Jewish proselyte initiation and its possible influence on early Christian initiation, with special reference to baptism

Pusey, Karen (1985). Jewish proselyte initiation and its possible influence on early Christian initiation, with special reference to baptism. MPhil thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f802

Abstract

The earliest indisputable evidence for proselyte lustration is later than the beginnings of Christianity. All the non-Rabbinic references to the subject are found to be suspect. However it is likely that some kind of washing was performed to rid the candidate of the pollution of idolatry. Pre-20th century discussions of possible antiquity are mostly spoiled by party interests and suffer from lack of knowledge of Judaic washings in the first century B.C. onwards.

Although purity was the primary aim of the lustration, it is clear that the whole initiation acted as a consecration to a new life. It may have been seen as a piece of prophetic symbolism and later Rabbinic sources connect it with the forgiveness of sins and a personal recapitulation of Israel's history.

The lustration was by immersion, self administered and witnessed. The rules pertaining to the menstrual bath about 'intervention' applied. There are traces in the New Testament of self-baptism and this may explain a Syriac linguistic curiosity and the Eastern Church's use of the declaratory passive formula for baptism.

John's baptism may be an application of proselyte washing to Jews who deemed themselves to be apostate. There are parallels between John's rite and that of proselyte baptism although the eschatological element is lacking in the latter.

The washings at Qumran have no direct relevance to this discussion, but they form part of the link between proselyte, John's and Christian baptism.

Various New Testament passages echo Rabbinic teaching about the proselyte initiation rite. It is accepted that 1 Peter has a baptismal background and possibly reflects the proselyte rite. At the beginning circumcision and baptism were practised. Under the influence of Paul the former was discontinued. It is certain that catechisms in use for proselytes would have been used for Gentile converts.

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