Old Testament Significance
The Mikvah was a prominent aspect of Jewish culture before the birth and lifetime of Jesus. Especially so for those who were often ‘impure’ simply by living their day-to-day lives. Women are an example of this because, as they were impure during childbirth and menstruation, which makes up for a significant portion of their lifetimes, they were also tasked with dressing the dead, so Mikvah was especially important for them.
Purity and cleanliness has always been especially important for Jewish people throughout history, and immersing oneself in the Mikvah had ritualistic importance; you had to know what you wished to gain and achieve repentance through this.
In the Old Testament, the Mikvah is mentioned twelve times in total. “In ancient days, it was used by priests before entering the Holy of Holies” which shows how important is was to the Jewish community in the days of the Old Testament. The rules underlines in the Mikva’ot are essential in allowing a person to be pure enough to be considered worthy to stand in the presence of God. The regulations were in place to make sure that the upkeep of the human form and thus, what was thought to be the “divine image of God,” was maintained. Full immersion in the Mikvah was required in the Torah/Old Testament.
“The Jewish Mikvah was a precursor to Christian baptism, a symbol of renewal and hope.” The idea of baptism in this was had different connotations in the old testament, than in the New Testament. While, in the latter, the link between the Mikvah and baptism becomes clearer, in the Old Testament, the rules stated in the Mikva’ot have little to do with conversion or the adoption of the Christian faith. While there are rules about baptism in the Jewish faith, their relation to the Christian rules are widely disputed.
The Mikva’ot, in ancient times, was often difficult to fully observe due to issues such as a lack of “valid” or “pure” water, and so loopholes were sought out to counteract this. “Since, however, Mikva’ot are usually constructed in urban and other settlements where such supplies are not freely available, the technological and halakhic solution of the valid Mikvah depends essentially upon constructing a Mikvah with valid water and replenishing it with invalid water, taking advantage of the fact that the addition of this water to an originally valid one does not invalidate it.” The rules were taken seriously enough that solutions to problems such as these were diligently sought, but also necessary enough in the community that the need for the Mikva’ot to exist in general was more important than the quality of it. While being impure in Old Testament times was common and accepted in wider society, it was also important that purity was sought for different occasions, such as temple visitations, weddings and Yom Kippur. A way of purifying and cleansing oneself was important in Old Testament times for this very reason and a way of doing so was needed.
In Leviticus, much of the book is concerned with cleanliness and bathing and washing to become clean, specifically verse five (concerning bodily discharges). As impurity can be spread second hand (i.e. touching something that an impure person has touched), the need for Mikva’ot is definitely prevalent. The amount of ritualistic washing was great and as such, the levels and restrictions in the Mikva’ot were important in making sure everyone knew when they were clean or unclean. The laws of purity were set out in Leviticus and the Mikva’ot made sure that people were kept pure.
As such, the significance of the Mikva’ot in the Old Testament is great. It set the foundations of purity of which Christian practices were formed and impacted greatly on the life of Jesus as a Jew living by the rules of Leviticus. The Mikvah played an important part in the lives of the Jewish people and is reflected in the Old Testament, with implications of impure acts, and thus, the necessity of bathing. The relationship between the people and God at this time was authoritative and the need to uphold and maintain the rules for being in his presence was well established in the Old Testament mind-set. While this largely evaporated in the newly Christian community post-redemption, it was still very important and significant at this time.
Keri Wyatt Kent (2011), Deeper Into the Word: Old Testament: Reflections on 100 Words from the Old Testament (Baker Books)
‘Jewish Practices & Rituals: Mikvah’ in Jewish Virtual Library [accessed: 30/03/14] www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/mikveh.html#3
The Bible with Apocrypha NRSV, Anglicized, (Oxford University Press)