The Archaeology Of Baptism -- By: Howard Osgood

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 055:217 (Jan 1898)
Article: The Archaeology Of Baptism
Author: Howard Osgood

The Archaeology Of Baptism

Howard Osgood

Archaeology is the investigation that is busied with ancient monuments and especially with ancient art However valuable its search may be, its teachings discredit themselves if they are not in harmony with the plain, unequivocal testimony of the literature and history of the period investigated. The last analysis of the archaeology, literature, and history of any age must find all three in agreement, or there is some error in the analysis.

In the archaeology of the first Christian rite there have been three points of special dissension among writers of Western Europe and America: the relation of the baptism by John the Baptist to the practice of the Jews; the picture in the catacomb of St. Callistus; the mosaic in the vault of the dome of the orthodox baptistery in Ravenna. We think, when contemporaneous literature and history are used to help and enlighten archaeology, that these points especially illustrate the fact that only on the agreement of the three can the truth be found.

As to the baptism by John the Baptist, treatises have been written with great learning drawn from the Talmud. But whatever truth the Talmud may contain, it certainly is

contrary to the present understanding of scientific historical investigation to use documents of much later age as the main proof for facts of a long prior period. The Talmud in its kernel, the Mishna, is from two hundred to four hundred years later than the New Testament; and in its commentary on the Mishna, the Gemara, it is from four hundred to eight hundred years after the period of John the Baptist. The Mishna and the Gemara are good witnesses of Jewish opinion in their day; but they are not proper witnesses for long prior centuries, and for this purpose nothing can be gained from them but probabilities without proof.

Let us see if literature, history, and archaeology agree on these points of discussion.

The Baths And John’s Baptism

The laws of Jehovah, as we find them in the Pentateuch, like the laws of Christ, as we find them in the New Testament, were of old truly followed only by those who “with their whole heart” sought to do the will of God. Those who faithfully followed these Pentateuch laws would be scrupulously clean in person, in clothing, in house and all its furniture, especially in utensils for cooking, and in all articles of food. When they went abroad they would seek to avoid everything that would render them ceremonially unclean, and, because they never could be certain that they had not touched some of the very numerous polluting things (Lev. 5:2), the bath for cleansing followed b...

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