Circumcision (Jn 7:22-7:22)

“Moses

Gave you

Circumcision.

It is not from Moses,

But from your ancestral fathers.

Thus,

You circumcise

A man

On the Sabbath.”

διὰ τοῦτο Μωϋσῆς δέδωκεν ὑμῖν τὴν περιτομήν, — οὐχ ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ Μωϋσέως ἐστὶν ἀλλ’ ἐκ τῶν πατέρων, — καὶ ἐν σαββάτῳ περιτέμνετε ἄνθρωπον.

John uniquely indicated that Jesus said that Moses (διὰ τοῦτο Μωϋσῆς) gave them (δέδωκεν ὑμῖν) circumcision (τὴν περιτομήν).  However, he quickly added that it was not from Moses (οὐχ ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ Μωϋσέως ἐστὶν), but from their ancestral fathers (ἐστὶν ἀλλ’ ἐκ τῶν πατέρων).  Thus, they circumcise a man (περιτέμνετε ἄνθρωπον) on the Sabbath (καὶ ἐν σαββάτῳ).  This would be true if it is the eighth day after the birth of the male child.  They wanted to follow Leviticus, chapter 12:3, that on the eight day after birth, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.  Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the human male penis.  This circumcision was and is a main feature of Jewish male life.  Although it goes back to the time of Abraham and his covenant with Yahweh in Genesis, chapter 17:10, it was also part of the Mosaic Levitical law.  Thus, Moses did not institute the practice of circumcision.  However, sometimes today circumcision is used as a treatment for certain medical conditions or for preventative reasons.  An estimated one-third of all males worldwide are presently circumcised today.  This procedure is most common among Muslims and Jews and parts of Southeast Asia, and Africa.  However, it is rare in Europe, Latin America, parts of Southern Africa, and most of Asia.  In the United States, rates of circumcision have decreased to 58% in 2010.  The oldest documented evidence of circumcision comes from ancient Egypt, around 3,000 BCE, although it was even practiced among many indigenous tribes throughout the world.  Various theories have been proposed as to its origin including as a religious sacrifice, as a rite of passage marking a boy’s entrance into adulthood, or as a way to identify a captured slave.  However, here it was part of the religious law in Judaism.  However, circumcision is also found in Islam, as well as among Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.  According to Luke, chapter 2:21, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day at the Temple in following the Jewish law.  Thus, circumcision on the eighth day was more important than the Sabbath rest.  Do you know anybody that has been circumcised?

The purification (Lk 2:22-2:22)

“When the time came

For their purification,

According to the law

Of Moses,

They brought him up

To Jerusalem

To present him

To the Lord.”

 

Καὶ ὅτε ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ αὐτῶν κατὰ τὸν νόμον Μωϋσέως, ἀνήγαγον αὐτὸν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα παραστῆσαι τῷ Κυρίῳ,

 

Luke said that when the time or the days were completed (Καὶ ὅτε ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι) for their purification (τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ αὐτῶν), according to the law of Moses (κατὰ τὸν νόμον Μωϋσέως, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to Jerusalem (ἀνήγαγον αὐτὸν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα) to present him to the Lord (παραστῆσαι τῷ Κυρίῳ).  What is this purification and is it different than circumcision.  The story of John did not have this purification ritual.  Strictly speaking, this was a purification of the mother to take place 40 days after the birth of a child that had made her unclean as described in Leviticus, chapter 12:1-8.  The presentation of the child and the father were not part of this purification ritual.  There was no law or custom about the presentation of a child, other than the presentation of the first born as in Exodus, chapter 13:2 and 13:16.  Women were considered unclean after childbirth because of the blood discharge that took place with birthing.  If a male was born, the woman was unclean for 7 days, like menstruation, so that on the 8th day the male child could be circumcised.  There were 33 more days of blood purification for the male child.  During her unclean period, this new mother could not touch any holy thing, or go into the sanctuary.  Thus, the purification ritual took place on the 40th day, a symbolic number based on the 40 years of the Israelites in the desert wilderness.

The try to talk to Zechariah (Lk 1:62-1:62)

“Then they began

Motioning

To his father

To find out

What name

He wanted

To give him.”

 

ἐνένευον δὲ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ τὸ τί ἂν θέλοι καλεῖσθαι αὐτό.

 

Luke indicated that that the people at the circumcision began making signs or motioning to Zechariah, the father of the child (ἐνένευον δὲ τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ), to find out what name he wanted to give or wished to call his son (τὸ τί ἂν θέλοι καλεῖσθαι αὐτό).  The father of the child had the final say as to the name of the child.

No one in your family with that name (Lk 1:61-1:61)

“They said to Elizabeth.

‘None of your relatives

Has that name.’”

 

καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτὴν ὅτι Οὐδείς ἐστιν ἐκ τῆς συγγενείας σου ὃς καλεῖται τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ.

 

Luke remarked that the people at the circumcision said to Elizabeth (καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτὴν) that none of her relatives (ὅτι Οὐδείς ἐστιν ἐκ τῆς συγγενείας σου) had been called with the name of John (ὃς καλεῖται τῷ ὀνόματι τούτῳ).  First, they wanted to name the child after the father.  Then they noted that none of their relatives had that name of John either, although it was a common name.

The naming of the child (Lk 1:59-1: 59)

“They were going

To name him

Zechariah,

After his father.”

 

καὶ ἐκάλουν αὐτὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ζαχαρίαν.

 

Luke said that they were going to name him (καὶ ἐκάλουν αὐτὸ) Zechariah (Ζαχαρίαν), after the name of his father (ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ).  The naming of the child was not associated with the circumcision until later.  Christians often call the baptizing of their infants Christening when they give a Christian name to the child, after infant baptism became popular in the early Middle Ages.  Interesting enough, the Hispanic or Sephardic Jews name their children after their parents, while the Ashkenazic or Eastern European Jews name their children after dead relatives or grandparents.  However, today, naming a Jewish boy and circumcision take place at the same time.  For girls, it had become usual to name the girl at a Torah reading on the Sabbath.

The renegades accept the gentile customs (1 Macc 1:11-1:15)

“In those days, certain renegades came out from Israel. They misled many, saying.

‘Let us go and make a covenant with the gentiles around us.

Since we separated from them,

Many disasters have come upon us.’

This proposal pleased them. Some of the people eagerly went to the king. He authorized them to observe the ordinances of the gentiles. Thus they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to gentile custom. They removed the marks of circumcision. They abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.”

During this time, around 175 BCE, there was a movement in Jerusalem to assimilate into the Hellenistic Greek culture that was all around them. This movement was led by the so-called Jewish renegades, the lawless ones, or non-followers or compromisers of the Law of Moses. This will be the Jewish group that opposes the Maccabees. These renegades began to follow the Greek, gentile or pagan practices. They built a Greek gymnasium in Jerusalem which was a center for politics, culture, and sports. They tried to cover up their circumcision. They abandoned the Mosaic covenant, as they made a new covenant with the Greek gentiles to increase business with the Syrians.

Prescriptions about who can participate in the Passover (Ex 12:43-12:51)

“Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, ‘This is the ordinance for the Passover.  No foreigners shall eat of it, but any slave who has been purchased may eat of it after he has been circumcised.  No bound or hired servant may eat of it.  It shall be eaten in one house.  You shall not take any part of the animal outside the house.  You shall not break any of its bones.   The whole congregation of Israel shall celebrate it.  If an alien who resides with you wants to celebrate the Passover to Yahweh, all his males shall be circumcised.  Then he may draw to celebrate it.  He shall be regarded as a native of the land.  But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.   There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.’   All the Israelites did just as Yahweh commanded Moses and Aaron.  That very day Yahweh brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt company by company.”

Coming from the priestly tradition there are more prescriptions about who can participate in the Passover.  No foreigners could eat of it.  However, a purchased circumcised slave may eat of it.  You had to eat it in one house.  You cannot take the Passover meal outside the house or break the bones of the animal.  If an alien wants to partake, his whole household must be circumcised.  It is strange that they were worried about non-Israelites partaking in Passover at this early stage.  Obviously this is a later addition.      

The circumcision of Moses’ son (Ex 4:24-4:26)

“On the way, at a place where they spent the night, Yahweh met him and tried to kill Moses.  Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, ‘Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!’  So he let him alone.  It was then she said, ‘A bridegroom of blood by circumcision.’”

This is a complicated passage, no matter what language you are reading it in.  Apparently, on his way to Egypt, one night Yahweh tried to kill Moses.  Some have interpreted this like Jacob and his wrestling with God in Genesis, chapter 32.  To stop the murder from taking place, the wife of Moses, Zipporah, took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and put it on Moses’ feet, a euphemism for genitals.  Yahweh then let him alone.  Obviously, Moses was not aware of the strict understanding of circumcision, but his wife acted quickly.  In fact, there was no mention of the circumcision of Moses himself.  Circumcision was known in the Middle East, sometimes as a preparation for marriage.  However, for the Israelites it had a specific religious meaning, as it was projected back to the time of Abraham. 

The marriage pact with Hamor and Shechem (Gen 34:6-34:24)

“Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him, just as the sons of Jacob came in from the field.  When they heard of it, the men were indignant and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.”

As Hamor went to speak with Jacob, the sons of Jacob were returning from the field and became ‘indignant and very angry when they heard what had happened.  They seemed to indicate that such a thing was never done ‘in Israel,’ as if it already existed.

“But Hamor spoke with them, saying, ‘The heart of my son Shechem longs for your daughter.  Please give her to him in marriage.  Make marriages with us.  Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves.  You shall live with us.  The land shall be open to you.  Live and trade in it, and get property in it.’  Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, ‘Let me find favor with you.  Whatever you say to me I will give. Put the marriage present and gift as high as you like, and I will give whatever you ask me.  Only give me the girl to be my wife.’”

Hamor asked for Dinah to marry his son and then says to Jacob that his sons could marry Shechem’s daughters.  We can get along.  Shechem, whom the town is named after, says ‘Let me find favor with you. Whatever you say to me, I will give.’  The marriage gift can be very high.  This is a very strong plea for reconciliation between the two families.  The deed was done.  Should there be punishment or reconciliation?  What was the role and intention of Dinah?

“The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah.  They said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us.  Only on this condition will we consent to you.  You will become as we are and every male among you be circumcised.  Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live among you and become one people.  But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.’”

However, Jacob’s sons were not happy and were not going to give their sister to an uncircumcised man because that would be a disgrace.  Only if all their males would be circumcised will they consent to have his daughters be their wives.  The biblical writer said that they were being deceitful without any explicit indication.

“These words pleased Hamor and his son Shechem. The young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter.  Now he was the most honored of all his family.   So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, ‘These people are friendly with us.  Let them live in the land and trade in it, for the land is large enough for them.  Let us take their daughters in marriage, and let us give them our daughters.  Only on this condition will they agree to live among us, to become one people.  Every male among us is be circumcised as they are circumcised.  Will not their livestock, their property and all their animals be ours?  Only let us agree with them, and they will live among us.’  All who went out of the city gate heeded Hamor and his son Shechem.  Every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.”

This pleased Hamor and Shechem so that they went to the gate of the city and spoke to the people about how friendly the family of Jacob was.  The gate to the city was where all official business of the town took place.  The sons and daughters of Jacob/Israel could live and trade with them, as well as have marriages with them.  The only condition was that they become circumcised.  The people of the city agreed and all the males were circumcised. It sounds like everything is going well.