Mani, the founder of the gnostic [→ Gnosticism] world religion of → Manichaeism, was born near the southern Mesopotamian town of Seleucia-Ctesiphon on the Tigris. More or less trustworthy original Manichaean sources on his life are relatively late and scanty. It now seems certain that his father’s name was Pattìg or Pattèg (Greek: Pattikios; Latin: Patticius; Arabic: Futtuq); the name of his mother was probably Maryam or Miryam. It may be questioned whether his mother had close ties with the then still ruling house of the Arsacids: more likely these and other claims of noble birth are only pious legends.
A recently re-established fact, however, is the narrative already handed down by the 10th century Muslim writer Ibn an Nadìm in his Fihrist or Catalogue that from his early youth onwards Mani grew up in a community of Mugtasilah, that is: ‘those who wash (or: baptize) themselves’. The Cologne Mani Codex (e.g.CMC 94-97) confirms that the members of this sect of ‘Baptists’ were (a group within the) → Elchasai.
According to the CMC, these Jewish Christians practised daily ablutions of their bodies and food;referred to their religion as the Law; emphasized the keeping of the Sabbath; referred repeatedly to ancestral traditions; but also acknowledged Jesus as the Saviour.
The bare fact of this descent from the Jewish-Christian milieu of the Elchasai may explain Mani’s connections with gnostic Christianity.
Here, one can also find the initial sources for his strict asceticism and his eschatology that, to a far reaching extent, was determined by Jewish-Christian and Encratite (strongly ascetic) ideas. The notion, attributed to Elchasai, of the earth being ‘the flesh and blood of my Lord’ (CMC 97, 9-10) can be treated as the basis of the Manichaean doctrine of Jesus as the one who suffers in the whole cosmos (Jesus patibilis). Evidently, it was also the Jewish-Christian concept of the true prophet revealing himself anew in various periods of history that was accepted by Mani and his early disciples (cf. CMC 47, 1-72, 7). Besides, it seems to be most likely that already in this sect Mani had become acquainted with astrological speculations [→ Astrology] such as are particularly present in his cosmology.
The Cologne Mani Codex demonstrates that,initially, Mani tried to be the prophetic reformer of the Elchasai. From his earliest youth he received revelations. A special revelation by his Syzygos or heavenly Twin was imparted to him at the beginning of his 25th year (CMC 17, 8ff.; 73, 5f.).
Because of the fragmentary status of its quires, it remains unclear whether or not the CMC mentions a major revelation at the end of Mani’s twelfth year. Both the Coptic Manichaean Kephalaia (14,31) and the Arabic writer al-Biruni († 1048) also explicitly mention such a major revelation at the end of his twelfth year; it may remind one of Jewish (bar mitswah) as well as Christian legacy (cf. the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple). The traditions about such a revelation seem to reach back to accounts given by Mani himself in his Shàbuhragàn.
A clear identification of Mani’s Syzygos or Twin with the promised Paraclete (e.g. Kephalaia 14,32ff. & 15, 22f.) may well have been derived from traditions in the Aramaic Christian Church of Mesopotamia that equated the Holy Spirit (which
is given at baptism) with one’s guardian angel. By adopting the title of Paraclete (cf. Gospel of John 14, 16) for himself, Mani indicated that he would follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Yet the Manichaeans not only identified Mani with the Paraclete, but also
considered him to be the new Jesus (e.g. Coptic Manichaean Psalm-Book 9, 3-7; 12, 28-32; etc.).
Thus Mani would be, at the final judgment, both the Judge and the peace giving Paraclete (e.g.Psalm-Book 20, 19ff.). Apart from these and other appropriations of genuine Jewish and Jewish-Christian heritage, the various but fragmentary sources of his life also testify to Mani’s conscious imitation of the apostle Paul. The recurrent designation of Mani as ‘apostle of Jesus Christ’ is a clear manifestation of this imitatio Pauli (e.g. CMC 66,4-5), as is the emphatic mention of Paul in the series of those who received the true revelation (CMC 60-62). This concentration on a gnostic tailored Paul, a process in which → Marcion and Bardesanes (the Syrian Christian “heretic” Bar-Daisan, 154-222, a native of Edessa who, apart from docetism, probably taught a kind of astrological fatalism) seem to have played a role, led to Mani’s break with the sect of his youth. After he had heard the Call from the heavenly world through the inspiration of his “Syzygos”, or “Companion”, Mani went out: ‘I am a grateful hearer / who was born in the land of Babylon. / I was born in the land of Babylon / and I am set up at the gate of the truth. / I am a singer, a hearer, / who has come from the land of Babylon. / I have come from the land of Babylon / to send forth a call in the world’ (Turfan fragment M 4).
Immediately after his vocation, Mani started his missionary journeys inside and outside Iran, at first only accompanied by his father and two other members of the sect. While missionaries like Addà were sent to the Western, Roman, provinces, in 241
Mani sailed by boat to India and subsequently journeyed up the Indus valley to Turan, where he won over the king for himself. Soon after the accession of Shapur I (242-273) as the sole King of Kings, Mani returned to Babylonia. He probably delivered his only Middle Persian writing, the Shàbuhragàn, to the new Shahanshah on 9 April 243. His admittance into Shapur’s entourage (comitatus), together with the permission to propagate his new syncretistic religion, accorded him unique opportunities. After Shapur’s death, Mani also found a willing ear with Shapur’s son and successor Hormizd (Ohrmazd, 272-273). However, at the beginning of the second year of the reign of Bahràm I (274-276/7), this benevolent attitude disappeared: Kardèr, the head of the Magi whose aim was a thorough reform of the Zoroastrian church,began to persuade the Great King to take action against the prophet from Babylon.
Mani was summoned before Bahràm, duly accused, put in chains,and tortured. After 26 days in prison he died, in all probability on 26.2.277. In several Manichaean sources his death is described as a crucifixion. His gnostic-theosophic doctrinal system, however, which was well-described in a number of canonical works, soon spread from Mesopotamia to the Atlantic in the West and, finally, as far as the Pacific in the East. On Mani’s missionary activities, doctrinal system, Canon, ecclesiastical organization,etc., see → Manichaeism.
A. Adam, Texte zum Manichäismus, Berlin: De Gruyter, 1969 2 ♦ A. Henrichs & L. Koenen, “Ein griechischer Mani-Codex (P. Colon. inv. nr. 4780)”,Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 5 (1970),97-216 (first preliminary publication of the CMC) ♦ A. Böhlig, Die Gnosis, Dritter Band: Der Manichäismus, Zürich & München: Artemis Verlag, 1980 ♦ L. Koenen & C. Römer, Der Kölner Mani-Kodex: Über das Werden seines Leibes. Kritische Edition aufgrund der von A. Henrichs und L. Koenen besorgten Erstedition, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1988 ♦ H.J. Klimkeit, Gnosis on the Silk Road: Gnostic Texts from Central Asia, San Francisco: Harper, 1993 ♦ C.E. Römer, Manis frühe Missionsreisen nach der Kölner Manibiographie: Textkritischer Kommentar und Erläuterungen zu p. 121-p. 192 des Kölner Mani-Kodex,Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1994.
Lit.: F. Decret, Mani et la tradition manichéenne, Éditions du Seuil: Paris 1974 ♦ O. Klíma, Manis Zeit und Leben, Prag: Verlag der Tschechoslowakischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1962 ♦ S.N.C. Lieu, Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China, Tübingen: Mohr, 1992 2 ♦ J. van Oort, “The Paraclete Mani as the Apostle of Jesus Christ and the Origins of a new Church”, in: A. Hilhorst (ed.), The Apostolic Age in Patristic Thought, Leiden: Brill,
2004, 139–157 ♦ M. Tardieu, Le manichéisme, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1981 (= 1997).
Johannes Van Oort
From : Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism
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