By Pejman Akbarzadeh (source: BBC Persian Service)
The Persian prophet Mani created a new religion in the 3rd century AD. He believed the world is a struggle between the forces of dark and light which ultimately causes the release of the light-soul from the material body. The Persian Emperor, Shapur I, allowed Mani to freely promote his ideas through the empire but later, following the pressure of Zoroastrian priests, Bahram I arrested Mani.
Highlights of the exhibition "The Mystery of Mani" (BBC)
In various sources it is mentioned that, after Mani's death, his body was hanged from the gate of Gondishapur, and that Manichaeans were persecuted. Recently an exhibition of rare Manichaean documents has been organised in the Irish capital.
"The Mystery of Mani"
Exactly 90 years ago, the fragile Manichaean manuscripts were discovered in
Egypt. These manuscripts which date back to around 400 AD, and also those which
were found in Central Asia, have revolutionised Manichaean studies. The coptic
manuscripts finally ended up at the Chester Beatty Library/Museum in Dublin. The
institution holds one of the most important collections of manuscripts in the
world, and has undertaken serious efforts to protect and restore the Manichaean
On the 90th anniversary of the discovery of the manuscripts, the Chester Beatty Library has organized a 6-month exhibition. The goal is to present its unique Manichaean manuscripts to the public. Alongside the exhibition, in October, with the cooperation of International Association of Manichaean Studies, a conference took place in Dublin to assess the progress of research on the Manichaean manuscripts. Although Mani is known as a Persian prophet, none of the speakers or attendants were from Persia. Manichaeism was dissolved in the 15th-16th centuries and at the moment no Manichaean community is known in the world.
"Manichaeism; First Global Religion"
While the promotion of Manichaeism was started systematically in the
Sasanian-era Persian Empire, in a short period of time, the religion found
numerous followers from Central Asia to Europe.
"We can think of Manichaeism as the first global religion" Prof. Paul Dilley, co-curator of Mani exhibition in Dublin says. "I think part of the reasons for that is that Mani grew up in Mesopotamia. The region was part of the Persian Empire on that time but it was also a crossroad between Aramaic culture, Greco-Roman culture, and Persian culture. Mani proclaimed as his predecessors Buddha, also Zarathustra and finally Jesus as the three apostles who came before him. As he attracted followers, many of them were bilingual and were already Zoroastrian, or Christian, or later on Buddhistn. So he was able to adopt his message to what people in these cultural and religious groups had already come to expect" Dielly continues.
According to the Encyclopaedia Iranica: Until the turn of 20th century "Manicheism was known exclusively from secondary sources, mainly Christian, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, and Islamic heresiological writings by opponents of Mani."
Paul Dilley who is one of the authors of the book "Mani at the Court of the
Persian Kings" adds "wherever they went, Manichaeans were persecuted as heretics
and their books were burned. That means up until about 100 years ago we didn't
have access to any original Manichaean writings. Over the past century, we've
had discoveries in three major areas: Coptic manuscripts were discovered in
Egypt; Middle Persian and Soghdian manuscripts were discovered in Turfan, in
Central Asia; and Chinese Manichaean manuscripts in Dunhuang, also in Central
Asia. I and my colleagues Iain Gardner and Jason BeDuhn are working on one of
the important Coptic manuscripts. That has uncovered a lot of the Persian
materials that Mani made use of. For instance he talks about the Law of
Zarathustra which seems to be related to the Avesta."
For the exhibition "The Mystery of Mani" the Chester Beatty Library, in addition to its own unique manuscripts, has borrowed Mani-related objects from various European cultural institutions as well; one of them is a 3rd-century crystal stamp which is from Mesopotamia and now belongs to the National Library of France. The stamp contains Mani's portrait and is encircled by the Aramaic inscription: 'Mani, Apostle of Jesus Christ'.
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