Religion and Ethics
JAMES HAST1NGS M.A., D.D.
FELLOW OF THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE
MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL OF THE PALESTINE EXPLORATIONS FUND
'DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE' AND 'DICTIONARY OF CHRIST AND THE GOSPELS'
WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF
JOHN A. SELBIE, M.A., D.D.
PROFESSOR OF OLD TESTAMENT LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE IN
UNITED FREE CHURCH COLLEGE, ABERDEEN
LOUIS H. GRAY, M.A., Ph.D.
SOMETIME FELLOW IN INDO-IRANIAN LANGUAGES IN COLUMBIA
UNIVERSITY NEW YORK
EDINBURGH T. & T. CLARK, 38 GEORGE
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS, 597 FIFTH AVENUE
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY MORRISON AND GIBB LIMITED
First Impression ... 1910
Latest Impression ... 1971
Introductory (L. H. GRAY), p. 659.
American (L. SPENCE), p. 670.
Egyptian (G. FOUCART), p. 670.
Muslim (D.S. MARGOLIOUTH), p. 677.
Semitic (G.A. BARTON), p. 679.
CIRCUMCISION (Introductory).-The term 'circumcision' is applied,
in its strict sense, to a wide-spread surgical operation for the
ablation of the male prepuce, and also, with a looser connotation,
to simple incision of the prepuce, or even to two operations on the
female genitals - clitoridectomy and ablation of the labia minora (the so-called 'female circumcision'). The operation on males is
very common, not only among many primitive peoples as well as among
some which have attained a high degree of civilization, but even
in modern surgery, where it is, of course, performed solely for sanitary
and therapeutic reasons - an explanation which, though not uncommonly
urged, is not wholly satisfactory in accounting for its ultimate
origin or for its practice among primitive races. The corresponding
female operation is far more rare, both surgically and as a rite.
ANATOMICAL ASPECTS.-The male prepuce is a loose fold of skin, lined
on the inner side with mucous membrane, covering the glans penis, at whose base (the corona glandis) it is attached to the
penis ; while on the under side of the organ it has a further union
with the glans by a fold termed the fraenum praeputii. On the corona glandis open the glandulae odoriferae,which
generate a sebaceous secretion called smegma praeputii In
modern surgery the necessity for circumcision arises chiefly in case
of phimosis, a condition, whether congenital or acquired, in which
the prepuce cannot be retracted so as to uncover the glans (this
condition often giving rise to retention of urine, balanitis from
accumulation of smegma, calculous concentrations, impotence, prolapsus ani, cancer of the penis, balanoposthitis, and other
complaints), or in hypertrophy of the prepuce.
In its characteristic form the operation of circumcision consists
in drawing forward the prepuce (with proper precaution as by a shield
to prevent any incision of the glans) which, when sufficiently
protracted, is amputated, the flow of blood, which is relatively slight,
being checked by some styptic. Among primitive peoples as well as among
Jews and Muhammadans, the wound is then permitted to heal ; but in
modern surgical practice a more complete operation is performed.
After the ablation has been effected, it will be found that the
surgeon has removed only a circle of skin, while the mucous membrane
lining the prepuce still tightly embraces the glans; this he
slits up, by introducing the point of a pair of scissors at the preputial
orifice; and then, trimming off the angles of the flaps of mucous membrane,
and sometimes snipping, across the fraenum, he turns back the
mucous membrane, and attaches it to the edge of the cutaneous incision
by sutures, usually of silk or catgut. Union readily takes place by
The physiological change arising from circumcision, apart from obviation
of the dangers of phimosis or the inconvenience of hypertrophy is
that the mucous membrane covering the glans becomes obdurated
and approximates the character of epidermis, thus lessening liability
to venereal and other infections.
MALE CIRCUMCISION.-(a) Geography.-Disregarding modern surgical circumcision,
which, being entirely sanitary and therapeutic in purpose, does not
here concern us, the operation may be said to be almost world-wide,
with the exception of Europe and non-Semitic Asia. The Indo-Germanic
peoples, the Mongols, and the Finno-Ugric races (except where they
have been influenced by Muhammadanism) alone are entirely unacquainted
with it. (1) It can scarcely have been practised in pre-Aryan India
(obviously we have no data, regarding pre Indo-Germanic Europe),
for there in no allusion to it in Sanscrit literature and no trace
of it in modern India, even among peoples untouched by Hindu civilization.
The custom is best known popularly from the Semites, especially the
Hebrews and Muhammadans, as well as from the ancient Egyptians and
Colchians (the latter, according to Herodotus [ii. 104 f.], closely
akin to the Egyptians), while something analogous was practised by
some American Indians (for all these see the following sections).
lt is also
1) As a mere curiosity, mention may be made, in
this connection, of the very probable Tradition, reported by Clemens
Alexandrinus (Strom. i. 130), that Pythagoras, while in Egypt,
underwent circumcision that he might be reckoned among the higher classes,
and be initiated into the esoteric wisdom of the Egyptians.
p. 660 col. a
observed, at various ages, among many African and Polynesian peoples,
who will here be particularly considered.
A convenient summary of the geographical distribution of non-Semitic
circumcision is given by Andree (AA xiii. 74): 'Die Westkuste (von
Afrika) nebst Hinterländern gehört ihr- geringe Unterbrechungen
ausgenomrnen-vom Senegal bis Bennguella. Die Kaffernvölker mit
Ausnahme der Zulu beschneiden, ebenso fast alle Ostafrikaner, die
Galle jedoch ausgenomrnen. Sie herrscht auf Madagaskar, bei den christlichen
Abessinier, Bogos und Kopten. Im Herzen des schwarzen Erdltheils
ist sie von den Monbuttu und Akka geübt. Fast alle Eingeborenen
des australischen Continente, die Sudwestecke ausgenommen, haben
die Beschneidung; sie kommt vor in Melanesien, die Papuas von Neu-Guinea
abgerechnet. Unter den Polynesiern fehlt sie den Maori. Vereinzelt
ist sie bei nord-, mittel- und südamerikanischen Stämmen
anzutreffen. Nach einer flüchtigen Schätzung sind es 200
Millionen Menschen, der siebenter Theil aller, die sie ausüben.'
(translation: RS: 'Circumcision is practiced throughout the West-coast
of Afrika including inland areas, with few breaks except between
Senegal and Bennguella. The Kaffernvölker circumcise excepting
the Zulu, likewise almost all East-Africans, excepting the Galle.
The custom predominates in Madagaskar, among the Christian Abysinians,
Bogos and Kopten. At the center of the African world this is practiced
by the Monbuttu and Akka. Almost all natives of the Australian continent
practice circumcision, excepting in the South-West, ; it occurs in
Melanesien excepting the Papuas of Neu-Guinea. In the Polynesiern
island it is missing only among the Maori. Occasionally being found
in North middle and South America. At a rough guess it is practiced
by 200 Million, one seventh of all people.')
(b) Varieties.-The most rudimentary
form of male circumcision is a simple gash of the prepuce. This seems
to be especially characteristic of the American continent and the
Pacific islands, being found among the Totonacs of eastern Mexico
and probably among the Mayas, as well as among the Orang, Buenua
and in Tahiti, in the Marquesas, Waihu, Tonga, Samoa, Kunaie, New
Caledonia, the New Hebrides, and the Nitendi Islands. In similar
fashion, insection of the back of the prepuce in practised among
some Australian tribes, and especially in East New Guinea and other
Melanesian districts, as in Tanna (one of the New Hebrides) and in
Fiji, while in Tonga the operation in performed by the simple process
of tearing the prepuce with the fingers. Among the Somali , Masai,
Wajagga, and a few of the Kikuyu, a similar cut is made on the upper
part of the glans, and the resulting flaps of skin are permitted
to hang from the fraenum.
In the Aarau Archipelago and in Seranglao the upper part of the
prepuce is pinched off (for the motive in these territories see below,
under (m) (v). Among the Tatars a wedge-shaped piece
is excised from the prepuce ; and an Arab tribe between Abu Arish
and Hejaz not only ablate the prepuce but also make an incision on
the skin on the upper side of the penis extending the entire length
of the organ, and in addition, abscise a portion of the skin of the
lower part of the abdomen. In Jewish circumcision there is a noteworthy
deviation, which has a special reason. The original rite was doubtless
simple ablation of the prepuce; but with contact with classical civilisation,
the desire not to be different from the uncircumcised Greeks who
surrounded themselves in the Gymnasia led the Jews to resort to the
operation of epispasm, by which § (I Mac 1,19; cf. 1 Co 7,18,
Jos. Ant.. xii. v. 1, and also the Talmudic passages cited
in JE iv. 93, see also the 'Semitic' section below; for a
description of the operation, which in now scarcely performed, 'except
possibly to restore lose of substance from accident or disease' [E.
M. L.] cf. Celsus, xxv. 1). To obviate the possibility of such concealment
of Judaism, the Rabbis, probably after Bar Cochba's war (early 2nd
cent. A.D.), made peri`ah (exposure of the glans) an
indispensable requisite td valid circumcision. In this operation,
after the excision has been completed, the mohel ("circumciser
') seizes the inner lining of the prepuce, which still covers the glans, with the thumb-nail and index-finger of each hand,
and tears it so that he can roll it fully back over the glans and expose the latter completely' (Friedenwald . in JE iv.
By far the most remarkable operation complementary to circumcision
is the ariltha, or mika, characteristic of Australia,
and normally performed about a year after circumcision proper. This
is defined as, sub-incision of the penis, so that the penile urethra
is laid open from the meatus right back to the junction with
the scrotum ' (Spencer-Gillen, p. 263) This operation, as performed
m the Boula district, is described as follows by Roth (Ethnolog.
Stud. p. 178):
p. 660 col. b
While the man on top (the lad being held supine on the ground)
holds the penis firm and tense with both hands, the actual operator,
seated on the ground in front, makes a superficial incision, through
skin only, extending, from the external meatus down to near
the scrotal pouch in a line with the median raphé;
a deeper incision is next made with the same stone knife along the
same line as the first, and, starting from the external orifice,
opens up the canal as it is pushed onwards. The extent of the wound
is apparently inconsistent. 1 have observed it varying from a little
over half an inch in some to a gash opening up almost the whole of
the penis as low down as half an inch from the scrotum, in others.'
Among the Yaroinga of the Upper Georgina district the operation consists
of two vertical cuts into the urethra extending from the external
orifice, with a third independently transverse one below, the resulting
flap of skin being allowed to take its own time apparently in subsequently
rotting off down to the transverse cut`(ib.).
Among the Bani Chams actual circumcision in no longer practised,
though it is represented ritually by a mock ceremony, performed by
the head priest with a wooden knife, and connected with namegiving
(see above, p. 345).
(c) Disposal of the ablated prepuce.-According
to a Talmudic Tradition, the tribe of Levi, which alone during the
Exodus observed the obligation of circumcision, piled up the ablated
foreskins in the wilderness and covered them with earth, a practice
which later became General (Kohler, in JE iv. 93). Among the
East African Wakiku the prepuce in buried in the ground in front
of the boy just circumcised; while the African Bara father throws
it into the river. From fear of its being used in black magic the
Turks bury the prepuce as they do parings of nails, etc., and from
a like motive the Amaxosa Kafir boy carries away his prepuce and
buries it in a sacred spot. On the West Coast of Africa the prepuce,
soaked in brandy, is swallowed by the boy operated on ; the Arabs
of Algiers wrap it in a cloth and put it on a tree or animal, which
then becomes the gift to the operator; and the Hova of Madagascar
wrap it in a banana leaf, which is given to a calf to eat. Among
the Wolof, on the other hand, the prepuce is dried and carried by
the lad circumcised, the object being the promotion of virility 1).
The Sakalava of Madagascar formerly made the operator swallow the
prepuce which he had just ablated (the prepuce of the crown-prince
is still swallowed by his uncle in Madagascar), but at the present
time the foreskin is shot from a gun (a practise also observed by
the Antankarana of the same island), or is fastened to a spear which
is thrown over the house of the lad`s father ; if the spear falls
sticking in the earth, it is a good omen. The triangular pieces excised
by the Taters are given to the boys mothers, who wrap them in cloth
and keep them; but if the mothers are dead or absent the pieces are
often simply thrown away. Among the Australian Urabunna the stomach
of each elder brother is touched with the foreskin, which is then
placed on a fire-stick and buried without special ceremony or further
attention (for a somewhat similar usage, probably Midianitish rather
than Hebrew, and apparently performed under exceptional circumstances,
see -Ex 4,24f., and cf. Semitic section of this art. p. 679).
lt is in Australia that precautions are most generally taken in
disposing of the ablated prepuce. The northern Arunta bury it, together
with the blood caused by the operation ; at Fowler Bay it is swallowed
by the operator (compare the former usage of the Sakalava) ; among
the southern Arunta the younger brother swallows his elder brother's
prepuce to make himself strong and tall ;
1) Cf. the wearing of the penis of slain warriors
by the victors among the people of Mowat to increase the conqueror's
strength by the courage of the dead; the eating of the genitals of
beasts killed among some North American Indian tribes, these parts
being torn with the teeth, never cut with an edged tool; the making
of the testicles, heart and liver of slain enemies into a broth and
war-paint in South Africa ; and the Central Australian usage of administering
blood from the genitals in case of severe illness (Crawley, Mystic
Rose, London, 1902, p. 106f.).
p. 661 col.a
the Kalkodoon of Cloninny (North Queensland) string it on twine
of human hair and hang it around the mother's neck to keep the devil
away'; the Anula bury it beside a pool to make the water-lilies grow
; and the Warramunga put it in a hole inside in a tree by the witchetty
grub, to increase the number of these edible delicacies. Among the
«the boy puts his severed foreskin on a shield, covers it up with
a broad spear-thrower, and then carries it in the darkness of night,
lest any woman should ask what he is doing, to a hollow tree, in
which he deposits it. He tells no one where he has hidden it, except
a man who stands to him in the relation of father's sister's son'
(Frazer, Independent Rev. iv. 211 ; cf. the disposal of the
ablated labia in Java (below, 3(c)). The reason alleged for
this custom is that, according to Tradition, the early mythical ancestors
of the tribe placed their foreskins in their nanja trees,
that is their local totem centres, the trees from which their spirits
came forth at birth, and to which they would return at death' (ib.;
for Frazer's deductions from these Australian practices, see below
under (m)(w) ; and for a somewhat similar Javanese
custom in connexion with female circumcision, under 3(c).
Finally among the Yaroinga of the upper Georgina District, the blood
shed in circumcision is drunk by the women of the tribe as a strengthening
draught (cf. below 3(b)).
(d) Tabued foods. -The tabu of certain
foods during the period immediately following circumcision is recorded
only sporadically. Bread may be eaten, and fresh milk drunk, among
the Muhammadans of Bosnia, but the drinking of water unhallows the
rite. Among the Australian Urabunna the jew lizard (supposed to create
sexual desire, and always forbidden to women) is tabu at this time,
as are opossums, snakes, echidnas, and all lizards at sub-incision
in Central Australia. Some rudimentary traces of hygiene may be present
in the tabu of meat in the Congo Basin and the regions east of Loanda
to the kingdom of Muata Jamwo, as well as in the prohibition of pork
in Wydah and the coast region of West Africa
(e) Instruments employed.-Circumcision
is, as a rule, performed with the ordinary iron or steel instruments
(particularly razors) in common use among the peoples practising
it. Exceptions are not, however, unknown. There are distinct records
among the Hebrews of the use of hard stone (the flint' [§] of
Ex 4, 24, [although in this case the sudden exigency of the occasion
does not absolutely require the assumption of a survival of primitive
usage] and Jos 5,2f.), which was also employed by the ancient Egyptians,
an well as by the American Totonacs, the modern Alnajas of Abyssinia,
and the Australians, and sometimes in Morocco. Post Biblical Jewish
tradition also permits the use of glass or of any other cutting material
excepting reeds (Ploss Das Kind, i. 347 f.)
In Tonga, besides the simple tearing of the prepuce with the fingers
(already noted), a splinter of bamboo or a mussel shell may be employed
-, and , the Marolongs of South Africa used a " fire-stone " (meteorite),
but now circumcise with an assegai' (Jacobs, in JE iv. 97).
In Central Australia there is a tradition that circumcision was performed
by means of a fire-stick before the introduction of stone knives,
but the practice was discontinued because of the excessive mortality
resulting from the use of the sticks (Spencer-Gillen, p. 394) ; and
among the Bani Chams a wooden knife is used in the mock ceremony
which represents the ritual survival of Muhammadan circumcision.
(f) Who are circumcised. -Among nearly
all peoples that observe circumcision it is requisite for every male
to submit to the operation if he is to enjoy full tribal rights (cf.
below, (k) ; illustrations of this as among the Hebrews, are
too obvious to need Citation. In a few cases, however, there is divergence
from this general rule. In ancient Egypt, circumcision was restricted
to priests and warriors (but see CIRCUMCISION [Eg.]), and it
p. 661 col.b
was likewise peculiar to the higher classes among the Aztecs (and
probably the Mayas) and in Rook Island (between New Guinea & New Britain).
Contrariwise, in Tonga the highest chief was the one person exempt
from the rite.
An interesting case of the gradual introduction of circumcision
may be witnessed in some of the New Hebrides group. 'lt has come
up from Ambrym to the lower end of Pentecost, as a prevailing custom,
and not very lately. lt is done at any age, whenever the boy's friends
choose to make the feast. lt is not a mark of initiation and has
no religious or superstitious character; it is a social distinction...
There is no doubt that the custom, for it is not a rite, has come
across from the eastwards to the Southern New Hebrides' (Codrington,
Melanesians, Oxford, 1891 p- 234).
(g) Who circumcise.-In primitive
conditions it would naturally be some near kinsman who would perform
the operation of circumcision. Among the early Hebrews this was apparently
the head of the household or the father (Gn 17, 23ff.), though in
case of special necessity it might perhaps be performed even by the
mother (cf. possibly Ex 4. 25 ; 1 Mac 1 60 is not decisive in view
of v. 61 ; for a divergent view, see the 'Semitic' section of this
art.), while a leader or man of importance might also cause it to
be performed (Jos 5, 2ff, 1 Mac 2, 46). In later times, however,
the rite was performed by a specially trained man, usually called mohel ('circumciser'). In Nias, in the Malay Archipelago,
it is likewise the father who circumcises ; but in Nukahiva, in the
Marquesas group, on the contrary the father is the one person who
is debarred from performing circumcision. From the Heb. use of §
(lit. `circumciser`) and § (lit. `circumcised`) in the senses
of 'wife's father' and 'daughter's husband' respectively, it would
appear, since them terms first occur in connexion with Midianites
(Ex 3,1 4,16,25f. , Nu 10,29 , Jg 12,16). and Sodomites (Gn 19, 12-
14), that among these two peoples circumcision was performed by the
future father-in-law. From these passages the words § and §
seem to have passed into the Heb. vocabulary with an entire loss
of their original meaning, connoting merely 'father-in-law' and 'son-in-law'
respectively (e.g. Dt27,23[feminine), Jgl5,6, 19,4f,7,9, 1
S 18,18, 2 K 8,27 Neh 6,18, Jer 7, 34, JI 2,16). The most respected
member of the family is chosen by the Antankarana of Madagascar,
and among the Mandingo of West Africa the village elders perform
it. The priest is the operator in Morocco, Samaria, Western Mexico,
Tahiti, the Sandwich Islands, the Marquesas, and Easter Island, as
well as among the Totonacs, as is the head priest in the mock survival
among the Bani Chams, and the 'witch doctor' among such African tribes
as the Masai, Wanika, and Wakikuya. Too much cannot, however, be
safely deduced from the choice of priests as circumcisers, for Andree (op. cit. p. 75) rightly calls attention to the fact that
among primitive peoples the priest and the physician are commonly
united in the same person, and the operation falls within the domain
of the latter.' In Persia, Turkestan, and Upper Egypt the barber
(with quasi-surgical functions like his mediaeval European
confrère) takes the place of the priest ; and in Samoa, as
among the African Wakamba, Wanika, and Kikuyu, a paid professional
(somewhat analogous to the Jewish mohel) officiates The smith
is the circumciser among the West African Sarakolese, and in Kita
(French Sudan ; cf. the blacksmith`s wife as the circumciser of girls
in the same districts, below, 3(f)); and in Samoa cases are even
reported in which boys circumcise each other. Among the Falashas,
three old women perform the operation (cf. the occasional circumcision
by women among the ancient Hebrews) ; and perhaps the most remarkable
officiant of all is the common executioner, who is the circumciser
among the Sakalava of Madagascar. Among the Australian Unmatjera
the father-in-law (apparently like the Midianites
p. 662 col. a
and Sodomites; see above) performs the rite ; while among the Urabunna
the operator in cases of ariltha is the oknia (the man
who stands in the relation of father to the lad), though the previous
operation of circumcision is performed by the grandfather and the mother's
(h) Where performed, and in whose
presence. -From the nature of circumcision it is usually performed
only in the presence of persons of the same sex as the individual
operated on, and generally in a secluded place (on tabu of
this nature cf. Crawley, op. cit. p. 297f.). Almost the only
instance of exception to this rule in the case of male circumcision
is among the Central African Manuema, who perform the rite in the
presence of women. At the same time, as just noted, women operate
among the semi-Judaized Falashan (no definite conclusions may be
drawn, in the present writer's opinion, for normal Hebrew usage from
Ex 4,25, 1 Mac l, 60f). The Totonacs circumcised in the temple, and
the Hebrews in the father's house, although as early as the Geonic
time the ceremony had been transferred from the house of the parents
to the synagogue, where it took place after the service in the presence
of the whole congregation ' (Kohler, JE iv. 95). In the Congo
region, on the other hand, circumcision is performed in a special
hut. Previous to circumcision, various preparatory trainings, of
brief duration, are often required, as among the Australians. These
do not, however, materially affect the character of the rite, and
come more properly under the head of initiation (q.v. ; cf. also
art AUSTERITIES, particularly 2, 8 (3-4)).
Except among the Jews, and possibly among the Tontonacs (in view
of the fact that they circumcised in their temples), distinctly religious
ceremonies in connexion with circumcision are extremely rare, being
recorded only in the case of the New Caledonians and the Fijians.
(i) Age when circumcision is performed. -It is a significant fact that circumcision, whatever explanation
may be offered for it, it is almost invariably performed before or
at the age of puberty, or at latest before marriage. The sole exceptions
to this rule occur among the Hebrews, where peculiar conditions caused
such violation of the general principle. Abraham and his household
were naturally uncircumcised until the Divine covenant had been formally
instituted by God, this taking place when Abraham was 99 years old
(Gn 17, 23ff; in the light of this no particular deduction can be
drawn from the fact that Ishmael then happened to be 13 years of
age) ; proselytes and persons inter-marrying with the Hebrews would
naturally be circumcised after attaining puberty (cf. Gn 34,14ff,
Ex l2,48). By far the most noteworthy passage in this connexion is
Jos 5,2-9, which states that 'all the people that came out of Egypt
. . .. were circumcised . but all the people that were born in the
wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they
had not circumcised.' This younger generation Joshua circumcised
after crossing the Jordan. The passage may well be taken as it stands,
though the critical school seek, without due consideration of the
early age at which circumcision is performed among many peoples (see
below) to see in it an implication that the primitive
Hebrews practised the rite, like numerous other tribes, at the age
of puberty, `the circumcision of young warriors at that age signifying
the consecration of their manhood to their task as men of the covenant
battling against the uncircumcised inhabitants' (Kohler, op. cit. iv.
93). And the fact that even Moses neglected to circumcise his son (Ex
4,25) was very probably due to his Midianitish marriage, since the
Midianites, like the Sodomites apparently performed the rite shortly
before marriage (see above, (g), and below, (m)(o)).
p. 662 col. b
Waiving these sporadic exceptions, the various ages at which circumcision
is performed may be tabulated as follows -
Soon after birth": Totonacs (eastern Mexico), and probably Mayas
8 days: Jews, Samaritans, Abyssinians, South American Guamo, 0tomaco,
and Saliva (Orinoco region).
Multiple of 7 days: South-Western Arabs.
1-2 months: Wazegua of East Africa. Before the end of the first year:
African Ovaherero, As soon as the child can walk: Washambala
2-8 years Muhammadans of Kashgar.
2-10 years: Muhamnadans of Turkestan.
3-4 years: Masai, Usambara (East Africa), Persian Muhammadans (the
last never later than 13).
4-5 years: Karakurtchins (Central Asia)
5 years: Aneityum (New Hebrides), Muhammadans of Algiers (the latter
never later than 7).
5-10 years: Upper Egypt 6-8 years: Kabyles
6-13 years: Turks.
7 years: Swahili
7-8 years: Akkra (Gold Coast)
7-10 years: Tanna (New Hebrides).
7 years and later: New Caledonia
8 years: Bakwiri (Kamerun) Tahiti
8-10 years: Somali, Kafirs, Congo, Negroes, Samoa
Before 10 years: Muhammadans in general
10-12 years: many South American tribes.
12 years: Ewe (West Africa) Limo lo Pahalaa (Celebes)
12-13 years: Ishmaelites, Sarakolese (West Africa).
12-14 years: Mandingo (Sudan). 12-16 years Wydah and cost region (West
Africa; sometimes as late as 20)
14 years : Ancient Egypt, Bambarra, Kafirs, Bechuana, Fiji
14-16 years: Angaardi (Murchison River , West Australia).
15 years: Bani Chams (ritual survival performed as a mock ceremony
15-16 years: Wolof (Senegambia).
16-17 years: Wakikuyu (East Africa).
When the first hairs appear on the face : many South Australian tribes.
Puberty : Melanesians in general, Nukahiva (Marquesas),
Wakamba, Wanika (both between Lake Victoria and the coast),
These specific years can, of course, be taken only as approximate
, and divergent years are sometimes recorded by different observers
for the same people, as for Akkra (7-8 years and 12-13), Masai (3-4
years and puberty), Kafirs (8-10 years and puberty), and Tahiti (8
and 14 years). In at least some cases part of the discrepancy may be
due to the custom of performing circumcisions en masse, as among
the Masai, Wanika, Wakikuyu, Mandingo, Sarakolese, and Bechuana, as
well as in Kita, the Congo basin, and Tahiti.
(j) Effect on legal and social status.-Generally
speaking in the words of the anonymous contributor on the African
Banaka and-Bapuku to Steinmetz, Rechtsverhaltnisse von eingeborenen
Völkern in Afrika und Ozeanien (Berlin, 1903, p. 40 f.),
'ohne Beschneidung ist der Mann kein Mann, er ist schwach, nichts;
er wird beschimpft, verlästert und sogar verbannt; er geht einsam
umher, kann keine Frau bekommen. Nur der Beschnittene ist ein rechter
Mann, der erbberechtigt ist und arbeiten und fechten kann.'
(translation: RS: "without circumcision a man is not a man,
he is weak, nothing, he is cursed, derided and even exiled; he goes
around alone, can get no women. Only the circumcised is a real man,
who has a heritage and who can work and fight.)
Thus the child passes, on circumcision, from the harem or from
the society of women to that of men, among the Turks, Malays of Menangkabau,
Papuans, Nias, Hovas of Madagascar, and African Swahili, Wakikuyu,
Basutos, Kafirs, and Mandingo; and he now also, as in Upper Egypt,
enters upon a religious life. The rite is occasionally connected with
the giving of a permanent name to the child, as among the Jews (cf.
Lk 1, 59 - 2,21), many South Australian tribes (as the Dieri, near
Adelaide), and the South American Tecunas (on the Upper Solimoes, in
Brazil), as well as in the mock ceremony among the Bani Chams. Only
after circumcision can the youth marry among the African Masai, Wakwafi,
Peuhls of Futa-Jallon, Bechuana, and Diakite-Sarakolese, as well as
in Bambuk, Angola, and Kita, among the Hebrews (cf. Gn 34,15-17), and
apparently among the Midianites and Sodomites (see above, (g)).
Among the South Australians along the Peake River, youths
p. 663 col. a
can indeed associate with women after circumcision, but they are
forbidden to marry before they have been sub-incised, a rule which
holds generally wherever ariltha is practised in Australia.
women refuse to have intercourse with uncircumcised men among the
Bafiote of the Loango Coast, while the Bakwiri women of Kamerun believe
that physical harm would result to them from sexual relations with
such men, and in Old Calabar lack of circumcision in either sex is
ground for divorce. The uncircumcised are excluded from society generally
by the Wanika of East Africa; and the Mombuttu, Bongo, and Mittu
of Central Africa refuse to eat with those who have not been circumcised.
' Uncircumcised' is a term of insult, not only as applied to the
Philistines (Jg. 14,3 15,18 1 S 17,26-36 31,4 etc.), but also among
the South Australians and in Rook Island. Before circumcision a child
is ritually unclean among the East African Amaxosa ; and the Masai,
Wakwafi, and Kikuyu consider iron implements tabu to the uncircumcised,
which, in view of the sanctity attached to this metal among primitive
peoples, is certainly a significant fact.
Only after circumcision can the Malinka and Bambarra, along the
upper Niger, bear arms or have a voice in the council; and not till
then has a Peuhl or a Basuto the right and duty of taking part in
warfare. In Kita in the French Sudan, an uncircumcised man can, it
is true, bear arms, but he is debarred from all rights of inheritance;
and, in like manner, inheritance is conditional on circumcision among
the Masai, Wakwafi, Damara, Hambo, and Wanika; while the Damara reckon
a man's age from the time of his circumcision, not counting the previous
years at all. In view of all this, it is not astonishing that, just
as, 'uncircumcised' is a contemptuous epithet among some peoples,
as noted above, so circumcision is a mark of proud distinction among
Jews, Mombuttu, etc., and is even restricted to certain classes among
Aztecs, Egyptians, and Melanesians (see above, (f)); while,
though circumcision is not universal in Madagascar, no one who has
not undergone the operation can become either a soldier or an official.
(k) In connexion with other initiation
rites. -Attention has been called by Post (Grundriss der ethnolog.
Jurisprudenz, Oldenburg, 1894-95, ii. 36f. ; cf. also art. AUSTERITIES,
8 (3), for further literature) to the fact that those peoples who
perform circumcision at the age of puberty not infrequently combine
it with usages distinctive of formal declaration of, and initiation
into, manhood. Among the Kafirs and Bechuana the lad just circumcised
is flogged until the blood flows, all the while being admonished
of his duties; and the Bantu squirt cayenne pepper on the wounded
penis. The young Basuto, for three months after circumcision, remain
away from home, receiving instruction in all that they must henceforth
observe as men ; while among the Mandingo the newly circumcised rove
at will for two months from village to village, exempt from all labour,
and everywhere dancing and singing, their hosts welcoming them with
all good cheer. Elsewhere, among the Peuhls, in Darfur, and on the
coast of Guinea, those who have just undergone circumcision may with
impunity violate the usual regulation governing sexual relations
and property rights (for African details of these adjuncts to circumcision,
see Post, Afrikan Jurisprudenz Oldenburg, 1887, ii. 291-293).
This licence, at least so far as sexual relations are concerned,
is admirably explained by Crawley (op. cit. p. 309 f.) as being
a 'trial' of one sex by the other, 'as if the preparation necessitated
putting it to the test; and thereby each sex is practically
p. 663 col. b
"inoculated" against the other, by being "inoculated" with each
other, in view of the more permanent alliance of wedlock.' Attention
is called below (m) to the Kikuyu fear of the consequences of
the first sexual congress; and, in like fashion, many Central African
tribes believe that both sexes must sustain sexual relations as soon
as may be after initiation, or they will die. After circumcision, Kafir
boys have the right of intercourse with any unmarried woman they wish,
and similar customs prevail along the Congo and in Senegal ;
while, in like manner 'immediately after circumcision a Ceramese
boy must have intercourse with some girl, it matters not with whom,
" by way of curing the wound." This is continued till the blood ceases
to flow' (Crawley, citing Riedel, De sluik- en kroesharige Rassen
tusschen Selebes en Papua, The Hague, 1886, p. 139).
(l) Opposition to circumcision.-The
Jews alone, with their rigid adherence to circumcision and their
haughty attitude toward all others than themselves, have had to bear
the brunt of opposition and ridicule because of a rite that was,
to the nations surrounding them, distinctively characteristic of
them ; and the , 'curti Iudaei' were the objects of the sneers of
the Graeco-Roman world from Horace (Sat. 1. ix. 70) onward
(cf. Reinach, Textes d'auteurs grecs et romains relatifs au judaisme, Paris, 1895). Far more serious to the Jews than mockery were the
efforts made, though in vain, by Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Mac l,48
60f.) and Hadrian (cf. JE vi. 135) to suppress circumcision,
together with all other distinctive features of Judaism. The same
intense hatred of circumcision is manifested by the Mandaeans, who
will not admit Jews to their number, though Christians are permissible
proselytes; and who, in the case of a Mandaean forcibly circumcised
by Muhammadans, only with extreme reluctance received him again,
condemning his descendants to perpetual isolation from their fellowship,
and forbidding them to marry Mandaeans (Siouffi, Études
sur la religion des Soubbas ou Sabéens, Paris, 1880, p.
72, note 3).
A controversy early arose in the primitive Church, as is well known,
regarding circumcision, the Hellenistic party denying its necessity,
and the Judaizing faction affirming it (cf. Ac 11,2; 15,1-5; 21,21).
St. Paul, however, though he himself had been circumcised and had,
under Jewish pressure, performed the rite on St. Timothy (Ph 3,5;,
Ac 16,3), and though he was far from depreciating it (Ro 3,1f.), decided
that it was unessential, at least in the case of Gentile converts (Ac
15,19ff ; cf. Gal 5,2-4). Indeed, he regarded the mere presence or
absence of physical circumcision as equally immaterial (Ro 3,30f; 4,9ff
- 1 Co 7,18f,- Gal 5,6 6,12ff-, Col.3,11), since the only true circumcision
was spiritual (Ro 2,25ff.- Ph 3,3ff. Col 2,11ff.-), the Pauline attitude
being here closely akin to that of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 4,4 -
6,10 - 9,26; cf. Dt 10,16 - 13,6). Though under divergent circumstances
divergent modes of procedure might be advisable (cf. Ac 16,3 with Gal
2,1ff-), St. Paul`s one principle being that he might by all means
save some (1 Co 9,19ff-), he maintains that the guiding principle here
must be personal honesty of conviction as to what was right for each
particular individual (cf. Gal 2,11ff-§), he himself feeling most keenly
that he was entrusted with the, 'gospel of the uncircumcision' as St.
Peter was with the gospel of the circumcision' (Gal 2,7-9).
The final victory in the struggle rested with the Gentile Christians,
who advocated uncircumcision, and only one or two of the early heresies
retained it. To these belong the judaistic Ebionites (see EBIONISM),
who boasted of their possession of circumcision as being 'the sign
and stamp of the prophets and of the righteous,' even as it was of
Christ Himself, basing their own practice immedi-
p. 664 col. a
ately on Mt 10,25 (Iren. Haer. xxx. 26); while a similar
attitude was taken by Cerinthus (cf. the passages cited by Hilgenfeld, Ketzergesh. des unchristhentums,- Leipzig, 1884, p. 414),
who, despite the conclusions of Peake (above, p. 320), must at least
in this respect have been what he is usually considered, a Judaizing
In the later history of the Church, circumcision is seldom a problem.
Nevertheless, the Third Council of Toledo (8 May 589) found it necessary
to prohibit Jews from purchasing Christian slaves, enacting that
any Jew circumcising such a slave (on the basis of Gn 17,12f-) should
forfeit him ; and this canon was incorporated by Recared in the Leges
Visigothorum (ed. Zeumer, Hanover, 1894, p. 305 [ = xii. ii.
12]) in the words, 'ille autem qui Christianum mancipium circumciderit,
oninem facultatem amittat et fisco adgregetur.' the official pronouncement
of the Roman Church on the subject is given in the bull of Eugene
IV., Cantate Domino (4 Feb. 1441), which, after affirming
that the requirements and ceremonies of the old Law, however proper
for their time, have been abrogated by the coming of our Lord and
the Sacraments of the NT, continues -
'Omnibus igitur, qui Christiano nomine gloriantur. praecipit omnino
(sacrosancta Romana Ecclesia), quocunque tempore, vel ante vel post
baptismum, a circumcisione cessandum; quoniam sive quis in ea spem
ponat sive non, sine interitu salutis aeternae observari omnino non
potest' (Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, Freiburg, 1908,
But the most astonishing attack on circumcision has come from the
Jews themselves. This attitude arose chiefly in connexion with the
problem of the reception of proselytes. As early as the first half-century
after the destruction of the Temple, the tanna Joshua ben
Hananiah pleaded that proselytes might be exempt from the rite (JE x. 223) ; but the question was not broached again until 1843, when
the extreme radicals of the Frankfurt 'Verein der Reformfreunde'
declared circumcision optional. This naturally evoked vehement protests,
even from non-conservative Jews, and for the time the movement failed.
In 1869, however, the Reformed leader, Isaac M. Wise, proposed the
admission of proselytes without circumcision ; and this usage, being
officially sanctioned by the Central Conference of American Rabbis,
held at New York in 1892, is now generally followed by Reformed synagogues
(for further details, see JE iv. 96, 216, x. 357, 359).
(m) Origins and motives of circumcision.-To
account for the origin of circumcision the most divergent theories
have been proposed, some worthless, and others at least partially
satisfactory. The names of the rite, so far as their etymology is
clear, add little to our knowledge. Of these perhaps the most significant
is the Arab. hatana, 'circumcise,' as compared not only witli
Arab. hatuna, , 'to become akin to some one through bis wife'
but especially with Heb. §, 'wife's father,' §, 'daughter's
husband.' ' bridegroom,' and § 'wedding' 'marriage' (see on
these words above, (g)). The Arab. tahhara, 'to circumcise,'
and tathir, 'circumcision,' however, properly mean only 'to
purify' and 'purification,' which may, as Kohler (op.cit.
p. 93) suggests, 'indicate the later religious view'. The Syr. gar, the ordinary verb for 'circumcise', means simply 'cut,' and rnay
be compared with the Gr. and Lat § and circumcido, lit.
'cut around." A number of African terms are given by Andree (op.
cit. p. 64), but their precise connotation in unknown to the
present writer. The exact meaning of the common Heb. term §
is disputed, though, according to
1 In hot countries the Penis is peculiarly liable
to disease from retention of smegma behind the glans,
therefore to 'cut around' and to 'purify' may have had a reference
to hygienic considerations, and have become a religious observance
(cf. next paragraph) - [E. M. L.]
p. 664 col. b
Haupt (AJSL xxii. 250 f.), it is 'a denominative verb derived
from möl, " front " = mäl, = ma'äl,,
from §, "to be in front"; cf. Arab. § "first" . . . The
verb mul, " to circumcise." is a privative denominative meaning "
to remove the front"' Among the Muhammadan Malays the rite is called buang malu, `casting away of shame'; while in the Gaelic version
of the Travels of Sir John Mandeville, where the Scripture account
of Isaac and Ishmael is given, the term "heathen baptism" (baistedh
Genntlidhi) is applied to to circumcision' (Joyce, Social
Hist. of Anc. Ireland, London, 1903, i. 235).
lt is a curious fact that few peoples practising the rite have
any legend or theory as to its origin. When questioned, they generally
reply that they du not know why they do it, or say that 'it was done
by our fathers,' the latter reason being assigned even by the natives
of Goazacoaleo in southern Mexico (NR i. 666). Even as mild
a legend, evidently pointing to the introduction of the custom from
some other tribe, as that found among the Basuto (Ploss, Das Kind (2), i. 364), forms an exception to the general ignorance. 'The Origins
of Routine Male Circumcision some one came who sought to induce them
to accept circumcision. Since, however, they first wished to be assured
that it would not cause their death, they made the test on a stranger;
and, when they saw that he suffered no harm, they then accepted the
rite.' In this connexion, allusion may be made to a curious belief
and practice, now abolished, of the Kikuyu of East Africa (Cayzac Anthropos v. 317). The first time that a newly circumcised
youth has sexual relations with a woman, it results in the death
of one or the other (on the perils of sexual intercourse according
to primitive psychology, especially for the first time, see above
(k) and cf. Crawley, op cit., passim). Accordingly
those who have just undergone the rite assemble in bands of fifteen
or twenty, and, surprising some old woman in a lonely place, abuse
her, and finally knock out her brains with a stone, her death freeing
the youths from all peril. For a like reason newly circumcised girls
have intercourse with an uncircumcised child,. but this child, not
being considered a human being, in not subsequently killed.
The various suggested explanations of the origin of circumcision
may now briefly be considered.
(n) Hygienic. - This explanation is
a very old one, being recorded by Herodotus (§ ii 37) for the
ancient Egyptians, but specifically alleged among modern peoples only
by the Samoans (1) The theory has the support of so able a scholar
as Steinmetz (op. cit., passim) but the lack of hygienic concepts
among primitive peoples renders the hypothesis extremely improbable
; and its acceptance in the popular mind is doubtless due to modern
surgical reasons for its performance.
(o) Preparation for sexual life. -This
theory has far more in its favour, in view of the wide-spread practice
of circumcision at the age of puberty (for examples, see above (i)),
In addition, this view is supported by the etymological connexion between hatana and Heb. §, etc. (see preceding col.) and it is
alleged to have been the original cause among the primitive Hebrews
by Barton (Sem. Origins, London, 1902, pp. 100, 280f.), though it seems
to the present writer that he is incorrect in pressing Gn 34,14ff.
and Ex 4,25f. in this connexion the one passage being better explicable
as requiring circumcision before amalgamation (in other respects as
well as in marriage) with the Hebrews, and the latter being the excited,
or perhaps angry, exclamation of a Midianitish woman, who was probably
familiar with circumcision just before marriage, and had, perhaps,
induced Moses to postpone the rite for this very reason (cf. above,
(g)). Still less is Barton justified in explaining Jos 5,2ff.
as referring to, 'the marriageable young men.' Some of these men were,
indeed, doubtless just at the marriageable age ; but others (cf. vv.,5-7)
must have been far beyond the age of puberty. Yet the theory is at
least partly correct,
1) I think also that something of the same reason
dictated the operation of male circumcision with the idea of discouraging
masturbation. -[E. M. L.]
p. 665 col. a
lt was, and is, a preparation for sexual life in so far as it is
a preparation for the duties and privileges of manhood in general (cf.
below, (x)(y)); and the hypothesis receives some support
from what was apparently the practice of the Midianites and Sodomites
(see above, (g)).
The theory here considered has been learnedly advocated by Ploss (op. cit. i. 368 f.), who sees in it an attempt to correct
nature, and, by averting phimosis, to ensure offspring for the person
operated on. The frequent performance of the rite long before puberty,
he interprets as 'an effort to guarantee the child a posterity as
numerous as possible (for another explanation, see below (x)(y)).
The desire to correct nature receives a striking exemplification
among the modern Arabs, who 'declare that only in man is an impediment
like the foreskin found, and wonder how it is possible for reproduction
to occur among uncircumcised Christians' (Barton, op. cit. p. 101,
citing Doughty, Arabia Deserta, Cambridge, 1888, i. 341, 410); and
Rosenbaum (Lustseuche im Alterthume, Halle, 1839, p. 366f.) similarly
held that circumcision was designed to promote fertility.
(p) Obviation of peril from sexual relations. -This theory is defended by Crawley (op. cit. p. 137 f.).
Denying that circumcision either prevents disease or had any real
sanitary idea as its basis, though 'when the religious habit became
rational, the fallacy of sanitary intention in circumcision became
prominent, and may often have been the reason for the continuance
of the practice,' he holds that
'the last factor in the principle . . . is one very closely connected
with contact, and applies especially to such practices as circumcision.
The deleterious emanation from strange or new things is identical
in theory with human emanations, not only from strange or unhandselled
beings, but from characteristic parts of such, and in later thought,
from such parts of one's own personality. This dangerous emanation
is any physical secretion religiously regarded, and its retention
is prevented by cutting away separable parts which would easily harbour
it. . . . This primitive notion is the same with those of personal
cleanliness and of the removal of separable parts of a tabooed person.
. . . When the part is cut off, there result the ideas first of securing
the safety of the rest by sacrificing a part and secondly, of sacrificing
such part to a deity so as to consecrate the rest, by making it less
"impure" or "taboo" . . . Circumcision and artificial hymen-perforation
thus originated in the intention both to obviate hylo-idealistic
danger resulting from apparent closure, and, to remove a separable
part of a taboo organ. . . . This removal also explains the practise
of excision. The other ideas follow later, and, the safety both of
the individual and of those who will have contact is the more necessary
because that contact is with the other, the dangerous sex.' lt is
thus that he explains the Hebrew and Egyptian view of circumcision
as cleansing ; while Sir A. B. Ellis infers that circumcision amongst
the Yoruba and Ewe peoples is a sacrifice of a portion of the organ,
which the god [Elegbra, a phallic deity] inspires, to ensure the
well-being of the rest
(q) Test of endurance.-This interpretation
is maintained by Zaborowski (`Circoncision, sa superstition en Adrique,'
in L'Anthropologie, vii. 653-675, De la Circoncision des garçons
et d'excision des filles comme pratique d'initiation,' in BSAP, 4th ser., v. 81-104), and, at least in Africa, his view receives a
certain degree of confirmation through the connexion of circumcision
with undoubted endurance tests (cf. above, (k)).
In Arabia, also, circumcision is associated with a test of endurance.
During the performance of the mutilation practiced by the Arabs between
Abu Arish and Hejaz (described above, p. 660a). the person being
operated upon is required to hold in his hand a lance, with its butt
resting on his foot; he must not betray the slightest expression
of pain, or allow the lance to quiver. Similar rules are found elsewhere,
notably in Australia
All this, however, is scarcely sufficient to make circumcision an
endurance test par excellence, since stolidity is an absolute
requisite in many rites besides circumcision, especially those of
any sort of initiatory character (cf. art. AUSTERITIES,
(r) Tribal mark.-This theory
is defended for the Hebrews, at least in part, by Barton (op. cit. p. 98 f.), on the basis of Gn 17,10-12, Ex 4,24f, 12,43., as being
for a (or "the") token of a covenant (§) between Jahweh and Abraham.
To this it may well be objected that the concealment of the part of
the body affected by such a mark renders this explanation improbable;
yet there is no doubt, even granting this objection, that the possession
p. 665 col.b
of circumcision has operated, not only among the Hebrews, but also
among many primitive peoples to produce a heightening of tribal pride
and consciousness of tribal unity, as it is evinced by haughty contempt
for all who are uncircumcised (cf. above, (j)). lt must be
admitted, however, that nowhere, except among the ancient Hebrews
(if Gn 17,10-12 is really to be so interpreted ; but see below under
(t), is such a concept of the meaning of circumcision apparently
(s) Sacrifice.-This hypothesis seems
best to explain the American forms of circumcision, especially among
the Mexicans and Mayas (see 'American' section of this art.), and
has been urged for the West African Yoruba and Ewe (see above, (c));
while a similar view has also been advanced to account for the obscure
Ex 4,24f, with the idea that the circumcision of Gershom ransomed
either his life or that of his father, Moses, from the wrath of Jahweh.
And Barton (op. cit. p. 100; below, p. 679; cf. Jeremias,
in Chantepie de la Saussaye, Lehrb. der Religionsgesch.', Tubingen,
1905, i. 381) holds that the circumstances under which the rite 'is
performed in Arabia point to the origin of circumcision as a sacrifice
to the goddess of fertility by which the child was placed under her
protection, and its reproductive powers consecrated to her service.'
The mere fact, however, that sacrifice is offered in Arabia in connexion
with circumcision scarcely warrants us in assuming that the rite
itself (except in America) is sacrificial in origin. Lagrange, in
his É tude sur les religions sémetiques (Paris, 1905),
modifies this theory by making, circumcision a sacrifice of a part
to save the whole an explanation which is not altogether convincing.
On the possible connexion of sacrifice and sanctification with circumcision,
(t) Sanctification of the generative faculties.-
This theory, which is closely connected with the one just discussed,
is advocated, for example, by Valeton (in Chantepie der Naturvöker
vi. 28 40 f.), who based his conclusions on certain Polynesian customs.
Among many Polynesians and Melanesians there was the greatest reluctance
to permit the bared glans penis to be seen, though, in all other
respects, what we should call modesty was conspicuous by its absence.
Even those islanders who did not practise circumcision bound the prepuce
tightly over the glans. In like fashion, the glans was thrust,
in the Admirality Islands, into the cleft of a snail-shell; on the
Humbolt Bay (New Guinea) little gourds were worn over the glans;
the African Kafirs put little tufts of pepo or bits of leather over
this part; the South American Bororos Cabacaes (a Tupi tribe) thrust
it into a wooden ring; and the New Caledonians cover it with a girdle
which holds it against the abdomen, permitting the remainder of the
genitals to remain in full view (cf., further, Gerland, op. cit. vi , 575 d.). For this reason, Gerland concluded that
'man schlitzte die Vorhaut auf, um den den Göttern besondere
heiligen, lebenspendenden Theil nicht zu verhüllen, man band ihn
(aber wohl erst viel später, als sich polynesische Eigenthümlichkeit
streng entwickelt hatte) wieder zu, um den Theil, der wegen seiner
Heiligkeit streng Tabu d. h. den Göttern angehörig war, den
Blicken der Menschen zu entziehen, damit kein Bruch des Tabu entstehe.'
(translation RS: "they cut the foreskin open, in order that
this to God especially holy life giving organ not to cover up, they
covered it up (but well first later, as Polynesian customs had greatly
developed) in order that the part because of its spiritual strongly
taboo, i.e. belonged to the Gods, to remove it from the sight of men,
in order not to break the taboo")
With this he further compares Gn. 17,10-I2 (for another explanation,
see above, (e), and thus also he explains the tatuing of the
glans among the Tongans and other Polynesians. The theory has met
with little favour, being deemed too artificial (cf. Ploss op.
cit. i 370 f.) yet it must be remembered that the genitals are
distinctly recognised as sacred among at least some peoples. Only
thus can he explain the early Hebrew rite of swearing with the 'hand
under the thigh' of the person to whom the oath is made (Gn24,2.
9. 47,29) this part of the body being known to be that from which
life proceeds (cf. Gn 35,11 46,26
Ex 1,5, Jg 8,30, 1 K 8,19). And it may be suggested that a similar
feeling of sanctity was, at least in some cases, one of the factors,
that led to the almost universal tabu laid upon the genitals, of
both sexes (though especially of women, where the sense of property
rights (see art. ADULTERY) also played an
important part), and their concealment, thus being possibly a partial
explanation of the sentiment of modesty in regard to sexual matters.
lt must also be borne in mind that sanctification may here possibly
be construed as the result of sacrifice (see preceding paragraph,
and below, (z).
(u) Social distinction. -This factor
appears only among the ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, and a few
p. 666 col. a
other peoples (see above, (f)); and the case of certain
islands of the New Hebrides group suggests that, in some instances
at least, a custom introduced from other tribes; (cf. the Basuto
legend quoted above, p. 664b) was adopted first, as new fashions
generally are by the higher classes, and then was gradually extended
till, it became universal among the people concerned. On this theory,
the curious exemption of the highest chief in Tonga from the rite
(above, (f)) would be explained by the theory that
he was too august to be subject to alien customs. But this phenomenon
in extremely rare, and there in absolutely no reason to suppose that
circumcision was primarily restricted to any one class. Its performance
on every Australian of the tribes in which it is practiced at all,
and the similar phenomenon in Africa, as well as the express command
in Gn. 17,10-14 34,14ff, Ex 12,48, all militate against such a hypothesis.
(v) To increase sexual pleasure.-While
Philo ('de Circumcisione,' in Opera, ed. Mangey, ii. 210)
and Maimonides (More Nebuchim, xlix. 391 f.) maintained that
the object of circumcision was to check lust, Burton (Mem. of
the Anthropolog. Soc.i. 318) put forth the theory that 'removal
of the prepuce blunts the sensitivity of the penis and protracts
the act of Venus.' This remarkable explanation can scarcely be taken
seriously (for a much more plausible reverse reason, to discourage
onanism, see above (a)), though it was alleged by a native
to be the reason for the semi-ariltha practised along the
north-west coast of Australia (Milucho-Maclay, ZE, 1880, p.
87). While the general attitude of Australians toward their women
is scarcely such as to make this tender consideration of their feelings
probable, such may, nevertheless, be a partial motive in regions
where greater refinement (or perhaps degeneracy) exists. This in,
according to Ploss (Das Weib-9, i. 569 f.), the reason for
the pinching off of a part of the prepuce in the Aarau Archipelago
and in Seranglao (cf. above, (b)).
With this Ploss compares the Dayak use of piercing the glans with a silver needle, and, after the wound heals, of inserting in
it small rods of brass, ivory, silver, or bamboo, the silver rods
sometimes being perforated at both ends for little bundles of bristles.
In similar fashion, the Alfurese of North Celebes the Battas of Sumatra,
the Javanese, the Chinese, und the Sudanese often bind various substances
on the corona to increase the size of the penis, and so to augment
its friction in the vagina; while like practices are also recorded
for India (Schmidt, Beitrage zur ind. Erotik, Leipzig, 1902,
(w) Connected with belief in re-incarnation. -On the basis of the Australian Unmatjera tradition recorded
above (c), sub fin.), Frazer ('Origin of Circumcision,' in Independent Rev. iv. 204-218) has put forth a theory which
may offer a partial explanation of the rite, at least for Australia,
though the present writer is not convinced that it is wholly satisfactory.
'If' writes Frazer,'as seems highly probable, such a custom as that
recorded by the tradition ever prevailed, its intention could hardly
be any other than that of securing the future birth and re-incarnation
of the owner of the foreskin when he should have died and his spirit
returned to its abode in the tree.... lt might well be thought that
a man's new birth would be facilitated, it in his lifetime he could
lay up a stock of vital energy for the use of his disembodied spirit
after death. That he did, apparently, by detaching a vital portion
of himself, namely, the foreskin, and depositing it in his nanja tree or rock, or whatever it might be' (211 f.) In ariltha (see
below, (z)), likewise, 'this strengthening and fertilizing virtue
of the blood was applied, like the foreskin at circumcision, to lay
up a store of energy in the nanja spot, against the time when
the man's feeble ghost would need it .... That portion, whether the
foreskin or the blood, was, in a manner, seed sown in order to grow
up and provide his immortal spirit with a new body when his old body
had mouldered in the dust ... the removal of a vital part of the person
which shall serve as a link between two successive incarnations, by
preparing for the novice a new body to house his spirit when its present
tabernacle shall have been worn out' (214). in this connexion Frazer
calls attention to Ezk. 32,19. 21 24f. (cf. also Ezk. 28,10 31,18),
although these passages do not necessarily imply that the uncircumcised
were debarred from resurrection, while the circumcised might again
come to life (for folk-tales of the 'renewal of life in the dismembered
dead' type, see CF, ch iv.).
p. 666 col. b
(x) Mark of Subjection. -The idea
of Herbert Spencer (cited by Jacobs JE iv. 98), that circumcision
'was a mark of subjection introduced by conquering warriors to supersede
the punishment of death,' hardly deserves mention, much less discussion.
(y) Initiation.-In by far the great
majority of cases circumcision is, as the examples collected above
imply, and as Jacobs (op. cit.) concludes, initiatory in character.
In this way the theories that it is a preparation for sexual life,
an effort to avert sexual peril, a test of endurance, and a tribal
mark (above, (o)(p)(q)(y)) are all seen
to be part truths, since all these factors, and more besides, are
necessary for the complete life of manhood. It is, then, but natural
that the rite should normally be performed about the age of puberty.
At the same time, since the rite must be performed some time, it
appears that, for various reasons (chiefly, perhaps, the realization
that circumcision becomes more painful, and even more dangerous,
the longer it is postponed), the operation frequently takes place
long before puberty, and even, as among the Hebrews, Wazegua, Ovaherero,
and others (for examples, see above, (i), in tender infancy
(for another explanation of early circumcision, see above, (b)).
It is, as Andree (op. cit. p. 75) rightly says, 'most usually
a socio-political act, performed at the age of puberty' (on the religious-problems
involved see conclusion).
(z) Ariltha.-This operation, often
called 'artificial hypospadias,' has already been described (above, (b)), as has Frazer's explanation of it (above, (w))
It was formerly held, largely on the authority of Milucho-Maclay-(cf.
Ploss, Das Kind2, i. 358 f., ii. 422 f.), that the object of
this operation was Malthusian, since the ejection of semen, taking
place immediately in front of the scrotum, was so that the few men
unoperated on were believed to procreate the entire offspring of the
tribe. These conclusions are now known to be wrong.
In the first place, 'the natives, one and all in these tribes, believe
that the child is the direct result of the entrance into the mother
of an ancestral spirit individual. They have no idea of procreation
as being directly associated with sexual intercourse [see art. CHASTITY,
p. 479b), and firmly believe that children can be born without this
taking place' (Spencer-Gillen b, p. 330). In the second place, the
Australian mode of coitus (Roth, op. cit. p. 179) in which the
man squats on his haunches, drawing the supine woman toward him, does
secure the discharge of the semen into its natural receptacle.
It may perhaps be hesitatingly suggested, in lack of any better
explanation, that the operation is designed to make the male genitals
resemble the female, the opened meatus answering to the rima
pudendorum, the flaps of corpus spongiosum to the labia etc., while micturation is performed of necessity in the female position.
This explanation is the reverse of that suggested by Roth (see below,
3(l)) and bears a certain amount of analogy, with the 'effeminates'of
many American Indian tribes, who, after suffering atrophy of the
genitals through excessive masturbation, etc., dress as women, and
conduct themselves as such (cf. Waitz, Anthropol. der Naturvölker,
iii. 113, 383; Fewkes in 25 RBEW, 1907, p. 31 ; NR, passim;
Crawley, op. cit. p. 210f). -at- At the same time, analogous
operations performed in Fiji, at various ages, and sometimes repeatedly
on the same individual, are declared to be strictly therapeutic in
intention (de Marzan, Anthropos v. 808 f.).
Conclusion.-A survey of circumcision
as a whole leads the present writer, at least, to conclude that there
is no one cause that will satisfactorily account fur every phase of
the rite. One argument, and only one, of those cited above may be ruled
out at once as worthless-the idea that circumcision was a mark of subjection
(x). Two others, that it was a mark of social distinction (u),
and that it was designed to increase sexual pleasure (v), may
explain a very few instances. The plea that it was hygienic (n)
can, even if found empirically to be true, scarcely have been the original
motive - the Egyptians, in their report to Herodotus, were too civilized
to serve as credible narrators of primitive usage, even if they were
not giving a rational-
p. 667 col. a
istic interpretation which would commend itself to a foreign traveller
(and the same thing may possibly hold of the Samoans). the hypothesis
that re-incarnation was aided by circumcision (w) explains
one curious tradition, and is not without analogous ideas elsewhere;
but that it accounts for the rite as a whole seems very doubtful.
The theory of sacrifice (s), from which may have developed
that of sanctification of the reproductive powers and their tabu
(t), even as the concepts of preparation for sexual life,
obviation of sexual danger, endurance tests, and tribal marks (o)(p)(q)(y)
are apparently combined in initiation (y), has undoubtedly
been a factor, if not the factor, among some peoples. And among the
Hebrews the rite may have had the meaning of the sanctification of
the reproductive organs to Jahweh, 'He who causes to be' (on the
etymology of §, cf. Barton op. cit. pp. 282-285 ; see
also Kittel, in PRE viii. 533 ff., and the literature cited
in Oxf. Heb. Lex. p. 218), as well as of initiation into the
Hebrew community (cf. Gn 17,10ff. Ex 12,48 and perhaps Gn 34,14ff,
though the last passage might be explained, on a strained hypothesis
as a ruse of the sons of Jacob to get the Shechemites into their
power). From this point of view, the Hebrews would have had the most
perfect idea of circumcision, as including both the great sources-sanctification
of the sexual organs, and initiation.
It is even possible that, despite the variety of motives to which
reference has already been made, all kinds of circumcision are ultimately
reducible, not to two causes (sacrifice or sanctification of the
reproductive faculties and initiation), but to one, sacrifice; since
initiation, with its accompanying austerities, may conceivably be
regarded as itself a sacrifice to the tribal deity to gain admission
to the people whom he protects.
Is circumcision a religious rite? This is denied, except in sporadic
instances, by Andree (op. cit. p. 75), and attention has already
been called (above, (h) to the extreme rarity of specifically
religious rites in connexion with circumcision. Much depends, of
course, on one's definition of religion ; but, in view of the fact
that among most primitive peoples religion is practically co-extensive
with life, and still more in consideration of the ceremonies, such
as feasts and the like, connected with the performance of the rite,
the present writer strongly feels that in its inception, and late
into its development, circumcision was essentially religious. This
is self evident among those peoples where circumcision is regarded
either as a sacrifice or as sanctification of the genital organs
(above, (s)(t)). The religious explanation also seems
to hold good if circumcision is considered as preparation for sexual
life, as obviation of the perils connected with sexual union, or
as initiation in general (above, (o)(p)(y))
the three reasons for which, ostensibly at least, it is most generally
performed. For to the primitive mind all matters connected with the
reproductive functions and with their operations and results are
essentially connected will religion, as Crawley has shown in his Mystic Rose; and all rites of initiation are likewise primarily
religious (see INITIATION). If, as tentatively
suggested above, even initiation in ultimately to be traced back
to sacrifice, the religious origin of circumcision would be beyond
question. Despite the lack of rites specifically declared to be religious
in the majority of cases of circumcision, therefore, its origin seems
to the present writer to be, under any hypothesis, religious; while
survivals or primitive religious concepts are preserved even among
peoples to whom the religious aspects of circumcision have become
more or less blurred.
It is difficult, and perhaps over-subtle in consideration of the
mental equipment of primitive
p. 667 col. b
man, to deduce all circumcision from any single cause, it is impossible
to derive it from any one centre. The attempt was, indeed, made by
R. Hartmann (Völker Afrika's, Leipzig, 1879, p. 178),
who held that circumcision originated in Africa, whence it spread,
through the Egyptians, to the Semites and to Asia. Borrowing is,
of course, found among some peoples (see above, pp. 661, 664), and
may well have been more prevalent than is generally known (that the
Africans have been widely influenced in this respect by Muhammadanism
is obvious); yet the possibility of independent origin and of various
reasons must also be reckoned with. That such independent development
actually took place is proved beyond all doubt by the existence of
circumcision in America and Australia, where no sane person would
allege African influence.
LITERATURE.-comparatively little of the large literature on circumcision
is available for ethnological consideration, most of it being concerned
either with the surgical or the Hebrew aspects , and no small amount
being superficial defences of wild and morbid theories. A considerable
quantity of the older material is collected in Waitz-Gerland, Anthropol.
der Naturvölker. Leipzig, 1860-77, i.2 121 f., ii. 111 f-, 251,
390, vi 28, 40 f., 560 f., 783 f. ; and newer sources are furnished
by accounts of travels and by such periodicals as JAI Anthropos,
etc. Among older works mention may be made of Salomon, Die Beschneidung
Brunswick, 1844, pp. 1-43; while Redmondino. Hist. of circumcision,
London, is a typical treatise to be shunned. By far the best studies
are by H. Ploss, Das Kind, Leipzig, 1884, i. 342-394, ii. 423f.,
437f., 440, 442-446; Ploss-Bartels, Das Weib Leipzig, 1908, i. 261-277,
569; R. Andree, - Die Beschneidung.` in A A (1880) xiii 53-78; Spencer-Gillen-a,
ch. vii Spencer-Gillen-b, ch. xi. . W. E. Roth, Ethnolog. Stud. among
the North-West Central Queensland Aborigines, Brisbane, 1897 p. 170
ff. ; Wilken, 'Besnijdenis bij de volken van den ind. archipel,'
in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land-, en Volkenkunde van Nederlansch
Indië, 1885. A considerable bibliography. especially from the
surgical point of view, is given by Tomès.' Della Circumcisione,
Florence, 1895, pp. 67-71, and in Indez Catalogue of the Surgeon-Major's
Library, Washington, 1st and 2nd ser., s.v. 'Circumcision (ritual).'
The special thanks of the present writer are due to his friend arid
physician, Ernest M. Lyon M.D., of Newark, N.J., for kind assistance
in regard to the medical portions of the present art. ; his notes
are indicated by the initials E. M. L
LOUIS H. GRAY.
§ = Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic words have been replaced with
the sign § (RS)
... Like male circumcision, again, female circumcision can be traced
to no one centre, but evolved independently in Africa, Australia,