COPTIC MANICHEAN TEXTS. Until the turn of this century Manicheism (see chinese turkestan vii; Ries, 1988; van Tongerloo, 1991) was known exclusively from secondary sources, mainly Christian, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, and Islamic heresiological writings by opponents of Mani (216-76 c.e.). At the beginning of the 20th century discoveries along the Silk Road provided new primary source material; these text fragments, written in previously undeciphered or little-known languages and scripts—­that is, Tokharian, Middle Persian, Parthian, Sogdian, Bactrian, and Old Uighur—or in Chinese and Persian, considerably changed the interpretation and apprecia­tion of Manicheism, which was revealed as a complex mosaic, to which pieces are continually being added. While research on these texts was in progress a group of Coptic Manichean texts was discovered in Egypt in the late 1920s, and major editions were released within a decade. With the contemporaneous discovery, deci­phering, and initial publication (which extended into the period after World War II) of the Turfan texts, the appearance of these texts was the most significant advance in the period between the two world wars. After 1945 the major advance in Manichean source material was the acquisition and edition of a miniature Greek codex (see cologne mani codex) until 1991, when new Coptic and other texts were discovered in the sands of Dāḵla oasis, about 230 miles straight west of Luxor in Egypt, on the ancient site of Kellis (modern (I)smant al-Ḵarab). All the known Coptic Manichean documents are in a characteristic sub-Akhmimic dia­lect (L4, Manichean Coptic; see, e.g., Funk, 1985; Kasser, 1984; idem, forthcoming).

Coptic Manichean texts discovered in the 1920s. At least seven 4th-century Coptic Manichean papyrus codices said, probably erroneously, to have come from Madīnat Māżī (Gk. Narmoûthis, in the Egyptian Fayyūm) were divided into eight parts by three dealers (among them the former chief cashier of Crédit Foncier in Cairo, Maurice Nahman, d. March 1948) in 1929; the Danish Egyptologist Hans Ostenfeld Lange (1863­-1943) was approached in November of that year, but after extensive negotiations the codices were sold to Alfred Chester Beatty (see chester beatty library i) and Professor Carl Schmidt “Kopten-Schmidt”; 1868-1943) of Berlin, who collaborated on the first scholarly publication of the finds (Schmidt and Polotsky); eventually part of Schmidt’s collection was given to the Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin. After conservation work on the entire group by the German specialists Hugo Ibscher (1874-1943) and his son Rolf (d. 1967) in Berlin the Beatty material that had been mounted was returned to its owner in Lon­don; in 1953 his collection was transferred to Dublin (see chester beatty library iii). The fate of the remaining fragments is not entirely clear. Owing to the vicissitudes of World War II some seem to have been returned to the Ägyptologisches Museum in East Ber­lin, some were taken by the Soviets and ended up in Warsaw, and some may have been destroyed or lost, though it is possible that they have been preserved in the Community of Independent States (formerly U.S.S.R.). The history of the discovery and present whereabouts of the collections has been described in contradictory fashion by Walter Beltz, Alexander Böhlig (1968; 1989a; 1989b), Søren Giversen (1986a; 1988c; 1988a; 1988b), Rolf Ibscher, James M. Robinson, and Michel Tardieu (1982). The seven identified codices include the Manichean psalmbook, a fragment of the Synaxeis, two versions of the Kephalaia, a collection of homilies, the Acts, and a volume of Mani’s letters.

The two parts of the psalmbook (Codex A, Chester Beatty Library, 578 pp.) have been published, part I (172 folios) in a facsimile (Giversen, 1988a; 172 folios), part II (117 folios) first in an edition with English translation (Allberry; 117 folios) and then in facsimile (Giversen, 1988b). Only a few of the psalms have been studied (Giversen, 1986a, pp. 375ff.; idem, 1988d, pp. 269ff.; Krause). Some unmounted frag­ments were brought from the Ägyptologisches Museum in East Berlin by Otto Firchow when he fled to the British zone in 1945; they are now in the British Museum.

The Synaxeis, which was broken up by the Egyptian dealers, includes Codex B in the Chester Beatty Li­brary (thirteen mounted leaves; facsimile edition, Giversen, 1986c, pp. 101-26) and P. Berol. 15995 in Berlin (156 mounted leaves and the preserved book block, containing at most 120 unmounted leaves). Although several scholars have studied this badly preserved codex (Böhlig, Carsten Colpe, and Robinson and his colleagues), only some of the chapter titles and notes on the codicological structure have been pub­lished (Mirecki, 1988; idem, forthcoming; King).

The two collections of the Kephalaia, despite their similarities in title and other details, are characterized by significant differences. The largest portion of one of them is preserved in Berlin (P. Berol. 15996; more than 472 pages, partially published with German trans­lation; Polotsky [pp. 1-102] and Böhlig [pp. 103-292]; Böhlig, 1966; idem, 1989a, pp. 638ff.); after 1945 some unpublished leaves turned up in Warsaw, and pages 311-30, missing from the Berlin fragment, were bought in Egypt by Adolf Grohmann and are now in the Nationalbibliothek, Vienna (K 11010a-h; cf. Gardner, 1988, I, pp. 53-55). The second codex is in the Chester Beatty Library (Codex C, 354pp.; fac­simile edition, Giversen, 1986b); it contains running heads with the title The Kephalaia of the Wisdom of My Lord Mani.

Only the smaller portion of the collection of homilies (Codex D, Chester Beatty Library) was immediately published and translated into German (Polotsky; facsimile edition, Giversen, 1986c, pp. 1-98); the larger portion (P. Berol. 15999) was considered by prewar scholars to be unmountable and was treated as an exhibition piece (known as “the wig”).

A photograph of the Acts codex (P. Berol. 15997) with its cover intact was published in 1933 (Schmidt and Polotsky, pl. 2), but only seven or eight leaves survived 1945. At least one of them is in Warsaw, and another ended up in Dublin (ed. Giversen, 1986c, pp. viii-ix, pls. 99-100).

The last codex contains a selection of Mani’s letters (P. Berol. 15998); a total of between twenty-six and thirty-four leaves are known to survive, three of them in Warsaw.

Recent discoveries. In the first three seasons of excavations (1986-88) conducted by Colin Hope (1988; idem, 1990), the joint Australian, Canadian, and En­glish Dakhleh (Dāḵla) Oasis Project, under the overall direction of Anthony J. Mills, unearthed a quantity of promising Christian and classical Greek texts, includ­ing one by Isocrates Orator (436-338 b.c.e.). In the fourth season (January-February 1991; Hope, 1991; Jenkins, 1991) House Three was uncovered at Kellis; it contained more than 3,000 papyri and other frag­ments, among them 4th-century Manichean documents in Syriac script (on papyrus and parchment), a bilin­gual Syriac-Coptic board containing an eschatological text of major importance (Depuydt, 1991), several fragments of a miniature codex (cf. the Greek Cologne Mani Codex), and two codices made up of wooden boards (from room 4) containing Manichean hymns and psalms, both known and unknown examples. The publication of this important collection has been announced (Alcock et al.).

Directions for research. Because of the very nature of the material, each group of sources (Coptic, Greek, Iranian, Uighur, and so on) has a particular importance for the study of Manicheism. Despite the loss of Mani’s Living Gospel, the fragments of a commentary contained in the Coptic Synaxeis furnish a glimpse of this canonical work (Böhlig, 1968, pp. 185, 222ff.), and perhaps eventually a link with similar Central Asian material will be established. The psalms, be­cause of both their number and their literary qualities, are unique; a connection with Mandeism should be considered, and a comparison with the Iranian hymns would also be advantageous. The psalms of Thomas in particular have been a focus of study (Adam; Kasser, 1991; Krause; Mirecki, 1991; Nagel; Oerter; Richter; Säve-Söderberg; Segelberg; Wurst). On the other hand, the Kephalaia provide true doctrinal compendia, clarifying many points in the Turfan documentation (e.g., the pantheon, technical terminology, Mani’s background, and relations with the Iranian and Chi­nese treatises; see Sundermann, forthcoming). The Dublin Kephalaia codex is particularly promising, for it includes references to the traditions of eastern Manicheism. Coptic documents are also important for the study of Manichean christology (see christianity v; Gardner, 1991; Helderman). The homilies are not only beautifully expressed lamentations but also in­clude information on the historical events connected with Mani’s tragic end and the beginnings of ecclesi­astical history (Sundermann, 1986; idem, 1987). One major difference from the Central Asian sources is that there seems to be no confessional ritual in Coptic Manicheism. The only published leaf of the letters and the Dublin Kephalaia are also of great interest for Iranology, as they contain names and functions (cf. Tardieu, 1988; Funk, 1990). Relations and exchanges between Manichean communities and early Christians in Egypt are still much debated (Stroumsa). Finally, comparison of Manichean technical terminology with that in the critical editions of the gnostic corpus, planned as part of A Dictionary of Manichean Terms and Concepts, under the aegis of the international research project Manichaica, should result in a more elaborated interpretation of Manicheism as a gnostic system (Rudolph; Ries, 1975-76). Linguistic, and especially dialectological, research and publication of archivalia (copies of lost or deteriorated originals preserved in the archives of the former Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin) are also im­perative. The bilingual and trilingual fragments from Kellis will eventually cast new light on the originality of the texts and the techniques of translation.

After the early publication of Coptic texts in the 1930s World War II and the subsequent discovery of the gnostic texts from Nag Hammadi (Najʿ Hammādī) in Egypt diverted attention from them until Giversen undertook facsimile editions of the Dublin material in the 1980s. Critical text editions, translations, and commentaries of this material are expected in the 1990s, under the supervision of the International Com­mittee for the Publication of the Manichaean Coptic Papyri Belonging to the Chester Beatty Library, directed by Giversen (Denmark), Rodolphe Kasser (Swit­zerland), and Martin Krause (Germany). An edition of the Berlin Coptic documents, under Robinson’s direction, is also anticipated. For current Manichean bibliography and information on the International Association of Manichaean Studies, the issues of The Manichaean Studies Newsletter (1988-), edited by Alois van Tongerloo, should be consulted.



A. Alcock et al., eds., Texts from Three Houses in Kellis, Discoveries in the Dakhleh Oasis, Series I, Kellis IV, forthcoming.

A. Adam, Die Psalmen des Thomas und das Perlenlied als Zeugnisse vorchristlicher Gnosis, Berlin, 1959.

C. R. C. Allberry, Manichaean Manuscripts in the Chester Beatty Collection II. A Manichaean Psalm-Book, Part II, Stuttgart, 1938.

W. Beltz, “Katalog der koptischen Handschriften der Papyrus-Sammlung der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin,” Archiv für Papyrusforschung 26, 1978, pp. 57-119; 27, 1980, pp.121-222.

A. Böhlig, Manichäische Handschriften der Staatlichen Museen Berlin I. Kephalaia II (Lieferung 11-12), Stuttgart, 1966.

Idem, Mysterion und Wahrheit, Leiden, 1968.

Idem, Gnosis und Synkretismus. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur spätantiken Religionsgeschichte, 2 vols., Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 47-48, Tübingen, 1989a.

Idem, “Neue Initiativen zur Erschliessung der koptisch-manichäischen Bibliothek von Medinet Madi,” Zeitschift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 80, 1989b, pp. 240-62.

L. Depuydt, “A Manichaean Bilingual in Coptic and Syriac,” International Symposium on the Manichaean Noûs, Acta, Leuven, August 1991, forthcoming.

W. P. Funk, “How Closely Related Are the Subakhmimic Dialects?” Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache and Altertumskunde 112, 1985, pp. 124-39.

Idem, “Zur Faksimileausgabe der koptischen Manichaica in der Chester-Beatty-Sammlung I,” Orientalia 59, 1990, pp. 524-41.

I. Gardner, Coptic Theological Papyri II, 2 vols., Mitteilungen aus der Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, N.F. 21, Vienna, 1988.

Idem, “The Manichaean account of Jesus and the Passion of the Living Soul,” in A. van Tongerloo and S. Giversen, eds., Manichaica Selecta, Manichaean Studies 1, Leuven and Lund, 1991, pp. 71-86.

S. Giversen, “The Inedited Chester Beatty Mani Texts,” in L. Cirillo and A. Roselli, eds., Codex Manichaicus Coloniensis. Atti del Simposio Internazionale (Rende-Amantea 3-7 settembre 1984), Cosenza, 1986a, pp. 371-80.

Idem, The Manichaean Coptic Papyri in the Chester Beatty Library I. Kephalaia, Cahiers d’orientalisme 14, Geneva, 1986b.

Idem, The Manichaean Coptic Papyri in the Chester Beatty Library II. Homilies and Varia, Cahiers d’orientalisme 15, Geneva, 1986c.

Idem, The Manichaean Coptic Papyri in the Chester Beatty Library III. Psalm Book, Part 1, Cahiers d’orien­talisme 16, Geneva, 1988a.

Idem, The Manichaean Coptic Papyri in the Chester Beatty Library IV. Psalm Book, Part 2, Cahiers d’orientalisme 17, Geneva, 1988b.

Idem, “The Manichaean Papyri in the Chester Beatty Library,” Proceedings of the Irish Biblical Association 11, 1988c, pp. 1-22.

Idem, “The Manichaean Texts from the Chester Beatty Collec­tion,” in P. Bryder, ed., Manichaean Studies. Pro­ceedings of the First International Conference on Manichaeism, Lund Studies in African and Asian Religions 1, Lund, 1988d, pp. 265-72.

J. Helderman, “Zum Doketismus and zur Inkamation im Manichäismus,” in A. van Tongerloo and S. Giversen, eds., Manichaica Selecta, Manichaean Studies 1, Leuven and Lund, 1991, pp. 101-23.

C. A. Hope, “Three Seasons of Excavations at Ismant el-Gharab in Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt,” Medi­terranean Archaeology 1, 1988, pp. 160-78.

Idem, “Excavations at Ismant el-Kharab in the Dakhleh Oasis,” The Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 1, 1990, pp. 42-54.

Idem, “The 1991 Excavations at Ismant el-Kharab in the Dakhleh Oasis,” The Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 2, 1991, pp. 41-50.

R. Ibscher, “Wiederaufnahme und neuester Stand der Konser­vierung der Manichäischen Papyrus-codices,” Proceedings of the Twenty-Third International Con­gress of Orientalists, Cambridge 21st-28th August 1954, London, 1956, pp. 359-60.

Idem, “Der Mani­-Fund,” Akten des 24sten Internationalen Orientalisten-Kongresses, München 1957, Wiesbaden, 1959, p. 227.

Idem, “Über den Stand der Umkonservierung der Manipapyri,” Koptologische Studien in der DDR, Wissenschafliche Zeitschrift der Martin-Luther-Universität Halle, Sonderheft, 1965, pp. 50-64.

Idem, “Mani und sein Ende,” Atti dell’ XI Congresso Internazionale di Papirologia, Milano 2-8 Settembre 1965, Milan, 1966.

G. Jenkins, “Communication on the Discoveries in the Dakhleh Oasis,” International Symposium on the Manichaean Noûs, Leuven, August 1991, Acta, forthcoming.

R. Kasser, “Orthographie et phonologie de la variété subdialectale lycopolitaine,” Le Muséon 97, 1984, pp. 261-312.

Idem, “Le premier chant de Thôm, perle de l’hymnologie manichéenne,” in A. van Tongerloo and S. Giversen, eds., Manichaica Selecta, Manichaean Studies 1, Leuven and Lund, 1991, pp. 141-48.

Idem, “Originalité du vocabulaire copto-­grec des "Képhalaia" manichéens de Berlin,” Copenhagen Symposium on Hellenistic Gnosticism (Copenhagen, June 1990), Acta, forthcoming.

K. King, “A Progress Report on the Editing of the Manichaean Synaxeis Codex,” in M. Rassart-Debergh and J. Ries, eds., Actes du IVe Congrès Copte II, Publications de l’Institut Orientaliste de Louvain 41, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1992, pp. 281-88.

M. Krause, “Zum Aufbau des koptisch-manichäischen Psalmen­buches,” in A. van Tongerloo and S. Giversen, eds., Manichaica Selecta, Manichaean Studies 1, Leuven and Lund, 1991, pp. 177-90.

P. A. Mirecki, “The Coptic Manichaean Synaxeis Codex,” in P. Bryder, ed., Manichaean Studies. Proceedings of the First International Conference on Manichaeism, Lund Studies in African and Asian Religions 1, Lund, 1988, pp. 135-45.

Idem, “Coptic Manichaean Psalm 278 and Gospel of Thomas 37,” in A. van Tongerloo and S. Giversen, eds., Manichaica Selecta, Manichaean Studies 1, Leuven and Lund, 1991, pp. 243-62.

Idem, “A Model for the Codicological Reconstruction of the Coptic Manichaean Synaxeis Codex,” International Mani­-Symposium (Bonn, August 1989), Acta, forthcom­ing.

P. Nagel, Die Thomaspsalmen des koptisch­manichäischen Psalmenbuches, Berlin, 1980.

W. Oerter, Die Thomaspsalmen des manichäischen Psalters, Ph.D. diss., Leipzig, 1975.

H. J. Polotsky, Manichäische Handschriften der Sammlung A. Chester Beatty I. Manichäische Homilien, Stuttgart, 1934.

Idem and A. Böhlig, Manichäische Handschriften der Staatlichen Museen Berlin I. Kephalaia 1. Hälfte (Lieferung 1-10), Stuttgart, 1940.

S. Richter, “Ein manichäischer Bittpsalm,” in A. van Tongerloo and S. Giversen, eds., Manichaica Selecta, Manichaean Studies 1, Leuven and Lund, 1991, pp. 299-306.

J. Ries, “Le dialogue gnostique du salut dans les textes manichéens coptes,” Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 6-7, 1975-76, pp. 509-20.

Idem, Les études manichéennes, Collection Cerfaux­-Lefort 1, Louvain- la-Neuve, 1988.

J. M. Robinson, “The Fate of the Manichaean Codices of Medinet Madi 1929-1989,” International Mani-Symposium (Bonn, August 1989), Acta, forthcoming.

K. Rudolph, “Mani und die Gnosis,” in P. Bryder, ed., Manichaean Studies. Proceedings of the First International Con­ference on Manichaeism, Lund Studies in African and Asian Religions 1, Lund, 1988, pp. 191-200.

T. Säve-Söderberg, Studies in the Coptic Manichaean Psalm-Book, Uppsala, 1949.

C. Schmidt and H. J. Polotsky (with a contribution by H. Ibscher), “Ein Mani-Fund in Ägypten. Originalschriften des Mani und seine Schüler,” SPAW 1933, pp. 4-90.

E. Segelberg, “Syncretism at Work. On the Origin of Some Manichaean Psalms,” in B. Pearson, ed., Reli­gious Syncretism in Antiquity, Santa Barbara, Calif., 1975, pp. 191-203.

G. G. Stroumsa, “The Manichaean Challenge to Egyptian Christianity,” in B. Pearson and J. Goehring, eds., The Roots of Egyptian Chris­tianity, Studies in Antiquity and Christianity 1, Phila­delphia, 1986, pp. 307-19.

W. Sundermann, “Kirchengeschichtliche Literatur der iranischen Manichäer,” AoF 13, 1986, pp. 40-92, 239-317; 14, 1987, pp. 41-107.

Idem, “Iranische Kephalaiatexte?” International Mani-Symposium (Bonn, August 1989), Acta, forthcoming. M. Tardieu, “Les manichéens en Egypte,” Bulletin de la Société Française d’Egyptologie 94, 1982, pp. 5-19.

Idem, “La diffusion du Bouddhisme dans l’Empire Kouchan, l’Iran et la Chine, d’après un Kephalaion inédit,” Stud. Ir. 17, 1988, pp. 153-82.

A. van Tongerloo, “Manichaeism in Recent Studies,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 67, 1991, pp. 204-12.

G. Wurst, “Bema-­psalm 223,” in A. van Tongerloo and S. Giversen, eds., Manichaica Selecta, Manichaean Studies 1, Leuven and Lund, 1991, pp. 391-99.

(Aloïs van Tongerloo)

(Aloïs van Tongerloo)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: October 28, 2011

This article is available in print.
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