Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mani the Artist and the Bema Celebration

It is known that Father Mani was an artist, and illustrated his works. One of these was the Arzhang.
The Arzhang (Aržang - a Parthian word meaning "Worthy") was one of the holy books of the Manichaean religion, written and illustrated by its prophet Mani, in Syriac Aramaic. It was unique in that it contained numerous pictures designed to portray the events in the Manichaean description of the creation and history of the world.
Liturgical Celebration of the Bêmâ
Manuscript from the Oasis Tûrfân, East Turkestan
Museum für Indische Kunst, Berlin

The most important religious observance of the Manichaeans was the Bema Fest, observed annually:

The Bema was originally, in the Syriac Christian churches a seat placed in the middle of the nave on which the bishop would preside and from which the Gospel would be read. In the Manichean places of worship, the throne was a five-stepped altar, covered by precious cloths, symbolizing the five classes of the hierarchy. The top of the Bema was always empty, as it was the seat of Mani. The Bema was celebrated at the vernal equinox, was preceded by fasts, and symbolized the passion of Mani, thus it was strictly parallel to the Christian Easter.

While it is often presumed that the Bema seat was empty, there is some evidence from the Coptic Manichaean Bema Psalms, that the Bema seat may have actually contained a copy of Mani's picture book, the Arzhang.

Orthodox Bema

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