In the middle years of the third century gnostic dualism found a fresh and vigorous embodiment in Mani (216-76). He was brought up in Mesopotamia among a Jewish Christian baptist sect, followers of Elchasai, but left them at the age of 24 to found his own group. Like other sects since, he intended to supersede all the separate religious societies and to embrace all major religions of the time. He understood himself to be an inspired prophet, identical with the promised Paraclete, and therefore one of the line of prophets not only from the Old Testament to Jesus but also including Buddha and Zoroaster. He declared that his religion was not confined to one region or linguistic area but was to be taken by missionaries to all lands. Previous founders of religions had written next to nothing and failed to ensure a stable coherent future; Mani's writings would rectify that. Well within his lifetime his missionaries established communities in the Nile and Oxus valleys and had soon reached Chinese Turkestan and Spain. For over nine years the young Augustine was an adherent in north Africa, and after his conversion in 386 his anti-Manichee writings offer much information. In the twentieth century major finds of Manichee documents have been made in Egypt (Coptic probably translated from Syriac) and Turkestan. In the Persian empire the mission had success, and from there successfully infiltrated the Roman empire, soon to cause anxiety to the imperial authorities and also to bishops. In Persia Mani himself fell foul of authority and was executed in 276. His followers had an annual spring festival, called the Bema, for a memorial of his death and for confession of sins.
Central to his thinking was the problem of evil, the permanence and ineradicability of which showed that if the supreme God was good, he was not also omnipotent. What his angels could do was to contain evil and prevent a complete takeover. Cosmic conflict between powers of light and darkness, spirit and matter, had resulted in a mixture felt in human nature's awareness of tension between physical appetites and higher aspirations of the soul. Mani divided followers into a celibate Elect and a lower order of Hearers who cooked selected food for the Elect and were allowed sexual relations at safe periods of the monthly cycle. They were discouraged from having children since this incarcerated sparks of divine light in soggy matter. Wine was strictly forbidden as an invention of the devil.