Montag, 23. Juni 2008

An ancient Iraqi religion

Manichaeism was an antique religion, to be honest an antique world religion. It extended along the Silk Road up to China and throughout all Spain, Southern France and Adria. It was founded by Mani, a man born in Babylon, nowadays in Iraq, on 14th april 216. (There’s a very good historic novel by Amir Maalouf, called "The garden of lights", a Manichaean term I’ll refer later on. I’ll get this book in a German translation in about 2 weeks, so I’ll tell you more. Here is it by amazon )

This man conceived, almost alone or we are believed he did it alone, a religious system out of many religions in this part of the world with a striking message, a sophisticated complexity and an almost omnipotent influence till today. (I shall remind you about the Word Manichaean in a political sence or in discussions.)
Mani was born in Babylon, said to have being born to a Parthian noble family or as slave boy. (Parthians are the ancestors of the -called Fayli Kurds in Modern Iraq.) His real birth name is said to have been Corbicius.
There are three contradicting stories about his origin:
He was born to a Parthian noble family, to Pattik and Mirjam. His father went from Hamadan to Ctesiphon / ﻦﺋﺍﺪﻤﻟﺍ / ﻥﻮﻔﺴﺗ near Baghdad. He had a religious vision in one of the many pagan temples in ancient Iraq. This vision appeared to him three times and told him to stop drinking, eating meat and to stay away from his wife or any other woman. He afterwards joined a baptising sect, called the Mughtasilaﺔﻠﺴﺘﻐﻤﻟﺍ whereas his wife was pregnant.
The other account tells about sects before Mani’s birth who already had Manichaean ideas and that Mani was a little slave boy who was bought by an old woman who already had certain aspects. She is said to have been converted by a man called Terebinthus who "tried to fly off from the roof but fell down and broke his neck".
He was the slave boy of the mentioned Pattiq who followed a heresy in the eyes of his baptising community who excluded him. They called Pattiq "vessel of evil" in Aramaic "mana d’bishta". so the son was called so. (Iraqis still now the term mana in their dialect. It’s in Iraqi plate = ﻥﻮﻋﺎﻣ)
Whatever may be right or a historic fact, is still in doubt, but all three accounts unites in one founding moment of Manichaeism. When Mani was about 12 years old, his ‚cosmic twin‘ (in Nabatean Arabic it’s al-Tawm, I didn’t found the term in a dictionary of Classical or Modern Arabic) spoke to him and gave him the mysteries of the world. This cosmic twin appeared to him again in the age of 24 years old, then he told him to reveal this religion to the world. In the meantime, he often disputed with the elders of his sect, telling them about the real salvation, that is in his eyes the seperation of light and darkness. He rejected baptisim because it was not useful for the spirit or body and he questioned the use of baptising food. (E.S. Drower, a Mandean researcher, who lived in Iraq a very long time, tells us in her book about a Shia clergyman who also baptised his food in ‚dirty‘ water, but he still did it. I also should add that this baptising sect were numerous in Pre-Islamic Iraq and the Mandeans nowadays are the last tiny rest of this old ancient world.)
Mani was tried by a religious trial of his sect (they first tried his father but he refused to take responsiblity for his son’s actions) and Mani "quoted Elchasai, the founder of the sect, who in visions heard the water say that the constant ablutions were hurting it, the earth say that the plow was hurting it, and the bread say that cooking was hurting it, and he therefore stopped washing and plowing and told his disciples to stop baking bread."
Back to Mani, he openly and publicly revealed his religion at the age of 24, on the same day of the inauguration of the Sassanid King Shapur, an important person in the spread of Manichaeism). His revelation was that he was the paraclete (holy ghost) Jesus spoke of and that all religions contained a certain truth about the ‚only‘, the Manichaean religion, but were all falsified and that Mani has come to tell the pure essence of all this religions, what’s is it about human existence and the evil, hence Mani is the seal of all religions. (I won’t hint now to some similar thoughts in Islam about Islam said by Muslims, let’s just stop and state that Mohammed and Mani considered themselves seales of the prophets.)
Shapur, a violent Persian king, was astonishingly tolerant toward Mani and allowed him to spread his religion throughout his empire. Mani went before to Central Asia, India, China, the Gulf Coast, Persia and also founded many Manichaean communities along the Two Rivers in Iraq. Shapur intended to kill Mani when Mani visited the king, but he was surprised by the character of Mani and supported him. Even some members of the Royal family and the nobility turned to Manichaeism.
Mani had a tremendous success in the East because he convinced people that his revealation is no contradiction to previous religions like Zoroastrianism or Christianity or later Buddhism, but its fullfillment. To say it so, in his mind, there was one original truth poured out in the world religions in small chips.
Despite his success among populace and nobilty he had also dangerous enemies, namely in the Zoroastrian circles, who envied his succes, but also feared for the existence of their own religion. One of the driving figures in that story is Kerdir, a Zoroastrian priest, who, in power, later ordered the destruction of all non-Zoroastrian temples and the killing of those religions like Christians (who were always under suspicion of being agents of Rome. BTW, one of the main reasons why Iraq never was part of the Persian empire was that Iraq had a strong Jewish population who ,of course, hated the Romans.) or Buddhists and Hinduists in the Persian Empire (Also in Iraq there were Buddhists and Hinduists communities, imagine that! After all the Hindukush is the Mountain of the Hindus.)
Mani had many years to live and spread his religion throught the Persian Empire, he also sent disciples to all over the world, namely to the Roman empire. But he suffered a cruel death because he was accused by Zoroastrian clergy and thrown to jail. In jail he died of sufferings and torture, his body was "stripped off his skin, filled it with grass, and hung it up at the gate of Gondeshapur, still known as the Mani gate". A different account is said that the king Wahram (after Shapur) was sad about two dead people, his son Mani wanted to cure him and his jailer who was bribed by Mani when he was in prison and who was latter killed in ‚interrogation‘, so the king ordered the execution of Mani by skinning, then the body was "hung before the gates of the city, his skin to be inflated by chemicals, and his flesh to be given to the birds."
I should also mention that we have very many different accounts about Manichaeism because this religion was spread in many languages and there are certain historical layers of a story and its different adaption. There are certain canonic books, partly by Mani himself, but Manichaeism was destroyed so much, it is still hard to reconstruct things The term Manichaeism also refers to Aramaic "the living Mani", in Arabic ﻲﻧﺎﻣ ﻲﺤﻟﺍ , Mani is also said to be the founder of Persian painting up today.
what is it about his religion?
Manichaeism is about its own myth, the Ur-myth, and the instructions forced upon mankind because of this myth. This Ur-myth is the answer why there is evil on the world and how to deal with it.
In eternity, in primordial times, there are two areas, two empires, one of the good and one of the evil.
The reign of the good is ruled by the Great Father (in Arabic: ﺔﻤﻈﻌﻟﺍ ﻮﺑﺍ, in Aramaic Abba d’rabba, similar to the Arabic words ﺏﺭ and ﻮﺑﺍ, of course) and the other area by the King of Darkness, I call him the Prince of Darkness. The Good Kingdom is in the north and the Evil Kingdom is in the south. (Mandaeans have a similar description of the position of paradise and hell, and the mentioned Lady E.S. Drower tells us about her Iraqi Shi’a caddy boy (Yeah, what an idea, British ladies playing Golf in Iraq.) who also tells her that Paradise is in the north and Hell in the south and even my father confirmed that he also heard this view when he was a child in Iraq.))
So there are two principles (Manichaeism is also called the religion of the two principles): "Light vs. Darkness, good vs. evil, life vs. death, intelligence vs. stupidity, beauty vs. ugliness, peace, calm, order vs. war, disturbance and chaos.
And because Light consumes Darkness, the reign of Good, the Garden of Lights (that’s the way Mani described his paradise) squeezes the reign of Darkness from west and east until the reign of Darkness feels like a wedge and because there is eternal war in the realm of Darkness, it‘s one of its characteristics, one moment the Prince of Darkness perceived the light near the border that seperates the two empires and said: "That which I sought far away, I have found close by!" And so the danger arouses because the forces of Darkness went over to attack the Kingdom of Good.
(You see, while writing this, this post resembles more and more to fantasy. That stuff is great stuff for a novel like "Lord of the rings" J )
Being aware of this danger, the Great Father sent his own self in form of the First Man (in Arabic: ﻢﻳﺪﻘﻟﺍ ﻥﺎﺴﻧﻹﺍ), born by the Mother of Life to fight the Prince of Darkness. Because his soul consists of his five sons, who are his protection, the Forces of Darkness, the Archtons, the Prince’s sons, quickly perseive him and is consumed and numbed by them. So a part of the Light’s ‚body‘ is in the Archtons.
But that was the original plan of the Great father because he wanted that happen. He had to send himself to overcome the Darkness. (Similar to the Matrix Movies when Neo decides to go to the "Maschine city".) As Manicheans later put it: The Light will affect the Darkness like poison in a cake or a dog’s bite to a man. That’s the way Light wins over Darkness by re-poisoning the Darkness which poisened the Light in form of the First Man.
That was the first step for victory of Darkness.
Then the Great Father evokes another form of Light that is the Friend of Light (in Arabic: ﺭﻮﻨﻟﺍ ﺐﻴﺒﺣ) who creates the Great Builder who creates the Living spirit, father of his own five sons. The living spirit and the Mother of Live call for her son and this call "cuts open the darkness like a sword, revealing the shape of the First man". The First Man answers and the Living Spirit gives his right hand to the First Man to help him. Later that became a ritual move of Manichaeans. All three go back to the "Garden of Lights", point of origen, and the First Man is the first rescued one from the abyss of darkness. But the First Man, consisting of light, left a bit of the light in the darkness. So the next task is to bring the rest back by the creation of world.
The Living Spirit was also called "Demiurge" and his five sons were the Keeper of Splendor (Splenditenens), the King of Honor (Rex Honoris), the Light Adamas, the Glorious King (Rex Gloriosus) and the Carrier God (Atlas). All have the task to destill the remaining light out of the Darkness. So they kill their enemies, the Archtons, make out of their body the material of the worlds( bones = mountains, their flesh and excrements become the earth etc.). The heaven is made by their skin and the stars are some bits of the remaining light, imprisioned in Darkness. The Living Spirit creates the sun and moon, container of much Light, by showing his true form (in Greek they called it morphe) so the Archtons vomit the light out of their bodies. So the moon and the sun are created which are very important for human’s afterlife.
(If you think, we touch the border of disgusting, then just wait.)
Having settled the stage for the ultimate fight between Good vs. Evil, the Father decides to start the redeemptions by creating the Life in the World. Because Life is Light and Light is stolen in the bodies of the Archtons, the Great Father evokes the the Third Messenger and other ‚enummerations‘ of himself. They create the world in order to destill the light out of it.
Life, according to the Manichaeans, is brought in by the seduction of the male archtons. The Virgin of Light shows her beauty to the male archtons and, pinned down to the sky, they have to ejaculate their sperm, that falls in the wet part of the world, creating the Sea Monster (ﺓﻭﻼﻌﺳ ? ) "in the image of the King of Darkness". Later it is destroyed by the Light Adamas. The sperm on the dry land become trees.
The creation of carnal life
Because of his beauty the Third Messenger makes the female archtons, who are always pregnant from eternity and always make love constantly, to abort their fetus. But their Mother the, let’s say call her; Dark Queen, is afraid that light might escape so she conceived a plan to make material reproducing itself, making life. She makes love with one of the sons of the Prince of Darkness and to quote: "She instructs Ashaqlun, the son of the King of Darkness, to tell the abortions to bring him theirs sons and daughters (!) and he will make a figure of the same form. So they do, he eats the males and gives the females to his companion, Nebroel. Then Ashaqlun and Nebroel have intercourse, and Nebroel becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son they called ADAM. Next she bears a daughter, which she calls EVE. ADAM is unconscious/lies in torpor, having forgotten where he came from and his own divine [Light] origin.
Adam lies in torpor, not knowing where he’s from and full of light. He’s in danger and so the Father sends one of evocations, Jesus the Splendor, to rescue Adam. [I should add that this Jesus has nothing to do with the Biblical Jesus. This one is the origin of the Manichaean one, but they have two different roles.] Jesus teaches Adam about his origin and so Adam has knowledge [in Greek: Gnosis]. Adam now knows that his origin is of Light, imprisioned in Matter and his task is it to liberate the Light. Jesus is later replaced by several creations like Mani’s ‚cosmic twin‘ etc. On the other hand, Eve is seduced by a skin for the first sex and creates so mankind. So she spreads the bits of lights on more creatures in the world, corrupting the plan of the Great Father. (That’s why Manichaeans were keen to tell the story of her future torture in hell.)
This knowledge about the creation of the world is all you need to be a Manichaean. Once you know, you ought to live with this knowledge and its implication upon every man. Or as Socrates put it: Knowing something is good means doing something good.
Why was Mani treated so differently ?
Manichaeism proclaimed that every age and every country had its revelation about this One Truth. (Manichaeans called their religion: Teaching of the Light, Teaching of the Three Principles and Three Ages (that are the purity, before the war, the time of war, that’s now, and after the war.) and so on). But every prophet who was sent by the Great Father had an antagonist who corrupted the original meaning. In the same way, light is spread among the creations of Darkness, knowledge is spread among the books of religions. Jesus had Judas, Budda had his uncle Devadatta and Zarathustra had Zamasp, one of his followers. Every prophet had its corrupters, BUT Mani came to show the real Truth in clear words without cursing or denouncing previous religions, because he put it: I add my knowledge to the previous knowledge like streams add their water to rivers. Or. "Wisdom and deeds have always from time to time been brought to mankind by the messengers of god. So in one age they wer brought by the messenger called Buddha, to India, in another by Zardusht [Zarathustra] to Persia, in another by Jesus to the West. Thereupon this revelation has come down, this prophecy in this last age through me, Mani, the messenger of the God of truth, to Babylonia".
But this very approach implied the greatest danger and heresy in the eyes of the clerics of different religions: They had to be considered as falsifiers in the service of Evil. And what was more dangerous: The Manichaean missionaries had tremendous succes to convince the populace (or to trick as enemies would say) that they have not to change their religion, not to convert, they had just to add the Manichaean ‚layer’ on it. As one Chinese emperor, knowing this, put it in edict about Manichaeism (735): "The doctrine of Mar Mani is basically a perverse belief and fraudulently assumes to be a school of Buddhism and will therefore mislead the masses."
Mani, planning all this, formulated why his religion is superior to any other religion:
"The religions of the forerunners was in one land and one language. Them my religion was able to be revealed in every land and in all languages and be taucht in distant lands.
It’s right to say that Manichaeism was a world religion, you find texts in a lot of languages like: Syriac, Greek, Coptic, Parthian, Sogdian (an ancient Persian language), Uigurian (a Turc people) etc. (That’s why studies about this religion are so difficult, they require a lot of interdisciplinarity.)
Earlier religions were pure as long pure leaders lived as role models. But then they were corrupted by commandments and evil things. "But my religion will stand firm and through living teachers, bishops, elects, and hearers and through its wisdom and deeds it will endure until the very end."
"That the previous souls, whose deeds were not fulfilled in their own religion come to my religion and it will be itself the door to their release."
Mani’s revelation of Good and Evil is clearer than other ones in other religions.
I just repeat it: "As water will be added to be water and becomes much water, so were the ancient (earlier) books added to my writings and became a great wisdom the like of which was not proclaimed (hitherto) in all ancient (earlier) generations."
[There are more points, Mani formulated, but eventually lost.]
Manichaeans clergy were also very good in ‚translating‘, in transporting their religious essence into different religious circunstances, so there’s a whole variety of gods and names, but a stringent principle.
So Manichaeism provoked from the very beginning strong resistance from other religions.
Mankind created, what’s man’s job?
Manichaeism seperated the world into two sorts, the sinners who don’t know, and the Manichaeans, among the Manichaeans there were also two main groups: hearers and elects. The job of mankind is to destill and collect all the remaining light until the End of the World.
Mankind can rescue the world by obeying the commandments of this religions. But only the elected ones, those who choose to live a Manichaean life, can go to paradise, but the hearers have the chance to be reborn again, and maybe to be reborn again as an Elected one.
BTW, the Arabic term ﻖﻳﺪﻧﺯ - heretic was the original term of this Manichaean group. ﻖﻳﺪﻧﺯ is Eastern Aramaic (Iraqi – Aramaic) for Arabic ﻖﻳﺪﺻ with shadda. (Iraqis sometimes tended to turn shadda in the combination n+Consonant like ﺱﻮﺒﻧﺩ for Arabic ﺱﻮﺑﺩ ‚nail‘).
For the different groups there were different requirements. For the hearers, that are:
"rejection of false gods, as well as false opinions about God. that the Father of Greatness gave life and death and that the King of Darkness is a god"
purity of speech
no meat, no alcohol
proper talking about the prophets and in general
"marital fidelity, sexual abstention on days of fasting"
"helping those who suffer and abstaining from greed"
being careful of false prophets
not to hurt unnecessarly ("His ten fingers must not make the Living soul suffer."
not stealing etc.
no magic etc.
The hearers had much more regulations like :
not lying, no violence, no impurity, no meat and no goods. And they had the three seals: signaculum oris, seal of the mouth, no meat, just a vegetarian life; signaculum manuum, seal of the hands, no practical work like construction of agriculture, just religious matters, and signaculum sinus, seal of the heart, no children, no wife, celibacy.
One can imagine that an Elects life was very hard, because they just hadn’t a vegetarian life, they had to fast two days in the week and one whole month in the year. Because material was carnal and evil they weren’t allowed to eat during daytime. And Augustine told us that they just eat fruits and fruit juice or melons because they believed everything containing water also contains light. And only the Hearer can serve the Elect at diner. The Elect can’t receive food from ‚impure‘ hands. So the elect turns into a container of light, a destillation apparat. After death, the elect goes to paradise with his amount of light along the Milky Way (in Manichaen called ‚column of light‘, in Arabic: ﺢﺒﺼﻟﺍ ﺩﻮﻤﻋ), whereas the Hearer returns back.
At the end, there are differenting accounts of the end of world, there is said to be a prison for Darkness and a Judgement day for mankind where the Hearers are rescued etc.
The life in a Manichaean community consisted of fasting, confessions of sins, prayer, singing hymns, maybe also baptization, almsgiving and so on. Both communities lived a religious symbiose because the elected ones had to rely on the Hearers for means of livings whereas the Hearers relied on the Elects for their own salvation and redemption.
Because Manichaeism had an abhorrent view of sex, they also encouraged their people not to produce to many children because everyone of them is a ‚prison‘ of light, until he turns to an elected one.
What happened to Manichaeism?
As I told you, Manichaeism was very much feared: There is no much use of religion that tells you that having children is a sin (man is a prison of light until man liberates it), that making agriculture hurts the earth, that hunting is a sin (killing is a sin in general), that war is Evil, paying taxes, obeying laws and so on is bad. Mankind has to work towards its own nihilation. As King Wahram put it: "This man has come foward calling people to destroy the world. It will be necessary to begin by destroying him before anything of his plans should be realized."
In historical terms this led to the killing of Manichaens in the Roman Empire, mostly through the work of the Church father, Augustinus, who was 9 years a Manichaean hearer or by the Abbassids in Iraq or by the Chinese and after all by the Mongols in their gigantic Asian conquest. The last remaining parts were up to this century in remote areas of China.
For Iraq, it’s interesting that Manichaeism, Mandaeism and Shi’ism, at least, shares some religious views. That’s due because those three religions were offspring of an ancient intellectual movement, called Gnosis. (If you read the Matrix movies article in wiki, you’ll see that this movie also works with gnostic ideas, so my hint to Matrix was not for nothing ;))
Manichaeans in Iraq turned to the religious opposition of the Abbasids, and that were the Shia and other extreme (ghalut) sects like the Qaramits whose origin region was once a Manichaean land by heart. Mani is also told to have founded communities in Maysan (ﻥﺎﺴﻴﻣ). It were the islamized Manichaeans who spread Islam in Iraq later and more imporant, there were for the Turc peoples in Asia the first door to the religious thinking of the Middle East where they latter emigrated.
The Mandeans opposed Manichaeism, in contrary they see it necessary to have children, even two wifes or more (contrary to the Shia), and they were also respected by the Abbasids.
My personal opinion is that I admire Mani for his intellectual depth and stringence of his religion, on the other hand, it’s hard for me to believe that the world is made out of the abortions of evil demons. Second, as a consequence of the negation of reproduction, woman must have a bad standing in this religion, because they can give life, but in my eyes, the Middle East doesn’l lack another Misogyny . On the other hand, Manichaeism itself ‚poisened‘ even those, who fought against it. Augustinus had the teachings of hell and paradise and purgatory, clearly that’s Sinner and Elect and Hearer. Shi’a is said to have it’s own teachings about mankind from Manichaeism and also the teachings about the purity of its imams. I talked about the term ‚Manichaean‘ in a non-religious sense, we call a Manichaean who has a clear sense, sometimes ad absurdum, about good and evil. Even Martin Luther was called a Manichaean at the beginning, in a time, when there were hardly any Manichaens. Remaining parts of the Manichaen thinkings is found among South French sects like the Catharians or in Bosnia the Bogomils .
One could also conceive the story of Fatima and Hussein as Maria and Jesus or the Mother of Life and the First Man. In Iraq there is still the name Abd el-Zahra, servant of Zahra, that is Fatima, but also the planete Venus, one planet full of light in the firmament.
In fact, there are a lot of strings and in my opinion, Manichaeism is one of the missing links in the question: How turned the Ancient Iraq, the Iraq of Babylon and Sumer, to the Iraq as we know it today? One crucial destinction is clearly the Islamic invasion but political changes turn out to fulfil quicker than religious or ‚folklore‘ changes in the populace’s mind. It’s allowed to say that there was no cut in Iraq‘s history but a flowing.
I hope you enjoyed reading albeit it’s long and sometimes complicated. But I excuse myself for the Germanims and some missing quotations marks.
Almost most of the quotation is found in the following script. Print it, it’s worth reading:

Check also the relating wiki articles.