Monday, April 14, 2008

Brainstorming Circumcision

This is a different word than the one in my last post, so beware! Studying the OT with Seminary students really puts my brain in a strange place, so forgive me for this post. But this year I've been wondering what the symbolism of circumcision could be. We know that circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, but why this particular procedure? Why was it chosen, and what symbolism could it contain? I tend to see just about everything in the OT as symbolic, but this one has been difficult. So I thought we could brainstorm.

You know the rules of brainstorming, don't you? Anything goes. It doesn't have to make sense. Your ideas could be serious, funny, off-the-wall. I'll start us off with a few thoughts:

1. Romans 4:9-12 connects circumcision and the Abrahamic covenant with Abraham being the father of all who believe. It makes sense that the male reproductive organ would be representative of fatherhood and Abraham's descendants. But why the removal of the foreskin?

2. Does this special sign necessitate all women before the time of Christ being completely left out of any covenant relationship with God? Why, after the Savior's coming, are women encouraged to make a covenant through baptism? What has changed?

3. One of the suggestions I got for teaching what circumcision was to Seminary students was to hold a magic marker up in front of the class, announcing, "uncircumcised." Then, take off the top of the marker and say, "circumcised." (not in the manual, use at your own risk).

Please, please, if you are reading this post, make a comment! I'll be so very depressed if no one helps out. Leave a question, an observation, a scripture. Have you heard this expounded by anyone else? Let's brainstorm!


JayFlow22 said...

I think the shedding of blood is important.
Also, it was something that, to the wife, would be very easily detectable. The man could not fake it.
Like most signs of covenants, I think it's important that you wouldn't do them under any other circumstance. For example, I get in the water a lot, but never in white clothes and with another guy.
Also, the scriptural term "circumcised hearts" may help.
In your post "truth circumscribed" I'm sure you noticed the similar root in the words. Like a wedding ring around a finger, the portion of the male that would continue the seed of Abraham, has been bound by covenant to seek a vitreous wife.

Bored in Vernal said...

Jay, yes, the shedding of blood would connect this covenant with the atonement, wouldn't it.

As far as being easily detectable, I would think it was the opposite. Although obvious to a man's wife, he could go about the world without having an obvious connection to the covenant he has made. I don't know if that is important in our analysis, or not.

The circle image in the "cutting around" of circumcision could recall eternity. Anyone know the Hebrew word for circumcised?

brb--I'm going to look more at the circumcised heart thing.

Anonymous said...

Re the image of uncapping a magic marker: a cap on a magic marker renders it useless which is hardly true of an intact penis. In the same vein, the cap is intended to be removed and, arguably, circumcision is a needless, arbitrary and rather aggressive choice. Removing a cap from a magic marker can be done automatically without meaning or concern for either the marker or the person removing the cap. While one could say that a circumcision doesn't cause the baby boy anxiety, I don't think you could say the same for the person performing a circumcision or for the person presenting the baby for the procedure.

A magic marker has no nerves, no blood loss while the foreskin of a penis is probably the most sensitive of the most sensitive conceivable body part to subject to a surgical procedure.

Finally, a marker can be recapped as easily as it is uncapped. A circumcision is, for practical purposes, a permanent change to a person who has no part in the decision affecting them and leaving an indelible scar to remind them of their moment of vulnerability and how that was taken advantage of.

I suppose, in terms of Biblical symbolism, you could say that it suggests Abraham's presenting his son for human sacrifice and then having him delivered by God. Removing the foreskin could suggest that symbolic sacrifice while the body of the penis is a reminder of the deliverance.

anonymous alice

TLC Tugger said...

The most important thing to remember is the list of NT passages which make clear that genital cutting is not part of Christianity:
Matthew 9:12, Romans 2:29, Romans 3:30, Acts 15:10, I Corinthians 7:18, Galatians 5:6, Galatians 5:2, Galatians 6:15, Philippians 3:2, Colossians 2:12 (and Gnostic Gospel of Thomas 53).


Anonymous said...

I have nothing interesting to add, but I am obedient. And you asked me to comment if read the post, so...

Actually, if I were to have my children now I would not circumcise them. I now consider it a foolish tradition of my fathers, and my youngest son had to have surgery to repair his badly-healed circumcision site. I wish I had left nature alone!

JayFlow22 said...

"Although obvious to a man's wife, he could go about the world without having an obvious connection to the covenant he has made. I don't know if that is important in our analysis, or not."
The token of the covenants I have made in the Temple are not obvious to the outside world. Pretty much only my wife sees me in my garments.
"2. Does this special sign necessitate all women before the time of Christ being completely left out of any covenant relationship with God?"
Technically it is the woman who establishes the covenant child, not the man. Not all who came from the loins of Abraham were the covenant children, i.e. Ishmael. It was Sarah's child, i.e. Isaac, who carried on the covenant.
However, a good comment previously was that it is no longer the token of our covenant. It was given to Abraham as a token b/c people were misunderstanding baptism and the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

mmdurham said...

I agree with jayflow22. I have always assumed that it relates to reproduction and progeny. It is also a very serious sign, since it is essentially (though not completely, I understand) irreversible. I take this latter charactersitic to be the source of the "circumcised heart" metaphor. We are to make a transforming, permanent change in our heart to show or commitment to God. And, as I write this, it occurs to me that we should pass that transforming, permanent change to our children and theirs, if we can.

M said...

I'm hard pressed to add anything. My first thought was the circumcision of the heart mentioned in NT but that's already been covered. I think this covenant is an interesting one. Not all the men in the OT were able to serve in the Priesthood (only Levites) yet here was a covenant in which all men could participate. There is a point though, the original group excepting, that those circumcised were babies. Wouldn't this be more indicative of the faith of the parents? It's not an easy thing to have your son circumcised and it's my understanding that it was ceremonial and so the parents were right there, listening to their son's distress. Not easy.

That said, I liked the correlation between circumcision and the would be sacrifice of Isaac. That connection then leads to a connection between circumcision and the sacrifice of Jesus. Could this be a daily reminder of the atonement and the way to salvation?

Rich said...

Heck, maybe it's nothing more than a reminder to boys every time they take their wee willy wonker out to remember the covenant made and keep it (and them) out of trouble?

As to foolish traditions... I dunno, I figure I'm in some good company with Moses and Christ and all. I have a hard time buying into the whole 'mutilation' hysteria -- I certainly don't miss my foreskin.

"Cheeeeeze, Grommit!"

Anonymous said...

Historically, doing it probably came first and the covenant story came later. There is another very similar covenant story in Genesis 15, but without the cutting, and it was in the precursor to Genesis, the Book of J. We know the Egyptians (at least the priestly caste) circumcised, probably as a substitute for castration, and it may have been done further south even earlier. There's been some suggestion that Israelite circumcision was substitute for child sacrifice - not so unthinkable when you remember Abraham and Isaac.

maraiya, it's a lot easier to have it done to your son than yourself. If it were only done to informed, consenting adults, it would have died out long ago - probably replaced by something less painful and damaging.

As for the shedding of blood and doing it only to boys, "male blood [shed in war, circumcision, crucifixion] sanctifies; female blood [menstruation, childbirth] pollutes" - a strange, apparently cross-cultural tradition that humanity may yet outgrow.

The Faithful Dissident said...

So sorry to leave a totally irrelevant comment, but I was hoping that someone out there could answer a question for me. BiV, I decided to post it here since I know a lot of people read your blog. :) Does anyone know whether has quit accepting new blog submissions? I followed the instructions and sent them an e-mail to get my blog posted on their site, but after about a month and no response from 2 e-mails, I'm disappointed. :( Does anyone out there know why? I'm pretty sure my blog fits the criteria.

Jo said...

I think part of the reason why God chose circumcision is that there is probably nothing more precious to a man than his favorite body part.
Permanant and yet not maimed or unsable. A finger would be more showy, but would be maiming.
And perhaps, the foreskin is a reminder that our hearts do not show either, but yet, need to be dedicated to God always.
The traditional Jewish Bris is a FAR cry from what we Westerners call circs. They only take a teeny bit of skin off the very top, leaving most of the foreskin intact. Just enough to remind, but not to remove wholely.
Many OT rituals are moved from the visible, (animal sacrifice, Passover) to the spritual plane. The underlying beliefs and promises of those rituals are still very much in effect.

Bored in Vernal said...

Faithful Dissident, re MormonBlogs, all I know is John Dehlin has been really busy. I emailed him to change my blog's link on the aggregator, and he's not even answering his personal emails. So all I can advise is keep on sending emails and eventually he will get to it! That's what I plan to do.

Meanwhile, I will put you on my blogroll :)

In the works: my DH is planning a new Mormon aggregator only for solo blogs. It should be up in the next week or so. Want to be included?

Bored in Vernal said...

Well, this has been a lot of fun. One thing that was bothering me was it was done to children before they were accountable, but I recently read a commentary which said this was to indicate that the children were born into the covenant. They were then encouraged to make it effective in their own lives by "circumcising" their hearts. I guess the parallel is removing the foreskin = removing sin from our heart. Or maybe removing any covering that would keep us from being sensitive to the Spirit.

I'm still curious as to why women were not a part of this covenant.

And I've also learned that magic markers are not a good visual aid for circumcision!

JayFlow22 said...

I think woman play a larger role in it than men.
Not every child from Abraham's circumcised member were covenant children. It was only Sarah's child that carried the covenant with God.

The Faithful Dissident said...

BiV, thanks a lot for the info! And I'd love to be included in the new Mormon aggregator! Let me know when it's up! Thanks! :)

Bored in Vernal said...

Grrrr, you're really going to set me off now! I hate hate hate the idea that the only way a woman can have a covenant relationship with God is through her husband or son. Was it possible for a woman in OT Israel to make a covenant with the Lord independent of childbearing? If not, no wonder they freaked out so bad if they couldn't have children.

JayFlow22 said...

Women can be baptized [enter into a covenant with God] without having anything to do with child-bearing.
Women [who go on a mission] receive Temple covenants without having had any children.
However, as archaic as it may seem, exaltation is a couple's thing. That covenant takes a man and woman. Yes the woman must be a wife and have children...but so to must the man be a husband and father.
My belief is as I stated. Sarah played a more important role in the covenant. Plus, she didn't have to be circumcised...sounds win-win to me.

Anonymous said...

Circumcision was the penalty Abraham paid for having sex with his wife's slave. The Hebrews even now go forth showing the penalty for illicit sex imposed by God. Think about a 100 year old man having it done on him - that's painful! It reminds them not to have sex outside of marriage. [Do they always remember it these days? - No!]

Anonymous said...

Consider Rom 6:3-5
Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been commemorated with Him by baptism onto death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glory, so we too might walk in life's newness. For if we have become joint natured with Him in His death's image, so we shall also be in the resurrection.

See baptism joins one to Christ, and the water for baptism pours from His side on the cross (His death's image is both the sign of the cross and the crucified Christ) - now you see whose heart is pierced / circumcised for the Christian life's newness.

Th. said...


Circumcision is always a fun topic, and though I think it's tacky to have one's first post be links to oneself, I'm going to do it anyway (1, 2).

Nice to meet you!

Th. said...


Having read the comments I want to add that my understanding is that traditional Jewish circumcision did not remove the foreskin, just notched it. Foreskin removal is more modern -- employed as an antimasturbation technique.