Sacred Texts  Bible  Bible Critical Views  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 15. The Manichean Solution.

Seeking for a solution, we may assume that whatever tradition the Christians had concerning Manes they got from the east; and it is conceivable that from the datum of Turkestan they evolved the ideas of "Scythianus" and "Buddas," with or without the help of the knowledge that "Budh" might stand for "Terebinthus" in Chaldea. 4 But the Persian tradition in itself has little weight, being merely a way of saying that Mani's doctrine had associations with other lands. On the face of the story, he was heretical before he left Persia; and the medley of theosophic doctrines associated with Manichæism can be traced on the one hand to the general storehouse of Babylonian lore, whence came the lore of Christian Gnosticism, and on the other hand to Mazdeism. Such an amalgamation could very well take place on the frontiers of the Persian and Roman empires, early in the Christian era. But it has to be asked how and why Manichæism, which at so many points resembles the Gnostic systems so-called, should have held its ground as a cult while they were suppressed. Its Jesus and Christ were as far as theirs from conforming to the doctrines of the Church, and it was furiously

p. 268

persecuted for centuries. The explanation apparently lies in the element of cultus, the exaltation of the Founder. Was this then a case in which an abnormal Teacher really founded a religion by his doctrine and the force of his personality?

In order to form an opinion we have first to note two outstanding features of Manichæism—the doctrine that Manichæus was "the Paraclete"; and the fact that his quasi-crucifixion was devoutly commemorated by his devotees in the Bema festival at the season of the Christian Easter. 1 Concerning the first datum, the most significant consideration is that the equivalence of the names Mani or Manes and Manichæus is to be explained only on Usher's theory that they are both variants of an eastern name equivalent to the Hebrew name Menahem, which has in part the same meaning as Paraclete. 2 Seeing that Manes is declared to have called himself the Paraclete promised in the Christian gospel, the question arises whether he was in Syria called Menahem = Manichaios on this account, or whether Mani was for Persians, as was Manes or Mane for Greeks and Romans, a passable equivalent for Menahem, in which the third consonant was a guttural. And seeing that the same name is Græcised as Manaen in the book of Acts, this appears to be the fact. Now, the name Menahem, being framed from the root nahem, often translated in the Septuagint by μενονοέω, strictly signifies only "the comforter," and has not in Hebrew the various senses of advocate, mediator, messenger, and intercessor, conveyed by paraklêtos; but there are some reasons for holding that in post-Biblical use it may have had a similar significance with the Greek term. In particular, we find it in late Judaic lore practically identified with the title of Messiah, the Messiah ben David being called the Menakhem ben Ammiel, while the Messiah ben Joseph is named Nehemia ben Uziel. 3 The Talmud brings the identification in close touch with Jesuism. "R. Joshua ben Levi saith, His name is tsemach, 'A Branch'" [Zech. iii, 8. Tsemach, it will be remembered = Netzer]. "R. Juda Bar Aibu saith, His name is Menahem." 4 Jesus, it will be remembered, becomes the paraklêtos in the sense of

p. 269

an intercessor, being yet at the same time an atonement. 1 And if there is reason to refer the doctrine of the two Messiahs to an extra-Judaic source, 2 a similar surmise is permissible as to the two Menahems. 3

In this connection we have next to note, as did Baur long ago, that the story of Mani's concealment in the cave is a strikingly close parallel to the old story in Herodotus concerning the reputed Thracian God Zalmoxis or Zamolxis, of whom "some think that he is the same with Gebelezeis." 4

"Every fifth year they despatch one of themselves, taken by lot, to Zalmoxis, with orders to let him know on each occasion what they want. Their mode of sending him is this. Some of them are appointed to hold three javelins; while others, having taken up the the hands and feet, swing him round, and throw him into the air upon the points. If he should die, being transfixed, they think the God is propitious to them; if he should not die, they blame the messenger himself, saying that he is a bad man; and having blamed him they despatch another." 5

Gebelezeis may be the Babylonian Fire-God Gibil, identified with Nusku. In that case the sacrifice to him of a messenger is one more instance of sacrificing the God to himself, as Gibil-Nusku was the messenger of all the Gods. 6 According to the Greeks of the Hellespont and Pontus, Zalmoxis was a man who had been a slave, at Samos, to Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchus, then was freed, became rich, and retired to his own country, Thrace, where he taught the doctrine of immortality. While teaching this in a dwelling he caused to be built, "he in the meantime had an underground dwelling made, and when the building was finished he vanished from among the Thracians; and having gone down to the underground dwelling he abode there three years." In the fourth year he reappeared to the Thracians, who had deemed him dead, and thus his teaching became credible to them. 7 The good Herodotus, "neither disbelieving nor entirely believing" the legend, was "of opinion that this Zalmoxis lived many years before Pythagoras"; and we in turn, seeing in the story of the three years’ stay underground

p. 270

a remote form of the myth of the God-man's three days in the grave, pronounce that the legends of the freed slave Mani and his concealment in the cave are of similar antiquity. 1 He is inferribly the Menahem or messenger of the cult of the Thracian Getæ; and in another "Scythian" record we have a clue to the legend of his death, as well as to the myth of "Scythianus." The flaying of slain enemies was a Scythian usage; and "many, having flayed men whole, and stretched the skin on wood, carry it about on horseback." 2 As with the enemy, so with the "messenger," 3 whose function is a recognised one in barbaric sacrifice. At the death of a king, they strangled and buried one of his concubines, a cup-bearer, a cook, a groom, a page, a courier, and horses, "and firstlings of everything else." A year later they strangled fifty of his young men-servants and fifty of the finest horses, and, having disembowelled them, stuffed them with chaff and sewed them up. The bodies of the horses were then transfixed lengthwise with beams and placed in the curves of half-wheels to support them; the bodies of the fifty young men were similarly transfixed and mounted on the horses; and the whole ghastly cavalcade was placed around the "high-place" made over the king's grave. 4 An evolution of such funerary and honorific sacrifices into sacrifices to the Gods is in the normal way of religious history. In modern Dahome, again, it was de rigueur that every occurrence at court should be reported to the spirit of the king's father by a male or female messenger, who was commonly though not always sacrificed. 5

The Thracian Getæ, who carried on the cult of Zalmoxis and the ritually slain messenger, were subdued by Darius, and embodied in his empire, 6 with other Scythian tribes; and in that vast aggregate their sacrificial rites had the usual chance of being adopted by their conquerors—if indeed they were not already associated with the worship of Gibil-Nusku the Babylonian Fire-God, and so known to the Persian fire-worshippers. And, whether or not by way of such an adoption, we find that after the death of the captive emperor Valerian his skin was dyed red and stuffed with straw, and was so preserved for centuries in the chief temple of

p. 271

[paragraph continues] Persia 1—a course strongly suggestive of religious symbolism. By certain Arab tribes, who worshipped the star Mars, a warrior in blood-stained garments was annually sacrificed by being thrown into a pit; and the God was worshipped in a temple of red colour 2—a kindred conception. Such a proceeding as the Persian, in fact, would have been impossible in a temple without religious precedent; and in the sacrificial practices of the pre-Christian Mexicans, which we find so many reasons for tracing back to an ancient Asiatic centre, 3 we find clear duplicates of both details of the quasi-sacrifice of Valerian, together with the messenger-sacrifices of the Khonds and Getæ. On the one hand it is recorded that the Mexican "knights of the sun" on a certain day sacrificed to the Sun a human victim whom they "smeared all over with some red substance......They sent him to the Sun with the message......that his Knights remained at his service, and gave him infinite thanks for the great.....favours bestowed on them in the wars." 4 So, again, in the sacrifice to Xiuhteuctli the Fire-God in the tenth month the victims were painted red. 5 On the other hand, in a great annual festival held on the last day of the first month, in which a hundred slaves were sacrificed, some were flayed, and their skins were worn in a religious dance by leading devotees, among them being the king. Finally the bodies were sacramentally eaten, and the skins, "filled with cotton-wool, or straw," were "hung in the temple and king's palace for a memorial." 6 The stuffed skin of the victim, then, was sacrosanct, 7 and that which had been worn by the king was doubtless specially so, representing as it did at once the deified victim and the monarch. When the king took a captive in war with his own hands, the latter was specially regarded as the representative of the sun, and was clothed with the Sun-God's royal insignia. 8 As for the red-painting of the messenger sent to the Sun,

p. 272

that in turn was presumably a special symbolical identification of the victim with the God, 1 as in the peculiar Peruvian sacrifice of a shorn sheep "in a red waistcoat" to the Sun-God at Cuzco; 2 and the final inference is that the dead or slain body of the captive emperor Valerian was made to figure as a sacrificial special Messenger sent by the Persian king to the (messenger) Sun-God, and dedicated to that deity.

That the legendary "crucifixion" of "Manichæus" was a myth derived from such a sacrifice is the more probable in view of the evolution of the Christian mystery-drama from an analogous rite. 3 Clemens Alexandrinus, following another authority than Herodotus, tells how "a barbarous nation, not cumbered with philosophy, select, it is said, annually an ambassador to the hero Zamolxis," 4 choosing one held to be of special virtue. The usage would thus seem to have made headway after the time of Herodotus. Clemens, 5 too, identifies with Zoroaster that Er son of Armenius who in Plato figures as "the messenger from the other world," 6 having gone thither in a death-swoon; a suggestion that at least the Persians now connected the doctrine of immortality with some conception or usage resembling that of the Getæ; and Zoroaster, in turn, was mythically associated with a cave containing flowers and fountains, the whole symbolical of the world, and further associated with resurrection in the mysteries. 7 Finally, the Manichæans’ annual celebration of the Bema, their name for the rite commemorative of the death of Manichæus, carries with it no explanation; and must be taken as the title of some Græco-Oriental mystery-ritual. The word signifies "platform," referring not to the ordinary Bema of the Christian churches, wherein stood the altar, but to the covered platform of five steps prepared by the Manichæan devotees on the anniversary of the Founder's death; 8 but it is not accounted for by any item in the legendary biography, where no such platform is mentioned.

Upon the platform described by Augustine something must have been represented or enacted; and as he appears never to have been one of the electi, but only an auditor or catechumen, he would be, as the Manichæans declared, unacquainted with the special mysteries of the system. 9 The "five steps" point to a symbol of the proto-Chaldean

p. 273

high-place or temple-pyramid and altar of sacrifice, often of five stages; 1 and the mystery was in all likelihood akin to the early mystery-drama of the Christian crucifixion. The apparent identification of the birthday of Manichæus, in the late Mohammedan account, with the death-day in the known cultus; 2 and further the symbolism of his public appearance "with two others," suggest a mystic scene analogous to the triple crucifixion. In any case the graded or terraced pyramid, which was at once the norm of a sacrificial altar 3 and the norm of the temples of Babylonia, Mexico, and the South Sea Islands, was also the norm of regal tombs, as instanced by that of Cyrus, still extant. 4

The critical presumption, then, is that the flayed and stuffed Manichæus is one more figure Evemerised out of a rite of annual sacrifice; and that the Manichæan cult is no more the creation of a man named Manes than is the Buddhist the creation of one Buddha, or the Christian of one Jesus called the Christ. It is a syncretism on the lines of those other cults, borrowing ideas from at least three theosophic sources; combining a nominal Christism with a modified Mithraism; 5 and assimilating both, in the doctrine that "Jesus hangs on every tree," to the esoteric side of the cult of Dionysos. 6 The works ascribed to Mani, so far as known, have every mark of being late concoctions, on Gnostic lines, framed for purposes of proselytism in the Christian sphere, each purporting to be written by "Manichæus, an apostle of Jesus Christ," 7 in the manner of the Christian epistles. The "Epistle to the Virgin Menoch," of which fragments are preserved by Augustine in the Opus Imperfectum, suggests anew the special signification of the title Manichæus. As for the Erteng or Erzeng, specially associated in Persia with the name of Mani, the title, it appears, simply means an illustrated book, 8 and such a book is no more to be supposed primordial in the cult than the epistles.

The success of the cult, in fine, was attained very much as was that of Christism. Its promoters, early recognising the vital importance of organisation, created a system of twelve chief apostles or magistri, with a leader, representing the Founder, and seventy-two

p. 274

bishops, 1 here copying actual Judaism rather than Christian tradition; 2 and, despite its discouragement of marriage and procreation, it survived centuries of murderous persecution in the eastern empire; finally passing on to the west, through the later sects affected by its tradition, the germs of a new heresy in the Middle Ages. Like the crucified Christ, as we have seen reason to think, its Founder was an imaginary being; and so it outlasted the tough sects of Marcion and Montanus, of which the latter was "all but victorious" against orthodoxy. Montanus, says one record, claimed to be inspired by the Paraclete; and his movement, being organised on ecclesiastical lines, went far, beginning in Phrygia, where, as in Persia, the doctrine of a Paraclete was probably pre-Christian. 3

That Montanus in turn was an imaginary personage is plausibly argued by Schwegler; 4 but though some of the adherents of the sect seem to have tended to make of him the Paraclete, 5 it appears to have been a fanatical movement founded on no particular personality, being more commonly named Phrygian than Montanist, from its place of origin, and offering no analogies to Manichæism save in respect of a general asceticism. Being rather a special development of tendencies already present in the Christian movement than a new creed, it had less lasting power than the other, though its vogue and duration were sufficient to prove how much of what passes for a new religious development special to Christianity was but the exploitation of elements of ecstatic and ascetic fanaticism abundantly present in the old pagan environment, of which Phrygia was a typical part. 6


267:4 Beausobre decides (i, 191-4) that the Christian story of the debate at Carchar or Caschar in Roman Mesopotamia is an error founded on a real debate at Cascar in Turkestan, where there was a Christian church and bishop, whereas there was no Caschar in Roman Mesopotamia, and the only other Cascar was in the heart of the Persian empire. But the whole story is unhistorical.

268:1 Augustine declares that while he was a Manichæan he found the Christian paschal feast languidly celebrated, with no fasting or special ceremony, while "great honour was paid to the Bema," which was "held during pascha" (De Epist. Fundamenti, c. 8).

268:2 Annales, T. i, an. 3032, p.m. 82, cited by Beausobre, i, 71. Usher was led to his conjecture by noticing that Sulpicius Severus gives Mane as equivalent to Menahem (2 Kings, xv, 14, 16).

268:3 Bousset, The Antichrist Legend, Eng. tr. p. 108, following Jellinek and Wünsche; Spiegel, Avesta, i (1852), Einleit. p. 35, citing Abqat-Rocel and Bertholdt. Spiegel reads "Nehemia ben Chosiel." Cp. Reichardt, Relation of the Jewish Christians to the Jews, 1884, p. 32.

268:4 Lightfoot on Matt. i, 2, and ii, 1, ed. 1859, i, 10. Lightfoot interprets Menahem here as = "paraklētos, the comforter."

269:1 John, ii, 1.

269:2 Bousset, p. 104.

269:3 Spiegel (as cited) pronounces that "die Eschatologie der späteren Juden hat nun mit der persischen die auffallendsten Aehnlichkeiten," and cites the lore under notice as a parallel to the Persian "lore of the last things." When we note that in the Judaic writings in question the Messiah ben Joseph (= Nehemia ben Uziel) is slain, that his soul is carried to heaven by an angel, and that after a time of trial the Messiah ben David appears in triumph with Elias, we have a fairly decisive light on the doctrine that "the Messiah must needs suffer."

269:4 Das manichäische Religionssystem, pp. 455-6.

269:5 Herodotus, iv, 94.

269:6 Jastrow, Relig. of Bab. and Ass. p. 279.

269:7 Herod. iv, 95.

270:1 In Arab tradition, Salih, the pre-Abrahamic "messenger" of Allah, is born in a cave, and later sleeps in one for twenty years. Weil, The Biblical Legends of the Mussulmans, Eng. tr. 1846, pp. 38-40.

270:2 Herod. iv, 64.

270:3 See above, p. 110, note, as to this principle in the human sacrifices of the Khonds.

270:4 Herod. iv, 71-72.

270:5 Burton, A Mission to Gelele, 1864, ii, 24. The sparing of some would seem to be an attempt to reduce the rite to a conventional form; but Burton estimated an annual slaughter of some 500 "messengers."

270:6 Herod. iv, 96.

271:1 Gibbon, ch. 10, Bohn ed. i, 340-1; Pseudo-Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum, c. 5,

271:2 Kalisch, Comm. on Leviticus, i, 326, citing Norberg, Lexidion Codicis Nasaraei, p. 107, and Gesenius, Jesaia, II, 345. Among the Maoris, red paint played a part wherever possible in religious usages: "their idols, Pataka, sacred stages for the dead, and for offerings or sacrifices, Urapa graves, chiefs’ houses, and war canoes, were all thus painted. The way of rendering anything tapu was by making it red." Rev. R. Taylorr Te Ika a Maui, 1870, p. 209. Cp. p. 210.

271:3 See below, Part IV, § 1.

271:4 Duran, Historia de las Indias de Nueva España, cited in Spencer's Descriptive Sociology, ii, 21, col. 1.

271:5 Clavigero, Hist. of Mexico, Eng. tr. 2nd ed. B. vi. c. 34 (i, 306-7).

271:6 Gomara, La Historia General de las Indias, ed. in Historiadores primitivos de Indias, vol. i (1852), p. 444, col. 2; Eng. tr. ed. 1596, pp. 393-4. Cp. Bancroft, Native Races of the Pacific States, iii, 359 (following Sahagun, Hist. Gen. t. i, l. 2) for another rite of hanging up a victim's skin in the form of a cross, where stuffing seems to be implied.

271:7 In Mexico all the skins taken from victims seem to have been so in some degree. The second month was specially named from the "skinning of men," and in the third the skins which had been taken were carried to a smaller temple within the enclosure of the greater, and there solemnly deposited in a cave. Clavigero, as cited, p. 298.

271:8 J. G. Müller, Amerik. Urrelig. p. 635.

272:1 See above, pp. 112, 114, as to the practice of the Khonds.

272:2 Purchas his Pilgrimes (following Acosta), ed. 1906, xv, 329. Compare the curious parallel in the recent practice of the Khonds, noted above, p. 117.

272:3 Above, Part II, ch. i.

272:4 Stromata, iv, 8.

272:5 Stromata, v, 14.

272:6 Republic, x, p. 619.

272:7 Porphyry, De antro nympharum, c. 6. See below, Part III, § 7.

272:8 Augustine, as before cited.

272:9 Beausobre, i, 227-8; Neander, ii, 193; Augustine, Contra Fortunatum, lib. i, app.

273:1 See above, p. 182, note. Compare the modified "high-place and altar" at Petra, reproduced by Dr. Curtiss, Primitive Semitic Religion To-day, 1902, p. 236; and see below, Part III, § 4, and again Part IV, § 1, as to the Mexican and other analogues.

273:2 The same coincidence occurs in the legendary life of Moses, his birthday and death-day falling alike on the 7th Adar. Hamburger, Real-Encyc. für Bibel and Talmud, Suppl. Bd. ii to Abth. i and ii, s.v. Adar.

273:3 See Dr. Frazer's Lectures on the History of the Early Kingship. 1905, p. 295, as to the place of the "three or four terraces" at which was celebrated the great sacrifice of men at Calicut.

273:4 See woodcut in Smith's Smaller History of Greece.

273:5 Below, Part III, § 12.

273:6 Augustine, Contra Faustum, xx, 1, 11.

273:7 Id. xiii, 4.

273:8 Beausobre, i, 190, and note.

274:1 Augustine, De Haeres. c. 32.

274:2 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp 347.

274:3 "The Paraclete was at this time (Mani's) expected by the Persians as well as by the Christians" (Spiegel, Avesta, Einleit. p. 30).

274:4 Der Montanismus in die christliche Kirche, 1841; Das nachapostolische Zeitalter, 1846. "All that can be declared with certainty about Montanus is that he existed," says an orthodox investigator (De Soyres, Montanism and the Primitive Church, 1878, p. 31).

274:5 Augustine, De Hæres. c. 26.

274:6 As Montanus began to teach about 130, and the movement seems to have been on foot before him, it may even belong to the first century. Cp. De Soyres, pp. 26-27. It certainly existed in the first half of the second.

Next: § 16. The Case of Apollonius of Tyana