The ancient world was home to a huge variety of religions and belief systems. Most have faded away, their temples and statues vanished or half-sunk in the desert sand, their gods barely remembered. This is one of the many religions founded before most of the main religions of today (Christianity, Hinduism, Islam) and most of them have completely died out — although some are being revived by new practitioners.
Founded in the third century A.D. by a Persian man named Mani, Manichaeism was originally viewed as a heretical Christian sect, but has since been recognized as its own religion. Its founder claimed he was bringing together all the world’s religions, including Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Christianity. In fact, quite a few apocryphal Christian writings would have been lost had it not been for the Manichaeans. Focused on the difference between good and evil, Manichaeism was known for having knowledge as its road to salvation. The highest adherents to the religion were known as the “Elect” or the “Perfect” and resembled Buddhist monks, although they were required to be nomadic
Its followers were great missionaries, spreading Mani’s influence across the globe, until it lost its popularity in the Middle Ages. Much of their downfall was related to the many persecutions they suffered at the hands of the Chinese government, the ancient Roman government, or the Catholic Church. The greatest myth of Manichaeism is perhaps their creation myth which describes a battle waged between the World of Light and the World of Darkness, which began as two separate realms. Adam and Eve were said to have been created by the evil beings, while Jesus and Mani were said to have been created by the good beings, in order to reveal true spirituality to the human race. Many of Mani’s writings have been lost, but portions have recently been discovered.
Prophet Mani -
Mani, an Arsacid Persian by birth, was born 216 AD in Mesopotamia (Iraq), which was ruled by Persia, then within the Sassanid Empire province of Asuristan. According to the Cologne Mani-Codex, Mani's parents were members of the Jewish Christian Gnostic sect known as the Elcesaites.
Mani composed seven writings, six of which were written in Syriac Aramaic. The seventh, theShabuhragan, was written by Mani in Middle Persian and presented by him to the contemporary King of Sassanid Persia, Shapur I, in the Persian capital of Ctesiphon. Although there is no proofShapur I was a Manichaean, he tolerated the spread of Manichaeism and refrained from persecuting it in his empire's boundaries.
According to one tradition it was Mani himself who invented the unique version of the Syriac script called Manichaean script, which was used in all of the Manichaean works written within the Persian Empire, whether they were in Syriac or Middle Persian, and also for most of the works written within the Uyghur Empire. The primary language of Babylon (and the administrative and cultural language of the Sassanid Empire) at that time was Eastern Middle Aramaic, which included three main dialects: Judeo-Aramaic (the language of the Talmud), Mandaean Aramaic (the language of theMandaean religion), and Syriac Aramaic, which was the language of Mani, as well as of the Syriac Christians.
While Manichaeism was spreading, existing religions such as Zoroastrianism were still popular and Christianity was gaining social and political influence. Although having fewer adherents, Manichaeism won the support of many high-ranking political figures. With the assistance of the Persian Empire, Mani began missionary expeditions. After failing to win the favour of the next generation of Persian royalty, and incurring the disapproval of the Zoroastrian clergy, Mani is reported to have died in prison awaiting execution by the Persian Emperor Bahram I. The date of his death is estimated at AD 276–277.
Spread of Manichaeism -
Manichaeism spread with extraordinary speed through both the east and west. It reached Rome through the apostle Psattiq by a.d. 280, who was also in Egypt in 244 and 251. It was flourishing in theFayum area of Egypt in 290. Manichaean monasteries existed in Rome in 312 during the time of the Christian Pope Miltiades.
In 291, persecution arose in the Persian empire with the murder of the apostle Sisin by Bahram II, and the slaughter of many Manichaeans. In 296, Diocletiandecreed against the Manichaeans: "We order that their organizers and leaders be subject to the final penalties and condemned to the fire with their abominable scriptures", resulting in martyrdom for many in Egypt and North Africa (see Diocletian Persecution). By 354, Hilary of Poitiers wrote that the Manichaean faith was a significant force in southern Gaul. In 381 Christians requested Theodosius I to strip Manichaeans of their civil rights. He issued a decree of death for Manichaean monks in 382.
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