Initiation and the Ritual Purification from Sin: Between Qumran and the Apostolic Tradition

In: Dead Sea Discoveries
Yair Furstenberg Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

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Second Temple Judaism witnessed the rise of a new approach to sin impurity. While in the Hebrew Bible sin impurity was associated with improper actions, and there was no formula to dissipate it, this form of impurity underwent a process of reification during the Second Temple period and was consequently identified with specific objects and people, such as idols, gentiles and “outsiders” in general. Consequently, the distinction between moral and ritual impurity was blurred, and practices for the disposal of bodily impurity were gradually applied to carriers of sin impurity. Arguably, both Qumran sectarians and Christians shared this Second Temple tendency, and it shaped their common ritual language. In this article, I examine the gradual development of initiation as a locus of purification from sin impurity in various Qumran texts and in the Christian Apostolic Tradition. The two corpora share the challenge of expelling the impure presence of sin through concrete ritual patterns of bodily purification. Although they seem to differ in their choice of ritual resources, in both cases the principles of gradual bodily purification merge with the language of exorcism to create a separate purification procedure in addition to the initial rite of initiation.

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