An Overview on the History of Circumcision

In the Book of Genesis, it mentions that God made a covenant with Abraham wherein Abraham, his descendants, and slaves purchased or born under his household will be circumcised.  Should this agreement be violated, that uncircumcised male will need to separate from their group and go on with life devoid of any favors from God.  The Jews are actually critical about this and to date have ended true to their bargain.  Per religious sect, the Jewish community has the highest rate of circumcision among men with nearly 98%.

Abraham had many sons.  However, he had two sons that were most notable – Isaac, the child of the covenant, and Ishmael, the true first son of Abraham and today’s forefather of the Arab People.  Both male were circumcised. When Ishmael mocked his half-brother, the first wife of Abraham, Sarah, had both Ismael and his slave mom Hagar casted away.  Since Ishmael was circumcised, he then passed on this custom of circumcision to his descendants and the ancestry of the Arab people, including the prophet Muhammad himself.  Although the teachings of Muhammad in the Qur’an do not give any directive about circumcision, most Muslims however circumcise their sons, mostly by tradition, by the seventh day of life.  There are other Muslims though that undergoes circumcision only during puberty.

Christianity does not actually endorse circumcision and leaves the family to decide about this matter.  Other religious sects such as Buddhism and Hinduism have no standpoint towards circumcision.  Hindu people even consider this custom to be an Islamic practice.

While the practice of circumcision is strongly attributed to the Jews, there are others though who believe that the Jews got this custom from the Egyptians who have practiced this for many thousand years prior to the birth of Christ.  Whether it is the Jews who acquired this practice from the Egyptians, or it is the Egyptians who learned this practice from the Jews, the thing about circumcision is that some parts of the world that had no form of contact with either Jews or Egyptians were also practicing circumcision.

Natives from Africa, Asia and the Americas, and the aborigines of Australia all practiced circumcision, although not all in a way that is accepted today as some were more like initiation rituals.

Circumcision these days is no longer just about rights to passage, initiation rituals, or religious beliefs, but more of for medical purposes.  During the 19th century where medical applications have been documented, doctors treated conditions like phimosis, a state where the foreskin or prepuce becomes too narrow or too tight for an erect penis head.  There are also indications where circumcisions are performed so as to treat venereal diseases.

Thanks to the advent of anesthesia, in the past few decades, doctors were performing more and more circumcision because patients are now confident that they will be dealing with less pain.  Of course, this does not prove that patients from centuries ago were not dealing with primitive pain killers or maybe even having the patient intoxicated with alcohol.  Nevertheless, what is important is that the circumcision becomes a success and that foreskin-related conditions are no longer of any worry.

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