At the heart of the Talmud is the Mishnah, in which is manifested the oral traditions of Judaism predating the year 200 CE. It is from this source, written almost two centuries after the death of Jesus, that we acquire much of the information to date on the mikveh. The mikveh, according to this Jewish text, is the bath that was used in a ritual form to purify the individual, a common theme in Jewish text and a prominent concern in the lives of many Jews, depending on their specific faith. Mikveh literally can be translated as a “collection of water”. The common structure of the bath would have one or two sets of steps. Jewish people would walk into the bath down one set of steps and up the other, so as to fully purify themselves after everyday actions that would lead to any form of impurity, which were numerous, and expanded on in Old Testament scriptures.
Direct translation of the first chapter of the Mishna on mikvaot specifies a hierarchy of six levels of purifying waters. Each is higher than the next, and is distinct in its characteristics and specific uses. The Mishna quotes many rabbis in their own opinion on the point at which pools of water purify:
From when are they pure? Bet Shamai say, "From when the rain water exceeds the previously standing water, and causes the pools to overflow." Bet Hillel say, "From when the rain water exceeds the previously standing water, even though it does not cause overflow." Rabi Shimon says, "When it overflows, even though it does not exceed."
The significance of the mikveh is in its obvious centrality to the early Jewish debate surrounding the concept of purity, how it was achieved and lost. The debate raged between the many factions of Jewish belief. The role of the Temple in Jerusalem, and how it relates to the purity that mikvaot are said to provide will be expanded on in this presentation.
The ritual bath will be analysed in terms of its significance and prominence in the scriptures of the New and Old Testaments, drawing specifically from instances in the gospel of Mark and Luke, as well as in the writing of Paul. In these sections, either the mikvehs themselves, or the concept of purity is directly addressed and through the development of this writing into canon came emerging popular perceptions of what entailed purity, how important it was and how one may attain it.