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MANICHAEISM, a system of religious beliefs and doctrines named after Mani or Manes (c. 215–275), who lived and taught in Persia. In his youth he seems to have associated with Jewish-Christian (Elchasaite) sectarians. Manes was put to death for his heretical doctrines, but his teachings spread from the Middle East to Rome and to North Africa where they had numerous adherents in the fourth century. Manichaean documents have also been found in Chinese Turkestan. A curious mixture of diverse gnostic, Persian-Zoroastrian, and other dualistic doctrines (see *Dualism ), Manichaeism preached a severe asceticism, including vegetarianism, and survived in small and often clandestine sects into the Middle Ages.

Several heretical movements in medieval Christianity are thought to have been influenced, directly or indirectly, by Manichaean sects. Manichaean doctrines seem to have been very influential also during the first centuries of Islam, as witnessed by the anti-dualistic polemics of orthodox apologists and theologians. Dualistic attacks on traditional teachings appear in the ninth and tenth centuries and had to be countered by a polemic reminiscent in some ways of the early rabbinic polemic against gnostic dualism (shetei rashuyyot). Saadiah argues against dualism both in his Book of Beliefs and Opinions and in his polemical tract against Ḥiwi al-Balkhi. The dualism, however, which he attacked was not just of the Zoroastrian type but seems to have been indebted to contemporary Manichaeism.


G. Widengren, Mani and Manichaeism (1965); J. Darmesteter, in: REJ, 28 (1889), 1–15; H. Puech, Le Manichéisme (1949).

[R.J. Zwi Werblowsky]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.