Tracing the Origin of Chinese Manichaean Pantheon in Middle Iranian Languages

Document Type : Original Article


Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.


Based on the research of Sundermann, Bryder, and Paul van Lindt, Manichaean pantheon in Dunhuang, Xiapu, Pingnan, and Fuqing Chinese manuscripts are analyzed. The Chinese names of Manichaean gods are transliterations or translations of Middle Iranian names. The early Xiapu, Pingnan, and Fuqing documents undoubtedly inherited the pantheon of Manichaeism from the Dunhuang documents. At the same time, the early Xiapu and Pingnan documents contain important content that is not found in known Dunhuang Chinese Manichaeism materials. However, such content can be corroborated with Manichaean materials in the Middle Iranian languages, leaving no room for doubt about their reliability. In the early Xiapu and Pingnan documents, the deities of the first and second Evocations were downplayed. Notably, the status of Vairocana Buddha, Jesus Buddha, and the Lightning Buddha, who were part of the third Evocation, significantly increased. The most conspicuous evolution within the pantheon in the Xiapu and Pingnan documents is 
that Nārāyaṇa, Zoroaster, Śākyamuni, Jesus, and Mani entered the pantheon.