The Demise of Manichaeism: A Comparative Review

Manichaeism was a successful missionary religion during the time of the Sasanians with a well-constructed system of doctrines and an overall church organization. For more than thirty years Mani’s religion spread peacefully not only across Iran and its neighboring countries but also gained ground in Egypt, Roman Empire and parts of India.

It was towards the end of Shapur’s reign, about 270 AD that the resistance of the magi against the rapidly progressing religion began to form. Mani died in prison during the reign of King Wahram I, who had come to disdain and fear the new religion. The fierce persecution of Mani’s disciples confined his religion to a small part of the Iranian Empire. Manichaeism disappeared in Europe in the 6th century, in Byzantine Empire by the 9th century, and in the Islamic World in 11th century. Only in China did it survive until 16th century.

By stressing the social worth of the merchant and moneyed classes and denigrating manual labor, and debasing marriage and procreation, Manichaeism was deprived of an extended base of social support. Furthermore, despite Mani’s claims that his religion provided answers to man’s basic questions about nature, creation and the origins of good and evil, his teachings were essentially rooted in mythology. Indeed many of his ideas were widely ridiculed by a number of Christian theologians and Muslim philosophers.

Fereydun Vahman
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