Baptism for the Dead: Paul and the Mandaeans

Baptism for the Dead: Paul and the Mandaeans April 2, 2015

A student who gave a presentation on the Mandaeans in my “Heresy” class used the phrase “baptism for the dead” to describe the masiqta – more frequently translated as “mass for the dead” or something similar in English.

The masiqta proper, of course, is a ritual meal which takes after someone has died, and not an immersion. But it is closely connected with the practice of offering a final baptism for those who are near death, and the belief that their baptism accompanies them on their journey into the lightworld and helps them on their way.

I’m not sure whether I had ever heard the phrase “baptism for the dead” applied to or connected with the masiqta ritual, but if I had, they had never struck me the way they did on this occasion. The phrase “baptism for the dead” is of course used by Paul in 1 Corinthians, and a lot of scholarly debate has taken place as to his meaning.

It would be interesting to explore the possibility that the Mandaean practice could have some connection with what Paul mentioned. Acts 18-19, after all, depicts Apollos as connected with a religion that knew John’s baptism but not that of Jesus. And 1 Corinthians mentions the influence of Apollos in the church there.

I’m not aware of anyone who has explored this possibility before. If anyone reading this knows otherwise, please let me know!

Of related interest, Jona Lendering drew attention to the attempt to get a mountain on Pluto to be given a Mandaean name: Krun.


mandi panja 2008 349

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  • Jen

    Baptism for the dead is a common practice in the Mormon church. It is a temple ritual where a living person is baptized in proxy of someone who has passed. The phrase is well known within the church. I suspect you may have had a Mormon student in class.

    • The student in question isn’t a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. If she had been, I suspect that she might not have used a term which equated a practice in her own religion with something the Mandaeans do.

  • John Thomas

    I am originally from India. Interesting enough, in the place where I spent my childhood, Hindus used to offer ritual meals to the dead ones on specified days after their death. They will leave the food outside for them and crows (which is the common bird there) will mostly come and eat the food. The crows represent reincarnated dead souls for them. In addition, on a specified day every year, they offer special prayers and offerings to the dead parents and immediate relatives during which they perform an full body immersion in one of the closest rivers with chanting of mantras and special offerings (mostly flowers) that are brought by them and being sanctified by priest is slowly placed into the river.

    • Gary

      Day of the Dead in Mexico, relatives leave food, sugar skulls, etc on the graves. Quite a festival. Although, as far as I know, no baptisms are related to the festivals. Although, I guess leaving a bottle of tequila on the grave wouldn’t count. When I was young, riding a bus in Colombia, I got offered a drink of booze from a stranger. He poured alittle on the floor before we drank, for the dead. Anise (licorice flavor) booze that would kill you anyway, if you drank too much.