Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Christianity in Contact

Entangled Religions, Vol. 11, No. 2 (2020): Formative exchanges between the Sasanid Empire and late antique Rome: Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Christianity in contact

The 11th Vol. of the journal Entangled Religions contians four articles, presented original at the same-named workshop, held at the Center for Religious Studies (CERES) of the Ruhr Universität Bochum, 1-2nd June 2017. This workshop aimed to explore formative dynamics of contacts, interactions, and exchanges that took place in the Sasanian and Roman Empires between Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and Christianity at multiple levels.

All articles are open-access and free to download:

Antonio Panaino: Mazdeans and Christians Facing the End of the World: Circulations and Exchanges of Concepts

This contribution offers a conspectus of the parallel treatment of some escha­tological subjects in the comparative framework of Mazdean and Christian sources. Although some impact of the Judeo-Chris­tian tradition on Iranian apocalypticism has been fittingly detected in previous studies, the author in­sists on evidence showing a sort of circular exchange between Chris­tians and Mazdeans, where, for in­stan­ce, chiliasm presents some Iranian (and not only Ba­by­lonian) resonances, while the well-known Zo­ro­as­trian doctrine of universal mercy and of the apokatastasis shows impressive correspondences with the Ori­genian doctrines. What distinguishes the Iranian framework is the fact that millenarianism, apocalypse and apokatastasis did not directly contrast, as it happened in the Christian milieu. These Christian doc­trines played a certain influence in Sasanian Iran, although their diffusion and acceptance was pro­bably slow and progressive, and became dominant among Zoroastrians only after the fall of the Sasanian period, when the Mazdean Church was no longer the pillar of the state and the social and legal order. The diffusion of the doctrine of universal mercy was a later acquisition, as shown from the evidence that earlier Mazdean doctrines did not assume a complete salvation for the wicked but prescribed a harsh and eternal punishment for them. Fur­ther­more, the author focuses on his own research on these sub­jects and summarises some results concerning a new and original presentation of the Mazdean concept of evil as a manifestation of suffering, comparable to a state of mental ‘sickness.’

Jason BeDuhn: The Co-formation of the Manichaean and Zoroastrian Religions in Third-Century Iran

The assumption that an already established Zoroastrian religion served as the source for terms, concepts, and themes, which Mani and Manichaeans appropriated and altered, is due for reassessment. Building on the work of P. O. Skjaervø, this study argues that (1) Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism arose together, side by side, in the third century (2) against the background of older Iranian religious cultural traditions, (3) each fitting those antecedent cultural artifacts into different systems of interpretation and application.

Zsuzsanna Gulácsi: Teaching with Images among the Jews and Manichaeans of Late Antique Mesopotamia

Although much has been written about the art of the famous synagogue at Dura-Europos, its rootedness in Mesopotamia has gone largely unexplored. This study looks south along the local trade routes to Iranian Babylonia and examines evidence available about the religious function of Durian Jewish and Sasanian Manichaean pictorial art as part of a shared regional development of techniques of instruction. It reveals that the distinctly different forms of pictorial art used by these two communities in mid-third-century Mesopotamia are nevertheless comparable based on their didactic function. They both: (1) displayed a visual library of doctrinal subjects, that is, they captured, in pictorial form, a large sample of core tenets which were also recorded in the respective sacred texts of these religions; (2) fulfilled a primarily didactic function, that is, their pictorial genres (narrative scenes, didactic portraits, and diagrams in the Manichaean case) played a dominantly instructional role; and (3) effectively supplemented oral instruction, that is, the paintings were sermonized about and discussed in light of living interpretations. I argue that these correlations result not from direct influence between the two communities, but rather from a shared approach to what images can do for a religion. The Jewish and Manichaean paintings in question emerged simultaneously and in relative closeness to one another. While the Jewish archeological records of the painted synagogue are all but silent, various characteristics of the mid-third-century Manichaean paintings are noted in literary records, including what they portrayed and, most importantly for this study, the pedagogical reasons for how and why they were used. As evidenced by Iranian, Coptic, and Syriac textual sources from between the mid-third and the late fourth and early fifth centuries, the founding prophet of Manichaeism, Mani (active from 240 to 274/277 CE), not only wrote down his own teachings, but also created visual representations of them on a solely pictorial scroll—the Book of Pictures—that he and his highest-ranking elects used in the course of oral instructions while missionizing across greater West Asia and the East Mediterranean region.

Kianoosh Rezania: ‘Religion’ in Late Antique Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism: Developing a Term in Counterpoint

This article evaluates the development of a generic term for ‘religion’ in late antique Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism. It examines linguistic indications of the use of dēn/δēn as a generic term in the Manichaean Middle Iranian corpora, i.e. Middle Persian, Parthian, and Sogdian, as well as in the corpus of Zoroastrian Middle Persian. The paper considers declination in the plural, the attribution of universal quantifiers or demonstrative adjectives, comparison, and selection, as they occur in the above corpora, to be indicators of generic concepts. Acknowledging that third-century Manichaeism shaped the term for ‘religion’ in the Persian Empire, the paper scrutinizes the reflections of this formative process in Sasanian and also early Islamic Zoroastrianism. The resulting analysis of the linguistic evidence indicates that the newly coined Manichaean concept of ‘religion’ did not find considerable echoes in late antique Zoroastrianism. Furthermore, an investigation of the term daēnā– in the Avestan sources provides earlier evidence for the formation of the term ‘religion’ in pre-Sasanian Zoroastrianism. Finally, the paper highlights the significance of religious contact for the formation of a generic concept of religion.

Image: © British Library Board, Extract from “Mani with Shapur” by anonymous artist, folio 404b, Agra (India), 1610-1620, Mughal Period (British Library, London, Add. 5600)