Κυριακή, 9 Δεκεμβρίου 2012

Manichaeism - Nicholas J. Baker-Brian

Manichaeism - Nicholas J. Baker-Brian
 An Ancient Faith Rediscovered
 Conclusion (page 140)

From the long vie w accorded to a writer of the eleventh century, Mani’s apostolic and missionary success could be explained solely by the sponsorship that he had secured for himself and his disciples from the Persian ruling elite and its vassals throughout Iranshahr. The reasons for the worldly success of the Manichaeans as provided by al-Bir uni’s assessment of Mani’s religion in his Chronolog y of Ancient Nations where, under the protection of Ardashir I, Shapur I and Hormizd I, ‘Manichaeism increased by degrees’,
appear to be corroborated in the historiographical traditions of Manichaeism. In the later historicising sources from Central Asia, relationships leading to imperial protection proceeded directly from the teaching and healing abilities of Mani in the courts of the Sasanian empire.

The conversion of Shapur’s brother, Mihr-Shah, the r uler of Mesene in southern Babylonia, from devout sceptic to awed follower, after Mani had shown him the gardens of the ‘Paradise of Light’, represents the type of visionary experience associated with Mani’s speculative teachings that was so prized by the followers of the apostle.  Fur thermore, in Tur fan text M566 I, which may preserve a tradition recounting Mani’s first audience with Shapur I, Mani announces before a monarch ‘I am a physician from Babylon’, followed by his healing of an unnamed female, presumably of royal lineage, who declares, ‘From where are you, my God and my redeemer?’

For al-Biruni, so long as Mani could maintain good relations with kings and princes, both he and his disciples were protected and at liberty to teach and attract followers. However, Mani’s for tunes changed with the accession of Vahram I, the brother of Hormizd, to the Sasanian throne in 273. Al-Bir uni saw two issues as responsible for the termination of imperial support, both appearing to be reversals of the very things that had won Mani suppor t in the first place, i.e., his role as restorer of physical wellbeing, and his teachings. In the first instance, al-Bir uni recalls the comments made by the Christian author Jibra’ilb. Nuh in his anti-Manichaean work written as a response to the ninth century treatise of the Manichaean leader during the Abbasid period, Abu Ali Raja ibn Yazdanbakht (cf. al-Nadim, Fihrist ; B. Dodge 1970, II.805), that Mani was arrested and thrown into prison by Vahram because he had failed to free a relative of the king from possession by the devil.

That Mani appears to have offended Vahram as a result of the inefficacy of his healing is also indicated in a portion of a biographical work (M3) recounting Mani’s final audience before Vahram at the royal palace in Belapat in Khuzistan in 276. ‘ You are not welcome’, was the terse insult addressed by Vahram to Mani as he stood waiting for his royal audience at the doors of the palace. Vahram continued: ‘Eh, what are you good for since you go neither fighting nor hunting? But perhaps you are needed for this doctoring and this physicking? And you don’t do even that!’

The second ‘failing’ noted by al-Biruni constitutes, on the surface at least, a clash of ideologies, with Vahram quoted as saying of Mani: ‘This man has come for ward calling people to destroy the world. It will be necessary to begin by destroying him, before anything of his plans should be realised.’
Vahram’s words explaining his antipathy to Mani echo demonstrably the eschatological ‘impulse’ within Manichaeism, as evidenced, for example, in the Šābuhragān or the Coptic Homilies, and is reminiscent of Jesus’s saying in Luke’s gospel 12.49: ‘I have come to set fire to the ear th, and how I wish it were already kindled!’ The suggestion that Manichaeism represented a threat to the established social order may also be found in the infamous rescript issued in 302 by the Roman emperor Diocletian and his partners in imperial r ule – known collectively as the Tetrarchy (i.e., the Four Rulers). The Tetrarchs pronounced that the Manichaeans’ influence on Roman society should be severely checked, if necessary through the application of the death penalty, because of their habitual tendency to commit ‘many evil deeds, disturbing the tranquillity of the peoples and causing the gravest injuries to the civic communities [of the Roman empire].’

Both complaints almost certainly convey the reaction of the ruling authorities to the impact of Mani’s theological radicalism on the religious landscapes of Persian and Roman society, although both are also clear expressions of Mani’s and Manichaeans’ inability to argue convincingly at different times for protected status from the ruling powers of Rome and Persia.
Other factors, some within Mani’s control and some outside, also led to a loss of authoritative support for the religion during the third century. Vahram’s anxiety about Mani winning away a local client king, Baat, from the Mazdean religious law of the Sasanian court  was coupled with the rise of the ambitious Zoroastrian, Karder, chief of the magi, who was given a central role in mediating the insinuations levelled against Mani before Vahram, as portrayed in the narrative of Mani’s final days from the Coptic homilies of Medinet Madi.

In the case of the Tetrarchs’ reaction to those Manichaeans appearing in Roman territor y late in the third century, their hostility was conditioned as much by their own ambitions for a renewal of Roman religious and imperial identity as it was by their hostility to Persia and the assumed Persian origins of the Manichaeans. In both cases, acting against the Manichaeans provided the perfect excuse for the intensification of power by those already in a position of privilege greater than that enjoyed by the Manichaeans themselves. 
However, whilst the Manichaeans’ career as ‘the Other’ may have begun in the pagan- and Mazdeaninfluenced cour ts of Late Antiquity, it was their Christian brethren who did the most to refine the identity of the Manichaeans as religious deviants. Patristic writers left to posterity the portrait of the Manichaeans as insane heretics, their madness deemed to derive not from their teachings alone but also from the ‘mania’ of Mani himself, a characterisation deriving from the similarity of Mani’s name to the Greek
participle maneis  meaning ‘raving’: an appropriate etymological description, so thought his opponents, for the madness of the apostle and for the insane beliefs and practices of his church.

During its long history and across the breadth of its geographical diffusion, the Manichaean church perpetually rubbed up against the authority of the state. Nevertheless, exclusiveness and collective suffering provided the Manichaeans with important components of their own identity, which they located in the cosmic template of the loss of the Five Sons and their troubled existence in the world as the persecuted Living Soul, and also in the historical template of Mani’s own persecution under Vahram I. 
The last days of Mani’s life, as revealed by al-Biruni’s sources and the Parthian and Middle Persian historical fragments M6033 I, M6031 II and M3,  likely all emerged from the homiletic tradition of Manichaeism’s ‘lamentation literature’, exemplified by the contents of the Coptic homilies recently edited and translated
anew by Nils Arne Pedersen (2006). Mani’s fall from favour, his imprisonment and death, were soon memorialised by his followers as a ‘Narrative about the Crucifixion’, in imitation of Jesus the Apostle’s passion and death. In the narrative from the codex, Mani’s passion is analogised alongside that of Jesus, and in a manner which por trays the persecutions of the early Sasanian Manichaean church, beginning during the reign of Vahram I and intensified under Vahram II, as a continuation of the bodily suffering of Mani as he lay weighed down by the chains and shackles of his gaolers (Manichaean Homilies 48.19–22).

In spite of the persecution of Manichaeans at various times by Sasanian, Roman and Byzantine authorities, the followers of Mani survived and indeed flourished for many centuries, not least in the Uighur empire under the rule of Bügü Khan during the eighth century.
The longevity of eastern Manichaeism stood in stark contrast to the fate of the Manichaeans at the hands of the Byzantine inheritors of Roman rule where, at some unspecified point in the sixth century, they are considered to have been eradicated following an especially fierce round of anti-Manichaean laws and activities instituted by the emperor Justinian I (ruling 527–65).

However, in the Christian theological tradition, ‘Manichaean’ lived on as a term of abuse: the defining features of the term as a heresiological identifier – dualism, docetism, diet, rejection of the Old Testament and repudiation of marriage – derive almost entirely from the anti-Manichaean writings of Late Antiquity, which were put to the service of providing an imposed, heretical identity for those Christian traditions appearing to exhibit one or more of these ‘Manichaean’ characteristics. In the Byzantine empire from the eighth century onwards, ‘Manichaean’ was applied to those Christian par ties who were vie wed as standing in the tradition of a dualistic theology, foremost among them being the so-called Paulicians and Bogomils.

In the medieval West of the eleventh century, the charge of being ‘Manichaean’ was widely cast onto various dissenting groups, and most notoriously towards the Cathars during the twelfth century. It is highly problematical to suggest that a genealogical association existed between the Manichaeans of Late Antiquity and the ‘Manichaeans’ of Byzantine and medieval times, as some commentators have never theless tried to do, for the principal reason that the identities of the latter-day ‘heretics’ were drawn primarily from the longstanding catalogue of Manichaean traits supplied by writers such as Augustine.

Nevertheless, the development of the label ‘Manichaean’ in the medieval period shared a fundamental similarity with its emergence in Late Antiquity. During the four th century and beyond, the term played a central role in the ‘heresiological name-game by assisting in the criminal prosecution of religious par ties and individuals who, whether through real or invented connections with genuine Manichaeans, faced a range of disabling civil actions under the anti-heresy laws introduced by Theodosius I during the final three decades of the 300s.

Similarly, during the medieval period of Europe’s ‘great heresies’, the prosecution and punishment of heretics proceeded from the identification of those ‘Manichaean’ traits displayed in the beliefs and practices of dissenting individuals or par ties.
There was a predictable continuation of the use of ‘Manichaean’ in the accusatory exchanges between Catholic and Protestant par ties during the European Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with patristic characterisations of Manichaean teaching as deterministic and damaging to the free employment of the will featuring prominently in the debates of the period.

However, it was Mani’s idea that the presence and operation of evil in the world is attributable to the contrary substance, the very thing which Augustine claimed had failed to convince him of Mani’s teachings, which rescued Manichaeism from being eternally condemned as the  substantialist heresy of the early church. In Pierre Bayle’s  Historical and Critical Dictionar y (published 1697), a work of enormous influence on the European Enlightenment, Manichaeism remained a substantialist heresy that was nevertheless to be preferred to Catholicism in that, according to Bayle’s entry on the Manichaeans, it offered a rationally defensible account of God’s goodness in its ascribing of the origins of physical suffering to a separate principle co-eternal with God.

It is in the Enlightenment adoption of the ancient Manichaeans as the deistic alternative to Catholicism’s supposedly irrational defence of God, evil and creation, that the roots of the historical study of Manichaean theology are to be found. The Huguenot scholar Isaac de Beausobre developed Bayle’s defence of Manichaeism in his Critical History , a two-volume study published between 1734 and 1739, producing ‘a precise and careful account of the history of Manichaeism’.
For Beausobre, the critical approach of his work concerned a detailed handling of the patristic sources for Mani and Manichaeism from Late Antiquity, very many of which had become available for the first time in new, critical editions which Beausobre made very good use of: he was largely reluctant to conclude that the Greek and Latin sources about Manichaeism contained anything other than lies and distortions of Mani’s life and teachings.

Whilst Reformation and Enlightenment interest in the religion of Mani was influenced by the concerns of apologetics and polemics, these have since made way during the twentieth century for ‘the task of legitimation and recovery’, in the industry of scholars working on the ‘cultural products’, i.e., the ideas, texts and ar t of Manichaeism. As Richard Lim has noted, a move beyond the work of legitimation and recover y is surely on the cards, perhaps indeed in a direction beyond the seemingly solid edifice of ‘Manichaean’ and ‘Manichaeism’, as the principal way of discussing and compart mentalising the products of those followers who recognised the spiritual worth of Mani’s teachings: ‘By insisting on the identification and recover y of Manichaeans across the centuries and the continents as one of their chief goals, scholars in the field are unwittingly joining forces with the likes of Augustine to create and sustain a master discourse about who and what the Manichaeans were.’

Finally, whilst those studying Manichaeism catch brief glimpses of the appeal that Mani held for his followers during Late Antiquity and beyond, it is perhaps fair to say that the full spectrum of reasons for the flourishing of the religion will continue to elude us. 
Mani’s ancient Christian opponents certainly witnessed at first hand the appeal of Mani, although the central rationale of their writings was to convey a reversal of the religious value of Mani’s teachings. The historical investigation of sources, therefore, will continue to leave numerous gaps in our appreciation of Mani and the Manichaeans, some of which may nevertheless be filled via other forms of imaginative expression. Alongside the great, scholarly monuments of Manichaean studies, it is perhaps worth concluding with a brief mention of arguably the most thoughtful and ingenious treatment of Mani’s life and times from the last century, Amin Maalouf ’s ‘historical novel’, The Gardens of Light. 
Academic research and historical fiction differ primarily, I would argue, in the way that fiction conveys the concerns and prejudices of its author in the characterisation of its subject; these interests are experienced more acutely and certainly acknowledged more openly by the novelist than by the scholar, for the very reason that the characters created by the novelist often serve as mediums for the expression of some intensely personal influences and experiences. In the novel’s epilogue, Maalouf addresses a question which will have crossed the minds of all those who have thought about and studied Mani and Manichaeism over the years:

Nothing remains of [Mani’s] books, of his works of art and of his fervour, nothing of his generous faith, his passionate quest, his message of harmony between men, nature and the deity. Of his religion of beauty, of his subtle religion of Darkness and Light, we have retained only the words ‘Manichaean’, ‘Manichaeism’, which have become insults on our lips. Because all the inquisitors of Rome and Persia conspired together to disfigure Mani and wipe out his name and memory. In what way was he so dangerous that it was necessary to even drive him out of our memories?

Few scholars would be willing to address this question, let alone provide a concrete answer. By contrast, different parameters operate in the world of the novel, and the curious combination of radicalism and toleration in the actions and teachings of Maalouf ’s Mani provide a partial answer to the question as he walks through a very modern-sounding landscape of religious and civil conflict. 
This Mani is portrayed as offering a consistent challenge to the established voices of authority: the religious order of the ‘ White-clad brethren’ in which he was raised, the conventions of his own social class and the caste system of Persian society, and the majesty of the Sasanian kings and princes, are all ‘turned upside down’ by Mani’s personality and message. In line with the ancient Manichaean sources, Mani falls from Vahram’s favour because he has failed to show his worth to the r uling dynasty, and because his teachings pay little regard to the dogmatic pretensions of the chief magus, Karder. 
Maalouf has imagined a character that inhabits fully the historical landscape of third-century Persia by prompting seismic shifts in its religious and social order as a result of Mani disclosing to the world the revelations made known to him by his divine Twin. This appears to be one of many impressions of Mani that students obtain from studying Manichaeism, particularly in its late-antique context, and it will almost certainly continue to be the case that, whether through fiction or academic investigation, Mani and Manichaeism will have an impact on all those who encounter this most fascinating ancient religion.

Published by T&T Clark International A Continuum Imprint The Tower Building, 
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