Manichaeism (/ˌmænɪˈkɪzəm/;[1] in New Persian آیینِ مانی Āyīn-e Mānī; Chinese: 摩尼教; pinyin: jiào) is a former major religion[2] founded in the 3rd century CE by the Parthian[3] prophet Mani (CE 216–274), in the Sasanian Empire.[4]

A portrait of a Persian Manichaean
An image of a Manichaean temple with stars and seven firmaments
Line drawing copy of two frescoes from cave 38B at Bezeklik Grottoes.

Manichaeism teaches an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness.[5] Through an ongoing process that takes place in human history, light is gradually removed from the world of matter and returned to the world of light, whence it came. Its beliefs are based on local Mesopotamian religious movements and Gnosticism.[6] It reveres Mani as the final prophet after Zoroaster, Gautama Buddha, and Jesus.

Manichaeism was quickly successful and spread far through the Aramaic-speaking regions.[7] It thrived between the third and seventh centuries, and at its height was one of the most widespread religions in the world. Manichaean churches and scriptures existed as far east as China and as far west as the Roman Empire.[8] It was briefly the main rival to Christianity before the spread of Islam in the competition to replace classical paganism. Beginning with the emperor Diocletian, a follower of Roman Religion, Manichaeism was persecuted by the Roman state and was eventually stamped out in the Roman Empire.[2]

Manichaeism has survived longer in the east than it did in the west. Although it was thought to have finally faded away after the 14th century in south China,[9] contemporary to the decline of the Church of the East in Ming China, there is a growing corpus of evidence that shows Manichaeism persists in some areas of China, especially in Fujian province,[10][11][12][13] where numerous Manichaean relics have been discovered over time. The currently known sects are notably secretive and protective of their belief system, which has aided in them going relatively undetected. This stems from fears relating to persecution and suppression during various periods of Chinese history.[10]

While most of Manichaeism's original writings have been lost, numerous translations and fragmentary texts have survived.[14]

An adherent of Manichaeism is called a Manichaean or Manichean, or Manichee, especially in older sources.[15][16]

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