Gábor Kósa

discipline Religious Studies
Faculty Member Department of Chinese Studies Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Budapest

Research project

A Comparative Analysis of Manichaean Texts and Paintings. New Discoveries from China and Japan (2006-2012)


The present project aims to investigate two sets of recent Chinese Manichaean discoveries: new paintings from Japan and new manuscripts from China. These recent discoveries reveal new aspects of Manichaeism, a par excellence transregional religion, which spread from Sasanian Iran to Europe, Egypt, Central Asia and China. Although the nine new paintings, discovered and published between 2006 and 2012, are presently all in Japan, they ultimately derive from Yuan and Ming dynasty (14th‒15th c.) southeast China. The corpus of textual material was discovered in southeast China (Xiapu county, Fujian province) in 2009.


The project endeavors to offer new interpretation of some of these major Chinese Manichaean discoveries. In all these cases, I will make use of an interdisciplinary approach by combining philological means with methods applied in the field of religious studies and art history. My fundamental method is to continually contrast the written and the visual Manichaean sources. The two major types of objects on which my research focuses are the following: (i) New written sources. I plan to make a preliminary English translation of some of the most important pieces of the Xiapu material, laying special emphasis on the religio-historically relevant motifs and on the similarities with and differences from the visual material preserved in Japan. (ii) New visual sources.  The most intriguing painting among the new discoveries is the Cosmology painting, which might be traced back to Mānī’s ‘Picture-book’, on which until now only textual references were available. In some recent studies, I endeavoured to demonstrate that the Cosmology painting contains clear visual information on intricate details of the extremely complex Manichaean system. During my research period, I would like to further my investigations into other motifs of this highly complex painting with ca. 500 figures. This is the main emphasis of my research period, thus I primarily plan to write studies that compare certain motifs on this important painting with those on the other paintings, as well as with the written sources from Xiapu. In addition to the Cosmology painting, I collect material concerning the so-called Yamato Bunkakan Manichaean painting, about which I developed a novel hypothesis: I contend that a more careful examination of the textual and iconographical elements of the Buddhist Ten Kings of Hell tradition would offer a more specific clue to reconstructing its original religious message. A further important visual source is the recently (2011) discovered painting depicting Mānī’s birth. In interpreting this painting, I concentrate on tracing the Buddhist motifs by comparing them with the written Buddhist sources that record Buddha’s birth and the visual representations of certain themes that were mostly preserved in Dunhuang.


By applying a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective, the analysis of the Xiapu material and the four new paintings can greatly contribute to our understanding of Manichaeism, which might offer new insights for art historians and historians of religions.




Gábor Kósa is faculty member of the Department of Chinese Studies at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Budapest. He holds a MA in Religious Studies and a Ph.D in Chinese Studies from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest.


Selected publications


'The Sun, the Moon and the Paradise. An analysis of the upper section of the Chinese Manichaean Cosmology painting’, Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology, vol. 6, 2015 [2011], pp. 171–93.


'Translating the Eikōn. Some considerations on the relation of the Chinese Cosmology painting to the Eikōn’, in J.P. Laut & K. Röhrborn (eds), Vom Aramäischen zum Alttürkischen. Fragen zur Über­set­zung von manichäischen Texten, De Gruyter, Berlin/New York, 2014, pp. 49–84. 


'Buddhist Monsters in the Chinese Manichaean Hymnscroll and the Pumen chapter of the Lotus sutra', The Eastern Buddhist, vol. 44, no. 1, 2014, pp. 27‒76.


'Atlas and Splenditenens in the Cosmology Painting’, in M. Knüppel & L. Cirillo (eds), Gnostica et Manichaica. Festschrift für Aloïs van Tongerloo. Anläßlich des 60.  Geburtstages überreicht von Kollegen, Freunden und Schülern, Studies in Oriental Religions 65, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 2012, pp. 63–88.


'The Protagonist-catalogues of the Apocryphal Acts of Apostles in the Coptic Manichaica ‒ a Re-assessment of the Evidence', in B. Eszter, G. Andras & H. Andrea (eds), From Illahun to Djeme. Papers Presented in Honour of Ulrich Luft, Archaeopress, Oxford, 2011, pp. 107‒119.


'The 'Sea of Fire' as a Chinese Manichaean Metaphor: source materials for mapping an unnoticed image', Asia Major, vol. 24, no. 2, 2011/2012, pp. 1‒52.


'Peacocks under the Jewel-tree. New hypotheses on the Manichaean painting of Bezeklik (Cave 38)', Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology, vol. 4, 2011, pp. 135‒48.



junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline Philosophy
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline Musicology