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In Matthew 3:13-17 Jesus is baptized by John. Is baptism a Jewish practice?

Based on Jesus the Phoenician baptism used to be practiced by Canaanites, not Jews. Is this claim true or false?

  • These are two separate questions. Also, it needs to be related to a text. I've edited this accordingly and am posting the second part as a new question. – Dan Aug 7 '14 at 19:20
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    Here is the second question. Also note that questions here must be related to a text. I've added a text for you. Testing the claims of a book about the text is fine so long as the specific text is also provided. – Dan Aug 7 '14 at 19:32
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    See also: Was baptism practiced before Christ? – Caleb Aug 8 '14 at 10:17
  • See mikveh. – Lucian Aug 28 '18 at 10:49
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Yes, Baptism is well attested in Jewish sources dating from both before and after Christ. These are both for mainstream Judaism and sectarian.

From before Jesus, one finds clear references to baptism in the Dead Sea Scrolls. See for example, 1QS (The Community Rule) and 4Q274-276 (The Purity Texts).

From sources dating after Jesus (but portraying traditions that date back prior to Him): B.T. Yebamoth 46a records a discussion between R. Hiyya b. Abba (speaking in the name of R. Johanan), R. Eliezer, and R. Joshua on whether or not proselytes need to be baptized. See also B.T. Yebamoth 22a, 47b, 48b, 62a, and Megillah 13a. Most authors have no trouble seeing this Jewish ceremony as the predecessor to Christian baptism1. On the other hand, a few2 say it is not clear that Jews used baptism prior to Christianity. However, during the early years of Christianity the Jews were trying to make themselves distinct from the young sect. Why would a religion trying to make itself distinct from its daughter adopt a ceremony that the daughter used? The older religion would not insist on baptism (as the rabbis do in many places) unless it was already an established part of the conversion process.

Even beyond the recorded traditions, numerous baptismal pools dating to before Christianity have been found by archeologists in Jerusalem, Qumran, and Masada.


1W. E. Nunnally, “Water of Purification” in Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1369. Lawrence H. Schiffman, Who Was a Jew, 26.

2Scott McKnight, A Light Among the Gentiles, 85.

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