Abstract

Mani, a prophet from third-century Iran who founded the first world religion, famously claimed that he alone wrote down his own revelations, in contrast to Jesus, Zoroaster, and Buddha, who had left this task to their disciples. Although this assertion is clearly polemical, it does echo a concern shared by a number of traditions across Late Antique Eurasia, from Rome to China. Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Confucianism all sought to consolidate the authoritative teaching of their founders in response to the perceived threat of loss or corruption, sometimes under the patronage of regional or local authorities. This widespread appearance of canons, occurring over the long period of Late Antiquity (second to sixth centuries c.e .), was sometimes based on the belief that oral traditions were particularly vulnerable and had to be fixed as texts, but there was also anxiety over the destruction and falsification of written documents. In conclusion, this article suggests that this striking development reflects a neglected mode of cultural exchange in Late Antiquity driven by members of court society, including religious experts such as Mani. Their activity within a network of courts across Eurasia, all connected indirectly even if there was no direct exchange between the ends, facilitated the gradual intercrossing of religious ideals and practices, such as the goal of consolidating founders’ teachings.

Abstract

Mani, a prophet from third-century Iran who founded the first world religion, famously claimed that he alone wrote down his own revelations, in contrast to Jesus, Zoroaster, and Buddha, who had left this task to their disciples. Although this assertion is clearly polemical, it does echo a concern shared by a number of traditions across Late Antique Eurasia, from Rome to China. Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Confucianism all sought to consolidate the authoritative teaching of their founders in response to the perceived threat of loss or corruption, sometimes under the patronage of regional or local authorities. This widespread appearance of canons, occurring over the long period of Late Antiquity (second to sixth centuries c.e.), was sometimes based on the belief that oral traditions were particularly vulnerable and had to be fixed as texts, but there was also anxiety over the destruction and falsification of written documents. In conclusion, this article suggests that this striking development reflects a neglected mode of cultural exchange in Late Antiquity driven by members of court society, including religious experts such as Mani. Their activity within a network of courts across Eurasia, all connected indirectly even if there was no direct exchange between the ends, facilitated the gradual intercrossing of religious ideals and practices, such as the goal of consolidating founders’ teachings.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8050
Print ISSN
1045-6007
Pages
pp. 25-70
Launched on MUSE
2013-08-07
Open Access
No
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