Sunday, July 12, 2009

Baths, Baptism, and Patronage

I've started working on my SBL 2009 Annual meeting paper entitled "Baths, Baptism, and Patronage: the Continuing Role of Roman Social Identity in Corinth". Here is my abstract to let you know how I plan to proceed: Richard DeMaris in The New Testament in its Ritual World argues that in Corinth baptism may be understood as a ritual subversion of Roman hegemony by a small group that continued to identify with Corinth’s glorious Greek past. While this is plausible, this paper addresses weaknesses in DeMaris’ approach and then argues that based on: (1) Paul’s approach to identity formation that ‘in Christ’ previous social identities are not obliterated but continue to be relevant within the Christ-movement (see William S. Campbell, Paul and the Creation of Christian Identity); and (2) that the primary problem in Corinth was an over-identification with key aspects of their continuing Roman social identity ‘in Christ’; then (3) the more likely problem in Corinth was that some within the ekklēsia were continuing to treat baptism in a manner that was quite similar to the dominant and accepted Roman practices associated with political patronage, water control policies, and public bathing. Thus, (4) Paul writes in order to reprioritise key aspects of their Roman social identity related to water use in order to stabilise the community in its mission of social integration (see 1 Cor 1:13-17; 10:1-2; 12:13; 15:29).

So, in researching I came by Everett Ferguson’s new book Baptism in the Early Church.

He references Eduard Stommel's important article: ‚Christliche Taufriten und antike Badesitten’, Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 2 (1959): 5-14. Here is a little bit of Ferguson's discussion: ‘Eduard Stommel in an influential article has argued that bathing customs in the Greco-Roman world provided a pattern for the Christian administration of baptism. He points to the parallel in both practices of anointing the whole body with oil and to baptism from the New Testament forward being first of all regarded as a cleansing or purification, and purification rites in the Old Testament and in pagan cults could be by sprinkling (pp. 6-7)…Stommel’s contention is that in antiquity the bather undressed and while standing poured, or had poured on himself, water (p. 8). The data are too limited for generalizations. Plato referred to an orator who “poured a flood of words...over our ears like a bath attendant.” [Republic 1.17, 344D] The earlier Greek representations of an external application of water to the bather show a variety of methods. Vase paintings from classical Greece show water poured over a crouching figure, women standing under sprays of water flowing from sprouts about their shoulders, athletes washing with water from sprouts above them, and men gathered around a basin and scooping out water. [Yegül 1992: pp. 17-21, figures 19-21] In Greek hip-baths from the third century B.C. the bathers sat while hot water was poured over them’ [DeLaine 1996: 236].’ (Ferguson 2009: 34-35).

‘During the Roman period large and small bathing establishments, public and private, with sizeable pools for dipping and swimming multiplied. Roman bathing procedures followed a general pattern that could be called a ritual. [Yegül 1992: 33-40; Fagan 1999: 10] By early afternoon the men’s workday was concluded. The procedure was for the body to be oiled, to take light exercise, to have a bath, and then to take the main meal of the day. The typical order of the baths was a warm bath, a hot bath, and a cold plunge, and the baths had separate rooms for each: the tepidarium, the caldarium, and the frigidarium. Anointing the body with oil (and sometimes perfumes) might occur before or after (or both) the bath. [Yegül 1992: 38, 354-55] (Ferguson 2009: 35).

Biers, Jane C. The Great Bath on the Lechaion Road. Princeton, NJ: American School of Class. Studies at Athens, 1985.
DeLaine, Jaanet. 'Baths', in Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
DeMaris, Richard E. The New Testament in Its Ritual World. London: Routledge, 2008.
Fagan, Garrett G. Bathing in Public in the Roman World. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999.
Ferguson, Everett. Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2009.
Yegül, Fikret K. Baths and Bathing in Classical Antiquity. New York, N.Y.: Architectural History Foundation, 1992.


pgmccullough said...

Hi Brian,

I just noticed your blog from the Top 50 link. I'm working on social identity myself, just getting started in the area, actually. I'm looking into connections between apocalyptic thought and social identity--apocalyptic thought has demanded most of my attention thus far.

Anyway, what program unit are you presenting in? Might it be the "Construction of Christian Identities" unit? If so, I am too!

Welcome to the blogging world! I have added you to my feed reader. I look forward to learning from you about the topic of social identity and Christian origins :)

J. Brian Tucker, Ph.D. said...

I am in the Construction of Christian Identities section, as well. I would say you are on to something with the focus on apocalyptic. I put together an idea that I described as apocalyptic identity formation. I didn't do as much with it as I planned but hope to - sometime in the future [no pun intended -okay pun intended!]

chuck said...

What role might Paul's Jewish education and knowledge of the Mikveh and the religious implications it holds, play in his thought process of the Roman bathes and baptism?

J. Brian Tucker, Ph.D. said...

Well, I guess Wayne Meeks will need to answer this, ‘by the time of Christianity’s beginnings Pharisaic sages seem already to have invented the mikveh, an immersion pool deemed pure if it had adequate dimensions and the prescribed construction even though the water was still. Yet we cannot very well imagine the synagogue officers in an eastern city admitting to their mikveh one of Paul’s groups of uncircumcised gentiles, chanting about a messiah equal to God, crucified, resurrected, and reigning in heaven. It is only slightly less fantastic to picture them taking over a room in a public bath. The river seems our best guess, or else a tub and a bowl’ (The First Urban Christians, 2003: 151).