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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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 July 2016

Nicholas Baker-Brian*
Cardiff University


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).

Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 2016 

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Kephalaia of the Teacher 70.175.17–18.


An earlier version of this paper was presented to the International Association of Manichaean Studies, held at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 9–13 September 2013. I would like to thank Paul Dilley, Jean-Daniel Dubois, Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst, and Erica Hunter, together with the anonymous reviewers for HTR, for all their comments and suggestions on the paper.


1 E.g., Buckley, Jorunn J., “Tools and Tasks: Elchasaite and Manichaean Purification Rituals,” JR 66 (1986) 399411 Google Scholar; Koenen, Ludwig, “How Dualistic is Mani's Dualism?,” in Codex Manichaicus Coloniensis. Atti del Secondo Simposio Internazionale (ed. Cirillo, Luigi; Cosenza: Marra, 1990) 134 Google Scholar; BeDuhn, Jason D., “A Regimen for Salvation: Medical Models in Manichaean Asceticism,” Semeia 1992 (58) 109–34Google Scholar; and idem, Manichaean Body in Discipline and Ritual (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

2 BeDuhn, Jason D., “The Battle for the Body in Manichaean Asceticism,” in Asceticism (ed. Wimbush, Vincent and Valantasis, Richard; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) 513–19Google Scholar, at 518.

3 On chapter 70, see Pettipiece, Timothy, Pentadic Redaction in the Manichaean “Kephalaia” (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 66; Leiden: Brill, 2009) 65 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 On the titles of the Kephalaia, see Funk, Wolf-Peter, “The Reconstruction of the Manichaean Kephalaia ,” in Emerging from Darkness: Studies in the Recovery of Manichaean Sources (ed. Mirecki, Paul and BeDuhn, Jason D.; Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 43; Leiden: Brill, 1997) 143–59Google Scholar.

5 On the status and purpose of the Kephalaia of the Teacher, see Pettipiece, Pentadic Redaction, 7, which is worth quoting here: “[The Kephalaia] should not be seen as a record of the ipsissima verba of Mani himself, nor should it be viewed as a summa of Manichaean theology. Instead, it can be more accurately described as representing the emergence or evolution of a scholastic, interpretive tradition, ostensibly rooted in an authoritative oral tradition analogous to those which led to the compilation of the Jewish Talmudic and Islamic Hadith traditions.”

6 English translations of the Kephalaia are taken from Gardner, Iain, The Kephalaia of the Teacher (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 37; Leiden: Brill, 1995)Google Scholar. For the edition of the Kephalaia consulted here, see Kephalaia (ed. Hans Jakob Polotsky and Alexander Böhlig, with a contribution from Hugo Ibscher; 1st half [parts 1–10]; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1940).

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9 Gardner, Iain, “‘With a Pure Heart and a Truthful Tongue’: The Recovery of the Text of the Manichaean Daily Prayers,” JLA 4 (2011) 7999, at 99Google Scholar.

10 See Baker-Brian, Nicholas J., Manichaeism: An Ancient Faith Rediscovered (London: Continuum, 2011) 6195 Google Scholar.

11 See Gardner, Iain, “Once More on Mani's Epistles and Manichaean Letter-Writing,” ZAC 17 (2013) 291314 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 See Coptic Documentary Texts from Kellis: Volume 1 (ed. Iain Gardner, Anthony Alcock, and Wolf-Peter Funk; Dakhleh Oasis Project Monograph 9; Oxford: Oxbow, 1999). All translations from the documentary papyri are taken from this volume. While I was preparing this paper for final publication, the second volume of the documentary papyri was published. Preliminary investigations of the corpus of texts contained therein indicate a similar level of concern on the part of the ancient letter writers with matters of health and illness, so much so that the editors of the volume note (in relation to P. Kellis Copt. 84): “Illness is a common theme in the papyri” (Coptic Documentary Texts from Kellis: Volume 2; P. Kellis VII [ed. Iain Gardner, Anthony Alcock, and Wolf-Peter Funk; Dakhleh Oasis Project Monograph 16; Oxford: Oxbow, 2014] 139).

13 Williams, Michael A., Rethinking “Gnosticism”: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996) 118 Google Scholar.

14 BeDuhn, Manichaean Body.

15 See esp. Ort, L. J. R., Mani: A Religio-Historical Description of His Personality (Leiden: Brill, 1967) 95101 Google Scholar; Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim, “Jesus, Mani and Buddha as Physicians in the Texts of the Silk Road,” in La Persia e l'Asia centrale da Alessandro al X secolo (Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1996) 589–95Google Scholar; Coyle, John Kevin, “Healing and the ‘Physician’ in Manichaeism,” in Healing in Religion and Society from Hippocrates to the Puritans: Selected Studies (ed. Coyle, John Kevin and Muir, Steven C.; Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1999) 135–58Google Scholar; repr. in Coyle, John Kevin, Manichaeism and Its Legacy (Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 69; Leiden: Brill, 2009) 101–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar (I follow the reprinted version); and van Tongerloo, Alois, “Manichaeus Medicus,” in Studia Manichaica. Vierter Internationaler Kongress zum Manichäismus, Berlin, 14.–18. Juli 1997 (ed. Emmerick, Ronald E., Sundermann, Werner, and Zieme, Peter; Berlin: Akademie, 2000) 613–21Google Scholar.

16 Most recently, see Ferngren, Gary B., Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009)Google Scholar.

17 E.g., Temkin, Owsei, Hippocrates in a World of Pagans and Christians (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991) 9 Google Scholar; King, Helen, “Introduction: What is Health?,” in Health in Antiquity (ed. King, Helen; London: Routledge, 2005) 111 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Clark, Gillian, “The Health of the Spiritual Athlete,” in Health in Antiquity (ed. King), 216–29;Google Scholar and Crislip, Andrew, Thorns in the Flesh: Illness and Sanctity in Late Ancient Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013)Google Scholar.

18 Discussed comprehensively by BeDuhn, Manichaean Body.

19 See above, n. 1.

20 Coyle, “Healing and the ‘Physician,’” 109.

21 Sigerist, Henry E., Medicine and Human Welfare (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1941)Google Scholar non vidi. The original publication comprised three sections: 1) disease, 2) health, and 3) the physician. The section on health is reprinted in Journal of Public Health Policy 17 (1996) 204–34; the quotation is taken from 205.

22 Some of the key sources are discussed by Koenen, “How Dualistic is Mani's Dualism?,” 16.

23 Temkin, Hippocrates, 8–17.

24 On the use of the term ecclesia, see Lim, Richard, “Unity and Diversity among Western Manichaeans: A Reconsideration of Mani's Sancta Ecclesia ,” REAug 35 (1989) 231–50Google Scholar.

25 For an extensive discussion of the social context of the Kellis documentary texts, see the introduction and prosopography in Coptic Documentary Texts 1 (ed. Gardner, Alcock, and Funk), 4–83. See also BeDuhn, Jason D., “The Domestic Setting of Manichaean Cultic Associations in Roman Late Antiquity,” Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 10 (2008) 259–74Google Scholar.

26 Coyle, “Healing and the ‘Physician,’” 108.

27 Crislip, Thorns in the Flesh, 23.

28 See Texts from the Roman Empire (ed. Sarah Clackson et al.; vol. 1 of Dictionary of Manichaean Texts; Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum Subsidia 2; Turnhout: Brepols, 1998) 158.

29 Kellis Literary Texts (ed. Iain Gardner and Wolf-Peter Funk; 17 vols.; Dakhleh Oasis Project Monograph 15; Oxford: Oxbow, 2001–2016) 2:74–75. Codicological considerations are addressed at 2:22–27.

30 Kellis Literary Texts (ed. Gardner and Funk), 2:11.

31 Al-Nadīm, Fihrist (trans. Bayard Dodge; 2 vols.; New York: Columbia University Press, 1970) 2:799. See also Reeves, John C., Prolegomena to a History of Islamicate Manichaeism (Comparative Islamic Studies; Sheffield: Equinox, 2011) 116 Google Scholar, with commentary at n. 210.

32 For the “God of Truth” as a marker of Manichaean identity and authorship, see Gardner, Iain, “Personal Letters from the Manichaean Community at Kellis,” in Manicheismo e Oriente cristiano antico (ed. Cirillo, Luigi and van Tongerloo, Alois; Leuven: Brepols, 1997) 7794 Google Scholar.

33 Crislip, Thorns in the Flesh, 81.

34 Ibid., 23.

35 Baker-Brian, Manichaeism, 2–24.

36 For commentary, see Thomas, John C., The Devil, Disease and Deliverance: Origins of Illness in New Testament Thought (Cleveland: CPT Press, 2010) 4446 Google Scholar.

37 On the manifestations and concerns of ancient consolatory literature, see Scourfield, J. H. D., “Towards a Genre of Consolation,” in Greek and Roman Consolations: Eight Studies of a Tradition and Its Afterlife (ed. Baltussen, Han; Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2013) 136 Google Scholar.

38 Al-Biruni, Al-Āthār al-bāqiya ‘an al-qurūn al-khāliya 207, in The Chronology of Ancient Nations (trans. Carl Eduard Sachau; London: Allen, 1879) 190. See also Reeves, Prolegomena, 94–98; van Oort, Johannes, “The Paraclete Mani as the Apostle of Jesus Christ and the Origins of a New Church,” in The Apostolic Age in Patristic Thought (ed. Hilhorst, Anthony; Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 70; Leiden: Brill, 2004) 139–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 NB in P. Kell. Copt. 53 alone, “bear/bearing up” (fi ahrēi) makes six appearances, at 53.31.9; 42.7,14,19, 25; and 44.9–10.

40 See especially Perkins, Judith, “The Self as ‘Sufferer,’HTR 85 (1992) 245–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar; eadem, The Suffering Self: Pain and Narrative Representation in the Early Christian Era (London: Routledge, 1995); and Shaw, Brent, “Body/Power/Identity: Passions of the Martyrs,” JECS 4 (1996) 269312 Google Scholar.

41 See Crislip, Thorns in the Flesh, 15–35, which nevertheless does not mention Mani's contribution to the debate.

42 See Baker-Brian, Manichaeism, 118–22.

43 On Manichaean ideas of the soul, see now BeDuhn, Jason D., Making a “Catholic” Self, 388–401 C.E. (vol. 2 of Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

44 Kellis Literary Texts (ed. Gardner and Funk), 2:76.

45 A Manichaean Psalm-Book: Part 2 (ed. Charles R. C. Allberry; Manichaean Manuscripts in the Chester Beatty Collection 2; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1938). A more recent English translation of this psalm can be found in Manichaean Texts from the Roman Empire (ed. Iain Gardner and Samuel N. C. Lieu; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004) 240–44. For commentary, see Villey, André, Psaumes des errants. Écrits manichéens du Fayyūm (Paris: Cerf, 1994) 211–35Google Scholar.

46 Manichaean Homilies with a Number of Hitherto Unpublished Fragments (ed. Nils A. Pedersen; Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum Series Coptica 2; Turnhout: Brepols, 2006) 42–85.

47 On the influence of the early, troubled history of Manichaeism on its literature, see especially Pedersen, Nils A., Studies in the Sermon on the Great War: Investigations of a Manichaean-Coptic Text from the Fourth Century (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1996) 153398 Google Scholar.

48 Translation of the Dēnkart is from Researches in Manichaeism with Special Reference to the Turfan Fragments (trans. Abraham Valentine Williams Jackson; New York: Columbia University Press, 1932) 205. For al-Nadīm, see Reeves, Prolegomena, 36–37, and the brief discussion of the translation of “crippled fiend” in the Dēnkart in n. 115.

49 See Baker-Brian, Nicholas J., “Between Testimony and Rumour: Strategies of Invective in Augustine's De moribus manichaeorum ,” in The Purpose of Rhetoric in Late Antiquity: From Performance to Exegesis (ed. Puertas, Alberto J. Quiroga; Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013) 3153 Google Scholar.

50 Coptic Documentary Texts 1 (ed. Gardner, Alcock, and Funk). All translations are taken from this volume.

51 See BeDuhn, “Domestic Setting,” 260.

52 E.g., most prominently P. Kell. Copt. 19 (Makarios to Matheos), P. Kell. Copt. 25 (Matthaios to Maria), and P. Kell. Copt. 31; less prominently the “Petros” letters, i.e., P. Kell. Copt. 38–41. NB the comments by Gardner, Alcock, and Funk concerning the “Petros” group: “[These] letters . . . do not have any particularly overt Manichaean sentiments, so that their religious affiliations are uncertain, except by inference. In general we presume such to be Manichaean in the absence of any conflicting evidence” (Coptic Documentary Texts 1, 234).

53 On the broader issues involved in identifying the Manichaean provenance of the Kellis texts, see Gardner, Iain and Lieu, Samuel N. C., “From Narmouthis (Medinet Madi) to Kellis (Ismant el-Kharab): Manichaean Documents from Roman Egypt,” JRS 86 (1996) 146–69Google Scholar.

54 See Franzmann, “Augustine and Manichaean Almsgiving,” 37.

55 On the meal, see BeDuhn, Manichaean Body, 163.

56 See Brown, Peter, “Alms and the Afterlife: A Manichaean View of an Early Christian Practice,” in East and West: Papers in Ancient History Presented to Glen W. Bowersock (ed. Brennan, T. Corey and Flower, Harriet I.; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008) 145–58Google Scholar.

57 On the quasi-institutional structures of Manichaeism in Egypt, see BeDuhn, “Domestic Setting.”

58 Brown, Peter, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012) 159 Google Scholar.

59 P. Kell. Copt. 15 (Horion to Hor) 7–9, 34–35, in Coptic Documentary Texts 1 (ed. Gardner, Alcock, and Funk), 141–43.

60 For Coptic epistolography, see the exhaustive study by Beidenkopf-Ziehner, Anneliese, Untersuchungen zum koptischen Briefformular unter Berücksichtigung ägyptischer und griechischer Parallelen (Würzburg: Zauzich, 1983)Google Scholar. More recently, see Choat, Malcolm, Belief and Cult in Fourth-Century Papyri (Studia Antiqua Australiensia 1; Turnhout: Brepols, 2006) 101–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, “Early Coptic Epistolography,” in The Multilingual Experience in Egypt, from the Ptolemies to the Abbasids (ed. Arietta Papaconstantinou; Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010) 153–78.

61 See Choat, “Early Coptic Epistolography,” 157.

62 Rosenwein, Barbara H., Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006) 29 Google Scholar.

63 See Cribiore, Raffaella, “Greek and Coptic Education in Late Antique Egypt,” in Ägypten und Nubien in spätantiker und christlicher Zeit (ed. Emmel, Stephen et al.; vol. 2 of Akten des 6. Internationalen Koptologenkongresses; Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1999) 279–86Google Scholar.

64 Choat, “Early Coptic Epistolography,” 154.

65 Ibid., 162–63.

66 Rosenwein outlines the parameters for reading letters within the context of historical research into emotions (Emotional Communities, 28). For a focus on the epistolary evidence for fourth-century Egypt, see the remarks by Bagnall, Roger S., Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993) 184–86Google Scholar. Andrew Crislip has most recently offered an interpretation of the monastic archive from Hathor that eschews a conventional reading of such formulae as simply topoi in Thorns in the Flesh, 41–44, with provocative results. See also Wendy Mayer, review of Thorns in the Flesh: Illness and Sanctity in Late Ancient Christianity, by Andrew Crislip, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 3 May 2015,

67 Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity, 184.

68 Ibid., 185. See also the detailed survey by Scheidel, Walter, Death on the Nile: Disease and the Demography of Roman Egypt (Mnemosyne Supplements 228; Leiden: Brill, 2001) 1117 Google Scholar.

69 See Williams, Rethinking “Gnosticism,” 116–38.

70 van Dam, Raymond, Families and Friends in Late Roman Cappadocia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003) 133 Google Scholar.

71 Ibid., 135.

72 See especially BeDuhn, “Domestic Setting.”

73 Coptic Documentary Texts 1 (ed. Gardner, Alcock, and Funk), 56.

74 Ibid., 154–56.

75 An important (although oft-neglected) observation made by Steinke, Hubert, in “Krankheit im Kontext. Familien-Gelehrten und Patientenbriefe in 18. Jahrhundert,” in Krankheit in Briefen im deutschen und französischen Sprachraum. 17.–21. Jahrhundert (ed. Dinges, Martin and Barras, Vincent; Stuttgart: Steiner, 2007) 3544 Google Scholar.

76 See the insightful analysis of Maria's role in Kellis by Moss, Jennifer Sheridan, “Women in Late Antique Egypt,” in A Companion to Women in the Ancient World (ed. James, Sharon L. and Dillon, Sheila; Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World; Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) 502–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 510–11. Prosopographical details for Maria are given in Coptic Documentary Texts 1 (Gardner, Alcock, and Funk), 32–33; see also the details for Makarios and his relationship to Maria in the same volume at 32: “[Makarios is] most probably the husband of Maria. However, we do note that he consistently refers to her as ‘sister’ (not in itself surprising).”

77 See Dickey, Eleanor, “Literal and Extended Use of Kinship Terms in Documentary Papyri,” Mnemosyne 57 (2004) 131–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

78 See the entry for “Makarios” in Coptic Documentary Texts 1 (ed. Gardner, Alcock, and Funk), 31–32.

79 For commentary see ibid., 163.

80 See the note on Drousiane (19.62) in ibid., 23–24. See also BeDuhn, “Domestic Setting,” 261.

81 See Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity, 185.

82 See the comments in Coptic Documentary Texts 1 (ed. Gardner, Alcock, and Funk), 53.

83 See the note on P. Kell. Copt. 25.52 in ibid., 193.

84 On the implied demonic etiology of illness, see Ferngren, Medicine and Health Care, 59.

85 Gardner, Iain, Nobbs, Alanna, and Choat, Malcolm, “P. Harr. 107: Is This Another Greek Manichaean Letter?,” ZPE 131 (2000) 118–24 (for comments on the trichotomy, see 122–23)Google Scholar. It is likely drawn from Mani's own epistolary “style,” about which see Sundermann, Werner, “A Manichaean Collection of Letters and a List of Mani's Letters in Middle Persian,” in New Light on Manichaeism (ed. BeDuhn, Jason D.; Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies 64; Leiden: Brill, 2009) 259–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 272.

86 Coyle, “Healing and the ‘Physician,’” 107–8.

87 Ibid., 109.

88 See the corresponding examples from the Melitian Hathor archive in Crislip, Thorns in the Flesh, 42.

89 See the note on the translation of vv. 48–49 in Coptic Documentary Texts 1 (ed. Gardner, Alcock, and Funk), 217.

90 See Coyle, “Healing and the ‘Physician,’” 107.

91 See Lim, Richard, “The Nomen Manichaeorum and Its Uses in Late Antiquity,” in Heresy and Identity in Late Antiquity (ed. Iricinschi, Eduard and Zellentin, Holger M.; TSAJ 119; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008) 143–67Google Scholar, at 167.

92 See Gardner, Nobbs, and Choat, “P. Harr. 107: Is This Another Greek Manichaean Letter?” For comments on the use of the trichotomy, see 122–23.

93 See comments by Gardner, Alcock, and Funk in Coptic Documentary Texts 1, 271.