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Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Manichaean Dictionary project

A Dictionary of Manichaean Texts

Manichaeism, the religion created by the Mesopotamian prophet Mani in third-century Iran, is one of the most fascinating of the world's great religions. A fusion of elements from many sources, including Gnosticism and the Judaeo-Christian tradition, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, it teaches a strict dualism of good and evil, light and dark, spirit and matter. Despite almost universal persecution, it spread rapidly and became highly influential both in the Roman empire and in Central Asia, where it was for a time the state religion of the Uighur Turks; it survived longest in South China, where the last remaining Manichaean temple still stands. The scriptures composed by Mani were translated into many languages, forming the nucleus of a huge body of Manichaean literature written in virtually every language of the known world, from Latin in the West to Chinese in the East.

For many centuries Manichaeism was known only in a distorted form from the polemics of opponents such as St Augustine. This situation has gradually been transformed by the discovery of substantial extracts from Manichaean texts embedded in Syriac and Arabic works by Christian and Muslim authors, and later, during the twentieth century, of genuine Manichaean texts in Latin (from Algeria), Coptic, Greek and Syriac (from Egypt), Middle and New Persian, Parthian, Sogdian, Bactrian, Tocharian, Turkish and Chinese (from Xinjiang, Gansu and Fujian). This plethora of languages, many of them extremely obscure, is exhilarating but at the same time problematic, since it is hardly possible that any individual would be competent to study all of these sources in the original.

The Dictionary of Manichaean Texts is intended to solve this problem by providing a linguistic key to the complete corpus of Manichaean material. Volume 1, Texts from the Roman empire, which covers texts in Latin, Greek, Coptic and Syriac, was published in spring 1999. Two further volumes are envisaged: Vol. 2: Texts from Iraq and Iran (covering texts and citations in Syriac, Arabic and Zoroastrian Pahlavi) and Vol. 3: Texts from Central Asia and China (covering Middle and New Persian, Parthian, Sogdian, Bactrian, Old Turkish, Tocharian and Chinese). The work will be completed by a consolidated English index at the end of the final volume, thus making it possible to locate all available material on any name, term or concept, whatever the language of the text in which it occurs.

In November 1999 SOAS was awarded a grant of over half a million pounds from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) for a five-year project whose primary aim is to produce Volumes 2 and 3, and thus to complete the whole Dictionary. The working plan for the project involves in the first place the creation of a relational database of all the published Manichaean material in the relevant languages. Where possible, the accuracy of the published texts will be checked by reference to photos or to the original manuscripts, and each word of the text will be provided with translation, grammatical analysis and essential references to secondary literature. It is hoped that, in addition to publishing the Dictionary in printed form, it will be possible to make the underlying database available in fully searchable electronic form (on CD-ROM or via the Internet).

The SOAS Manichaean Dictionary project, for which has overall responsibility, has established its base at the Ancient India and Iran Trust in Cambridge. This location has the great advantage of easy access to the late Sir Harold Bailey's comprehensive library of books on Iranian and Central Asian studies, which is housed in the same building. The AHRB grant has enabled the project to employ two full-time researchers for the whole five-year period. The first post has been filled since the beginning of the project in January 2000 by Gunner Mikkelsen, whose primary task is the compilation of the Chinese database and glossary. The second post was held for the first eighteen months by Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst. By the time he left the project in the summer of 2001 to take up a position in the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy's Turfan project he had already completed a first draft of the Manichaean Middle Persian and Parthian database. His successor is Francois de Blois, who has resonsibility for the Arabic, New Persian and Sogdian glossaries. The Syriac section has been entrusted to Erica Hunter, Zoroastrian Pahlavi to Dieter Taillieu, Old Turkish to Larry Clark, and Tocharian to Georges-Jean Pinault.

Contact details: SOAS Manichaean Dictionary project, c/o Ancient India and Iran Trust, 23 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 2BG

Tel. +44 1223 566167

e-mail: ns5@soas.ac.uk (Nicholas Sims-Williams), gm25@soas.ac.uk (Gunner Mikkelsen), fb2@soas.ac.uk (Francois de Blois)

A shorter, illustrated version is available.