Monday, January 26, 2015

Review of Gardner, Beduhn, and Dilley, Mani at the Court of the Persian Kings

PHILIP JENKINS has an inform review, in two parts, of a new book on Mani over at The Anxious Bench:

Mani and the Persian Kings
I have been reading an excellent new scholarly book on the Manichaean religion: Iain Gardner, Jason BeDuhn and Paul Dilley, Mani at the Court of the Persian Kings: Studies on the Chester Beatty Kephalaia Codex (Brill 2015). This post is not intended as a serious academic review, but rather as a series of thoughts and impressions that this fine book provokes. I will divide my comments into two separate posts.

It is astonishing that scholars of religion refer so little to the Manichaean faith, which in its day – roughly from the third century AD through the fourteenth century – was a fully fledged world religion, which interacted with Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. At various times, its adherents could be found across the whole of Eurasia, from France to China. It also created a substantial body of scriptures and commentaries, most of which are now lost.

Mani the Prophet
So what kind of literature was the Kephalaia, into what genre did it fall? As Paul Dilley shows, the dialogues with their question-and-answer formats could equally well be read in very different ways – “as a modified example of Greco-Roman erotapokrisis, Iranian frashna or Buddhist sutra.” For our purposes, the technical terms don’t matter, but think of the implications – that this movement was writing in ways intelligible to civilized people from the Ganges to the Tiber. Hardly less open to universal translation was the movement’s use of Wisdom, a concept deeply rooted in Judaism and early Christianity. In the same vein, Jason BeDuhn offers a mind-stretching comparison between the Kephalaia materials found in Egypt and the comparable texts from Turfan, in Western China.
The book was noted here last month. And for lots more on Mani and Manichaeism (Manicheism), see here and here and links.