Genesis: The Covenant of Circumcision

Genesis 17-1:27

At this moment, a baby boy is being born, and soon a small part of him will be severed from his body–how insulting of me to assume it would be small, but he is infantile. This is the story that gives the biblical basis for such genital mutilation. There has been much discussion on the pro’s and con’s of this practice. Many praise it to be beneficial to the hygiene of males as a way of preventing urinary and yeast infections for men. Others claim that it robs men of sexual pleasure, as well as women, when they are of age, and circumcision can have lasting psychological effects. I am circumcised, as it is the western thing to do, and see no effect on my pleasure (maybe I do, but I will never know) or my psychological well-being. I agree with the health benefits, and that the benefits outweigh the con’s. This genital mutilation likely began in Egypt where it spread to the Mesopotamian region, and was then adopted by the Judaic people. Genital mutilation is a common ritual amongst many religious groups, but I must make it clear that in my opinion male genital mutilation is a far more genial than the heinous act of female genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation serves no benefit to women, only negative effects on their physiology and psychology, and robs them of an important component to their attainment to sexual pleasure. I must step off my soap box and return to the text at hand, because I have digressed. FGM has nothing to do with the text at hand, but it is an issue that must be addressed and fought against.

Now to address the text at hand, God comes to Abram to discuss His covenant with him. God promises him again that he will have many sons who will be kings of many lands. God also decides to give a new name to both Abram and Sarai; they are now to be known as Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was the first of his people to reject their idol worship and the first to promote a monotheistic religion based on the Israelite god, if Abraham ever existed, and puts us somewhere around 1800 BCE. God promises Abraham that he will be given a son by his first wife, Sarah, if he makes a covenant that all men who descend from him, and all the men he owns and their descendants are circumcised. In “God’s Covenant With Abram”, God required that Abram cut in half a heifer, a ram, and a goat, all three years old, and to sacrifice a dove and a pigeon for the birth of one son, Ishmael, to another women, Hagar. For the birth of another son by his first wife, God has raised the stakes. God now requires the flesh of penises of all that descend from Abraham and the people he owns to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant with God. God’s new found desire for the flesh of penises is odd to say the least, but this sacrifice of flesh (and blood) is a recurring theme in the Bible. God states that all new born’s are to be circumcised within eight days of birth and any who are not circumcised have broken their covenant with God.

Abraham laughs and asks God how can he and Sarah have a child; they are so old–Abraham a hundred and Sarah ninety. Abraham says to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!’ God tells Abraham that his first wife, Sarah, will give him a son in a year named Isaac, whom God will make a covenant with. God will bless Ishmael and make him into a great nation, but won’t make a covenant with him. When they had finished their discussion God went up from him. Abraham, with haste, then circumcised every male in his household and all the men he owned. Both he and his son Ishmael, thirteen at the time, were circumcised on the say day. A great father and son bonding experience.

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