University of Illinois Press (February 3; 2009)
Manichaeism; once the state religion of Persia and long a vigorous contender for converts throughout the ancient Near East; is best remembered for the simplicity of its teachings about divine power. For Manicheans; the universe was ruled by a Lord of Light and a Lord of Darkness; who fought continuously for supremacy. All that was good was a gift from the Lord of Light; and all that was evil was an affliction visited by the Lord of Darkness. This dualism extended to cosmogony and ethics; splitting the universe into a spiritual realm that acted on the goodness of the human soul and a material realm that abetted the evil of the human body. These stark oppositions mask a remarkable degree of doctrinal and liturgical complexity; the details of which have been obscured by centuries of suppression and persecution; first by the Christian church; then by Islam.
One of the world’s foremost experts on ancient religions; Michel Tardieu examines the fragmentary sources that have come down to us; pieces together the life and teachings of the prophet Mani (the itinerant Persian preacher and founder of this long lost faith); illuminates Manichaeism’s ecclesiastical hierarchy and distinctive moral code; and investigates its ideas about the pre-life and afterlife. Manichaeism provides a brilliantly compact survey of what was once one of the world’s great faiths; and then became one of its great heresies; surviving now only as a shadowy presence haunting the religions that superseded it.