Home > Early Christianity, History, History of Religion and Culture > The Manichaean Body: In Discipline and Ritual

The Manichaean Body: In Discipline and Ritual

  • Author: Jason David BeDuhn
  • Publisher:  The Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Published: March, 2000
  • Pages: 376
  • Language: English
  • Format:  PDF
  • Price: $27.00

Reconstructing Manichaeism from scraps of ancient texts and the ungenerous polemic of its enemies (such as the ex-Manichaean Augustine of Hippo), BeDuhn reveals for the first time the religion as it was actually practiced. He describes the Manichaeans’ daily ritual meal, their stringent disciplinary codes (intended to prevent humans from harming plants and animals), and their secretive religious procedures designed to transform the cosmos and bring about the salvation of all living beings.

Overturning long-held assumptions about Manichaean dualism, asceticism, spirituality, and the pursuit of salvation, The Manichaean Body changes completely how we look at this ancient religion and the environment in which Christianity arose. BeDuhn’s conclusions revolutionize our understanding of the Manichaeans, clearly distinguishing them from Gnostics and other early Christian heretics and revealing them to be practitioners of a unique world religion.

Editorial Reviews

The work marks an entirely bold and novel approach to the study of Manichaeism. (History of Religions )

[This book] is a well-crafted work whose theoretical and practical interests can affect not only the way that scholars look at Manichaeism but also the way that they do religious studies as a whole…. [A] fascinating and important work. (Horace Jeffery Hodgegs Journal of the American Academy of Religion)

Clearly written, and featuring a useful bibliography along with a central section of black-and-white plates. A solid work of scholarship which will be essential to further study in the areas he has marked out and which ought to interest scholars in many other fields of religious studies. (Wendy Love Anderson Journal of Religion)

BeDuhn has done a great service here by reinterpreting the primary source material with a view to establishing the actual day-to-day religious practices of the Manichaeans… A most valuable work, sure to be consulted by specialists and students alike. (Choice)

Scintillating work… BeDuhn’s interpretation of much of the evidence is penetrating and evocative. (Samuel N. C. Lieu Catholic Historical Review)

A significant study on the rationale of Manichaeism. (Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society)

About the Author

Jason David BeDuhn is an associate professor of religion at Northern Arizona University. He is the author of articles on Manichaeism and early Christianity, and he has coedited, with Paul Mirecki, two volumes of Manichaean studies: Emerging from Darkness: Studies in the Recovery of Manichaean Sources and The Light and the Darkness: Studies in Manichaeism and Its World.

Most helpful reviews

The Body, Myth and Ritual

By C. Corcoran

With the publication of this revised Indiana University doctoral dissertation, the academy has given history of religions hobbyists an exciting new model for responsible ritual studies. BeDuhn’s work is carefully researched and tightly organized, reconstructing the Manichaean alimentary, disciplinary and ritual complex while articulating a notion of ritual as a coherent approach to reality. Such concerns are of more than academic interest, and the fascinated reader soon forgives the peculiarities of style and structure endemic to the dissertation mode. This book would be enjoyed by all who have followed the last decade’s interest in the body and the relation of myth and ritual.

Great Book

By Salaz Trading

This book opened my eyes to the whole religion of Manichaeism, which I had been previously unaware. For the layperson, its excellent to give one an overview of Manichaean traditions, east and west. It goes through the food ceremonies of both but provides the reader with insight through many translated Manichaean texts. It also contrasts and compares with modern traditions that are most likely similar in food ceremonial character with the ancient Manichaeans.

Also, the book is good for the scholar of Manichaeism or ancient Mediterranean religions, to give deep insight into the ritualism of this major religion, active during the time of early Christianity. I think understanding this tradition is important for students of Christianity as well, as I feel its aesceticism and ritualism as well as priesthood may have effected the Christians of the Roman Empire. Since Augustine was a Manichaean, its important in understanding the thinking of this Christian Father as well.

Well written and insightful

By Paul Stevenson

Manichaeism is one of the vast range of religions associated with the Judeo-Christian group of traditions. It was founded in the 3rd century CE by a native of southern Mesopotamia named Mani, who identified himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Manichaeism was a vigorously missionary religion; it soon spread to the Roman Empire in the west and to China in the East. Some facts about Manichaeism were known before the 20th century, but they were almost all from polemic sources written to combat the religion as a “heresy.” The 20th century, though, saw the discovery of a considerable number of documents written by Manichaeans themselves.

Jason BeDuhn has brought together a great quantity of information from the full range of these sources “to ‘save’ the Manichaeans for history by recovering how they proposed to save themselves” (from the Preface, p. x). BeDuhn carefully analyzes a variety of Manichaean beliefs and practices, pointing out their interdependence. He divides his study of each practice according to whether the documentation is from an eastern, central or western source. This is a helpful approach since the Manichaeans consciously adapted themselves to whatever cultural environment they found themselves in, and they spread over a very wide area indeed.

This review is not the place to summarize the entire content of the book, so I will state what I consider to be one of its most essential insights: the nature of the ritual meal of the elect. All the disciplines practiced by Auditors (members who lived less strictly) and the Elect (members who lived by the strictest rules) seem to have had as their focus the one meal a day consumed by the Elect, in which they, by the digestive processes of their ritually pure bodies, liberated “divine substance” from the food consumed (see chapter 4, Alimentary Rites). This seems to have been the salvific act in Manichaeism.

This book has numerous helpful tables which sort out the terminology used by Manichaeans. It also has a number of photographs of Zoroastrian meal rituals which are comparable to those of the Manichaeans. These are helpful in bringing to life a religion that died out centuries ago.

BeDuhn takes what can be characterized as a social-anthropological approach to the data. A very important book on Manichaeism written from the point of view of a historian is Manichaeism in Mesopotamia and the Roman East, by Samuel N. C. Lieu. The combination of these two books provides a considerable breadth of perspective on the Manichaeans as people and as a movement.

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  1. August 31, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I never thought of it that way, well put!

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