There were laws that dealt with cleanness in Leviticus

Leviticus 5:2

"Or if any one touch any unclean thing, whether it be the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean cattle, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and it be hidden from him, and he be unclean, then he shall be guilty."

Leviticus 11 dealt with problems of unclean animals' carcasses falling into cooking pots or pitchers of water that had to be broken if they were made unclean.  There were problems with people touching something unclean thus making the person unclean until evening.  The person was not allowed to touch anyone else for fear of making others unclean.  The person was required to wash during the evening after being made unclean.  There were other passages that indicated a person was unclean if he/she had an emission.  A woman was thought to be made unclean by her menstrual period.  

In addition to the Torah passages of Leviticus there were more laws made in the Talmud.  The Jerusalem Talmud contained some of this legal code about what was clean and what was not.  

People used small pools called mikvehs to wash away ritual uncleanness thought to be on their bodies.  The earliest dated mikveh was one found at the Hasmonean palace in Jericho dated to c. 110 B.C.  There were over a hundred mikvehs in use in Jerusalem by 70 A.D.  A mikveh was uncovered at the first century synagogue of Gamala in the Golan Heights region.  A later mikveh was found at the synagogue of Khirbet Shamai near Meron in northern Israel. Ritual cleansing pools were present at Qumran.  The sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls described a cleansing pool.  Qumran scrolls may date between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD.

Some mikvehs were deep while others were shallow and not deep enough for full immersion. 

Mikveh at the Jerusalem Archaeology Park near the Western Wall, Jerusalem July 2006

Pigeon at a mikveh at Ophel-Jerusalem 2008

Some of the first century religious rulers were accusing Jesus of being unclean because he did not wash his hands.

Mark 7 (ASV Public Domain)

 1 And there are gathered together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem,
and had seen that some of his disciples ate their bread with defiled, that is, unwashen, hands.
 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders;
and when they come from the market-place, except they bathe themselves, they eat not; and many other things there are, which they have received to hold, washings of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels.)
And the Pharisees and the scribes ask him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with defiled hands?
 6 And he said unto them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, But their heart is far from me.
 7 But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.
 8 Ye leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.
 9 And he said unto them, Full well do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition.

Matthew 15

 1 Then there come to Jesus from Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes, saying,
Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.
 3 And he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?
 4 For God said, Honor thy father and thy mother: and, He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death.
 5 But ye say, whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is given to God (as corban -to the temple  treasury);
 6 he shall not honor his father. And ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition.
 7 Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying,
 8 This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me.
 9 But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.
And he called to him the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:
Not that which entereth into the mouth defileth the man; but that which proceedeth out of the mouth, this defileth the man.
Then came the disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, when they heard this saying?
But he answered and said, Every plant which my heavenly Father planted not, shall be rooted up.
Let them alone: they are blind guides. And if the blind guide the blind, both shall fall into a pit.
And Peter answered and said unto him, Declare unto us the parable.
And he said, Are ye also even yet without understanding?
Perceive ye not, that whatsoever goeth into the mouth passeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught (some translated the Greek as into the 'latrine' or 'sewer')?
But the things which proceed out of the mouth come forth out of the heart; and they defile the man.
For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings:
these are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not the man.

It was likely the mikveh/mikvat was responsible for the transmission of deadly bacteria from the ritual washing of one's body and subsequent contamination of the water from human feces attached to the skin and clothes then washed into the pool.  The mikveh was also used for the washing of pots, pans, and water pitchers (The Mishna Mikvaot (c. 150-250 AD)).  The Talmud required new kitchen utensils be dipped in the mikveh.  Parts of the Talmud teachings dated to the first century and were passed down orally until they were recorded in writing.  Cholera, typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea, salmonella, and polio were transmitted through water.  When the Jews got home from the market they may have feared they touched something that had been touched by something unclean and may have washed their hands with pitchers washed in the mikvehs as it was required for a new pitcher to be dipped in the mikveh.  Polluted water on the hands was a problem, as the pollution might have been transferred to food.  Jesus not washing his hands before eating may have been good practice as they did not have chlorine for water purification in those days.  The Roman baths were also likely to be polluted during times of epidemics.   Little was known about the mysterious uncleanness thought to be in corpses, women who had menstrual periods, and dead reptiles.  If a house were thought to contain a leprosy it was torn down.  There was also a law that the ashes of a burnt red heifer mixed with water could cure one of uncleanness.  Red cow ashes were no more than a placebo for a people with primitive ideas about what was sanitary and clean. 

Early Jewish Christians chose to reject part of the Jewish laws in favor of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31) . 

In the 19th century British missionary doctors arrived in Turkish controlled Tiberias.  During a cholera epidemic a missionary doctor went to the local governor and got him to post a guard where the Muslim women were washing their clothes and instructed them to wash the clothes at a separate beach from where they drew their drinking water from the lake to avoid the likelihood of getting cholera.. 

Ritual mikveh use seemed to have ended in Judea during the second century A.D.  This was when Hadrian ordered the Jews out of Judea after they rebelled in the Bar Kochba war.  There is a mikveh at Khirbet Shammai near Meron that may have been in use during the third century in the corner of a synagogue found there.  There was a mikveh from the third century found during an IAA salvage dig at Tiberias before construction of a wastewater treatment plant (IAA reports, No. 22, c. 2004).  The use of the mikveh in late Roman times has been argued to be the case at Sephoris also.  In modern times only a few who practice Judaism use mikvehs as modern sanitary practice is better understood than superstitious passages from the Torah.   

John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus were both reported to have baptized in the flowing Jordan River.  There is evidence some early Christian sects turned to pouring water over a person as a form of baptism.  Some modern sects sprinkled water as a form of baptism.  The baptism was only supposed to be a once in a lifetime event, yet there were later arguments that infant baptism was not voluntary and adults should voluntarily seek baptism.  There was less likelihood of Christians getting waterborne diseases from the teaching of John of baptizing in the river as a representation of efforts to teach repentance for the cleansing of sins.  A Christian named Louis Pasteur discovered the practice of pasteurization to eliminate bacteria.  It was the bacteria in stagnant water that was as more likely to make one ill than touching someone who had touched a dead reptile or menstruating woman.   

Baptistery at Kursi in lower Galilee, Israel -- Byzantine era site

Baptistery at Shivta in the Negev near the Sinai border -- Byzantine era

Shivta (see photo above) was near the border of Israel and Egypt in the Negev.  The later inhabitants were Christian and built two large churches in the town. 

In I Peter 3:21 (KJV):

"The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

Baptism was not the same as scrubbing away the filth on one's skin, but it was an emulation of the baptism Jesus received, acknowledging that those who do righteousness for God will receive righteous rewards from God as John the Baptist taught that repentance was required for forgiveness to occur.  This was not contingent on sacrificing animals and burning them on the temple altar.  

Parable of the Mustard Seed
     A Mustard Field Along Highway 87-North Shore of Galilee
     Mustard Seeds in the Palm of a Hand
     A Branching Mustard Plant Near the Jordan River/Bethsaida
     Mustard Field March 1999
     Mustard Flowers
Upper Most Seats of the Synagogue

The Fig Tree
     Mt of Olives Fig Tree April 12-13, 2005
     Fig and Pomegranate trees below Siloam in Jerusalem
     Israel Photos II fig tree page
     Sycomore Fig Tree
The Good Shepherd
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
     Goat Herder
Ritual Cleansing

     The Olive Harvest of Samaria
     Mt. Ebal
     Olive Tree
Pearl of Great Price
A First Century Synagogue at Gamala
     View from the Vulture Overlook
     Overview of Gamala
Modern Galilee Fishing Boats
Caves and/or Tombs
     Steep Slope near the Lake
Feeding the 5,000
     On the Mountain
     Walking on Water

     Ramot-Zelon area
     Alternate location
Mt. Hermon
The Pool(s) of Bethesda in Jerusalem

     Healing Pools
     Southern Pool
     Crusader Chapel and St. Ann Church
The Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem
     Gihon Spring
     Hezekiah's Tunnel
     Overlook of  Siloam
Tower of Siloam
A Watch Tower in a Vineyard/Olive Grove
     Grape Vines at Beth Horan

Mt. Precipice
     South Face
     Over the edge
     Measuring Line
     View of Nazareth from near Megiddo
     The Basilica of the Annunciation
Healing a Paralytic in Capernaum
Waterskins and Wineskins
The Fish and the Coin

A Denarius
Casting out a demon
The Road to Jericho
     Old Roman Road
     Wilderness Above Jericho

     Old Jericho
Western Wall
Gethsemane and the Cave of  Gethsemane
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Rolling Stone Tombs - Jerusalem
     Other Rolling Stone Tombs
Solar Power in Israel

Salt of the earth

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