Group Topic: Manichaeism & Syncretism

The concept of syncretism is a major issue that requires some significant thought.  Syncretism is a fusion of already existing different cultures, thoughts, and ideas, into a new distinct entity.  One that completely alters set lineages and linkages to form an ideology that is completely distinct from the originals.  According to the Encyclopedia of Religion, “the term syncretism usually refers to connections of a special kind between languages, cultures, or religions. This term is most frequently used in the history of religions, where a special effort has been made to give it a more precise meaning”.

The prime example of a syncretic religion is Manichaeism.  Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, fused already existing Christian, Judaic, Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist, and even Zoroastrian principles, to found a completely new religion.  Therefore Mani borrowed a whole set of terminology from Abbasid Islam, western Christianity, and Central Asian Taoism and Buddhism.  Mani himself came from a Jewish Christian Baptist sect in southern Babylonia.  As it is stated in the Encylopedia of Religion, “syncretisms that were part Babylonian, part Iranian, part Christian Hellenism were presupposed by Manichaeism”, and continuing, “to a certain extent, therefore, Manichaeism was the supreme syncretism”.

Examples of syncretic traditions are Manichaeism and some pseudo-Islamic sects (such as Ahl i Haqq, the Druze, and the Yesids).

If one reads selected texts of the Mani codex, one can clearly observe the syncretism of cultures.  Jesus is referred to as the Messiah Buddha, and the coming Messiah as Maitreya.  Such as there will be a true or false Jesus, there will be a true or false Maitreya.  Furthermore Jesus is referred to as the son of god, while Satan as the son of demon.  Thus, one can clearly see the radical linkages that are made that are completely foreign to the religion at point.  It can be understood why at the same, anything heretical would be referred to as neo-manichaeism.

What scholars of religion have to come to terms with is how to distinguish Manichaeism as a distinct separate religion and not just regard it as something already existing and just plain heresy.  Our task is not to judge the validity of the religion itself, but how that religion came to affect peoples and societies, and how it molded the framework of logic and thought in its time.  Indeed one should acknowledge the syncretism present, but rather than simply dismissing all the syncretic components, one should acknowledge them and study the effects that they had in the contribution of a new religion.

Mani, the founder of Manichaeism

jesus “the messiah buddha”
the coming jesus “maitreya”
true vs false maitreya
son of god vs son of demon

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