Emerging from Darkness: Studies in the Recovery of Manichaean Sources
by Paul Allan Mirecki, Jason BeDuhn
A thousand books will be preserved ... they will come into the hand of the just and the faithful [the] Gospel and the Treasury of Life, the Pragmateia and the Book of Mysteries, the Book of Giants and the Epistles, the Psalms and [the] Prayers of my lord, his Icon and his Revelations, his Parables and his Mysteries ... How many will be lost? How many will be destroyed? A thousand lost, another thousand recovered; for they will find them at the end. They will kiss then, and say "O Wisdom of Greatness, O Armor of the Apostle of Light! When you were lost ... where did they find you?" ... And you shall find them reading them aloud, uttering the name [of each book] among them: the name of its lord .. and the name of those who gave all [for it to be written] and the name of the scribe who wrote it... and of the one who punctuated it... (Manichaean Homilies 23.13-25.19)
When this prophecy was written down, some seventeen hundred years ago, the author scarcely could have imagined that the recovery of his religion's precious books would come not at the hands of "the just and the faithful" but at the quite profane hands of 20th century academics. For the last one hundred years, archaeologists, philologists, art historians, and historians of religion, have labored to restore to human memory the Manichaean religion which their ancestors worked so hard to obliterate. As we approach the end of this century, we can look back on a remarkable success story that has brought as much closer than ever before to a full understanding of the faith of Mani.
In the absence of the Manichaeans themselves, the task of retrieving their tenets and practices primarily depends upon the recovery and painstaking reconstruction of Manichaean remains. The modern scholar has at her disposal the material of four major discoveries and two isolated texts. In the early part of this century, Manichaean literary and artistic remains were recovered from Turfan and Dunhuang in China, including material in Middle Iranian, Turkic, and Chinese. In the late 1920s, a third cache of texts, this time in Coptic, was found at Medinet Madi, in Egypt. The leading role of German scholars with respect to both the Turfan and Medinet Madi finds resulted in the tragic loss of portions of both collections in the devastation of Berlin in the second World War. Α fourth revelation of Manichaean materials has occurred in recent years at Kellis in the Dakhleh Oasis of Egypt, including texts in Coptic, Greek, and Syriac. In addition to these four major finds, the Cologne Mani Codex (a Greek text from Egypt) and the Tebessa Codex (a Latin composition found in Algeria) are essential sources for the Manichaeanist. Moreover, the anti-Manichaean literature of the Christian, Islamic, Zoroastrian, and Chinese literati traditions continues to yield valuable data, especially in light of the control supplied by normative Manichaean texts.
Throughout the 20th century, codicological and philological work necessarily dominated the field of Manichaean studies. In fact, Manichaean texts base been as important in the reconstruction of ancient languages as the developing understanding of those languages have been in permuting the recovery of the Manichaean tradition. This is a slow and arduous process. Even today, some fifty percent of the surviving material remains unpublished. Nonetheless, the last quarter-century has seen an accelerated pace of scholarship, fostered with respect to the eastern sources by a reorganized and re-energized Turfan working group in Berlin and with respect to the western sources by the attention generated by the Cologne Mani Codex. As a result, the availability of sources has increased rapidly and the number of publications appearing annually in the field has multiplied exponentially. Well grounded synthetic work has become an important component of research beside philology. These developments culminated in the formation of an International Association of Manichaean Studies in the 1980s and the covering of conferences and symposia in Europe where for the first time scholar it the held at Manichaean studies could meet in a forum devoted entirely to their subject....