This thesis seeks to answer the question of the origin of some of the most fundamental additions made to early Christian baptism. Christian baptism began in a relatively simple liturgical form, but became, by the fourth century, a much more dramatic set of initiation rituals. Among the added elements to baptism were washing ceremonies in the nude, physical anointing with oil, being marked or signed with the cross on the forehead, and receiving white garments. Scholars have proposed different theories as to the origins of these baptismal rituals. Some claim the elements existed in the New Testament practice of the rite. Others have supposed that the Christian church adopted the elements from either the Jewish synagogue or from contemporary pagan modes of initiation. This thesis argues that the initiation rituals of the Israelite tabernacle and temple provide a much more likely source for the added elements of Christian baptism. The esoteric practices of the temple priests became the esoteric tradition of early Christianity. The rites of this temple-oriented esoteric tradition in both the Old and New Testaments parallel, and may have been the origin for, the evolutions made to Christian baptism during the third and fourth centuries of the church. Christian groups such as the Valentinians provide evidence of higher esoteric rites being interpreted as baptism. Somehow the esoteric rites of the Israelite temple and the esoteric rites of early Christianity were adopted into the practice of Christian baptism.



College and Department

Religious Education; Ancient Scripture



Date Submitted


Document Type





Baptism, early Christianity, tabernacle, temple, esoteric tradition, tabernacle, initiation, Gnosticism, washings, anointing, garments, Cyril of Jerusalem, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Secret Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Philip, New Testament, priests, kings, Revelation, Valentinianism, Hippolytus