In 2009 I read a paper at the ARAM Conference in which I attempted to imagine what the contents of Mani’s Book of Mysteries might have been. The bases for the speculation were primarily the section headings for the lost work as preserved by Ibn al-Nadīm, together with some other primary sources of relevance. I remain convinced that the basic trajectory of the argument was correct, even if the details are difficult to establish. Recent advances regarding three texts I hold to be relevant make it apposite to return to the topic once again. These are:
Quire ‘A’ in the Dublin Coptic Kephalaia codex, for which I completed in 2018 a draft edition as part of my on-going work in collaboration with Jason BeDuhn and Paul Dilley;
The polemical hymns in the Middle Persian text M28I, of which François de Blois has made a detailed study with reference to the Book of Mysteries (in press);
The (First) Apocalypse of James (hereafter James), about which we now know considerably more due to the second Coptic version recovered in the Tchacos codex and most recently a Greek text of the work identified from Oxyrhynchus as announced late in 2017 by Geoffrey Smith and Brent Landau (edition in preparation).
All this work is very much in process, but I am in the unique position of being able to survey the material, with the kind assistance of the named scholars. This paper is a speculative first attempt to unravel the interrelations between the various texts. These suggest a number of important avenues for new research. The present discussion limits technical discussion of the texts due to its provisional nature.
The ultimate purpose of this research project, for which this paper is a kind of tentative and speculative interim report, is to recover as much as possible about the contents of Mani’s lost Book of Mysteries; together with the work’s continuing influence upon the teachings and practices of the community that held it as scripture. Here it is shown that James was an important source accessed and utilised by Mani in his writing; and also that two later productions extant now in Coptic and Middle Persian demonstrate the enduring impact upon Manichaean literature.