Although most scholars recognize that Christian baptism is related to Jewish ritual bathing, many assume that Christians transformed and rejected Jewish bathing practices. To correct this overly simplistic view, Lawrence mines archaeological and textual materials to outline a larger context for Jewish and Christian bathing. Using archaeological data from Jerusalem, Judea, Qumran, and the Galilee, as well as his own close reading of the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other Second Temple literature, Lawrence identifies a spectrum of functions—ritual, metaphorical, or initiatory—that bathing served during the Second Temple period. He thus offers a new approach to the study of ritual bathing and suggests that, despite the polemics of later Christian and Jewish texts, the earliest Christians drew on a tradition shared with the Qumran community and other Jewish groups, in which each group chose its own emphases for ritual bathing.
Jonathan D. Lawrence is Assistant Professor in Religious Studies and Theology at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. He has excavated at Sepphoris in Israel and has held fellowships in Israel and Jordan.