Manichæism is a religion founded by the Persian Mani in the latter half of the third century. It purported to be the true synthesis of all the religious systems then known, and actually consisted of Zoroastriani Dualism Babylonia folklore, Buddhist ethics, and some small and superficial, additions of Christian elements. As the theory of two eternal principles, good and evil, is predominant in this fusion of ideas and gives color to the whole, Manichæism is classified as a form of religiousDualism.
It spread with extraordinary rapidity in both East and West and maintained a sporadic and intermittent existence in the West (Africa, Spain, France, North Italy, the Balkans) for a thousand years, but it flourished mainly in the land of its birth, (Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Turkestan) and even further East in Northern India, Western China and Tibet, where, c. A.D. 1000, the bulk of the population professed its tenets and where it died out at an uncertain date.
Mani (Gr. Manys, gen. usually Manytos, sometimes Manentos, rarely Manou; or Manichios; Latin Manes, gen. Manetis; In Augustine always Manichaeus) is a title and term of respect rather than a personal name. Its exact meaning is not quite certain, ancient Greek interpretations were skeuos and homilia, but its true derivation is probably from the Babylonian-Aramaic Mânâ, which, among the Mandaeans was a term for a light-spirit, mânâ rabba being the “Light King”. It would therefore mean “the illustrious”.
This title was assumed by the founder himself and so completely replaced his personal name that the precise form of the latter is not known; two latinized forms, however, are handed down, Cubricus and Ubricus, and it seems likely that these forms are a corruption of the not unusual name of Shuraik. Although Mani’s personal name is thus subject to doubt, there is no doubt concerning that of his father and family. His father’s name was Fâtâk Bâbâk (Ratekios, or the Babylonia “well preserved”), a citizen of Ecbatana, the ancient Median capital and a member of the famous Chascanian Gens.
The boy was born A.D. 215-216 in the village of Mardinu in Babylonia, from a mother of noble (Arsacide) descent whose name variously is given as Mes, Utâchîm, Marmarjam, and Karossa. The father was evidently a man of strong religious propensities, since he left Ecbatana to join the South Puritans (Menakkede) or Mandaeans and had his son educated in their tenets. Mani’s father himself must have displayed considerable activities as a religious reformer and have been a kind of forerunner of his more famous son, in the first years of whose public life he had some share. It is not impossible that some of Patekios’ writing lies imbedded in the Mandaeans literature which has come down to us.
Through misunderstandings the Aramaic word for disciple (Tarbitha, stat abs. Tarbi), Greek and Latin sources speak of a certain Terebinthos, Terebinthus of Turbo, as a distinct person, whom they confound partially with Mani, partially with Patekios, and as they also forgot that Mani, besides being Patekios’ great disciple, was his bodily son, and that in consequence the Scythian teacher, Scythianus, is but Fatak Babak of Hamadam, the Scythian metropolis, their account of the first origins of Manichæism differs considerably from that given in Oriental sources. Notwithstanding Kessler’s ingenious researches in this field, we cannot say that the relation between Oriental and Western sources on this point has been sufficiently cleared up, and it may well be that the Western tradition going back through the “Acta Archelai” to within a century of Mani’s death, contains some truth.
Mani’s father was at first apparently an idoler, for, as he worshipped in a temple to his gods he is supposed to have heard a voice urging him to abstain from meat, wine, and women. In obedience to this voice he emigrated to the south and joined the Mughtasilah, or Mandaean Baptists, taking the boy Mani, with him, but possibly leaving Mani’s mother behind. Here, at the age of twelve Mani is supposed to have received his first revelation. The angel Eltaum (God of the Covenant; Tamiel of Jewish Rabbinical lore?), appeared to him, bade him leave the Manaeans, and live chastely, but to wait still some twelve years before proclaiming himself to the people. It is not unlikely that the boy was trained up to the profession of painter, as he is often thus designated in Oriental (though late) sources.
Babylon was still a center of the pagan priesthood; here Mani became thoroughly imbued with their ancient speculations. On Sunday, 20 March, A.D. 242, Mani first proclaimed his gospel in the royal residence, Gundesapor, on the coronation day of Sapor I, when vast crowds from all parts were gathered together. “As once Buddha came to India, Zoroaster to Persia, and He Jesus to the lands of the West, so came in the present time, this prophecy through me, the Mani, to the land of Babylonia”, sounded the proclamation of this “Apostle of the true God”.
He seems to have had but little immediate success and was compelled to leave the country. For many years he traveled abroad, founding Manichæan communities in Turkestan and India. When he finally returned to Persia he succeeded in converting to his docrine Peroz, the brother of Sapor I, and dedicated to him one of his most important works, the “Shapurikan”. Peroz obtained for Mani an audience with the king and Mani delivered his prophetical message in the royal presence. We soon find Mani again a fugitive from his native land; though here and there, as in Beth Garmia, his teaching seems to have taken early root.
While traveling, Mani spread and strengthened his docrine by epistles, or encyclical letters, of which some four score are known to us by title. It is said that Mani afterwards fell into the hands of Sapor I, was cast intoprison, and only released at the king’s death in 274. It seems certain that Sapor’s successor, Ormuzd I, was favorable to the new prophet; perhaps he even personally released him from his dungeon, unless, indeed, Mani had already affected his escape by bribing a warder and fleeing across the Roman frontier. Ormuzd’s favor, however, was of little avail, as he occupied the Persian throne only a single year, and Bahram I, his successor, soon after his accession, caused Mani to be crucified, had the corpse flayed, the skin stuffed and hung up at the city gate, as a terrifying spectacle to his followers, whom he persecuted with relentless severity. The date of his death is fixed at 276-277.