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Mikvahs / Mikveh: Immersion in the Bible

Mikvahs / Mikveh: Immersion in the Bible


Christians are often led to believe that the practise of baptism is a "New Testament" ritual that is performed once.

In fact immersion was commanded by God through Moses, in Leviticus 15 and other places. The reason for these commanded immersions, which should have occured, not just once, but during every pilgrimage to the Tabernacle or Temple, particularly during the three pilgrim Feasts (Deuteronomy 16:) is given in:

Leviticus 15:31

31 Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile my tabernacle that is among them.

Wikipedia documents the events after which immersion in a Mikvah is requred by the written Torah as:

  • after normal emissions of semen (Leviticus 15:16);
  • after abnormal discharges of bodily fluids (Leviticus 15:13) - see Zav/Zavah
  • after certain skin condition(s) (Leviticus 14:6-9) see Tzaraath
  • by anyone who came into contact with someone suffering from Zav/Zavah, or into contact with a menstruating woman or Niddah, or who comes into contact with articles that have been used or sat upon by such persons. (See Leviticus 15:5-10 and Leviticus 15:19-27. See also "Sex During Menstruation".
  • by Jewish priests when they are being consecrated (Exodus 29:4 and 40:12)
  • by the Jewish high priest on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), after sending away the goat to Azazel, and by the man who leads away the goat (Leviticus 16:24, 26,28)
  • after contact with a corpse or grave (Numbers 19:19) in addition to having the ashes of the Red Heifer ritual sprinkled upon them
  • by the Jewish priest who performed the Red Heifer ritual (Numbers 19:7-8)
  • after eating meat from an carrion, an animal that died naturally (Leviticus 17:15).

Israeilite Males Commanded to Make Pilgrimage Three Times Per Year

Having been brought to the promised land, Israelite males were commanded to bring sacrifices to the Tabernacle (later the Temple) three times every year during what became known as the Pilgrim Festivals. See Deuteronomy 16, Acts 2:5-12 and of course...

Luke 2:41

41 ¶  Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover.
42  And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.
43  And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.
44  But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
45  And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.
46  And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
47  And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.

Pilgrims on Their Way to Keep The Feasts at The Temple in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16)
Pilgrims (& Sacrifices) On Their Way to One of the Three Annual Pilgrim Festivals.

In accordance with the above laws (such as Leviticus 15), it was essential that the pilgrims immersed prior to gaining access to the Temple. Haggai re-emphasises the implications of sacrificing when unclean in chapter 2.

Haggai 2:

13 Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean.
14 Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the LORD; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.

The example of Jesus' entire extended family going up to the Temple for the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, shows us that women weren't excluded from participating in the celebrations in Jerusalem. However, menstruous women were unclean from the beginning of their periods for seven days (Leviticus 15), although allowed within the city of Jerusalem, large proportions of the adult female population weren't allowed access to the Temple courts during the Feasts.

Adult males however, could be ritually cleansed (most usually from their semen), the evening after they'd immersed; which is presumably why only males could be commanded to make the pilgrimage in Deuteronomy 16.

Given the huge influx of pilgrims to Jerusalem during the Feasts (Acts 2) the capacity of the Mikvahs must have been substantial. In fact, it's likely that the Pool of Bethesda (left) and the Pool of Siloam (right) were Mikveh too. If so, their design would have complied with the Mishnah tractate "Mikwaoth" (Immersion Pools), which begins on page 732 of the Danby translation of the Mishnah.

Pool of Bethesda  Pool of Siloam

From The Jewish Virtual Library article Mikveh:

"During the Second Temple period (roughly from 100 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), the Jewish population in Palestine had a very distinctive practice of purification within water installations known as mikva'ot. Large numbers of stepped-and-plastered mikva'ot have been found in excavations in Jerusalem, in outlying villages, as well as at various rural locations. Most of the installations in Jerusalem were in basements of private dwellings and therefore must have served the specific domestic needs of the city inhabitants. Numerous examples are known from the area of the "Upper City" of Second Temple period Jerusalem (the present-day Jewish Quarter and Mount Zion), with smaller numbers in the "City of David" and the "Bezetha Hill." A few slightly larger mikva'ot are known in the immediate area of the Temple Mount, but these installations could not have met the needs of tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims from outside the city attending the festivities at the Temple on an annual basis. It would appear that the Bethesda and Siloam Pools – to the north and south of the Temple Mount – were designed at the time of Herod the Great to accommodate almost all of the ritual purification needs of the large numbers of Jewish pilgrims who flocked to Jerusalem for the festivals. In addition to this, those precluded from admission to the Temple, owing to disabilities and bodily defects, would have sought miraculous healing at these pools and this is the background for the healing accounts in the Gospel of John (5: 1–13; 9: 7, 11)".

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (The Jerusalem Post) Friday, March 31, 2006 11:29 IST

"The main Jerusalem road during the time of the Second Temple which led to the Temple Mount was recently uncovered by Israeli archaeologists in the City of David".

"The main road that ran from Jerusalem's City of David to the Temple Mount during the time of the Second Temple has been uncovered by Israeli archaeologists, those involved in the dig said Thursday. The road connected the Shiloah pool in the City of David to the Temple Mount compound".

"The 2,000-year-old road was discovered adjacent to the Shiloah pool during ongoing excavations at the site, said Israeli Antiquities Authority archeologist Eli Shukrun. He is directing the dig together with University of Haifa archaeologist Prof. Ronny Reich".

"The road was used by the tens of thousands of people who came to Jerusalem for the Jewish pilgrimage holidays during the Second Temple Period, who immersed themselves in the Shiloah pool before entering the Temple Mount, Shukrun said. He said the road showed the centrality of both the Temple and the pool for life in the city at the time".

"Archaeologists had previously discovered the other end of the 600-meter road near the Temple Mount, he said".

Interestingly prophecy indicates that rivers of living water, will flow from the Millennial Temple, creating a river which can't be passed over. Arguably this is a reference to a natural type of Mikvah. The Mishnah says that "rivers of living waters" are the best type of Mikvah.

John the Immerser

One hypothesis for the interpretation of the gospels that follows from this is that as the fulfillment of the seventy weeks prophecy loomed and Israelites looked forward to the immanent appearance of Messiah; “John the Immerser” was leading a renaissance of compliance with the ritual cleanliness statutes of Leviticus 15 etc. immersing people in the “living waters” of the River Jordan, perhaps on their way up to the Pilgrim Feasts?

If so, this succinctly explains why John didn’t “baptize” with the Holy Spirit.

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© www.judianity.info May 2009.

An adjustment to the law to circumcise gentile proselytes caused massive unrest in Acts for the predominantly Jewish first century church. If the rest of the written Torah has been abolished; why wassn't a similar level of strife generated ? Paul offered post crucifixion sacrifices &kept Nazirite vows at the temple many christian theologians believe. So does Galatians really mean the Torah law is "abolished"?