This idea did not take hold in the religions of the Graeco-Roman world, but firmly established itself in Judaism. It is from there that baptism became an important part of the Western tradition. According to the Hebrew Bible a person can become 'unclean' for the purposes of performing various rituals by contact with certain substances vile in the opinion of ancient Hebrew priests, for example semen (Lev 15:13-17) or menstrual blood (Lev 15:19-30). In some way this must have begun as a practical consideration, but it soon took on a more symbolic use as the practical action became a ritual, and the logic of the ritual became more extensive. The high priest was able, through analogy, to be baptized for the entire community and wash away their sins which rendered them unclean for ritual purposes and thus unfit for worshiping Yahweh (Lev 16:24). Although this ritual action of baptism has a metaphorical basis, it remained part of the 'nuts and bolts' of religious action. Christianity moved it to a different sphere. Although the program of John the Baptist is far from clear, he seems to have carried out the traditional baptism for cleaning away the sins of the nation, but believed that the nation as a whole, rather than merely the high priest, had to be baptized (Matt 3; Lk 3; Jn 1:19-36). At some point between John's baptizing and the writing of the Gospels, baptism took on a spiritual dimension so that it would not only wash away uncleanness and sin, preparing one for ritual action, but was meant to transform.
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