together they are considered the creators. There is the existence of evil, which is coincidently named Ahrimen, a slight alteration from Ahriman, the prince of darkness in the Zoroastrian tradition. Ahrimen is associated with all that devoid of light, material form, and sexual activity. Humans, the descendents of Ohrmezdbay, another Zoroastrian alteration, consists of, a soul that is pure light and is trapped within a material (evil) body. The Shabuhragan states that at death the pure light of the soul will leave its malevolent surrounding and return to the TGLS where it originated. With that said, let’s return to Mani’s view of Adam and Eve. The events that take place are fundamentally the same, the only difference being the religious interpretation and its conflicting attributes with both Christianity and Manichaeism.

In The Shabuhragan, Mani describes Adam, as being the amalgamation of various wicked creature’s aborted children, originally descending from Âz, the equivalent of Ahrimen. Adam’s counterpart Eve is described a couple of times in The Shabuhragan. The first time Eve is described is similar to the Judeo-Christian version. The only difference in Manichaeism, however, is that Eve is not to blame for the deception of Adam; rather Mani questions the omnipotent and absolute qualities of God. He poses a somewhat paradoxal statement, stating if God contains these qualities than who was it that deceived Adam. Mani seems to be referencing to the duality of Zoroastrianism. Mani states that there is a separate, non-omnipotent entity that is the absence of good, and that God is inherently good, but is devoid of absolute qualities. Further, Mani believes that the evil entity is the same figure as the Jewish Jehovah , illustrating a possible political tiff with the Jewish states. Mani’s paradoxal statement sounds heretical from a Christian stance and it is interesting to note the time period in which Mani was stating this. At the time Zoroastrianism and Christianity were gaining more political power and yet Mani risks exile to profess such a radical thought, well radical from Christian perspective.

The difference in Manichaean cosmogony seems to map out the cultural perspective of Mani. As stated before, Manichaeism draws from three central religions; the reason behind it appears to involve the cultural diffusion experienced by Mani himself. He travelled across a large portion of the Middle East, experiencing and observing various religious rituals and thought, while professing his own. “He is said to have sailed to the Indus valley area of India in 240 or 241 CE, and to have converted a Buddhist King, the Turan Shah of India. On that occasion various Buddhist influences seem to have permeated Manichaeism.”

The cultural diffusion can be clearly seen in the Manichaean dogmatic traditions. There is a strict vegetarian diet, due to the belief that the consumption of flesh, which is already deemed, wicked, is a vile act. Detachment from the material world and the goal of attaining a nirvana like state is sternly advocated in The Shabuhragan. This is the best example of the Buddhist tradition acculturating into Mani’s religious tradition. The main goal is to remove one’s self from the wicked physical form and become absorbed into a ethereal, light filled paradise, much like that of the Buddhist concept of Nirvana.

The philosophical ideas that are encased within Mani’s religious ideologies are quite advanced for his time. Manichaeism seems as if it could have laid the ground for philosophical ideas such as materialism. There seems to be a strong possibility that Manichaeism states that there is a transient material plane, filled with illusion and sin, which blocks most from accessing the everlasting plane filled with eternal light, and that humans must transcend said mental blocks.

The Manichaean religion exists today in a somewhat altered state; it is currently referred to as Neo-Manichaeism, which is a Christian adaptation of some of the basic dualistic ideologies relating to God and Satan. The original religious tradition died out after only a couple of generations after Mani’s death, though the Manichees tried to adapt to more religions, in order to preserve it, the original tradition died out with its central figure. The unifying ideology that was the focal point of a majority of the Manichaean ideologies was a radical but intelligent way of unifying the world. Mani had found a common ground of his people, and through divine intervention he attempted to unify the world in which he existed in.

“From aeon to aeon the apostles of God did not cease to bring here the Wisdom and the Works. Thus in one age their coming was into the countries of India through the apostle that was the Buddha; in another age, into the land of Persia through Zoroaster; in another, into the land of the West through Jesus. After that, in this last age, this revelation came down and this prophet hood arrived through myself, Mani, the apostle of the true God, into the land of Babel (Babylon - then a province of the Persian Empire).” – Abu-Rayhan Biruni