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In my "Reader’s Digest - Jesus and His Times" (copy write 1987 - from which much of this information is derived), there is a picture of a "Mikvah" that has been discovered in Masada (the ancient fortress built by Herod which held off the Romans for so long after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.). Mikvah’s were used to immerse things and people to cleanse them of sinful influence.

The Essenes, for example washed daily in their pools to cleanse themselves from sin. Worshippers immersed themselves for ceremonial cleansing before entering upon the Temple Mount. There were mikvah’s for the priests including two reserved for the High Priest.

Private homes had these "mikvahs" as well and they would use them for (among other things) cleansing the dirt from items purchased from Gentiles - items such as dishes and tables (Mark 7:4).

So, when John came baptizing for repentance, people had long since grown used to the idea of baptism being associated with cleansing.

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