Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The "Public" Nature of Circumcision

My Old Testament Interpretation students got to talking the other day about the role of circumcision as a "sign" of inclusion in God's covenant with Abraham. Two students emailed with cross-cultural illustrations of the public visibility of circumcision in some places around the globe even today. These students wondered whether biblical circumcision was a more communal and public phenomenon than most of us today might tend to imagine. As always, comments are welcome.

Alice R. emailed this picture from Islamic Turkey:



She comments, "When I was in Turkey I saw young boys dressed up in costume. I found out that this was part of their circumcision ritual. The boys I saw were about 12, but apparently this is done between the ages of 4 and 12."

Another student, Ben, emailed some of his experience of circumcision in one nook of the Island of Madagascar (specifically, Andrombovato, which is made up of a diverse population---a melting pot or fruit salad of traditions). Ben writes, "The ceremony took place at the local charasmatic church (I do not know of it being associated with any particular larger church), and throughout the night there were drums, singing, praying, and dancing (we could hear the whole thing from our house down the hill). I do not recall if it was a minister or a doctor that performed the circumcision. As the morning broke, the boys ( I think only 2 or 3 were circumcised) were taken throughout the village and dressed in dresses and the fathers would show that their sons had been circumcised by raising the dresses as they approached people in the village. The whole event was very much a public event and the young boys seemed to have reached a new role in the village (one of many rites of passage to come). Also it appeared that the young boys became more connected with their fathers than their mothers at that time."

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