The Apostle of Jesus Christ, Mani, declares himself to be a “solitary one” (monērēs) no less than three times in the Cologne Mani Codex (CMC). Through a literary analysis that contextualizes the CMC both with contemporary Syrian depictions of anchoritic ascetics, on the one hand, and the hairy mountaineering anchorite (CMC 126.4-129.17) with Mani, on the other hand, this article argues that the redactor of the CMC sought to portray Mani as an anchoritic ascetic. Mani’s declaration to be a monērēs is therefore not incidental, but an essential marker of his identity, even as he sets out into the world as the Apostle of Jesus Christ.
For decades, scholars of religious studies have questioned the anachronism of the category of “religion” for discussing the historical emergence of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Beginning already with Wilfred Cantwell Smith in the 1960s, however, Manichaeism was heralded as an exception to this pattern, and Mani has been understood as perhaps the first to found a new “religion.” This article considers how this model shaped the interpretation of the Cologne Mani Codex (CMC) and offers a fresh reading of its rhetoric of differentiation and identification. It attends to how the CMC frames Mani as a reformer among the Baptists and in continuity with this Baptist past. It ultimately argues that the creators of the CMC did not think of “Manichaeism” as a distinct “religion.” Finally, it aims to recalibrate the study of the Cologne Mani Codex towards broader attempts at situating it within a Syro-Mesopotamian milieu.