Sunday, March 27, 2005

Christianity Spread Because Circumcision Not Required!

If there is one man who did more for Christianity than any other man, it was the Apostle Paul. His influence and efforts were so great that in an Easter Sunday TV programme hosted by Peter Jennings of ABC America, Paul was referred to by Christian theologians as the joint founder of Christianity.

The programme brought out 3 main issues that Paul contributed to the popularity of Christianity. Firstly, he made it available to the gentiles or non-Jews on an equal basis, even at one stage rebuking the Apostle Peter for not ‘breaking bread’ together with these new converts, who were then considered by the original disciples of Jesus as ‘unclean’ and more or less ‘second class’ adherents (Galatians 2:11-14)

Secondly, he turned the indignity and shame of the crucifixion of Christ into a saga of incredible sacrifice by the Son of God so that the ‘people could be saved’ . In essence, by promoting the concept of Jesus' earthly 'sacrifice' to save the believers, he salvaged the day for the church, for otherwise it would have been ridiculous for the so-called Son of God to die ignominiously like a common criminal, totally ignored by his Heavenly Father.

But the most significant factor he instituted that led to the spread of Christianity was the abandonment of the requirement for circumcision.

For Hebrews (Jews) who kept faith with God, circumcision was mandatory, as the act was a symbol of their covenant with God.

“And God said unto Abraham. Thou shall keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.

This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; every man among you shall be circumcised.

And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.”
(Genesis 17:9-11)

Then, the biblical instructions went on with specific details as to who must be circumcised.

Because of this, the converted to Jesus' new church initially had to be circumcised. Paul did away with that, believing that the circumcision wasn’t necessary for salvation. Paul revolutionised (threw away) many Jewish traditional practices making it convenient for the gentiles wishing to join his new church.

In the Book of Joshua, Chapter 5, it was shown that circumcision was not an original Hebraic religious tradition. In fact, it was an Egyptian practice. The Bible stated that after Joshua had carried out God's instruction to circumcise those who were born after the Hebrews escaped from Egypt and thus were uncircumcised, God said:

“Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” (Joshua 5:9)

Modern historians take that to mean, with the circumcision, the Hebrews were no longer in disgrace in the eyes of the Egyptians who previously viewed them with contempt because of their uncircumcised state. However, some Church leaders still refused to accept this modern understanding, and instead translated it to mean that the Hebrews were no longer Egyptian slaves.

But there is no doubt that the Egyptians predated the Hebrews in the practice of circumcision. The Hebrews had adopted many Egyptian traditions and practices as was discussed previously in Why Orthodox Jews Don’t Eat Pork!. Apparently, circumcision was another adopted Egyptian practice.

Isn't this food ... or rather foreskin for thoughts?


  1. KTemoc, you have that backwards.

    The shame is quite unclear and generally believed to have referred to their slavery. The word used is "disgrace" and the meaning is not specified. However, it most likely refers to the fact that their parents had been ashamed of their Israelites status and did not being their children into the Covenant as they were commanded to do. Circumcision was not an Egyptian practice but an Israelite one. Additionally, that section is to reinforce the nature of the conquest of Canaan. When you're attacking an entrenched and numerically superior force the last thing you do is weaken your forces with a procedure such as circumcision. This reinforces the fact that it was God doing the fighting far more than the Israelite men.

    Professor Halpern's thesis isn't new or revolutionary in scholarly circles, and is also not revelant to the point here - although the worship of Set was unlikely. The laws of Kashrut deal with making delineations - animals which are liminal are forbidden. This includes pork - it was seen as an in-between creature and therefore unfit to eat as were many others.

  2. What if circumcision is required?!

  3. For Christians? It is not required and has not been required since Christianity changed from being a heretical Jewish sect and sought to become a religion in its own right around the year 70-90 or so.

    Circumcision is still required for Jews (8 days old) and Muslims (13 years old).

  4. As the title of the above topic alludes that Christianity is spreading due to the non-requirement for Christians to be circumcised, I was just pulling everyone's legs by asking what if that was a requirement( and maybe sarcastically wondering if there would be a shrinkage in the numbers of Christian)?

    And I am proud to be a Christian myself and a believer in Jesus Christ.

  5. According to the Christian theologians interviewed on the ABC programme, the doing away with circumcision by Paul as a pre-requisite to join the church was the singular most important factor in the spread of Christianity in those early days. If we accept their expert views then we have to accept that the reverse would be logically true too.

  6. Mashgiach, as I mentioned, there are two views to the meaning of God's statement to Joshua. You have expressed one of the views that is held by some church people. Personally I don't have any strong stand on which was the most likely, though I must admit, based on what I'll be blogging, I'm inclined to favour the other (modern) view.

    As for circumcision, there is plenty of evidence that the Egyptians (the ancient variety) practised circumcision way before the Hebrews. Whether the practice by the Hebrews developed independently of the Egyptians (as suggested by the OT in Abraham's covenant with God) would be forever debated.

  7. Pak Kodok, It would have been an issue only for early Christianity, not for moderns.

    KTemoc, I should also mention that my PhD is in Bible, so I am one of those "modern Bible scholars." The dichotomy really isn't between "older" and "newer" but readings of the text and expertise in the language and the nature of it. The problem with suggesting that "the Egyptians (the ancient variety) practised circumcision way before the Hebrews" is one of dating. We do not accurately know when the practice of circumcision began among either people - particularly since some of the more recent archeological evidence would seem to indicate that some of the tools which we though were used for circumcision by the Egyptians were not used for that purpose. Be that as it may, it is highly unlikely that the practice went from Egyptian to Israelite since the early ISraelite laws were set up in deliberate opposition to Egyptian and Canaanite practices.

    Regarding the issue of circumsion and early Christians, I do not dispute that up to a point. Bear in mind that circumcision was a serious bar to pagans as it was seen as serious mutilation (damn painful for adults) that also precluded the use of some public facilties such as the baths. It allowed Christianity to be more appealing, but is only the equal of other factors such as the fact that it made very few demands and was quite easy to practice alongside other pagan religions. Most pagans were pretty open about religion, unlike mono- and hinotheists.

  8. What I forgot to add was that the reverse may not necessarily have been true even if their opinions are correct. Bear in mind that once it became clear to the authorities that the early Christians were no longer Jews that the Fishers no longer enjoyed the protections of being a legal religion and were seen as a strange and possible politically dangerous sect. The fact that they stopped circumcising in mnay ways made life harder to the early Christians since it ensured that they could be seen as non-Jews and therefore far easier to persecute. This is part of the reason why the Gospels were so pro-Roman and anti-Jewish.

  9. I welcome your doctoral expertise in this discussion. I respect your academic qualifications as one of the'modern' biblical scholars, but there may be others who may not share your beliefs. In such a difficult subject as 'reconstruction' of an ancient history, written under less scholarly circumstances than it would be today, in fact written with prejudice and political-ideological purposes of yonder days, there is always room for differences.

    The evidence in the Egyptian practice of circumcision also lies with some mummies having circumcised penises. The books and encyclopedia I have perused support this belief.

    I agree with you that "the Gospels were so pro-Roman and anti-Jewish" - please see my other topic 'Judas Iscariot - Betrayer or Scapegoat'.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. above comment deleted was the same as the one above it - I overdid the publishing button

  12. I certainly recognize and value the diversity of opinion among colleagues. As I said, there are questions about Egyptian circumcision that have been raised again, and I am unfortunately not expert enough to discuss them in sufficient detail. Archaeology and Egyptology are hobbies for me rather than vocations.