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“Putrid boils and sores, and burning wounds in the body”: the valorization of health and illness in late antique Manichaeism: Introduction: health and the Manichaean body

Baker-Brian, Nicholas ORCID: 2016. “Putrid boils and sores, and burning wounds in the body”: the valorization of health and illness in late antique Manichaeism: Introduction: health and the Manichaean body. Harvard Theological Review 109 (3) , pp. 422-446. 10.1017/S001781601600016X

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Recent publications concerned with attitudes to the human body in the religion of Mani have revealed a complex spectrum of ideas. A reading of the “Manichaean body” informed by a gnostic polarity of flesh versus spirit has been largely rejected, and a more complex, ambivalent portrayal of the body, shaped by specific cosmological and theological readings of its origin and purpose, has come to light. New interpretive tools and approaches have changed perceptions of classical texts and revealed how the “subjugated, perfected [Manichaean body was] put into use in the process of salvation.” For example, rereading chapter 70 of the Coptic work the Kephalaia of the Teacher, we encounter a complex lesson that betrays the Manichaeans’ understanding of the dual heritage of the human body. Here the Mani of the Kephalaia instructs his disciples about the correspondences that exist between the fleshly body and the universe and formulates them in a manner that suggests a simultaneous patterning of the two forms: “Mani says to his disciples: ‘This whole universe, above and below, reflects the pattern of the human body; as the formation of this body of flesh accords to the pattern of the universe’” (70.169.28–170.1). The organs and limbs of the body resemble specific astral structures and elements in the universe, and both body and universe are afflicted by a range of competing powers. Chapter 70 offers a melothesiac reading of these archontic powers as zodiacal signs fused with the organs, bones, and sinews of the body (cf. chapter 69). As archons they exercise a malevolent influence over the flesh. However, they are also constantly in conflict with each other, and the cause of bodily sickness lies in their “creeping, and moving within the body. . . [where] they shall beset and destroy one another. . . they shall erupt from the body of the person who will die; and make putrid boils and sores and burning wounds in the body” (70.175.12–14, 16–18). Leaving such colorful descriptions of lesions aside, chapter 70 also indicates that human beings, specifically the Manichaean elect, possess enormous potential as the ones who are able to facilitate the release of the “light” by subduing the activities of the “five camps” (i.e., the face, heart, genitalia, stomach, and ground).

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D051 Ancient History
Additional Information: Released with a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License (CC BY-NC-ND) Pdf uploaded in accordance with publisher's policy at (accessed 03/02/2016)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press (CUP)
ISSN: 0017-8160
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 31 Oct 2022 14:40

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