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Zurvan - A Historical Name of God in Manichaeism

Excerpted from a lecture by Dr. Char Yar, D.D., M.A., Ph.D.
University for Historical and Cultural Research

The Father of Greatness

The Syriac-Aramaic phrase for "Father of Greatness" is "Abba d'Rabbuta." This phrase was used quite extensively throughout the writings of Mar Mani and his disciples.

However, the title "Father of Greatness" was not the only phrase Mar Mani and Manichaeans used in their writings.

The Prophet Mani also used the name Zurvan to identify the Supreme God.

Ancient Manichaean texts attest to the use of the name Zurvan numerous times.

For example, in a Manichaean Persian text, we read: "May new blessing, new victory, come from God ZURVAN...May peace and new salvation come from God ZURVAN"

Another Manichaean Hymn translated from Parthian refers to the Merciful Mother of Light as the "soul of the God ZURVAN."

From a scholarly article we read that the Kingdom or Realm of Light "was ruled by the Father of Greatness identified with ZURVAN in Persia" (Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, article by T. Apiryon)

Another article from the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies says the Prophet Mani used the name "ZURVAN as the supreme God." (Article by Rashna Ghadially)

From the book From Africa to Zen: An Invitation to World Philosophy, we read: "The Realm of Light is...presided over by the good principle, called Father of Greatness (who, when Mani was preaching at the Sassanian court, he named Zurvan)."

World renown scholar Mary Boyce, in A Reader in Manichaean Middle Persian and Parthian, attests to the fact that Manichaeans used the name Zurvan in reference to the Father of Greatness by providing a list of various renderings of names and titles.

chart of Persian and Parthian, name of God Zurvan

Duncan Greenlees' translation of Manichaean manuscripts and compiled into a single volume called "The Gospel of the Prophet Mani," indicates the use of "Zurvan" in the ancient manuscripts.

In a footnote, Greenlees provides a reference to Zurvan being identified with the "Eternal King of Light." (Chapter 30, section 1b, pg. 89). Also on pages 93, 109, 152, 280.

The fact that Zurvan is often identified as being associated with "time" is due to the fact, as Greenlees points out, Zurvan is the infinite and Eternal King. Manichaeans believe Zurvan the Father of Greatness is eternal, ever lasting, and outside of time and space as it is known to mankind.

References

Modern day Manichaeans continue to use the name Zurvan in liturgical works and other religious writings, thereby continuing in the Persian tradition of the Prophet Mani. http://www.manichaean.org/

The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, article by T. Apiryon

The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, article by Rashna Ghadially

From Africa to Zen: An Invitation to World Philosophy, by Robert C. Solomon, Kathleen Marie Higgins

Ancient Manichaean Texts

Manichaean Invocation of Bar Simus

Hymn in Honor of the Dominions of Light

Manichaean Invocation of the gods in the Moon

A Reader in Manichaean Middle Persian and Parthian, Mary Boyce, Tehran

The Gospel of the Prophet Mani, Duncan Greenlees

The above is available as a short video presentation on YouTube.