Previous scholarship has demonstrated that a significant part of Christian themes in early Manichaean text and art deal with the life of Christ. This study centers on one example in the form of a sermon, purportedly given by Mani and preserved in Coptic translation from the late 4th or early 5th century in the first chapter of the Berlin Kephalaia (Kephalaion 1, 12.21–13.11). The 22-line passage under consideration is a brief summary of Jesus’ life narrated in sixteen events from Incarnation to Ascension. By focusing on the question of the sourcing of these sixteen events, this study maps their correlation to the canonical gospels and to Tatian’s Diatessaron. It demonstrates that these sixteen events do not accord with any one particular gospel, nor with a straightforward combination of the four gospels collectively. Instead, they follow a chronology unique to the Diatessaron—the earliest known gospel harmony dating from the late 2nd century and attributed to Tatian—that was used in the place of the four gospels until the end of the 5th century across Syro-Mesopotamia. This comparative assessment thus suggests that the ultimate source behind Mani’s sermon was most likely the Diatessaron, which in turn leads to a dual conclusion: (1) Mani and the early Manichaeans in 3rd-century southern Mesopotamia learned about the life of Christ from Tatian’s gospel harmony; and (2) this passage of the Berlin Kephalaia constitutes a Late Antique, Coptic Manichaean witness to the Diatessaron.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Religious studies