The Book of Mormon clearly notes in several places that the followers of Christ are to be baptized (see for example 3 Nephi 11:25-26). The critics have been quick to condemn:
[The Book of Mormon] says that Christians should be baptized by immersion, long before the advent of the Messiah. Greater marks of fraud could not be given.... (Sunderland, 47.)
...the Nephites could hardly have known... [the word] baptize.... (Whalen, 45)
There are many other expressions in the book to indicate its modern origin. For instance, it contains... Baptize, ...[which] convey ideas wholly modern. (Folk, 185.)
[It is difficult] for a Christian to consider... the teaching of Nephi who in about 550 B.C. commanded his people to be baptized. (Scott, 74.)
[The Book of Mormon teaches that] Christian churches were organized, baptism by immersion administered, and all the blessings and privileges of the New Testament dispensation enjoyed, with the peculiar gifts of speaking with tongues, prophesying, performing miracles, and such like, hundreds of years before the appearance of Jesus Christ in the flesh. (Folk, 172.)
Most interesting is the attitude of most of the book [Book of Mormon] toward Christ, notwithstanding its presumably pre-Christian character. Throughout the book, prophets and preachers speak of Christ, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and foretell with striking clarity his death and resurrection. The Christian doctrines of the Resurrection, Baptism, faith in the Atonement, and the like are the common articles of belief of the Nephi prophets and their people. It is as if the author could not imagine Hebraic messianic hopes in any other terms than Christian. (ODea, 39.)
To the critics, claiming that pre-Christian Americans would use Christian terminology was the height of blasphemy and the surest mark that the Book of Mormon is a fraud. Today, however, thanks to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we find that many pre-Christian Jews were Christian in nature.
In 1955 Time magazine wrote that the most startling disclosure of the Essene documents [Dead Sea Scrolls] so far published is that the sect possessed, years before Christ, a terminology and practice that have always been considered uniquely Christian. The Essenes practiced baptism and shared in a liturgical repast of bread and wine presided over by a priest. They believed in redemption and in the immortality of the soul. Their most important leader was... a Messianic prophet-priest blessed with divine revelation.... Many phrases, symbols and precepts similar to those in Essene literature are used in the New Testament, particularly in the Gospel of John and the Pauline Epistles....(quoted in Nibley, 1956, 71.) This discovery has been so startling and disturbing to most churches that concerted efforts have... been made by some religionists to literally sweep the contents of the old manuscripts under ecclesiastical rugs and firmly nail down the edges. (Robinson and Robinson, 2.)
When it was first realized that the Dead Sea Scrolls contained pre-Christian, Christian doctrines, those who opposed Christianity took advantage of the confusion to support their beliefs that Christianity was not unique as the Christians claimed, but merely a Jewish copy-cat sect. Indeed, it is an undeniable fact that many Christian doctrines, once believed to be unique to Christianity, were practiced by pre-Christian Jews. To most of those who realize this fact, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been either the proof that Christianity is a fraud, or that Christ and his followers, though correct in claiming who they are, borrowed their teachings from already existing sources.
For the Mormons, this disclosure is simply another vindication for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the prophetic powers of Joseph Smith. Jesus did not borrow teachings from contemporary Jews, but rather he restored to their purity teachings which had been lost. Just as the Lord restored the fullness of the gospel through Joseph Smith, so likewise, Jesus restored teachings to His Church which had previously been taught prior to the apostasy of the Jews. The same thing had happened centuries before with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses-- each of whom restored truth to their dispensation (the ancient Apocalypse of Adam, claims that Adam was baptized [Apocalypse of Adam 3-5, as cited in Ostler, 39.]). And just as many Christians Churches still retained certain truths when the LDS Church was restored, likewise when Jesus restored the gospel, some contemporary Jews still clung to authentic beliefs which had been revealed to their ancestors ages ago. But just as Joseph Smith was persecuted for teaching what many believed to be strange, or new, doctrines, so likewise was Jesus persecuted for supposedly teaching strange, or new, doctrines.
The fact that he [Jesus] irritated the Jewish leaders to such a degree that they concluded they needed to eliminate him by the cruelest of deaths-- crucifixion-- is proof in itself that his was a new religion as far as the Jews were concerned, and certainly not a dissident branch of it. (Robinson and Robinson, 233.)
Among some of the similarities (DSS) are:
1. Their concept of the nature of God.
2. Their church organization and structure.
3. Their religious rites, such as baptism by immersion preceded by faith and repentance.
4. Their noon-day communal meal conducted in form like the Christian sacrament. (Ibid., 3-4.)
In Joseph Smiths day the anti-Mormons denied the existence of any pre-Christian baptism-- especially by immersion for cleansing of sins. Sometime later scholars conceded that the Jews did practice a type of baptism but they made great efforts to point out that the Jewish baptism was a ritual washing and it was still very different from the unique Christian baptism. Although acknowledging the existence of baptism outside of and older than Christianity, one non-Mormon scholar wrote: Different reasons have been sought to explain what John meant by the baptism that he administered: a unique baptism, by immersion and involving moral undertaking. (Von Allman, 31; italics added.)
Then along came the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls whose authors left behind a wealth of information concerning ancient Jewish practices. Interestingly enough, large water basins were discovered at Qumran (the Dead Sea Community). Nibley recalls that when he first visited Qumran, in 1966, ...Christian and Jewish scholars vigorously denied that the tanks, basins and water-conduits connecting them had anything to do with baptism or ritual ablutions.... (Nibley, 1978b, 177.) Likewise, one non-Mormon scholar has noted in the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review (B.A.R.):
Strangely enough, although a large number of water installations were found [at Qumran] during the seven-year course of the excavations, none was originally identified as a miqveh [the word for the Jewish baptisms]. Instead, they were regarded as ordinary baths or as cisterns for the collection of water in this arid area. (La Sor, 55.)
Thanks to further findings, however (both in the writings of the Qumranian sect and by the discoveries of archaeologists), the world now knows that the Book of Mormon has been right all along-- the Jews did practice pre-Christian baptism. La Sor notes:
Roland de Vaux published a report on his Qumran excavations in 1973. In it he stated that two small water installations were certainly baths, but archaeology is powerless to determine whether the baths taken in them had a ritual significance.
In 1978 de Vaux modified his position somewhat:
This system was designed to fill the needs of a large community in an arid region. However, the care taken in constructing these installations may suggest that they were intended for the ceremony of ritual immersion. (Ibid., 55-56.)
The scholars have changed their attitude-- they have been forced to. The overwhelming evidences can no longer be disputed.
Rules of initiation and examination [into the community] were strict. Most remarkable is the mention of baptism:....
His sin is forgiven him and in humility of his soul he is for all the Laws of God; his flesh is cleansed shining bright in the waters of purification, even in the waters of baptism (dukh).... (Nibley, 1978a, 151.)
By the time the Scrolls were discovered many Bible scholars had come to realize (reluctantly for some) that the Jews were practicing a form of baptism, but it was the Scrolls which gave them understanding to the significance of this pre-Christian baptism. Another non-Mormon scholar has written:
The discovery that the Qumran sect practiced baptismal rites is nothing new; so too did most Jewish sects in the New Testament period. What is new is that these rites were practiced in relation to a movement of repentance, of entry into a new Covenant (and a new Covenanted Israel, the sect itself) in preparation for an impending divine judgement. (Black, 97.)
Now the scholars understand the significance of the Jewish baptisms-- Christian baptism for the cleansing of sins, by immersion, did not begin with Christ.
Baptism wasnt a Johanine innovation, as many are led to believe; not only did the Essenes (Dead Sea Scroll Community) require it but the Priests of the Temple in Jerusalem were obliged to plunge beneath the waters daily.... (Joyce, 76.)
The ritual bathing pool was meant not for hygienic cleansing, but rather for ritual purification. (La Sor, 52.)
La Sor, writing for B.A.R., observes the impact that archeology has played in these recent discoveries.
Until the discoveries of modern archaeology, we knew about ancient Jewish ritual immersion baths only from literary texts. Now, however, archaeology has provided us with numerous examples of Jewish ritual immersion baths, called miqvaot (singular, miqveh), dating to the late Second Temple period, prior to and during the time when John the Baptist lived. These miqvaot undoubtedly provided the background for Christian baptism.... The first ancient miqvaot to be identified as such were found by Yigael Yadin in the early 1960s at Masada, Herods mountain fortress in the Judean wilderness. (Ibid; italics added.)
La Sor adds that a 1984 study by Bryant G. Wood of the University of Toronto has shown rather conclusively that some of the water installations at Qumran were indeed miqvaot.... The importance the Qumranites attached to purificatory rites and water ablutions is now documented in the Temple Scroll.... almost surely these Jewish miqvaot provided the background for Christian baptism. (Ibid., 57.) In addition he notes something else that the Book of Mormon has been teaching for over one hundred and fifty years-- baptism is to be preformed by immersion.
Complete immersion was required. Maimonides stated: Whosoever immerses himself must immerse his whole body.... Even the hair must be totally immersed.... For immersion to be valid, no part of the bodys surface may be untouched by water. (Ibid., 52, 54.)
Anybody who has ever attended an LDS baptism knows how familiar this sounds. When a person is baptized into The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints they must be immersed completely. No part of their body, or hair, may be untouched by water. In closing his article La Sor writes:
We may therefore reasonably conclude that Johns baptism was not something new. It was something that grew out of Jewish ritual immersion in miqvaot. (Ibid., 57.)
It is also interesting to note that a form of baptism [was] ...known and practiced in ancient MesoAmerica (Sorenson, 1984, 60), and what appear to be baptismal fonts... have been located in the Yucatan and near Lima, Peru. (Cheesman, 1984, 157.) The sixteenth century Bishop Landa observed that native baptism was strikingly similar to the Christian baptism and that the Mayan word for their baptism was caputchil which meant to be born again. (Ibid., 154.) Still other Spanish writers recorded that the native baptisms were preformed to wash away sins, and to purify souls. (Ibid., 155.)
Michael R. Ash
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