1. Ordinary Bathing:
Bathing in the ordinary, non-religious sense, public or private, is rarely met with in the Scriptures. We find, however, three exceptional and interesting cases: (1) that of Pharaoh's daughter, resorting to the Nile (Ex 2:5); (2) that of Bath-sheba, bathing on the house-top (2Sa 11:2 the Revised Version (British and American)); (3) the curious case mentioned in 1Ki 22:38. (To wash with royal blood was supposed to be beneficial to the complexion.)
The dusty, limestone soil of Palestine and the open foot-gear of the Orient on stockingless feet, called for frequent washing of the feet (Ge 24:32; 43:24; Jg 19:24; 1Sa 25:41; 2Sa 11:8; Song 5:3, etc.), and bathing of the body for refreshment; but the chief concern of the writers of Scripture was with bathing of another sort. Indeed, something of the religious sense and aspect of bathing, in addition to that of bodily refreshment, seems to have entered into the ordinary use of water, as in the washing of the hands before meals, etc. (see Ge 18:4; 19:2; Lu 7:44).
2. Bathing Resorts:
The streams and ponds, when available, were the usual resorts for bathing (Ex 2:5; 2Ki 5:10, etc.), but the water-supply of large cities, stored up in great pools or large cisterns, was certainly available at times to some degree for bathing (2Sa 11:2); though, as Benzinger says, no traces of bathrooms have been found in old Hebrew houses, even in royal palaces. In Babylon, it would seem from Susanna 15, there were bathing pools in gardens, though this passage may refer simply to bathing in the open air. Certainly public baths as now known, or plunge-baths of the Greek type, were unknown among the Hebrews until they were brought in contact with the Greek civilization. Such baths first come into view during the Greek-Roman period, when they are found to be regularly included in the gymnasia, or "places of exercise" (1 Macc 1:14). Remains of them, of varying degrees of richness and architectural completeness, may be seen today in various parts of the East, those left of the cities of the Decapolis, especially at Gerash and Amman, being excellent examples (compare also those at Pompeii). A remarkable series of bath-chambers has recently been discovered by Mr. R. A. S. Macalister at Gezer in Palestine, in connection with a building supposed to be the palace built by Simon Maccabeus. For an interesting account of it see PEFS , 1905, 294 f.
3. Greek versus Semitic Ideas:
When we consider that in Palestine six months of the year are rainless, and how scarce and pricelessly valuable water is during most of the year, and in many places all the year round; and when we recall how the Bedouin of today looks on the use of water for cleansing in such times and places of scarcity, viewing it as a wanton waste (see Benzinger, Hebrew. Arch., 108, note), the rigid requirement of it for so many ritual purposes by the Mosaic law is, to say the least, remarkable (see ABLUTION; CLEAN; UNCLEANNESS, etc.). Certainly there was a marked contrast between the Greek idea of bathing and that of the Hebrews and Asiatics in general, when they came in contact. But when Greek culture invaded Palestine under Antiochus Epiphanes (circa 168 BC), it brought Greek ideas and Greek bathing establishments with it; and under Herod (40-44 BC) it was given the right of way and prevailed to no mean degree (see Anecdote of GamalielII in Schurer,HJP ,II , i, 18, 53).
4. Ceremonial Purification:
But "bathing" in the Bible stands chiefly for ritual acts--purification from ceremonial uncleanness, from contact with the dead, with defiled persons or things, with "holy things," i.e. things "devoted," or "under the ban," etc. (see CLEAN; UNCLEANNESS, etc.). The Hebrew of the Old Testament does not sharply distinguish between bathing and partial washing--both are expressed by rahats, and the Revised Version (British and American) rightly renders "wash" instead of "bathe" in some cases. Talmudic usage simply codified custom which had been long in vogue, according to Schurer. But Kennedy grants that the "bath" at last became, even for the laity, "an important factor in the religious life of Israel." We read of daily bathing by the Essenes (Josephus, BJ, II, viii, 5). Then later we find John, the Baptizer, immersing, as the record clearly shows the apostles of Christ did also (Ac 8:38; Ro 6:3 f); compare Lu 11:38 where baptizo, in passive = "washed."
5. Bathing for Health:
In Joh 5:2-7 we have an example of bathing for health. There are remains of ancient baths at Gadara and at Callirrhoe, East of the Jordan, baths which were once celebrated as resorts for health-seekers. There are hot baths in full operation today, near Tiberias, on the southwestern shore of the Lake of Galilee, which have been a health resort from time immemorial. It is probably true, however, as some one has said, that in Old Testament times and in New Testament times, the masses of the people had neither privacy nor inclination for bathing.
George B. Eager