Where does the ritual of baptism come from?

Updated: Feb 1

Did you know…


…that baptism is not just a Christian tradition? While John might be the most famous baptizer, he was not the first. The Jewish tradition had a long history of ritual washing/cleaning dating all the way back to the time of the exile from Jerusalem some 500 years before Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan.


The Essenes, one of the three main Jewish sect along with the Pharisees and Sadducees, had very clearly outlined initiation rites of ritual washing, emphasizing the need to be purified both inside, through a change in moral behavior, and outside, through the ritual immersion. We hear this language also in John’s requirement that repentance is required beyond the simple act of ritual immersion (i.e. baptism).


The Essenes, as well as other Jewish communities, emphasized the importance of natural bodies of waters, or what they referred to as “living waters” (sound familiar), as those which provided the highest forms of purity after washing.


Remember, John and Jesus were Jewish people, taking part in Jewish practices, looking to transform the world through their Jewish heritage.



Source:
Hellholm, David, Vegge, Tor, Norderval, Øyvind, and Hellholm, Christer, eds. Ablution, Initiation, and Baptism : Late Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, Inc., 2011.

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