THE ORIGINS OF THE PRACTICE
ROUTINE MALE CIRCUMCISION
The Significance of Circumcision
Partial circumcision is the oldest culturally practised routine operation.
This operation is the foundation stone of surgical tradition in Western medicine. Consider the cultural importance of
circumcision from the point of view of medical development in Western cultures. Compare this with traditional chinese medicine which never uses surgery and never practiced circumcision.
THE BASIC RIDDLE
The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes how : "The origin
of the practice is unknown . . the quite widely preferred early
use of a stone knife rather than a metal one suggest the great antiquity
of the operation" (34).
It is generally acknowledged that routine circumcision originated
among the hunting tribes in the late stone age previous to the beginning
of cultivation. This dates the origin of the practice between 12,000 and 50,000
It has often been suggested to me that the Jews must know why
they circumcise. The Encyclopaedia Judaica itself states that "its
origin is shrouded in mystery" (33).
originated in pre-literate times, the Biblical tradition is a relatively late development. No culture which performs the
rite traditionally can state the origins of the custom in any
way which explains it to the scientific thinker.
It would be more than a little naive to imagine that our Stone Age
ancestors were chaotic barbarians, such a common custom must have an
intelligence, or at least a sense in it.
The modern anthropologist regards circumcision as an unsolvable
mystery. Modern theories assume that the practice was based on a number of combined factors.
Phimosis was refuted because a) the
natural peoples did not appreciate the association between the penis, semen and
fertility (anthropologists assumed that the problem with phimosis is that it hinders semen emission) and b) phimosis is thought to be a rarity, however this opinion was established previous to any statistical studies.
Modern writers never mention phimosis. Since 1960 any discussion
of phimosis as origin for circumcision has vanished from the books.-
(The ommission by Bettelheim and Eliade`s Encyclopedia of Religion being
notable recent examples).
The Independant Origins
Though the operation sometimes spread, part of the puzzle is the independent origination of the practice in a great number of completely separate
areas of the world.
Added to which there are a great variety of
ancient methods used to free the glans from the enclosing foreskin.
see Ancient Methods of Genital Modification
For Detailed Background Information
General background literature see Advised Anthropological Literature
Through the Ages: An index and general summary of the anthropological
texts which mention phimosis.
Phimotic Discussions is a discussion of Ploss and Bryk, and summarises how phimosis was discussed and rejected.
The files Ploss and Bryk give the central relevant quotes and references in detail. This is backed up by the original texts and new thoroughly checked accurate translations of Ploss and Bryk
See Chinese Medicine
which never uses surgery and never practiced circumcision..