Mattias Brand

Winner Dissertation Prize 2021

The Manichaeans of Kellis. Religion, Community and Everyday life.

Supervisors: Prof. dr. A.F. de Jong & Prof. dr. J. van der Vliet
Nomination: Leiden University, Faculty of Humanities

Report by the selection committee

In the late 1990s a large number of Coptic and Greek texts were found in the village of Kellis in the western desert of Egypt. In addition to prayers and psalms of the then very important Manichaean religion, there were many letters and other documents from ordinary people among these texts. Initially, they were mainly interpreted in the light of what we think we know about Manichaeism as a religious community. This author, however, shows that these texts offer a unique insight into the everyday life of Manichaeans in the Roman Empire.

The jury appreciates the precisely documented insight into the daily life of a small religious group, based on a particularly clever combination of papyrology, archaeology, religious studies, and history. It even speaks of a ‘Montaillou of Antiquity’. The painstaking detail of the research leads to a broader vision: the micro-level data investigated are used to shed light on the large and important question of religious transformations in Late Antiquity. This book offers an innovative contribution to major debates in Ancient History and Religious Studies. And it is a very enjoyable read at that.