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Mani (in Middle Persian and Syriac Mānī, Greek Μάνης or Μανιχαίος, whence Latin Manes or Manichaeus, c. AD 216–276) was the founder of Manichaeism, a gnostic religion of Late Antiquity which was once widespread but is now extinct. Mani was born in or near Seleucia-Ctesiphon in Asuristan (Assyria), at the time still part of the Parthian Empire. He died in Gundeshapur, under the Sassanid Empire.



Until the 20th century, no reliable information on Mani's biography was known. Such medieval accounts as were known, are either legendary or hagiographical, such as the account in Fihrist by Ibn al-Nadim, purportedly by al-Biruni, or anti-Manichaean polemics, such as the 4th century Acta Archelai.

In 1969 in Upper Egypt a Greek parchment codex of ca. 400 AD was discovered. It is now designated Codex Manichaicus Coloniensis because it is conserved at the University of Cologne. It combines a hagiographic account of Mani's career and spiritual development with information about Mani's religious teachings and contains fragments of his writings.


The 5th century Cologne Mani-Codex and other evidence discovered in the 20th century establishes Mani as a historical individual.[1]

Mani's father Pattig, reportedly a Parthian nobleman, was a member of the Syrian Christian sect of the Elcesaites. At ages 12 and 24, Mani had visionary experiences of a heavenly twin of his, calling him to leave his father's sect and teach the true message of Christ. In 240/241, Mani travelled to "India" (i.e. to the Sakhas in modern-day Afghanistan), where he was probably influenced by Greco-Buddhism. Returning in 242, he joined the court of Shapur I, to whom he dedicated his only work written in Persian, known as the Shabuhragan. Shapur was not converted to Manichaeanism and remained Zoroastrian.

Shapur's successor Hormizd I (who reigned only for one year) appears to still have patronized Mani, but his successor Bahram I, a follower of the Zoroastrian reformer Kartir, began to persecute the Manichaeans. He incarcerated Mani, who died in prison within a month, in AD 276 or 277.[2] Mani's followers depicted Mani's death as a crucifixion in conscious analogy to the death of Christ.


Besides the Persian Shapuragan, Mani was the author of a number of Syriac works. While none of his books have survived in complete form, there are numerous fragments and quotations of them, including a long Syriac quotation from one of his works, as well as a large amount of material in Middle Persian, Coptic, and numerous other languages. Examples of surviving portions of his works include: the Shabuhragan (Middle Persian), the Book of Giants (numerous fragments in many languages), the Fundamental Epistle (quoted in length by Saint Augustine), a number of fragments of his Living Gospel (or Great Gospel), and his Letter to Edessa contained in the Cologne Mani-Codex.


Mani's teaching is designed as succeeding and surpassing the teachings of Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. It is based on a rigid dualism of good and evil, locked in eternal struggle. In his mid-twenties, Mani decided that salvation is possible through education, self-denial, fasting and chastity. Mani claimed to be the Paraclete promised in the New Testament, the Last Prophet or Seal of the Prophets. The other prophets included Seth, Noah, Abraham, Shem, Nikotheos, Enoch, Zoroaster, Buddha and Jesus.[3]

Mani's followers were organized in a church structure, divided into a class of "elects" (electi) and "auditors" (auditori). Only the electi are required to follow the laws strictly, while the auditori care for them, hoping to be come electi in their turn after reincarnation.

See also


  1. ^ Böhlig, Manichäismus, 5ff.
  2. ^ Böhlig, Manichäismus, p. 26f.
  3. ^ Bevan, A. A. (1930). "Manichaeism". Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Volume VIII Ed. James Hastings. London
  • Asmussen, Jes Peter, comp., Manichaean Literature: Representative Texts, Chiefly from Middle Persian and Parthian Writings, 1975, Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, ISBN 9780820111414.
  • Alexander Böhlig, 'Manichäismus' in: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 22 (1992), 25–45.
  • Amin Maalouf, The Gardens of Light [Les Jardins de Lumière], translated from French by Dorothy S. Blair, 242 p. (Interlink Publishing Group, New York, 2007). ISBN 1566562481

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