The Guéranger Blog

Welcome to the Gueranger Blog! You have stumbled across the notebook I use to record my thoughts as I read through Dom Prosper Gueranger's 15-volume set, The Liturgical Year. I do not have any special expertise in liturgy, but I have some general knowledge of Catholic theology and an enthusiasm for Gueranger's magnum opus. Think of it as the Liturgical Year fan site!

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Naaman's baptism

Canisius | 28 March, 2006 16:43

Our Old Testament reading yesterday in Gueranger (V,263-5) was 2 Kings 5, the story of Naaman the Syrian. No doubt following all of Christian tradition, and certainly in keeping with the liturgical season, Dom Gueranger relates the scene to baptism.

It occurred to me that we might add a middle step the Gueranger leaves out, perhaps for the sake of brevity. Since Naaman washes in the Jordan, perhaps we should relate his immersion to John's baptism of Jesus, and through that connection tie it with Christian baptism.

I hit the books to see if anyone has related John's baptismal ministry to Naaman the Syrian. No luck: the super-duper hotshot commentary I have out from the Library because I could never afford a book that big lists a whole smorgasborg of Old Testament texts related to John, baptism, and the Jordan, but I didn't run across any references to good ol' Naaman.

Now that's queer. Somebody has made this connection, I'm absolutely positive. After all, the gospels portray John as a new Elijah: he dresses like Elijah, works the same area, speaks a similar prophetic message, lives as a hermet. Jesus outright says the man is Elijah. If you look at the Old Testament stories about Elijah, it's clear that Elisha is a kind of extension of Elijah: not only does he receive a double portion of Elijah's spirit (which is Bible-speak for saying he is Elijah's heir), but God tells Elijah to anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel (1 Kings 19:16), but it is Elisha who actually does it (2 Kings 9:1-3). So when we look for a background for John, the first thing we should do is scan the Elijah/Elisha cycle of stories.

When we do so, we do in fact find a place where someone was dipped in the river Jordan, namely Naaman. Better still, the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament used by the early Church) says that Naaman was "baptized" in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:14). Even better, Naaman was leaprous and therefore described as "unclean" until he washed; ritual impurity in general and leaprousy in general are symbols of sin in both the Old and the New Testaments (cf. Psalm 51:7; Luke 17:12-19).

Given that the story is a) in the Elijah/Elishah cycle, b) set at the Jordan, c) involves a "baptism", and d) cleanses from a symbol of sin, the urge to connect this story with John's baptism is almost irresistable.

In fact, let's do it.

So when Jesus is baptized by John, we have Naaman's "baptism" as a symbolic background. But Jesus' baptism by John is a sign of Christian baptism--just compare Matthew 3:16-17 with Matthew 28:19--and so we have Naaman, Jesus, and the Christian baptizand all superimposed in the same scene. The tradition is exactly on target when it connects Naaman the Syrian with Christian baptism.


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