Jesus in Manichaeism:
Mani appears to have recognized three entities under the name of Jesus:
1- Jesus the Splendour, the redeeming god;
2- the Suffering Jesus, the name given in western Manichaeism to the Living Self, i.e. to the sum of the Light suffering in Matter, "crucified" as Jesus was crucified on the cross;
3- Jesus the Messiah, prophet and "son of God", who had taken on the appearance of man, and had seemed to suffer death on the cross.
(Mani, with his abhorrence of matter, rigidly opposed the doctrine of the real incarnation of Jesus and his actual crucifixion.) The three conceptions of Jesus are not always kept wholly distinct.
The prophet Jesus was regarded by Mani as his own immediate forerunner, whose apostle he himself was. Mani also honoured the Buddha and Zoroaster, but there is no evidence that he was directly familiar with their teachings in his formative years.
The Manichaean ethic
Mani taught that virtue lay in saving the imprisoned Light in the world, and in avoiding any injury to it. This doctrine he applied on both the moral and the physical plane. The Light which made up the soul could be redeemed through the virtues of brotherly love and faith, patience, wisdom, truth, peace and joy, kindness, temperance, chastity. The last was an essential virtue, since to perpetuate the human race was to perpetuate a prison for the Light. To eat meat was also wrong, since animals contained little Light, and their bodies were gross with Matter. Further, to kill an animal, or even to cull a plant, was a sin, for this gave pain on the physical level to such Light as was within them. Therefore, thought the eating of vegetables was enjoined, since these contained more Light than animals (which would then accrue to the soul of one who are ate them in reverence and virtue) yet even this act was not free from wrong-doing.
Strict virtue for the Manichaean therefore involved necessarily withdrawal from the world. The community was accordingly divided into two groups: the Elect, who embraced a rigorous rule, and the Hearers, who led a more normal life and supported the Elect both by works and alms. Their charity to the Elect, termed in Middle Persian ruwanagan "that which concerns the soul", brought merit to the Hearers themselves. The Hearers took part in religious worship and observances, but also commited the necessary sins of tilling the earth, harvesting the corn, and preparing food. They were permitted to marry (monogamously), and might in certain circumstances eat meat (but not themselves take life). Only the Elect could, therefore, expect to attain Paradise at death. The Hearers could ordinarily hope for salvation only after re-incarnation as one of the Elect. The Elect, on the other hand, remained capable of sin; perpetual vigilance was necessary for them also.
At the head of the Manichaean community was its Leader, Mani's successor, with his seat in Babylon. Under him were five grades: 12 Teachers, 72 Bishops, 360 Elders, the general body of the Elect (to which women were admitted), and the Hearers. There were other distinctions among the Elect, such as that of preacher or scribe. The Elect, who were "sealed" with the three seals of mouth and hands and breast (ensuring virtue of speech and act and feeling), lived in monasteries, but also went on journeys to spread and strengthen the faith, travelling on foot, preaching. They ate only once a day, a meal of vegetables taken after nightfall; and might possess food only for a day, clothing only for a year.
The essentials of the Manichaean cult lay in prayers, the singing of hymns, subjugating the body by fasting, and the confession of sins with penitence. Seven daily prayers were enjoined on the Elect, and four on the Hearers, to be uttered facing toward the sun by day, the moon by night. In these prayers were invoked, as well as the individual goals, the fourfold Manichaean unity of God, Light, Power and Wisdom.
Five fasts of two days' duration were observed during the year. The fourth and fifth fell during the same month, on its 1st-2nd and 27th-28th days. During the intervening period the Hearers observed the rule continually obligatory on the Elect, of eating only one meal a day, at nightfall. This time of general abstinence is thought to commemorate the 26 days which Mani suffered in prison, the final two-day fast being in memory of his actual death. On the last (30th) day of this same month the feast of the Bema (or "Throne") was held. At this feast, which was the greatest occasion of the Manichaean year, an empty raised seat was set for Mani in the face of the congregation, and a portrait of the prophet was placed upon it.
The Manichaean scriptures
The canon: The canon of the Manichaean scriptures was made up of seven works composed by Mani in his mother tongue, an East Aramaic dialect. These were held, in part at least, to be inspired by the spirit he called his "Twin". Their names as follows:
In addition, there were the Shabuhragan, in which Mani summarised his teachings in Middle Persian for Shapur I; the Ardahang, apparently his drawing of the cosmos, with a commentary, the Ardahang Wifras; and the Kephalaia ("Discourses"), the words of the prophet collected after his death, among which is some apocryphal matter.
Many fragments of these works survive in translation among the Iranian mss., but in most instances it is not possible to tell from which book each fragment comes. Not a line of the original Aramaic is preserved in the Turfan material.
General religious writings: The non-canonical works include a relatively small number of prose texts. Among these is a church-history, of which fragments are preserved in all the three main Iranian languages. There are also homilies and prose treatises, some containing parables.
The bulk of the secondary literature is however in verse. The Middle Persian and Parthian hymns appear to be composed in the same ancient tradition as the Avestan Yashts, modified slightly by contact with Semitic verse. The metres are qualitatives, not quantitative, and there is no rhyme. Each metre is chiefly distinguished, it seems, by the number of stresses to the line; and the number of syllables fluctuates freely within certain fixed limits. The subtleties of Western Middle Iranian metrics still however largely escape analysis. Most verse-texts are written in continuous paragraphs, like prose; but with one group of hymns it is particularly easy to establish the verse-pattern. These are abecedarian texts, which follow a Semitic pattern in that each verse (or sometimes even each line) begins with a successive letter of the abgads. Usually (through not always) the invented Iranian letter j appears in the alphabetic series; and by a curious and unexplained convention it is usual to finish such a text with one or even two verses beginning with the letter n (in addition to the n verse which appears in its proper place). Abecedarian hymns have therefore generally 23-25 verses; but few survive entire. Not infrequently antiphonal verses, outside the alphabetic series, are inset, especially between the first and second verses.
All the surviving Iranian Manichaean manuscripts were discovered this century among the sand-covered ruins of Manichaean monasteries in Chinese Turkestan. Most were found in ancient Qocho (by modern Turfan). They are written in three Iranian languages, Middle Persian, Parthian and Sogdian, of which the two first were church-languages for the Sogdians of Central Asia. There is one fragment in Bactrian, which like Sogdian is an Eastern Iranian language. Both Middle Persian and Parthian belong to the Western Middle Iranian group.
The texts are usually written in ink on paper, although a few are on leather. The Middle Persian and Parthian manuscripts are written in the characteristic "Manichaean" script, which is akin to Syriac Estrangelo, and was evidently the form of writing used in Mani's homeland. The Sogdian mss. are written partly in this script, partly in a script that is known either as "Sogdian", or as "Uigur" (from its adoption by the Uigur Turks); this, like the Pahlavi script, is an adaptation of the Achaemenian chancellery script, deriving from Aramaic.
Most of the manuscripts are beautifully written, and a number are illuminated. All, however, have been badly mutilated, either by the action of the elements, or deliberately, in the past, by Buddhist or Muslims. Very few single pages even survive intact, and most of the material is in small, damaged fragments. There is little evidence by which to date individual manuscripts; a few show consistent evidence of late pronunciation, but most maintain the orthography established in the 3rd century. The scribal tradition is almost uniformly excellent.
The bulk of the Iranian Manichaean material was found by German expeditions, and is preserved in Berlin.