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“We And Those Waters Of The Sea Are One”: Baptism, Bathing, And The Construction Of Identity In Late Ancient Babylonia

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Chapter Summary

In the tumultuous third decade of the third century A.D., the four-year-old future prophet (or heresiarch) Mani came to live with his father, a Parthian aristocrat, among the Babylonian Jewish-Christian Gnostic sect now commonly called the Elchasites, after their founder, Elchasai[os] or Elxai. From earliest times, the writers of ancient Babylonia recognized that water, particularly the life-giving water of the Tigris and Euphrates, was fundamental to the preservation of their rich agricultural and urban civilization. The ritual uses of water in the practices of Christians and Gnostic baptizing sects were even more troubling to Magian authorities. Magian authorities concerns regarding issues of purity were exacerbated by the central, public role played by ritual bathing, especially baptism, in these traditions. Christian uses of water solidified the identification of Sasanian Christians with their Roman enemies, who were well-known as promiscuous bathers.

Keywords: baptism; late ancient Babylonia; Magian priesthood; ritual bathing; Sasanian christian



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