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The Significance of Circumcision

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The Significance of Circumcision In an article from the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament in June 2000, Dr. John Goldingay writes about circumcision. Dr. Goldingay is currently the David Allan Hubbard Professor of the Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also an author, writing several novels to include Men Behaving Badly and After Eating the Apricot. Dr. Goldingay also holds a membership on the Society of Biblical Literature and serves on the editorial board for the Library of Hebrew/Old Testament Studies (Fuller). In his article, Dr. Goldingay discusses the troubling issues behind circumcision. Why did the Lord choose to make this one sign of belief exclusive to men? Most signs of the covenant can apply to everyone, but circumcision can only apply to men. There have been many attempts to justify the significance of gender-exclusive submission. One states that when two people become “one flesh” (Gen2.24), only one individual needs the mark of the covenant. This speculation has not been convincing (Goldingay). There have been several reasons to justify the use of this practice. Possibly the reason the Lord chose this act of dedication was to ensure further offspring for his followers. By removing the foreskin it promotes fertility. With fertility, the Israelites can hope to gain economic power, status and greater achievement. Other traditional motivations include cleanliness or hygiene, it helps to avoid infection, and it symbolizes the individuals trust in the Lord. This oath would be frightening, by allowing his son to be circumcised, he trusts the procedure will not threaten the potential reproductive ability for further offspring for his bloodline. There have been many references to circumcision in the bible. While traveling back to Egypt, YHWH attempts to kill Moses. During the fight, Zipporah circumcises her son, and then touches Moses with the bloody foreskin. After Moses is touched, Yhwh leaves him alone. (Exodus 4:24-26) The question as to why Moses’ son had to be circumcised to save his life still stands. Was Moses circumcised? Was his age a factor in him not being circumcised? Abram is approached by the Lord when he was ninety-nine years old. The Lord established a covenant with him and tells him he “shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:1-11). Joshua was instructed by the Lord “to circumcise himself and the sons of Israel again the second time” (Joshua 5:2). This instruction came as a result of the male children born while in the wilderness had not yet been circumcised. Many questions about the role of women in this time have been asked. Exodus again can be quoted when Zipporah took the flint rock and circumcised her son to save Moses and Israel. In today’s time, it is the mothers who bring their infant sons to the ceremonies and hold then during the rite. So possible it is the mothers who bear the greatest burden. Allowing man to bring harm, albeit relatively minimal harm, to the flesh of their flesh can be seen as a greater sacrifice for the lord. Maybe this is the role the Lord intended for women, to be the giver of the great descendants. One of the things I learned while studying this topic was how Moses may not have been circumcised but the act of Zipporah circumcising their son proved to the Lord that Moses, as well as Zipporah, was a strong believer in the word. The fact that she was strong enough to singlehandedly perform this task, and then touch Moses with his son’s blood almost anointed them. Once the bloodshed, as a sign of belief, touches Moses, he too is now protected by the act. Another thing I came to understand is woman role in this ritual. No the Lord may not have included woman as the one to undergo the circumcision, but it does affect her life as well. If the population of the world is to continue, we need to have descendants. If circumcision helps with fertility, then women do have a hand in this. The last thing I now know is why this ritual is still practiced today in the Jewish religion. Many Americans do opt for this procedure to be done on their sons prior to leaving the hospital. But members of the Jewish religion perform this on their sons at eight days old (Adler). This is continued covenant between them and the Lord.

Works Cited
Adler, Rabbi Sholom H. “The Origin of Bris Milah.” Bris Milah: Traditional Jewish Circumcision (June 2009) Circlist. Web. March 2011.
Fuller Theological Seminary. Facility: John Goldingay. Web. 14 March 2011.
Goldingay, John. “The Significance of Circumcision.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 88 (Jun 2000) 3+. Ebsco Host. Web. 9 March 2011.

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