As classical Gnosticism was waning, another Gnostic movement developed under the
inspiration of the Prophet Mani. The Manichaean movement became a true world religion,
spreading to Europe, Central Asia and China; it survived as a living religion in the
Orient up until the present century. Though once anathematized and little understood, the
discovery of several ancient documents during the last century, including large
collections of Manichaean texts in Central Asia, has stimulated a new study and
understanding of one of Gnosticism's most important representatives.
For an introduction to the Prophet Mani and the Manichaean tradition, we suggest listening to a lecture: Mani: Helmsman of the Ship
of Light (MP3 format, about 70 minutes.)
Randomly reading any ten of the following texts will give new insights into the spiritual depths of this forgotten Gnostic tradition (you might start with Psalms to Jesus).
The Manichaean texts come from a wide number of sources. Originally many texts in Latin and Greek certainly existed, but during the persecution of the movement in the West most of these were lost (a major exception is the Greek Cologne Mani-Codex recovered in 1969). What remains to us in large part was recorded in several different and now little-studied ancient languages (including Coptic, Middle Persian, Sogdian, Parthian, Uigur, Bactrian and Chinese). These languages well represent the vast geographical area influenced by the mission of the Prophet Mani.
A useful summary of current Manichaean studies is found in Emerging from Darkness: Studies in the Recovery of Manichaean Sources by Paul Allan Mirecki & Jason BeDuhn -- we provide here a short excerpt from the introduction.
In these ancient manuscripts there are lost or unreadable sections. Lost words are marked with an ellipsis (. . .) and questionable readings are marked (?).
Before reflecting on these texts, consider the startling words written by a Manichaean scribe 1700 years ago as he labored to copy, preserve, and propagate the writings that have now come to your hands:
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 them, 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.... (Homilies 23.13-25.19)