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213 Book Reviews Everett Ferguson. Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. Pp. xxii + 953. Cloth. $ 60.00. Everett Ferguson, author of numerous studies in the field of early Christianity, most notably the Encyclopedia of the Early Christianity (now in its second edition, 1997), has produced a massive study of baptism in Christian antiquity. In conjunction with Maxwell Johnson’s The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation (2nd edition, 2007) and the revision of E.C. Whitaker’s Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy (2003), Ferguson’s volume will serve as a standard text on initiation in the early Christian era. As the subtitle indicates, Ferguson attends not only to the historical context of the developing rituals associated with fulfillment of the dominical command recorded in Matthew 28, he is also keenly aware of the theological dimensions of that development as they come to be expressed in the liturgical life of the Church. The general framework of the book is historical. Ferguson begins with the ur-history of the terms bapto and baptizo in Classical and Hellenistic Greek, as well as ritual purifications in the world of antiquity. He then discusses Jewish ritual cleansings, mikvaoth and proselyte baptism (tebilah -- and the conflicted issue of its chronological development in relation to Christian baptism) in the rabbinic literature, before turning to the figure of the Baptist, with a careful examination of Jesus’s baptism and its subsequent interpretation in the tradition. Ferguson examines every major text in the New Testament that speaks of or alludes to baptism, as well as examining baptism as it is found in the apocryphal literature associated with the New Testament. All of this is preliminary to the bulk of Ferguson’s work, a six-hundred page tour through the various witnesses to baptismal theology and practice in the first five centuries of the Christian era. Mining Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian sources from the entire expanse of Christian life and practice and writing with a style and balanced judgment indicative of his scholarship, Ferguson offers readers a careful assessment of the data, as well as helpfully pointing them beyond his own work to pursue further reading through an impressive grasp of the vast bibliography of secondary literature. Ferguson also pays significant attention to the material history of baptismal practice, with a lengthy examination of baptisteries, east and west, and what these reveal about belief and practice. Ferguson concludes his study with a series of short essays summarizing the fruits of his research. Notable are his conclusions that “there is little to associate Christian baptism with pagan religious 214 Antiphon 15.2 (2011) washings” – marking a discontinuity perhaps displeasing to devotees of Religionsgeschichte – and at the same time stressing a remarkable continuity in the understanding of baptism and its effects within Christian tradition (despite obvious differences in language and emphasis), all to be found in the New Testament itself. Further, in regard to infant baptism and its development, he offers no new theory or proposal, but does point out that there is “no firm evidence” for its practice (at least as widespread) prior to the later second century; he does not claim it was unknown, but rather that there is a chronological gap in the evidence that needs to be accounted for. He thinks the practice developed as a result of clinical baptism and with an increasing emphasis on baptism’s objective efficacy, a parallel growth in the practice can been traced. He does suggest that, in the heated controversies of the fifth and sixth centuries regarding grace and original sin, “infant baptism was the principal support for the doctrine of original sin, rather than the other way around,” a claim that can be adduced in support of Prosper’s oft-quoted dictum legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi . As to the question of baptism by immersion/submersion or infusion/affusion, Ferguson contends that the textual and archeological evidence available, while seemingly convoluted (the former seeming to support immersion; the latter, affusion), can indeed be sorted out in a way that supports the view that the normative practice was immersion , while affusion was the exceptional practice...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-9933
Print ISSN
1543-9925
Pages
pp. 213-214
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-24
Open Access
No
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