Christian refutation of Manichaean doctrines

This refutation of Manichaean doctrines appears to be written in a calligraphic Sogdian script, sometimes referred to as sutra script (Lurje 2015). Sogdian is written from right to left and is similar to Aramaic, possibly a derivative of the latter, as both languages begin every word with a consonant. Sogdian is an abjad language, meaning no vowels are used and the reader is entrusted with selecting vowels in their interpretations of words, which can make translating difficult. Further complicating the language and translations, Sogdian used seventeen letters, many having derivative forms depending on their position within a word, labeled initial, medial, or final. One Sogdian letter could be represented as three different characters and possibly three different sounds (“Script: Sogdian”).

Manichaeism was founded in the third century CE by Mani, a man who saw himself as a successor of prophets such as Buddha, Zoroaster, and Jesus (Baker-Brian 2011; “Manichaeism”). Central to Manichaeism was the eternal struggle between light and dark, or good and evil (Hansen 2015). Mani wrote down his message of religious unity, calling his teaching his “living books,” in order to ensure that his message would not be lost with time. As a self-described “apostle of Jesus Christ,” Mani’s writings are reminiscent of the Pauline epistles of the New Testament. Paul was an example of religious leadership for Mani, especially in the area of evangelization (Baker-Brian 2011). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and other communities about spreading the gospel:

For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:14-15 NRSV)

Like Paul prompts, Manichaeans proselytized, and Mani encouraged the making of translations of his living books in order to spread his message to many culturally diverse groups (“Manichaeism”).

Manichaeism was brought to Sogdiana during Uighur dominion in the eighth century CE. Until this point, religious practitioners in Turfan observed the traditions of Buddhism, Daoism, and Zoroastrianism. Under the Uighurs, Christianity and Manichaeism were practiced publicly in Turfan (Hansen 2015). Texts and fragments by and about Manichaeans found at Turfan are written in a number of languages: Parthian, Middle Persian, and Sogdian. What is known about Manichaeism comes from the endurance of such texts—Mani’s ultimate goal. However, texts by Christian heresiologists, such as a refutation of Manichaean doctrines by a Christian writer, also survive and contribute to contemporary understanding of Manichaeism (Baker-Brian 2011). It makes sense that a religion devoted to writing would be challenged through the same medium by another religion while at the same time creating a sort of dialogue between the two.


Baker-Brian, Michael. 2011. Manichaeism: An Ancient Faith Rediscovered. London: T&T Clark International.

Hansen, Valerie. 2015. The Silk Road: A New History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lurje, Pavel. “Sogdians Outside and Inside Sogdiana: Remarks on their History and Culture.” (presentation, History and Cultures of Pre-Islamic Central Asia at Collège de France, Paris, March 24, 2015). Accessed March 20, 2016,

“Manichaeism.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed May 12, 2016,

“Script: Sogdian.” Script Source. Accessed May 12, 2016,


Additional Research Metadata



“Christian refutation of Manichaean doctrines,” Telling the Sogdian Story , accessed July 2, 2020,