Monday, July 05, 2010

Biblical Circumcision Information

By Danelle Frisbie © 2010
Note: The following was a comment I left for a few colleagues requesting resources for further information on genital cutting in antiquity, and specifically verses from the Bible and circumcision information for use in Christian church classes. I've been asked several times to make it public for easy access by others, and so I will post it here. This is not intended to be in journal article format.

What we now call 'circumcision' was not performed in the same manner in antiquity. At that time it was a 'cutting of the blessing' - a very small slit made at the end of the penis to allow a few drops of blood to fall (or, actually, be sucked out by the mouth of the boy's father or a Rabbi).

"Cutting the Blessing" in antiquity was very different than today in modern U.S. culture where we amputate the entire prepuce organ. Hebrews and early Jews made this very small slit in the tip of the prepuce to allow the few drops of blood to be shed as the blood sacrifice of the covenant. The Hebrew words used for the practice are "namal" and "muwl". In Hebrew, namal means 'to clip' - like one would clip the ends of our fingernails. Muwl means 'to curtail, to blunt.' Neither of these words mean "to cut" "to amputate" "to remove" "to cut off," etc. There were very different words in Hebrew to represent 'the cutting off' or 'the removal of.' The difference was obviously clear to people at the time.

You could not possibly amputate the prepuce organ in antiquity and expect the child to live. Even today we deal with a 1-in-3 rate of complications associated with prepuce amputation and approximately 200 deaths per year (in the U.S. alone) due to circumcision surgery. At this time in early Hebrew culture, babies would have hemorrhaged if this organ were removed, and if they lived through the blood loss, they would have died of disease.

Mohel Rabbi, Yosef David Weisburg, sucks blood from an infant boy's namal site
The Jerusalem Post Magazine, Nov. 5, 1976
(Video below: Rabbi describes why this sucking was done)

There is an article on this subject in the works that covers the topic more in-depth (and why Baby Jesus was always depicted in art in what we would see as an intact fashion) that will be published on Jesus was, of course, born to Jewish parents and would have been subject to the 'namal' on his 8th day of life. Again, this means a tiny slit would have been made in the end of his prepuce to allow for the shedding drops of blood as a part of the covenant his parents had with YHVH [Yahweh]. But if we (with our modern Western eyes) pour over these paintings of a naked baby Jesus, we would think that he was intact. Why? Because the prepuce was not removed! It was not amputated. It was never 'cut off.' [For several images and more details see: Circumcision in Antiquity]

Ancient peoples never dreamed of doing away with an organ that was so useful, so important. The prepuce was regarded with such honor that it was thee organ seen as being most GOD-LIKE. Hence the reason it was the organ 'slit' for the blood letting as a sign that YHVH is the one "I" am trusting in -- not my own 'God-like' member. [If you are not familiar with all the many purposes of the prepuce organ, find highlights here: Functions of the Foreskin.]

When Jews in antiquity wished to exercise in the gymnasium (which was often done in the nude) they had to appear intact. Greeks only allowed intact men to participate in activities there. So the prepuce was pulled down over the glans (head) of the penis, before going in. There were also little devices made to cover the scar from the slit in the prepuce end so that no one would be the wiser. None of this would have been possible if the entire prepuce were removed (later in history more of the prepuce was cut in an attempt to discourage Jewish men from appearing intact).

'Circumcision' (complete prepuce and frenulum amputation) as we know it today began in the United States in an effort to curtail masturbation among boys and sexual exploits of our soldiers traveling overseas. Kellogg and Graham -- two of the big proponents of the 'new circumcision' methods, knew that if you amputated the entire prepuce organ, it would remove a great deal of a man's normal sexuality and forever change his sexual experience (and greatly reduce pleasure). Somehow over the decades their technique continued, but parents who choose to do this to their sons are grossly unaware of where this prepuce amputation originated, or why.

Prepuce amputation (circumcision) of infants is NOT recommended by ANY medical or health organization in the entire world.

Today, many Jews are opting for a Brit Shalom instead of amputating the prepuce of their newborn.

Interestingly, a large percentage of the active intactivists (those who believe that all human beings deserve their basic right to bodily integrity) are Jewish men and women. Jewish physician, Dr. Fleiss, and historian, Dr. Hodges, wrote the excellent book, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision and Dr. Ronald Goldman (also a Jewish man) authored both Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective and Circumcision, The Hidden Trauma : How an American Cultural Practice Affects Infants and Ultimately Us All.

Find more on this subject, with videos from other Jewish pediatricians, mothers, and fathers at the links under Judaism & Circumcision Resources.

For a look into the absence of circumcision within Christianity (circumcision was always banned/forbidden or discouraged among Christians and the early Christian church, as well as the Catholic Church today) see Christianity & Circumcision Resources.

Genital cutting of the penis was being done before, and outside of, Judaism in history. A fairly detailed account of this can be found in the book, A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, and in these four excellent books that specifically cover genital cutting in Judaism and other religions throughout antiquity:

Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America [This book is most detailed and would be the best if a person was to only read ONE for the history of genital cutting.]

Circumcision: A History Of The World's Most Controversial Surgery [This book gets into more of the medical history - myths and misconception over time - rather than solely the religious history]

The two previously mentioned books, Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective and Circumcision, The Hidden Trauma : How an American Cultural Practice Affects Infants and Ultimately Us All.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon is the Jewish filmmaker (with an Orthodox Rabbi father) of the highly informative documentary, CUT: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision. (Watch/Buy Here) After spending years researching this topic and studying with some of the ‘experts’ in the fields of human sexuality, human health, religion, history, and genital cutting, he concluded, “Circumcision was a cure in search of a disease. When you look through history, you see that whatever the scary disease of the generation was, that was the one that circumcision would help prevent. So in the early 20th century it was syphilis, a scary disease that there was no cure for then. Later, it was cancer. Then UTIs, and now HIV.” As a Jewish man, Ungar-Sargon chose not to cut his son, as many other Jews have also done.

Male circumcision as we know it, and female circumcision in the United States actually share a VERY similar history. All the myths we now toss around concerning MGM, we once held about FGM. In addition, the male and female prepuce organ (nicknamed 'foreskin' or 'clitoral hood') are homologous and analogous organs. The article on this page is on an unrelated subject (hypospadias) but there is a paragraph that highlights the development of this organ and we can see how closely one-and-the same they are for all human beings regardless of sex.

I wholeheartedly agree with what others (including Ungar-Sargon) have said — genital cutting and the amputation of a healthy, functioning body organ from a non-consenting human being is a severe violation of human rights. If we did such a thing to a dog, we would be charged with animal abuse. And what we do to babies due to our own ignorance is certainly more criminal than that. If we amputated the prepuce from infant girls, it would be a federal violation. In fact, if we removed any limb or organ from a non-consenting person without medical need, it would be considered malpractice and abuse. It is even a federal offense to amputate the prepuce from a corpse! Surely the bodies of our newborn boys are more valuable than this.

We have banned all forms of genital cutting of baby girls in the United States since 1996 with our FGM Bill. This includes any genital cutting done for religious reasons on a non-consenting person. Don't baby boys deserve the same protection? This is what the MGM Bill would do. Some propose that MGM is already illegal and covered by law, if we recognize the way that the constitution and FGM Bill are written - i.e. we cannot discriminate the protection of minors from genital mutilation on the basis of sex. Coias does an excellent job highlighting the points on this subject in her article, Circumcision Already Illegal?

There are many reasons that a large percentage of the developed world today has a ban on ALL forms of genital mutilation on non-consenting persons - no matter the reason, religious or other. No human being is less valuable, or less deserving of basic human rights, simply because they were born with a larger prepuce organ.

Verses specifically for Christians to consider:

"Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you be circumcised, Christ will be of no advantage to you." – Gal 5:2

"And even those who advocate circumcision don’t really keep the whole law. They only want you to be circumcised so they can brag about it and claim you as their disciples." – Gal 6:13

"For there are many who rebel against right teaching; they engage in useless talk and deceive people. This is especially true of those who insist on circumcision for salvation. They must be silenced. By their wrong teaching, they have already turned whole families away from the truth. Such teachers only want your money" – Titus 1:10-11

"Watch out for those wicked men – dangerous dogs, I call them – who say you must be circumcised. Beware of the evil doers. Beware of the mutilation. For it isn’t the cutting of our bodies that makes us children of God; it is worshiping him with our spirits." – Phil 3:2-3

"And I testify again to every male who receives circumcision, that he is in debt to keep the whole Law. You who do so have been severed from have fallen from grace." - Gal 5:3

"As God has called each man, in this manner let him walk. And thus I command in all the churches. Was any man called in the circumcision [Old Covenant]? Let him not try to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in the uncircumcision [New Covenant in Christ]? Let him not be circumcised! Circumcision is nothing. And uncircumcision is nothing but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called." - 1 Cor. 7:17

"And some men came and were teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.' But Paul and Barnabas together had great dissension and disputing with these men. . . Then Peter stood up and said to them '...Why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" - Acts 15:1-2, 7, 10

"But if I still proclaim circumcision. . . then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished." - Gal 5:11

"I wish that those who are pushing you to do so would mutilate themselves!" - Gal 5:12

What this Rabbi said seemed appropriate to quote here as well (though not a Bible verse): "There is no reason for tying [genital cutting] to a humanistic Jewish birth celebration. Despite its historic importance, it is simply inappropriate in the same way that female segregation is inappropriate." – Rabbi Sherwin Wine

Fleiss & Hodges include a few other verses in their article: Circumcision & Christianity

Additional verses/information also linked on this page: Circumcision & Christianity Resources

A couple good books that cover aspects of the Christian faith and circumcision in case you missed them above:

Marked in Your Flesh

Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective

One reason the early Christian church (and many churches around the world today) banned genital cutting (and removed members who participated in such things) is because to offer a blood sacrifice to God was demonstrating that you did not believe in your salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Christians never did such things to their newborn baby boys until the mid 1900s in the United States when everyone started to believe Kellogg and Graham -- that amputating the most sensitive part of the penis would reduce masturbation in boys, and curtail promiscuity among men... It didn't work! But we SURE did try...



  1. Thank you for providing so much accurate and important information on your site. The pictures you include are perfect! Your efforts are greatly apprediated!

  2. Another good one (from a lapsed Jew and intactivist mother).

  3. I am enjoying so much all the information you are posting about this topic from the scriptures, it is nice to see our choices about not circumcising aligning with the scriptures. Thanks so much!

  4. Circumcision was seen as a sacrifice and God doesn't accept sacrifices that aren't valuable or important (Cain and Able for example) so the whole idea of Christians doing it because they're following the Bible and because it's a useless bit of skin is rather insulting!

    If it's a useless bit of skin, don't offer it to God as a sacrifice!

    If it's a useless bit of skin do you really think it's a greater sacrifice than the one Jesus, supposedly your saviour, made?

  5. Thank you for this very informative article.

  6. Wow, I am a Christian and had my child circumcised without all the proper knowledge. After reading this, I regret that decision. I will tell you though, I didn't do it as a "sacrifice" for God, because only Jesus is that sacrifice, as Christians believe. I had my son circumcised because at the time I thought it was the right thing to do both because it is in the Bible, and because I thought it would eliminate possible health issues later on. However, now I am not sure that it was the right thing to do after all. Thanks for sharing truth.

  7. Thank you for posting this material. So many do not have the slightest inkling of information about these matters. As a Jew, we are actually pretty well versed on this concept ~ just look up Brit Milah vs. Brit Peri'ah. Big difference. (Although all our sons are fully intact).

  8. Even as a woman, I am so greatfull to my parents for not mutilaty my brothers. I only have girl children but If I ever were to have a boy I would absolutely leave him 'whole!'
    My husband was 'alerted' at birth and I greatly resent it! I know how much he is missing and me too. I would do so much if we could regain the part of his body that his is missing.

  9. Tragically I fall into the category of the once ignorant. My two son's will hopefully forgive me one day for taking a piece of them that was not mine to take. I am pregnant again. He will absolutely remain the way he was born.

  10. I have to disagree with your statement that circumcision was 'invented' in the States in the 1900s. The muslim people in Malaysia and Indonesia have had that tradition for hundreds of years supposedly as part of the Islamic teachings and beliefs. In fact it was believed that only muslims practiced 'cutting' because all other races like the Buddhist Chinese and Indian Hindus did not. 'Cutting' was also found in the Philippines' ancient traditions, supposedly introduced by the moslems who came to the peninsula but it is widely observed and practiced even now and is tantamount to an obligatory gesture among majority catholics and christians in the islands. In other words, all the male population in the islands.

    As for the manner of circumcision, whether it be cutting or just a tiny slit, why hasn't it created an issue of which is proper, among the moslems who were supposed to have acquired the practice from the Jews? If your sources look back to Moses's account of this command after it was given to Abraham the patriarch, I would like to ask for a detailed account. The symbolic application of 'cutting' seems more akin to God's command since His plan for Abraham down to Israel was to make them 'a peculiar and unique people' i.e. not like or similar to the heathen. How does a Jew become dissimilar from the heathen if he has the same uncut prepuce that the rest of the heathen world has? Will the act of making a tiny slit and sucking a few drops of blood do? The heathen before and in Abraham's time were also doing similar mutilations on their kind, so where is the symbolic and concrete proof of their being 'peculiar and unique'?

  11. I just want to say thank you so much for showing me this! I was so confused why people were against circumcision. I was also upset when I saw an anti-circumcision page on Facebook that was bashing God. I knew there HAD to be a difference between what God ordained and what was going on today. I just discovered your site (as well as a few others) today and am now greatfully relieved! Praise God! This makes so much more sense now :D

  12. I thank you for this and your other links explaining the history of circumcision todays version and the old version. Ill be honest the old version sounds bearable and I could deal with a slight cut that heals back to normal. if it leaves a scar so be it at least the penis would be functioning 100% as needed and intended.

    instead I sadly have todays version. My Penis cant function properly anymore. Who knows if this is the cause for my urinating problems? why it sometimes feels like its burning or why the penis feels overly sensitive and irritated half of the damn time. Probably between this trauma at birth and the birth trauma I had by being born lifeless....I think I truly had birth trauma of epic levels. who knows what it damage this did to me over the years.

    I also appreciate your overwhelming number of sources too and its not all "opinion" and "trust me".



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