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Manichaean Literature

A number of works belonging to Māni and his followers in the Middle Persian languages (Middle Persian, Parthian, and Sogdian) are available to us today. These works have been written in the Manichaean script (derived from the Tadmori script) belonging to the period between the 3rd and 9th Centuries AD and have been discovered in the forms of damaged pieces in the early twentieth century from the ruins of the Manichaean temples of Turfān in Chinese Turkistan. The contents of these works are mainly religious and comprise Semitic and Greco-Semitic elements. Manichaean literature includes the following:

A. Māni’s Books: With the exception of the book, “Shāpurgān”, Māni had written all his works in his mother tongue (Eastern Aramaic) while his followers had translated them into various other languages. However, none of these works are available to us today. Māni’s works included the “Enjil-e Zendeh” (The Living Bible), the “Ganjineh-ye Zendegān” (The Treasure of the Living Ones), the “Farqmātiyā” (meaning “treatises”), the “Rāz-hā” (Secrets), the “Ghulān” (Demons), as well as some treatises and psalms. Some pieces of the “Enjil-e Zendeh”, the “Ghulān”, Māni’s letters as well as the Manichaean Psalms in the Middle Persian, Parthian, and Sogdian languages are available to us today. Besides these seven works, Māni had written two other books, one of which was an illustrated book called the “Arzhang” while the other was called the “Shāpurgān”, both of which were written in the Middle Persian language.

B. The Prose Works of the Manichaeans: Māni’s followers had also produced some works in the Iranian languages of which we have access to the following today: Māni’s biography, analogical stories; letters; some pieces containing Manichaean beliefs; decrees and good counseling; supplications; letters of repentance; astronomical and calendar texts; and the “Manu Hamd Roshan” preachings.

C. Manichaean Poems: The Manichaean poetry works that have generally been composed for religious purposes constitute the major part of Manichaean literature. The Manichaean hymns have been composed in the Middle Persian and Parthian languages and are very eloquent and filled with imagination, similes, and metaphors and are of greater literary value as compared to Manichaean prose works that have also been written in these two languages. The Manichaean poems which were recited in religious ceremonies along with music are divided into the three categories of long rhymes, long religious eulogies, and short rhymes. According to some scholars, the poetic meter of the Manichaean poems is syllabic while others believe it to be rhythmic or ictal. As per the latest research, the poetic meter of the Parthian poems and in all probability even the Middle Persian poems varied between syllabic and ictal meters. The number of Manichaean poems in the Parthian language is far greater than the Middle Persian ones and they are also richer in value. The Manichaean works are composed in the praise of the gods, Māni himself, as well as some great religious personalities while some of them relate to the soul imprisoned in the confines of the human body.

* source: Zarshenas , Zohre " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.563- 564


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