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Manichaeism
General - History - Legacy

Links

http://www.soas.ac.uk/departments/departmentinfo.cfm?navid=324
http://essenes.crosswinds.net/manichaeism.html

Manichaeism, the religion created by the Mesopotamian prophet Mani in n the latter half of the third century, is a true synthesis of the religious systems then known, combining the Buddhist ethics, Gnosticism, Judaeo-Christian tradition Babylonian folklore, Zoroastrian Dualism, teaching a strict dualism of good and evil, light and dark, spirit and matter. The scriptures composed by Mani were translated into many languages, forming a huge body of Manichaean literature written in virtually every language of the known world, from Latin in  to Chinese in the East. Despite almost universal persecution, it spread rapidly and became highly influential in the Roman empire, Africa, Spain, France, North Italy, the Balkans in the West and in Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Turkestan, Central Asia, Northern India, Western China, and Tibet in the East. Manichaeism became a major religion of the Uigur Türk Kaganate. In the West, Manichaeists survived for a thousand years through severe persecutions, but  in the Mesopotamia, and further East it became a mainstream religion, and, by the 1000 A.D., the bulk of the population followed it.  Manichaeism was finally exterminated during the Middle Ages. As a major movement, the longest Manichaeism survived in the South China, where still stands the last remaining Manichaean temple.

In the Westen world, Manichaeism was known for many centuries only in the distorted form from the Early Christian polemics of opponents such as St Augustine. This situation has gradually been transformed by the discovery of substantial extracts from Manichaean texts embedded in Syriac and Arabic works by Christian and Muslim authors, and later, during the twentieth century, of genuine Manichaean texts in Latin (from Algeria), Coptic, Greek and Syriac (from Egypt), Middle and New Persian, Parthian, Sogdian, Bactrian, Tocharian, Kharosthi, Uigur, Turkish and Chinese (from Eastern Turkestan, Kansu and Fujian). This plethora of languages, many of them extremely obscure, is exhilarating but at the same time problematic, since it is hardly possible that any individual would be competent to study all of these sources in the original.

THE FOUNDER

Mani was born 215-216 A.D. in the village of Mardinu in Babylonia, two Latinized forms of his name are Cubricus and Ubricus, likely a corruption of the name Shuraik.. His father's name was Fâtâk Bâbâk (Gr. Ratekios, "well preserved"), a citizen of Ecbatana, the ancient Median capital and a member of the famous Chascanian clan, from a mother of Arsacide noble descent whose name is given as Mes, Utâchîm, Marmarjam, and Karossa. The father was a man of strong religious believes, he left Ecbatana to join the Menakkede or Mandaeans (South Babylonian Puritans), and had his son educated in their tenets. Mani's father displayed considerable activities as a religious reformer and was a forerunner of his son, sharing the first years of his public life. Mani is a title and term of respect, "the illustrious, enlightened", akin to the Catholic "Holy Father" in reference to the Pope (Gr. Manys, gen. usually Manytos, sometimes Manentos, rarely Manou, or Manichios, Lat. Manes, gen. Manetis, In Augustine always Manichaeus). The title completely replaced his personal name.

Possibly some of the Patekios' writing is imbedded in the Mandaean literature. Mani, besides being Patekios' great disciple (Tarbitha, Tarbi), was his bodily son. In the Aramaic record Fatak Babak of the Scythian metropolis Hamadam, was his Scythian teacher Scythianus. The Greek and Latin sources tell of a disciple Terebinthos, Terebinthus of Turbo as a distinct person, whom they confound partially with Mani, partially with Patekios. Their account of the origins of Manichaeism differs considerably from the Oriental sources.

 As Mani's father Fatak Babak worshipped in a temple he heard a voice urging him to abstain from meat, wine, and women. In obedience to this voice he emigrated to the south and joined the Mugtasilah, or Mandaean Baptists, taking his son with him. At the age of twelve Mani received his first revelation. The angel Eltaum (Tamiel God of the Covenant of Jewish Rabbinical lore), appeared to him, told him to leave the Mandaeans, live chastely, and wait twelve years before proclaiming himself to the people. In later Oriental sources he is often referred to as a painter by profession. Babylon was a center of the priesthood, Mani was educated in the ancient religions

On the coronation day of the second Sassanian Shakh, Shapur I (241-272), in the presence of the vast crowds from all parts of the kingdom, on Sunday, 20 March, 241 A.D., Mani first proclaimed his gospel in the royal residenceof Gundesapor. The Apostle of the true God proclamed "As once Buddha came to India, Zoroaster to Persia, and Jesus to the lands of the West, so came in the present time, this prophecy through me, the Mani, to the land of Babylonia". He had little immediate success and was compelled to leave the country. For many years he traveled abroad, founding Manichaean communities in Turkestan and India. When he returned to Persia he converted to his doctrine Peroz, the brother of Shapur I, and dedicated to him one of his most important works, the "Shapurikan". Peroz obtained for Mani an audience with the king and Mani delivered his prophetical message in the royal presence. Soon Mani was again a fugitive from his native land, though his teaching, as in Beth Garmia, have taken root. While traveling, Mani spread and strengthened his doctrine by epistles, or encyclical letters, of which some four score are known to us by title. Afterwards Mani fell into the hands of Shapur I, was imprisoned, and only released at the king's death in 272. Shapur's successor, Ormuzd I, perhaps personally released him, or Mani bribed his escape and fled across the Roman border. Bahram I, Ormuzd's successor, persecuted with relentless severity his followers, soon after his accession crucified Mani, had the corpse flayed, the skin stuffed and hung at the city gate as a terrifying example. The date of Mani death is ca. 276-277.

DOCTRINE

The Mani's doctrine is a true Gnostic, as he brought salvation by knowledge. Manichaeism professed to be a religion of pure reason as opposed to the Christian credulity, it explains the origin, the composition, and the future of the universe. It gave an answer for everything and despised Christianity, which is full of mysteries. It gained mastery over men's minds by the astonishing completeness, minuteness, and consistency of its assertions, as opposed to the  mystification or a whimsical invention.

 Before the existence of heaven and earth and all that is therein, there were two Principles, the one Good the other Bad. The Good Principle dwells in the realm of light and is called the Father of Majesty (Grandeur or Greatness, Megethos, Abba D'rabbutha), or the Father with the Four Faces or Persons (tetraprosopon), probably because Time, Light, Force, and Goodness were regarded as essential manifestations of the First Being by the Zervanites. Outside the Father there are his Five Tabernacles or Shechinatha, Intelligence, Reason, Thought, Reflection, and Will. The designation of "Tabernacle" contains a play on the sound Shechina which means both dwelling or tent and "Divine glory or presence" and is used in the Old Testament to designate God's presence between the Cherubim. These five tabernacles were pictured on the one hand as stories of one building, Will being the top story, and on the other hand as limbs of God's body. The God indwelt and possessed them all, to be identical with them, yet to be distinct from them. In St. Augustine's writings they are also designated as aeons or worlds, beata secula. In other sources the five limbs are: Longanimity, Knowledge, Reason, Discretion, and Understanding. And again these five as limbs of the Father's spiritual body were sometimes distinguished from the five attributes of His pure Intelligence: Love, Faith, Truth, High-mindedness, and Wisdom. The Father of light together with the light-air and the light-earth, the former with five attributes parallel to his own, and the latter with the five limbs of Breath, Wind, Light, Water, and Fire constitute the Manichaean pleroma. The light world is of infinite extent in five directions and has only one limit, set to it below by the realm of Darkness, which is likewise infinite in all directions barring the one above, where it borders on the realm of light. Opposed to the Father of Grandeur is the King of Darkness. He is actually never called God, but otherwise, he and his kingdom down below are exactly parallel to the ruler and realm of the light above. The dark Pleroma is also triple, as it were firmament, air, and earth inverted. The first two (Heshuha and Humana) have the five attributes, members, aeons, or worlds: Pestilent Breath, Scorching Wind, Gloom, Mist, Consuming Fire, the last has the following five: Wells of Poison, Columns of Smoke, Abysmal Depths, Fetid Marshes, and Pillars of Fire. This last five fold division is clearly borrowed from ancient Chaldean ideas current in Mesopotamia.

These two powers might have lived eternally in peace, had not the Prince of Darkness decided to invade the realm of light. On the approach of the monarch of chaos the five aeons of light were seized with terror. This dragon incarnation of evil called Satan or Ur-devil (Diabolos protos, Iblis Kadim, in Arabic sources), a lion-headed monster with four feet, half fish, half bird, threw himself upward toward the confines of light. The echo of the thunder of his onrush went through the blessed aeons until it reached the Father of Majesty, who bethinking himself said: I will not send my five aeons, made for blessed repose, to engage in this war, I will battle myself . Hereupon the Father of Majesty emanated the Mother of Life and the Mother of Life emanated the first man. These two constitute, with the Father, a sort of Trinity in Unity, hence the Father could say: "I myself will go". Mani here assimilates ideas already known from Gnosticism (The Sophia Myth) and resembling the Christian doctrine, with the "Spirit" feminine in Hebrew-Aramaic and thus identified as a mother of all living. The Protanthropos or "First Man" found its way into the Gnostic systems, is the central figure in Manichaeism. The myth of the origin of the world out of the members of a dead giant or Ur-man is extremely ancient, in Indian mythology (Rig-Veda, X, 90).

According to Mani the First-Man now emanates sons as a man who puts on his armor for the combat. These five sons are the five elements opposed to the five aeons of darkness: Clear Air, Refreshing Wind, Bright Light, Life-Giving Waters, and Warming Fire. He put on first the aerial breeze, then threw over himself light as a flaming mantle, and over this light a covering of water, he surrounded himself with gusts of wind, took light as his lance and shield, and cast himself downward toward the line of danger. An angel called Nahashbat (?), carrying a crown of victory, went before him. The First-Man projected his light before him, and the King of Darkness seeing it, thought and said: "What I have sought from afar, lo, I have found it near me." He also clothed himself with his five elements, and engaged in combat with the First-Man. The struggle went in favor of the King of Darkness. The First-Man when being overcome, gave himself and his five sons as food to the five sons of Darkness, "as a man having an enemy, mixes deadly poison in a cake, and gives it to his foe." When these five resplendent deities had been absorbed by the sons of Darkness, reason was taken away from them and they became through the poisonous admixture with the sons of Darkness, like unto a man bitten by a wild dog or serpent. Thus the evil one conquered for a while. But the First-Man recovered his reason and prayed seven times to the Father of Majesty, who being moved by mercy, emanated as second creation, the Friend of the Light, this Friend of the Light emanated the Great Ban, and the Great Ban emanated the Spirit of Life. Thus a second trinity parallel to the first (Father of Light, Mother of Light, First-Man) comes into existence. The first two personages of the latter trinity have not yet been explained and particularly the meaning of the Great Ban is a puzzle, but as in the former trinity, it is the third person, who does the actual work, the Spirit of Life (To Zon Pneuma), who becomes the demi-urge or world former. Like the First-Man he emanates five personalities: from his intelligence the Ornament of Splendour (Sefath Ziva, Splenditenens, phegotatochos in Greek and Latin sources), from his reason the Great King of Honor, from his thought Adam, Light, from his self reflection the King of Glory, and from his will the Supporter (Sabhla, Atlas and Omothoros of Greek and Latin sources). These five deities were objects of special worship amongst Manichaeans, and St. Augustine (Contra Faustum, XV) gives us descriptions of them drawn from Manichaean hymns.

These five descend to the realm of Darkness, find the First-Man in his degradation and rescue him by the word of their power, his armour remains behind, by lifting him by the right hand the Spirit of Life brings him back to the Mother of Life. The fashioning of the world now begins. Some of the sons of the Spirit of Life kill and flay the archons or sons of Darkness and bring them to the Mother of Life. She spreads out their skins and forms twelve heavens. Their corpses are hurled on the realm of Darkness and eight worlds are made, their bones form the mountain ranges. The Ornament of splendour holds the five resplendent deities by their waist and below their waist the heavens are extended. Atlas carries all on his shoulders, the Great King of Honour sits on top of the heavens and guards over all. The Spirit of Life forces the sons of Darkness to surrender some of the light which they had absorbed from the five elements and out of this he forms the sun and the moon (vessels of light, lucidae naves in St. Augustine) and the stars. The Spirit of Life further makes the wheels of the wind under the earth near the Supporter. The King of Glory by some creation or other enables these wheels to mount the surface of the earth and thus prevents the five resplendent deities from being set on fire by the poison of the archons. The text of Theodore bar Khoni is here so confused and corrupt that it is difficult to catch the meaning, probably wind, water, air, and fire are considered protective coverings, encircling and enveloping the gross material earth and revolving around it.

At this stage of the cosmogony the Mother of Life, the First-Man, and the Spirit of Life beg and beseech the Father of Majesty for a further creation and for a third creation he emanated the Messenger, in Latin sources this is the called Legatus Tertius. This Messenger emanates twelve virgins with their garments, crowns, and garlands, namely, Royalty, Wisdom, Victory, Persuasion, Purity, Truth, Faith, Patience, Righteousness, Goodness, Justice, and Light. The Messenger dwells in the sun and, coming toward these twelve virgin-vessels he commands his three attendants to make them revolve and soon they reach the height of the heavens. All this is a transparent metaphor for the planetary system and the signs of the zodiac. No sooner do the heavens rotate than the Messenger commands the Great Ban to renovate the earth and make the Great Wheels (Air, Fire, and Water) to mount. The great universe now moves but as yet there is no life of plants, beasts, or man. The production of vegetation, animal, and rational life on earth is a process of obscenity, cannibalism, abortion, and prize-fighting between the Messenger and the sons and daughters of Darkness, the details of which are better passed over. Finally, Naimrael, a female, and Ashaklun, a male devil, bring forth two children, Adam and Eve. In Adam's body were imprisoned a vast number of germs of light. He was the great captive of the Power of Evil. The Powers of Light had pity and sent a Savior, the luminous Jesus. Jesus approached innocent Adam, awoke him from his sleep of death, made him move, drew him out of his slumber, drove away the seductive demon, and enchained far away from him the mighty female archon. Adam reflected on himself and knew that he existed. Jesus then instructed Adam and showed him the Father's dwelling in the celestial heights, and Jesus showed him his own personality, exposed to all things, to the teeth of the panther, the teeth of the elephant, devoured by the greedy, swallowed by gluttons, eaten by dogs, mixed with and imprisoned in all that exists, encompassed by the evil odors of Darkness. Mani's doctrine has the "suffering Savior" Jesus. The Saviour is a personification of the Cosmic Light as far as imprisoned in matter, therefore it is diffused throughout all nature, he is born, suffers, and dies every day, crucified on every tree, daily eaten in all food. This captive Cosmic Light is called Jesus patibilis. Jesus then made Adam stand up and taste of the tree of life. Adam then looked around and wept. He mightily lifted up his voice as a roaring lion. He tore his hair and struck his breast and said, "Cursed be the creator of my body and he who bound my soul and they who have made me their slave."

Man's duty henceforth is to keep his body pure from all bodily stain by practicing self-denial and to help also in the great work of purification throughout the universe. Manichaean eschatology is in keeping with its cosmogony.

When, mainly through the activity of the elect, all light particles have been gathered together, the messenger, or Legatus Tertius appears, the Spirit of Life comes from the west, the First Man with his hosts comes from north, south, and east, together with all light aeons, and all perfect Manichaeans. Atlas, the World Supporter throws his burden away, the Ornament of Splendour above lets go, and thus heaven and earth sink into the abyss. A universal conflagration ensues and burns on till nothing but lightless cinders remain. This fire continues during 1,486 years, during which the torments of the wicked are the delights of the just. When the separation of light from darkness is finally completed, all angels of light who had functions in the creation return on high, the dark world-soul sinks away in the depth, which is then closed forever and eternal tranquillity reigns in the realm of light, no more to be invaded by darkness.

With regard to the after-death of the individual, Manichaeism taught a threefold state prepared for the Perfect, the Hearers, and the Sinners (non-Manichaeans). The souls of the first are after death received by Jesus, who is sent by the First-Man accompanied by three aeons of light and the Light Maiden. They give the deceased a water vessel, a garment, a turban, a crown, and a wreath of light. In vain do evil angels lie in his path, he scorns them and on the ladder of praise he mounts first to the moon, then to the First-Man, the Sun, the Mother of Life, and finally the Supreme Light. The bodies of the perfect are purified by sun, moon, and stars, their light-particles, set free, mount to the First-Man and are formed into minor deities, surrounding his person. The fate of the Heavens is ultimately the same as that of the Perfect, but they have to pass through a long purgatory before they arrive at eternal bliss. Sinners, however, must, after death wander about in torment and anguish, surrounded by demons, and condemned by the angels, till the end of the world, when they are, body and soul, thrown into hell.

DISCIPLINE

To set the light-substance free from the pollution of matter was the ultimate aim of all Manichaean life. Those who entirely devoted themselves to this work were the "Elect" or the "Perfect", the Primates Manichaeorum, those who through human frailty felt unable to abstain from all earthly joys, though they accepted Manichaean tenets, were "the Hearers", auditores, or catechumens. The former bear a striking similarity to Buddhist monks, only with this difference that they were always itinerant, being forbidden to settle anywhere permanently. The life of these ascetics was a hard one. They were forbidden to have property, to eat meat or drink wine, to gratify any sexual desire, to engage in any servile occupation, commerce or trade, to possess house or home, to practice magic, or to practice any other religion. Their duties were summed up in the three signacula, i.e. seals or closures, that of the mouth, of the hands, and of the breast (oris, manuum, sinus). The first forbade all evil words and all evil food. Animal food roused the demon of Darkness within man, hence only vegetables were allowed to the perfect. Amongst vegetables, some, as melons and fruit containing oil were specially recommended, as they were thought to contain many light particles, and by being consumed by the perfect those light particles were set free. The second forbade all actions detrimental to the light-substance, slaying of animals, plucking of fruit, etc. The third forbade all evil thoughts, whether against the Manichaean faith or against purity. St. Augustine (especially "De Moribus Manich.") strongly inveighs against the Manichaean's repudiation of marriage. They regarded it as an evil in itself because the propagation of the human race meant the continual imprisonment of the light-substance in matter and a retarding of the blissful consummation of all things, maternity was a calamity and a sin and Manichaeans delighted to tell of the seduction of Adam by Eve and her final punishment in eternal damnation. In consequence there was a danger that the act of generation, rather than the act of unchastity was abhorred, and that his was a real danger Augustine's writings testify.

The number of the Perfect was naturally very small and in studying Manichaeism one is particularly struck by the extreme paucity of individual Perfecti known in history. The vast bulk of Mani's adherents, ninety-nine out of every hundred, were Hearers. They are bound by Mani's Ten Commandments only, which forbade idolatry, mendacity, avarice, murder (i.e. all killing), fornication, theft, seduction to deceit, magic, hypocrisy, (secret infidelity to Manichaeism), and religious indifference. The first positive duty is the maintenance and almost the worship of the Elect. Manichaeans supply them with vegetables for food and pay them homage on bent knee, asking for their blessing. They regard them as superior beings, and, collectively, they were thought to constitute the aeon of righteousness. Beyond these ten negative commandments there are two duties common to all, prayer and fasting.

Prayer is obligatory four times a day: at noon, late in the afternoon, after sunset, and three hours later. Prayer is made facing the sun or, in the night, the moon, when neither sun nor moon was visible, then the North, the throne of the Light-King. It is preceded by a ceremonial purification with water or for lack of water with some other substance in the Islamic fashion. The daily prayers are accompanied by twelve prostrations and addressed to the various personalities in the realm of light: the Father of Majesty, the First-Man, the Legatus Tertius, the Paraclete (Mani), the Five Elements, and so on. They consist mainly of a string of laudatory epithets and contain few requests. As time and attitude of prayer are intimately connected with astronomical phenomena, so likewise is the duty of fasting. All fast on the first day of the week in honor of the sun, the Perfect also fast on the second day in honor of the moon. All keep the fast during two days after every new moon, and once a year at the full moon, and at the beginning of the first quarter of the moon. Moreover, a monthly fast, observed till sunset, begin on the eighth day of the month.

We know little of rites and ceremonies among the Manichaeans. One great solemnity is of the Bema, the anniversary of Mani's death. It is kept with a vigil of prayers and spiritual reading. An empty chair is placed on a raised platform to which lead five steps. St. Augustine complains that although Manichaeans pretended to be Christians, their feast of the death of Mani exceeded in solemnity that of the Death and Resurrection of the Christ.

Manichaeans possess baptism and eucharist. The epistle on baptism, among the sacred Manichaean literature, is unfortunately lost, and in Oriental sources the matter is not referred to, but Christian sources suppose the existence of both these rites. Of greater importance than baptism is the Consolamentum or "Consolation", an imposition of hands by one of the Elect by which a Hearer was received amongst their number. The Manichaean hierarchy and constitution are obscure. Mani evidently intended to provide a supreme head for the multitude of his followers. He even decided that his successor in this dignity should reside in Babylon. This high priesthood is known in Arabic sources as the Imamate. In the East it seems to have possessed at least some temporary importance, in the West it seems hardly known or recognized. No list of these supreme Pontiffs of Manichaeism has come down to us, hardly a name or two is known to history. It is doubtful even whether the chair of Mani did not remain vacant for long periods. According to the Western and Eastern sources the Manichaean Church was divided into five hierarchical classes, St. Augustine names them magistri, episcopi, presbyteri, electi, and auditores, this Christianized terminology represents in Manichaean mystical language the sons of meekness, of reason, of knowledge, of mystery, and of understanding. Mani's astrological predilections for the number five, so evident in his cosmogony, evidently suggested this division for his Church or kingdom of the light on earth. The Teachers and Administrators (magistri and episcopi) are probably an adaptation of the legontes and drontes, the speakers and the doers, known in Greek and Babylonian mysteries, and the name "priests" is probably taken over from the Sabian Kura.

With regard to the relation of Manichaeism to Christianity two things are clear:

(a) Some connection with Christianity was intended from the very first by Mani himself, it was not an after-thought, introduced when Manichaeism came in touch with the West, as is sometimes asserted. In Mani's time, Christianity was the predominant religion in Osrhoene, and perhaps the principle religion in all Mesopotamia. Mani, whose object was to found a system, comprehensive of all religions then known, incorporated Christianity. In the first words of his proclamation on the coronation day of Shapur I, he mentioned Jesus, who had come to the countries of the West.

(b) The connection was purely external and artificial. The substance of Manichaeism is the Chalchedean astrology and folklore cast in rigid dualistic mould, the Christianity was brought in due to historical circumstances. Christianity could not be ignored. In consequence Mani proclaimed himself the Paraclete promised by Jesus, rejected the whole of the Old Testament, but admitted as much of the New as suited him, in particular he rejected the Acts of the Apostles, because it told of the descent of the Holy Ghost in the past. The gospels were corrupted in many places, but where a text seemed to favor him the Manicheans knew how to parade it. One has to read St. Augustine's anti-Manichaean disputes to realize the extreme ingenuity with which the scripture texts were collected and interpreted. Though Mani called himself the Paraclete, he claimed no divinity, but with a show of humility styled himself an "Apostle of Jesus Christ by the providence of God the Father", a designation which is obviously adapted from the heading of the Pauline Epistles. Mani, however, was the Apostle of Jesus Christ, i.e. the messenger of Christ's promise, that Paraclete whom he sent (apostolos from apostellos, to send). Mani's blasphemous assumption to Christian ears was thus toned down a little. Jesus Christ was to Mani only an aeon or a  personification of Light in the world., as far as it had already been set free it was the luminous Jesus, or Jesus patibilis. The historical Jesus of Nazareth was entirely repudiated by Mani. "The son of a poor widow" (Mary), "the Jewish Messiah whom the Jews crucified", "a devil who was justly punished for interfering in the work of the Aeon Jesus", such was, according to Mani, the Christ whom Christians worshipped as God. Mani's Christology was purely Docetic, his Christ appeared to be man, to live, suffer, and die to symbolize the light suffering in this world. Though Mani used the term "Evangel" for his message, his Evangel was clearly in no real sense that of the Christians. Mani finally enticed the unwary by the use of such used in the Christianity terms as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to designate divine personalities, but a glance at his cosmogony shows how flimsy was the disguise. Nevertheless, spiking cautiously and urging only the faith in god, His light, His power, and His wisdom (in reality, "the Father of Majesty", the sun and moon, the five blessed aeons, his sons, and the Manichaean religion), they gained many adherents.

Source

 J.P. ARENDZEN, From the Catholic Encyclopedia, copyright 1913 by the Encyclopedia Press, Inc.

Notes

From Mandaean mandayya, (having knowledge), ancient Middle Eastern religion still surviving in Iraq and Khuzistan (southwest Iran). The religion is usually treated as Gnostic, it resembles Manichaeism in some respects. - Encyclopedia Britanica.

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