Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins

an Interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar
in its twenty-fifth year under the auspices of
The University of Pennsylvania
Department of Religious Studies
Philadelphia PA

PSCO Minutes

PSCO Minutes
March 10, 1988

Powers, Watchers, and Archangels:
The Paradox of Manichaean Magic

David A. Utz

In the ninth section of the Old Turkish Xwastwanift, or Confession of Sins, for the auditores, or Manichaean lay community, the confessor asks forgiveness for any transgression of the on caxsapat or ten-fold Siksapada, the Ten Commandments of the Manichaeans. Although these are not enumerated by the Xwastwanift, the Fihrist Ibn an-Nadim has preserved an itemized listing. Among them are tarku ta`limi’l-`ilal wa’s-sihr, "abstinence from teaching excuses and magic," especially enchantments and illusions. Moreover, as-Sahristani, in his Kitabu’l-Milal wa’n-Nihal, was reiterated that Mani made incumbent upon his "companions" to abstain from sihr, "magic." In the sixth section of the Xwastwanift, in an enumeration of the "ten kinds of sins" [on türlüg suy], the confessor asks forgiveness "if we should somehow have practiced magic" [näcä yilwii yilwilädimiz ärsär]. It should be pointed out in passing that these ten do not correspond to the on caxsapat enumerated by Ibn an-Nadim and as-Sahristani. And, finally, the Fihrist also stipulates as a precondition for entry into the Religion that one must abstain from sihr, "magic" [tarku’s-sihr]. From this evidence it should be clear that the practice of magic, especially magic which makes what is false or unreal appear true or real, was proscribed for the Manichaeans.

Nevertheless, it is clear from the existence of two Manichaean magical texts, one in Middle Persian, and the other in Parthian, that the Manichaeans sanctioned the use of magical invocations of angels and other "powers" for protection against a wide range of malevolencies. Both texts are written in the special Manichaean script, and not in one of the Middle Iranian vernacular scripts derived from Achaemenian chancellery Aramaic. The issue of language and, especially, script is important, and we will return to it a little later. That the use of protective magic among the Manichaeans extended beyond the Turfan community is born out by the famous Greek Mani-Codex, which was designed to serve as an amulet.

The first text [A in the handout] consists of an exorcism of a tab [tb] or "fever" called idra [`ydr’], which is said to have three forms and wings like a griffin [paskuz]. The exorcism consists in the invocation of a number of "powers" including four peculiarly Manichaean ones, (1) Lord Jesus the Friend [xwd’wwn yysw` ‘ry’m’n], (2) His father the Highest [`ys pydr bwrzyst], i.e., the Father of greatness, (3) the Holy Spirit [w’xs ywjdhr], and (4) the First Thought [hndysysn nxwstyn], i.e., the First man, as well as three archangels, Michael [myx’yl], Raphael [rwf’yl], and Gabriel [gbr’yl]. In lines 21ff. The fragmentary text should perhaps be emended to read: pad nam i mumin i erizend mixael ud rufael ud gabrael [pd n’m `y mwmyyn `y `yrycynd myx’yl ‘wd rwf’yl ‘wd gbr’yl], "in the name of the exorcism(s) which Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel bind," in and effort to get a sense from the text, since Mumin, the son of Eric doesn’t make much sense here. The second part of this text contains an invocation for protection from the malevolencies in a house.

The second text is a zawar, "power," or amulet with a saxwan or (magical) text. Once again various "powers" are invoked to provide the wearer of the zawar with protection from a wide range of malevolencies. These protectors include three explicitly Manichaean ones, (1) Lord Jesus the Messiah [xwd’y yysw msyh’], (2) Mar Mani, the Savior, the Apostle of the gods [m’rym’ny ‘njywg yxd’n ‘frystg], and (3) Your Holy, Praised, Blessed Spirit [tw’n w’d wjydg `st’w’dg ‘frydg], as well as the four archangels Michael [myh’yl], Istrael (Sara’el) [sr’yl], Raphael [rwf’yl], and Gabriel [gbr’yl]. The saxwan or amulet text also includes a Manichaean Yaksa catalogue, each hour is ruled by a Yaksa, who occupies a certain country and has so-many thousand sons who each such-and-such food. Yaksa catalogues are common to Mahayana Buddhism, such as those contained in the Mahamayuri and Candragarbhasutra. The Mahamayuri is one of the five formulae of the Pancaraksa or "Quintuple Protection." This five-fold Manichaean Yaksa catalogue does not correspond to any in Buddhist literature, which are not so extensive in a number of categories. For instance, in the Mahamayuri, the catalogue has only the categories Yaksa and country. None of the Buddhist catalogues have "food" as a category. Obviously, the importance of the number five in Manichaean schematics has played a role here in the adaptation of this Buddhist invocational genre. To the issue of why this particular genre has been incorporated we will return later.

The extremely significant fact that these texts are written in western Middle Iranian languages, in the calligraphic Manichaean script, should not be ignored. The use of this special script shows that this magical invocational genre had official sanction in spite of the Manichaean proscription against magic, which we discussed previously. Were these texts the product of popular religious sentiment, they would be in one of the vernacular scripts which developed for writing Middle Iranian languages. So, for instance, in Central Asia, Manichaean texts, not only in Sogdian, but also in Middle Persian and Parthian, survive written in the more cursive and informal varieties of the Sogdian script. However, the fact that these texts are in western languages, i.e., Parthian Middle Persian, in the Manichaean script indicates that the originated outside of the eastern Manichaean community in Central Asia. Especially in the case of the Parthian text, it is clear that it originated at a time before Parthian became a virtually dead language in a place where Parthian was spoken and where both Buddhist and Manichaeans were contemporaneously prevalent. The most likely candidates would be either Margiana or, perhaps, Bactria in the 3rd-6th centuries.

Here is an apparent paradox: on the one hand, a clear proscription against the practice of magic, and, on the other hand, the officially sanctioned usage of a genre of invocational lists of angels and other "powers" for magical exorcism and protection. One explanation may be that sihr, "magic," should be understood in the narrow sense of "enchantment" or "illusion," i.e., specifically those transformation which make what is false or unreal appear true or real. This is the particular variety of magic at which the Thessalian witches, who figure prominently in Apuleius’ Golden Ass, are adept. Then the proscription against "magic" would not extend to exorcisms and protections, which are something quite different. But what might be the larger context of this Manichaean magical practice which might also help to clarify this apparent paradox? In particular, what is its relationship to the larger Manichaean historical context and to Manichaean origins?

The clue to this is provided by the invocation in both these magical texts of the archangels, in one case, Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel, and, in the other case, Michael, Istrael, Raphael, and Gabriel. These four angels figure prominently in the Manichaean canonical Book of Giants, as the four angels who come to destroy the Watchers and their giant progeny. In one surviving Sogdian fragment of the Book of Giants [G.], this is described in graphic detail. The importance of the four archangels as the pre-eminent "powers" in the Book of Giants, and the importance, in turn, of the Book of Giants, itself, within the Manichaean community for the formulation of the myth of redemption can account for why these four would figure in a magical invocation.

From the surviving Aramaic fragments of the (First) Book of Enoch in the Qumran manuscript collection, it is clear that the Book of Giants was taken over by Mani from this corpus in which it formed a sequel and further elaboration upon the Book of Watchers, the first 36 chapters of 1 Enoch. This, in turn, was an elaboration of Genesis 6.1-4 which contains the very brief account of the watchers or Fallen Angels, and the Gibborim and Nephilim, their offspring by the daughters of men. In the Manichaean cosmogony the Watchers became dews [dyw], or "demons," and Yaksas who were imprisoned in the firmament when the world was constructed and who were kept under the supervision of the Rex Honoris, one of the five sons of the Living Spirit. They rebelled and were recaptured, although two hundred escaped to earth and propagated the Giants, kaw [k’w], i.e., Gibborim, and Abortions or proto-animals, i.e., Nephilim.

The discovery that the Book of Giants formed an integral part of the Enochic literature as constituted among the Qumran community provides an important clue to understanding the functional existence of Manichaean magical texts. Earlier David Frankfurter discussed the functional liturgical importance of invocations of angels in the Qumran community and argued that this is an integral part of a wider phenomenon of "magical" lists of angels used in ritual activities generally conceived. In these lists of "pronunciations" of angelic names, the functions of liturgy, magical spell, and apocalypse become blurred and are not distinguished by sectarians for whom these are important, be they Qumran sectarians or Manichaeans. So, it is less surprising that the Manichaeans would have put such lists to the entire range of usages to which they were traditionally applicable and efficacious, including magic. It would be difficult to make rigorous historical argument connecting Manichaean magic with the Qumran community; however, a more phenomenological argument can provide a powerful tool in understanding the apparent paradox of Manichaean magic.

At this point we can return to consider the issue of the Manichaean Yaksa catalogue included in our Parthian amulet text: why have the Manichaeans incorporated into a magical invocational list names of "powers" this characteristic genre of Indian Buddhism? It should be recalled that the Manichaeans especially in Iran, Central Asia, and the Far East, followed the practice of adapting their doctrine and literature to local religious and cultural environments. So, for instance, in the Iranian redaction of the Book of Giants, ‘Ohya [‘why’] and ‘Ahya [Hahyah (hhyh)], the giant sons of Samihazah [smyhzh], the chief of the Watchers, have been given the names of the Iranian culture heroes Sam [s’m] and Nariman [nrym’n]. In Varahamihira’s Brhatsamhita, the pre-eminent treatise of Indian astronomy and astrology, the 27 naksatras or "lunar mansions" are divided into nine triads, to each of which corresponds the kingdoms of one ninth of Bharatavarsa. Through the conjunctions of these naksatra triads with the planets, the courses of events in the corresponding regions and countries transpire. So, for instance, a major calamity such as the death of the king may occur as a direct result of a conflict between the planets and the corresponding naksatra triad of that kingdom. Although this scheme is different in detail from the Buddhist or Manichaean ones we have been considering, it provides the necessary clue to the puzzle of why a Manichaean amulet text would contain a Yaksa catalogue. Among the ideas which figured in the development of the characteristic apocalyptic literature of Second Temple Judaism of which the First Book of Enoch is a definitive example, is that of the angels of the nations: Each nation of the world has its "guardian angel," and the interplay of these angels controls the destinies of their respective nations. Although this idea is alluded to in Daniel’s vision concerning Persia and Greece [Daniel 10.13; 10.20-21], it receives its most definitive statement perhaps in the Book of Jubilees [15.31-32]:

And he sanctified them [i.e., Israel] and gathered them from all the sons of man because (there are) many nations and many people, and they all belong to him, but over all of them he caused spirits to rule so that they might lead them astray from following him. But over Israel he did not cause any angel or spirit to rule because he alone is their ruler and he will protect them…

It seems clear that Jubilees is closely related to 1 Enoch. Whatever the outcome of the current debate [J. C. VanderKam] concerning which parts of Jubilees and 1Enoch may have influenced each other, respectively, it seems reasonable to suppose that Mani, through his Elchasaite background, had not only become familiar with the Book of Giants and other Enochic literature but also related materials such as Jubilees through which he would have become familiar with the idea of the angels or "spirits" of the nations. It is also not unreasonable to suppose that his understanding of angels and "spirits" in this context would be as referring to the Watchers, who, in turn, are referred to in the Iranian redaction of Giants as dews and Yaksas. So, it would have been only natural for the Manichaeans in eastern Iran to have adapted Buddhist Yaksa catalogues for use in magical lists of the Watchers –guardians of the Nations.

The ambiguous position of the Watchers within the Manichaean community, on the one hand as malevolencies or dews, on the other hand as efficacious "powers" for invocation in magical lists, is echoed by a non-Manichaean Aramaic incantation text [B in the handout] found on a bowl from the vicinity of Nippur in Babylonia, Mani’s native land. Furthermore, as James Montgomery has pointed out, the script on the bowl is paleographically very close to the special Manichaean script. Consequently, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that the text of this bowl reflects the Late Antique milieu of the Babylonian Baptists in which Mani grew up. In this incantation, the malevolent powers are bound and their bonds are sealed in the name of Samihiza, the Lord Bagdana [b-smhyz’ mry’ bgd’n’]. In the name Samihiza it would not be unreasonable to see the name Samihazah, the chief of the Watchers in 1 Enoch, who, whatever his malevolent personality, is here invoked for magical protection.

The handout for this presentation is not available.

See also the presentations by George Nickelsburg and Elaine Pagels and the ensuing Discussion with Nickelsburg, Pagels, and Utz

For related materials, consult other PSCO presentations and discussions on the topic for the 1987-1988 seminar, "Principalities and Powers: Demons and Angels in the World of Late Antiquity".