Online Encyclopedia

CIRCUMCISION (Lat. circum, round, and...

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V06, Page 390 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!

CIRCUMCISION (
See also:
Lat. circum, round, and caedere, to cut)
  , the cutting off of the foreskin . This surgical operation, which is commonly prescribed for purely medical reasons, is also an initiation or religious ceremony among Jews and Mahommedans, and is a widespread institution in many Semitic races . It remains, with Jews, a necessary preliminary to the
See also:
admission of proselytes, except in some Reformed communities . The origin of the rite among the Jews is in Genesis (xvii.) placed in the age of Abraham, and at all events it must have been very ancient, for flint stones were used in the operation (Exodus iv . 25; Joshua V.2) . The narrative in Joshua implies that the custom was introduced by him, not that it had merely been in abeyance in the
See also:
Wilderness . At Gilgal he " rolled away the reproach of the Egyptians " by circumcising the
See also:
people . This obviously means that whereas the Egyptians. practised circumcision the Jews in the
See also:
land of the Pharaohs did not, and hence were regarded with contempt . It was an old theory (Herodotus ii . 36) that circumcision originated in
See also:
Egypt; at all events it was practised in that country in ancient times (Ebers, Egypt en and die Bucher Mosis, i . 278-284), and the same is true at the
See also:
present day . But it is not generally thought probable that the Hebrews derived the rite directly from the Egyptians .

As

Driver puts it (Genesis, p . Igo): " It is possible that, as Dillmann and Nowacksuppose, the peoples of N . Africa and
See also:
Asia who practised the rite adopted it from the Egyptians, but it appears in so many parts of the
See also:
world that it must at any
See also:
rate in these cases have originated independently." In another biblical narrative (Exodus iv . 25) Moses is subject to the divine anger because he had not made himself " a bridegroom of
See also:
blood," that is, had not been circumcised before his
See also:
marriage . The rite of circumcision was practised by all the inhabitants of
See also:
Palestine with the exception of the
See also:
Philistines . It was an ancient custom among the
See also:
Arabs, being presupposed in the
See also:
Koran . The only important Semitic peoples who most probably did not follow the rite were the Babylonians and Assyrians (Sayce, Babyl. and Assyrians, p . 47) .
See also:
Modern investigations have brought to
See also:
light many instances of the prevalence of circumcision in various parts of the world . These facts are collected by Andree and Ploss, and go to prove that the rite is not only spread through the
See also:
Mahommedan world (
See also:
Turks, Persians, Arabs, &d.), but also is practised by the Christian Abyssinians and the
See also:
Copts, as well as in central
See also:
Australia and in
See also:
America . In central Australia (Spencer and Gillen, pp . 212-386) circumcision with a stone knife must be undergone by every youth before he is reckoned a full member of the tribe or is permitted to enter on the married state .

In other parts, too (e.g .

See also:
Loango), no uncircumcised man may marry . Circumcision was known to the Aztecs (Bancroft, Native Races, vol. iii.), and is still practised by the Caribs of the
See also:
Orinoco and the Tacunas of the
See also:
Amazon . The method and period of the operation vary in important particulars . Among the Jews it is performed in
See also:
infancy, when the male child is eight days old . The child is named at the same time, and the ceremony is elaborate . The child is carried in to the godfather (sandek, a hebraized form of the Gr. cuvreicvos, " godfather,"
See also:
post-class.), who places the child on a cushion, which he holds on his knees throughout the ceremony . The operator (mohel) uses a steel knife, and pronounces various benedictions before and after the rite is performed (see S . Singer, Authorized Daily Prayer
See also:
Book, pp . 304-307; an excellent account of the domestic festivities and spiritual joys associated with the ceremony among
See also:
medieval and modern Jews may be read in S . Schechter's Studies in Judaism, first series, pp . 351 seq.) .

Some tribes in

South America and elsewhere are said to perform the rite on the eighth day, like the Jews . The Mazequas do it between the first and second months . Among the Bedouins the rite is performed on children of three years, amid dances and the selection of brides(Doughty,
See also:
Arabia Deserta, i . 340); among the Somalis the age is seven (Reinisch, Somalisprache, p. rio) . But for the most
See also:
part the tribes who perform the rite carry it out at the age of puberty . Many facts bearing on this point are given by B . Stade in Zeitschrift fur die alttest . Wissenschaft, vi . (1886) pp . 132 seq . The significance of the rite of circumcision has been much disputed . Some see in it a tribal badge .

If this be the true origin.of circumcision, it must go back to the time when men went about naked . Mutilations (

tattooing, removal of teeth and so forth) were tribal marks, being partly sacrifices and partly means of recognition (see MUTILATION) . Such initiatory
See also:
rites were often frightful ordeals, in which the neophyte's courage was severely tested (Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, p . 310) . Some regard circumcision as a substitute for far more serious rites, including even human sacrifice . Utilitarian explanations have also been suggested .
See also:
Sir R . Burton (
See also:
Memoirs Anthrop .
See also:
Soc. i . 318) held that it was introduced to promote fertility, and the claims of cleanliness have been put forward (following Philo's example, see ed . Mangey, ii . 21o) .

Most probably, however, circumcision (which in many tribes is per-formed on both sexes) was connected with marriage, and was a preparation for connubium . It was in Robertson Smith's words " originally a preliminary to marriage, and so a ceremony of introduction to the full

See also:
prerogative of manhood," the transference to infancy among the Jews being a later change . On this view, the decisive Biblical reference would be the Exodus passage (iv . 25), in which Moses is represented as being in danger of his
See also:
life because he had neglected the proper preliminary to marriage . In Genesis, on the other hand, circumcision is an
See also:
external sign of
See also:
God's covenant with Israel, and later Judaism now regards it in this symbolical sense . Barton (Semitic Origins, p. too) declares that " the circumstances under which it is per-formed in Arabia point to the origin of circumcision as a sacrifice to the goddess of fertility, by which the child was placed under her
See also:
protection and its reproductive powers consecrated to her service." But Barton admits that initiation to the connubium was the
See also:
primitive origin of the rite . As regards the non-ritual use of male circumcision, it may be added that in
See also:
recent years the medical profession has been responsible for its considerable extension among other than Jewish children, the operation being recommended not merely in cases of malformation, but generally for reasons of
See also:
health .

End of Article: CIRCUMCISION (Lat. circum, round, and caedere, to cut)
[back]
CIRCULUS IN PROBANDO (Lat. for " circle in proving ...
[next]
LINES OF CIRCUMVALLATION (from Lat. circum, round, ...

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.