Formerly in the collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Museum für indische Kunst.

Mani, founder of the third-century C.E. religion Manichaeism, stands before his elect followers in this wall painting (now lost) from a Manichaean sanctuary, discovered in the early 20th century in Khocho, in the Sinkiang region of northwestern China. Behind Mani in this eighth-century painting is a crescent moon encircling a white sun disk—perhaps a symbol of the Realms of Light and of Darkness that make up the Manichaean universe. The elect are arrayed by age, with the clean-faced youths at top and the mature, bearded men at bottom.

Early Christians dismissed Mani’s religion as heresy; more recently, scholars have marginalized Manichaeism as a mere offshoot of the Persian dualist religion Zoroastrianism. In the accompanying article, John C. Reeves attempts to recover the biblical roots of Manichaeism. Mani, Reeves notes, identified himself as the last in a line of prophets that began with the biblical forefathers Adam, Seth, Enoch and Enosh, and included Buddha and Jesus. The Manichaeist Creation story is an ingenious recasting of the Genesis narratives.