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Chapter II.—Philosophical Basis, and Antecedents of Manichæism.

"About 500 years before the commencement of the Christian era," writes Professor Monier Williams, 2 "a great stir seems to have taken place in Indo-Aryan, as in Grecian minds, and indeed in thinking minds everywhere throughout the then civilized world.  Thus when Buddha arose in India, Greece had her thinkers in Pythagoras, Persia in Zoroaster, and China in Confucius.  Men began to ask themselves earnestly such questions as—What am I?  Whence have I come?  Whither am I going?  How can I explain my consciousness of personal existence?  What is the relationship between my material and immaterial nature?  What is the world in which I find myself? did a wise, good and all-powerful Being create it out of nothing? or did it evolve out of an eternal germ? or did it come together by p. 8 the combination of eternal atoms?  If created by a Being of infinite wisdom, how can I account for the inequality of condition in it—good and evil, happiness and misery.  Has the Creator form or is he formless?  Has he any qualities or none?"

It is true that such questions pressed themselves with special importunity upon the thinkers of the age mentioned, but we should be far astray if we should think for a moment that now for the first time they suggested themselves and demanded solution.  The fact is that the earliest literary records of the human race bear evidence of high thinking on the fundamental problems of God, man, and the world, and the relations of these to each other.  Recent scholars have brought to light facts of the utmost interest with reference to the pre-Babylonian (Accadian) religion.  A rude nature-worship, with a pantheistic basis, but assuming a polytheistic form, seems to have prevailed in Mesopotamia from a very early period.  "Spirit everywhere dispersed produced all the phenomena of nature, and directed and animated all created beings.  They caused evil and good, guided the movements of the celestial bodies, brought back the seasons in their order, made the wind to blow and the rain to fall, and produced by their influence atmospheric phenomena both beneficial and destructive; they also rendered the earth fertile, and caused plants to germinate and to bear fruit, presided over the births and preserved the lives of living beings, and yet at the same time sent death and disease.  There were spirits of this kind everywhere, in the starry heavens, in the earth, and in the intermediate region of the atmosphere; each element was full of them, earth, air, fire and water; and nothing could exist without them…As evil is everywhere present in nature side by side with good, plagues with favorable influences, death with life, destruction with fruitfulness; an idea of dualism as decided as in the religion of Zoroaster pervaded the conceptions of the supernatural world formed by the Accadian magicians, the evil beings of which they feared more than they valued the powers of good.  There were essentially good spirits, and others equally bad.  These opposing troops constituted a vast dualism, which embraced the whole universe and kept up a perpetual struggle in all parts of the creation." 3   This primitive Turanian quasi-dualism (it was not dualism in the strictest sense of the term) was not entirely obliterated by the Cushite and Semitic civilizations and cults that successively overlaid it.  So firmly rooted had this early mode of viewing the world become that it materially influenced the religions of the invaders rather than suffered extermination.  In the Babylonian religion of the Semitic period the dualistic element was manifest chiefly in the magical rites of the Chaldean priests who long continued to use Accadian as their sacred language.  "Upon this dualistic conception rested the whole edifice of sacred magic, of magic regarded as a holy and legitimate intercourse established by rites of divine origin, between man and the supernatural beings surrounding him on all sides.  Placed unhappily in the midst of this perpetual struggle between the good and bad spirits, man felt himself attacked by them at every moment; his fate depended upon them.…He needed then some aid against the attacks of the bad spirits, against the plagues and diseases which they sent upon him.  This help he hoped to find in incantations, in mysterious and powerful words, the secret of which was known only to the priests of magic, in their prescribed rites and their talismans…The Chaldeans had such a great idea of the power and efficacy of their formulæ, rites and amulets, that they came to regard them as required to fortify the good spirits themselves in their combat with the demons, and as able to give them help by providing them with invincible weapons which should ensure success." 4   A large number of magical texts have been preserved and deciphered, and among them "the ‘favorable Alad,’ the ‘favorable Lamma,’ and the ‘favorable Utuq,’ are very frequently opposed…to the ‘evil Alad,’ the ‘evil Lamma,’ the ‘evil Utuq.’" 5  It would be interesting to give in detail the results of the researches of George Smith, Lenorp. 9 mant, A.H. Sayce, E. Schrader, Friedrich Delitzsch and others, with reference to the elaborate mythological and cosmological systems of the Babylonians.  Some of the features thereof will be brought out further on by way of comparison with the Manichæan mythology and cosmology.  Suffice it to say that the dualistic element is everywhere manifest, though not in so consistent and definite a form as in Zoroastrianism, to say nothing of Manichæism.

The Medo-Persian invasion brought into Babylonia the Zoroastrian system, already modified, no doubt, by the Elamitic (Cushite) cult.  Yet the old Babylonian religion was too firmly rooted to be supplanted, even by the religion of such conquerors as Darius and Cyrus.  Modifications, however, it undoubtedly underwent.  The dualism inherent in the system became more definite.  The influence of the Jews in Mesopotamia upon the ancient population cannot have been inconsiderable, especially as many of the former, including probably most of the captives of the Northern tribes, were absorbed by the latter.  As a result of this blending of old Babylonian, Persian, and Hebrew blood, traditions, and religious ideas, there was developed in Mesopotamia a type of religious thought that furnished a philosophical basis and a mythological and cosmological garnishing for the Manichæan system.  Dualism, therefore, arising from efforts of the unaided human mind to account for the natural phenomena that appear beneficent and malignant, partly of old Babylonian origin and partly of Persian, but essentially modified by Hebrew influence more or less pure, furnished to Mani the foundation of his system.  We shall attempt at a later stage of the discussion to determine more accurately the relations of Manichæism to the various systems with which correctly or incorrectly it has been associated.  Suffice it to say, at present, that no new problem presented itself to Mani, and that he furnished no essentially new solution of the problems that had occupied the attention of his countrymen for more than 2500 years.  Before proceeding to institute a comparison between Manichæism and the various systems of religious thought to which it stands related, it will be advantageous to have before us an exposition of the Manichæan system itself, based upon the most authentic sources.



Indian Wisdom, 3rd ed. (1876), p. 49.


Lenormant, Chaldean Magic (1877),  p. 144-145.


Ibid. p. 146-147.


Ibid. p. 148.

Next: Chapter III