Scientists are very much like everyone else. Thus we should expect to find fundamentalism, conformism, spiritualism, widespread idiosyncratic orthodoxy, and all other forms of religious nonsense to be represented among them.
Richard Dawkins attributes the source of religion's power to Darwinian evolution by natural selection ("Religion Is a Virus," Mother Earth, November/December 1997). His claim that built into every child's brain is an instruction to be "fantastically gullible" is probably true, but too facile to explain religion's hold. Dawkins' statement needs further explanation:
Only small and effective tribal groups can take down fully grown mammoths. Loyalty to one's tribe (reinforced by circumcision, tribal scars, etc.) assured our ancestors venison, whale blubber, or fish flesh. Only unflinching faith in preposterous beliefs or unswerving allegiances to one's village and its tale-telling silver-haired chief guaranteed the father sufficient nuts and berries from his wifely gatherers and bone marrow from fellow scavengers. Warm, wet mammalian social touching, deep breathing, rhythmic drumming, swaying, and chanting are the utterly necessary physical activities to reinforce "tribematedness"the joint productive movements assuring survival and procreation of tribe members. Such re-ligio (literally, "binding together again") is as great a physical need as food, sexual coupling, water, and repose.
Deny a person the physical togetherness, the steady beat, and seasonal pulse of myth-maintained religious rituals such as ritual circumcision (or attempt to replace it with such spectator inactivity as football-game television-gazing) and classical symptoms of sensory deprivation will ensue. The reassurance of tribal belonging at the base of the spirituality of religion is no more optional for human beings than is water, food, or sleep. For the human animal, religion, in some form or other, is a non-negotiable necessity.
PROFESSOR OF GEOSCIENCES
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS
Were the aboriginal inhabitants of Taiwan and Japan indeed circumcised? I've always rather wondered about the Taiwanese, never having met one to ask. Certainly their most recent overseas settlement before they were swamped by the Chinese colonization 500 years ago, namely the New Zealand Maori, are uncircumcised; one might reasonably infer either that other Polynesian communities, which do circumcise, picked it up in transit, or that the Maori correspondingly lost it en route to New Zealand. There is no way of telling.
It's only a few months since I spent a night in a Taiwanese aboriginal village but I can't say I went around looking at anyone's dick! I can say that in a health club / spa / pool in Kaohsiung lots of men were circumcised but whether that was US influence or cultural tradition I can't say. But every source I've seen says that aboriginal Taiwanese practice circumcision, and given that they are only a few kilometers from the Philippines where circumcision is still the norm it's hard to doubt it.
Felix Bryk (and other sources) go into some detail about aboriginal Japanese circumcision. I can see no reason to doubt it. That the present dominant Japanese ethnic group are invaders from the Korean region is well documented.
The Maori abandonment of the circumcision tradition of their Polynesian ancestors is well documented. It's too late at night to dig up a reference right now but I do have one and if you want it send an email to me privately. One tribe famously stuck to the tradition and were known as 'Slit- penis' to the other tribes.
> It cannot be said as a general proposition that ancient Mesopotamian civilizations were circumcised. There are no Egyptian texts which discuss the matter -- some of the mummies are circumcised; others are not, so it cannot even be said that it was a matter of social class in ancient Egypt and that would appear to discount the theory that the Israelites' adoption of the practice immediately before crossing the River Jordan into Canaan as described in the Old Testament was a matter of announcing that they were now free men and not bond. (If our fundamentalist Christian American friends will forgive me, the earlier biblical account of Abraham having circumcised himself and his household upon accepting the Covenant with Yahweh appears either not to have been an enduring practice or it is a later insertion in the Books of Moses.) Certainly from the biblical accounts of the Israelites' encounters with their Levantine neighbors, circumcision was an anomaly unique to them.
There is a substantial amount of documentary evidence about
ancient Egyptian circumcision. One well known text and picture is depicted
on the homepage of the CIRCLIST web site! The problem, as you
identify, is that while it is clear that many ancient Egyptians were
circumcised, it is not really clear why some were and some were not.
We do know that Pythagoras had to be circumcised before he was allowed to
study in the University Library at Alexandria (so far as I know no current
university library operates a similar rule). This. I think, is the
clue - there were many gods in this culture, and each had his or her own
rules for devotees. Hence circumcision was probably a sign of membership
in a particular cult.
The texts about circumcision of Abraham and his household
are certainly variant in ancient texts, but actually current scholarship
has them as present in the oldest versions - something that may have been
later lost rather that added later.
As for the Jewish peoples' enemies it appears that the
Philistines were not circumcised but I don't think that extends to their other
In any event, circumcision was certainly unknown in the
Indian subcontinent before the arrival of Mohammed bin Qazim in Sindh in
AD 711 -- before the partition of India in 1947 the 60% of Sindhis who
were previously Buddhist and were now Muslim circumcised; their Hindu
compatriots, who are now scattered throughout Asia did not and do not.
It is inconceivable that their ancestors in the Indus civilization
circumcised. And the survivors of pre-Islamic Iranian civilization, namely
the Paris of Bombay and Karachi do not.
I quite agree about the Indian subcontinent but I never
said otherwise. Also I don't have enough evidence about the Zoroastrian
Persians to comment either way. Given the cultural (Muslim) baggage
attached to circumcision in modern day India I don't see that what Parsis
practice in modern-day Mumbai is relevant. But the pre-Muslim
inhabitants of Syria and Egypt (Coptic Christians) were all circumcised,
as they probably were before Christianity. Likewise, circumcsion long
predates Islam in the Arab countries.
Although circumcision is not mentioned in the Koran, the prophet Mohammed himself is quoted as saying "It is an ordinance in men and honorable in women." Many Islamic theologians have insisted that Mohammed was born circumcised. Most Moslem youths, however, must wait to become "True Believer" until sometime between their adolescence and marriage, depending upon the sacred traditions of the various tribes. In some desert areas, tribesmen include circumcision in the wedding ceremony, using the bridegroom's newly-flayed penis in a test of his "manly strength" when he consummates the marriage. Arab boys look forward to their impending circumcision, the right of passage, with eager eroticism, as they mutually masturbate their still uncircumcised penises and retract their foreskins to show each other how they will look once they become "men".
As with all Semitic races, the Arab tradition of circumcision predates their modern religion. Historians usually theorize that the practice of ritual circumcision among Semitics is derived from ancient Egypt. According to Egyptologist, E. A. Budge ( "The Gods of the Egyptians". Dover Publications), there was a very early God of Circumcision whose job was to maintain the fertility of the Nile banks. Another early Egyptian myth contended that God circumcised himself and the blood from his penis fell and created the universe.
Sacred circumcision was not unique to Egypt in the ancient world. According to Higgins the rite was performed on initiates to secret societies in "Tarnul, Chaldee, Madura and Tibet". An old text, "Asiatic Studies, Vol. II", refers to a Sacred Mystery School in earliest Tibet which started the celebration of its rites with the following herald, "Procul ! Hi 'ne procul c'ete, profani!" St. Chrystostom (Homelia 33, in Matt.) says, "When we celebrate the Mysteries, we send away those who are not initiated, and shut the doors, a deacon exclaiming, 'Far from hence, ye profane! Close the doors! Thy Mysteries are about to begin. Things Holy for the saints, hence all dogs''. Disdain for the profane (the "dog", the uncircumcised male) has trickled down from the Mystery priests to, centuries later, their Arab adherents. Amazingly, the Moslems have traditionally used the term ''Dog'' when referring to the uninitiated; the uncircumcised. "Christian Dog!'' is a slander which has echoed across many a battlefield. Islamic fervor, almost from its beginning, aimed its sword at the offending appendage. As Islam spread its message across the then-known world, history's greatest proselytism of the circumcised penis took place and foreskins were shorn from Spain to India to the East Indies.
High Islam (600-1100 AD) was a period of great culture and tolerance for the Moslem world, and that tolerance often extended to conquered Christian populations. In many countries, Christians were not forced into conversion, or circumcision, because only uncircumcised males could legally be taxed and the Arab Caliphates needed the money. The Moslem rulers of Christian Syria and Sicily were among the most tolerant in all history only Moslem Spain forced her Christian sons to shed their foreskins. Indeed, Omar II (Umayyed Caliphate, 717- 712 AD) even argued against religious circumcision .... a late version of St. Paul. Then came the Crusades. The burly, marauding, rapine crusaders who swept down from the European wilderness were truly barbarian in the eyes of the Moslems. And, they were "dogs". Their clumsy plunder was soon met, reluctantly, with calculated cruelty...and Islam once again lost its tolerance for the uncircumcised penis. Many a handsome Knight in shining armor was dispatched back to his cold northern woods without the benefit of his "hood". The situation deteriorated until, by the time, five centuries later, British colonialism set its gaze upon Moslem ruled India, it was "As in Biblical times...", quoting historian Allen Edwardes, ("Jewel in the Lotus", Julian Press 1959), "the slashed prepuces of the Unbelievers, heaped in mounds following a great battle, in accordance with the rigid martial code of the Moghul Empire, the warrior rose in rank according to the number of foreskins he brought in from the field." At this moment in history, British prepuce meets the Sword of Islam.
The Encyclopaedia of Islam (E. Brill Leiden, 1986) states that khitan, the Arabic for circumcision, shares the same root, kh-t-n with khatan, khatana and khatuna, these relate to father-in-law, son-in-law and marriage.
The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics ( James Hastings, Pub. T & T Clark, Edbinburgh, 1910) states the Hebrew (I cannot print these words because they are in Hebrew script) used both in the sense of circumciser and circumcised also mean wife's father and daughter's husband. The terms first occur in connection with Midianites (Ex 3:1, 4:18 & 25; Numb 10:29 and Judges 1.16 & 4:11) and the Sodomites (Gen 19:12 & 14) suggesting that among these two peoples - and by absorbtion of the terms, the Hebrews also, circumcision was performed by the father-in-law on the bridegroom.
The old Arabic hatana, to circumcise, also means to become akin to someone through his wife. These Arabic words compare with Hebrew words (again I cannot print as they are in script) which mean: wife's father, daughter's husband, bridegroom, wedding and husband.
The story of Moses and Zipporah is interesting where, Zipporah, (a Midianite, who did not circumcise until puberty/marriage) in order to appease God's wrath against her husband Moses, circumcises their son with a flint knife and touches the severed foreskin on Moses foot saying: A bridegroon of blood thou art to me.(Ex 4:24-26) Some authorities say that in this context 'foot' means penis. Thus circumcising her son in place of Moses. The use of the flintknife is interesting as in the days of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, metal surgical instruments were well developed and in use for mummification. Was the flint (stone)knife used as an emergency tool, or is this a re-working of a traditional story reflecting the fact that women were circumcising their men as long ago as the stone age?!
Brian: The current method of kosher circs dates back to about 150BCE or 140AD. Before then only the tip of the foreskin was cut off. One drop of blood made it kosher. After the revolt against the Hellenics, rabbis encouraged tighter circs to make it impossible or nearly so for the Jews to stretch the remaining skin to look like the conquerers. At that time they likely simply changed their MO a bit to allow for a tighter circ. Removing the skin from the head became necessary to allow the distal (at the end of the little dick) end of the skin to be pushed back on to the shaft so it would heal to the cut on the shaft.
James: While I agree that the current method of Jewish cicumcision dates from around this time, I don't think it is true that previously only the tip was removed or only a drop of blood shed. That is a myth put around quite recently by Jewish campaigners against circumcision (probably Ed. Wallerstein started it). It is clear from history books that in Graeco-Roman times circumcision (not only Jewish, of course) left the glans fully uncovered. Jewish competitors in sports (which were all played in the nude, of course) wore a little cap to cover the glans.
So far as I can discover pre150 AD Jewish circumcision was similar to arabic and Egyptian circumcision - the skin was pulled forward and cut in front of the glans, and the remaining inner skin was then pushed back to join the outer skin (which had of course now sprung back to some way down the shaft). Very similar to the way British circumcisions were done when I was a baby.
The change to removal of the inner skin probably was done to make circumcisions harder to reverse (more radical) as Brian says but it does have another advantage - it avoids one of the possible complications of a loose circumcision. This is called 'secondary phimosis' and happens when a loose circ allows the partially healed scar to move over the glans. It then shrinks and tightens - and tightens - until it can no longer be pulled back. It's one reason why the idea that Jews once just cut the tip off the foreskin is improbable - the end result would have been a mass occurence of intractable phimosis!
So the 'new method' probably persisted and became universal because it was found that complications were rarer.
The reason the fingernail was used, rather than the knife which had been used for the initial cut, was probably because (a) the thin inner skin can be torn or cut with a nail and (b) this minimises the risk of damage to the glans.
Circumcision is the surgical removal of all or part of the foreskin of the human male or of the corresponding tissues of the female. Circumcision of males has been widely practiced as a religious rite since ancient times. An initiatory rite of Judaism, circumcision is also practiced by Muslims, for whom it signifies spiritual purification. Although its origins are unknown, earliest evidence of the practice dates from ancient Egypt (2300 BC), where it is thought to have been used originally to mark male slaves. By the time of the Roman takeover of Egypt (30 BC), the practice had a ritual significance, and only circumcised priests could perform certain religious offices.
Male circumcision appears widely among tribal peoples of Africa, the Malay Archipelago, New Guinea, Australia, and the Pacific islands. Some form of genital surgery was ritually performed on males or females among certain South and Central American Indian groups.
In tribal settings circumcision is nearly always associated with traumatic puberty rites. Occasionally the severed part is offered as a sacrifice to spirit beings. The operation certifies the subject's readiness for marriage and adulthood and testifies to his or her ability to withstand pain. Circumcision may also distinguish cultural groups from their uncircumcised neighbours.
In Jewish religious tradition infant male circumcision is required as part of Abraham's covenant with God. According to the Levitical law, every Jewish male infant had to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth under penalty of ostracism from the congregation of Israel. In biblical times the mother performed the ceremony. Modern Jews employ a mohel, a man who has the requisite surgical skill and religious knowledge. After a ritual prayer, the mohel circumcises the infant and then names and blesses the child.
Among the Arabs circumcision existed before the time of Muhammad. Although the Koran does not mention it, Islamic custom demands that Muslim males be circumcised before marriage; the rite is generally performed in infancy. Some Islamic peoples practice female circumcision. This is done for aesthetic reasons and to reduce the female's sexual desires.
Circumcision is absent from the Hindu-Buddhist and Confucian traditions, and in general the Christian church has no specific doctrine about it. At present the Abyssinian church alone among Christian bodies recognizes circumcision as a religious rite.
Contributed by: Donald F. Tuzin
Origins of Male Circumcision and Related Initiations
Experts have been unable to understand the origin of the practice of routine male circumcision. Most of the literature shows no awareness of phimosis - its frequency - or the sexual and erectile problems which can be cured by circumcision. If routine circumcision had been introduced for this most obvious reason of eliminating difficult foreskins; then the importance of an alternative modern method suitable to our culture's attitudes in this day and age (monitor and prevent early) would be clear. However, circumcision of males continues to this day. Follow the link before for a detailed and referenced history of circumcision.
Circumcision and Christianity
On the topic of circ and the Bible it is VERY interesting to note that the words "foreskin" and "circumcision" in all of their grammatical forms, such as "circumcised", "circumcise", "uncircumcised", "uncircumcision" etc., occurs 160 (!) times in the Bible, at least in the modern English translation. For anyone interested in research on that subject, go to: http://www.blueletterbible.org
Note, that if you are doing word searches, "foreskin" will only return results for that exact word, i.e. "foreskins" (plural) would not be found. However, you can search on "foresk*", "circumc*" and "uncircumc*" and you will find most of the matches I mentioned.
However, it is also interesting to note that many of the uses of the word, seem to indicate that "uncircumcised" was a synonym for "non-believer" or "someone from a non-Jewish tribe" in the old Hebrew that the Old Testament was originally written in.
Lev 19:23 And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of.
Exd 6:30 And Moses said before the LORD, Behold, I [am] of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?
Anyway, personally I am not religious at all, but I find religion of philosophical and psychological interest and it CERTAINLY allows for some interesting discussions when the plentiful circ references are discussed with others.
Someone mentioned to me that `The Living Church of God' also requires circumcision and I emailed one I found on the net and got the following reply;
We do not require circumcision of our men for salvation since we follow the teaching of the New Testament on this subject. However, it is still a recommended procedure for hygienic reasons.
May God bless you in your studies,"
Christians in Mesopotamia today are often uncircumcised. But It depends on the branch of the Christian faith.
The Coptic Church, which separated very early from other Christian groups (which the Copts felt were downplaying the divinity of Christ) generally practices circumcision. This was the faith of ancient Syria and Egypt.
Eastern Catholics such as the Maronite Christians of Lebanon don't regard it as important - one Maronite Lebanese friend told me he's not circumcised but his brother is.
Eastern Orthodox churches are typically rather opposed to circumcision.
I have seen some discussion about a "national day" for circumcision and even some suggestions it be January 1st, and we could wish everyone a "Happy Circumcision Day". The reason for January 1st is that in the old Roman Catholic (and maybe other churches too) calendar this was the day of the circumcision of Jesus, 8 days after his birth as a good Jewish family would arrange the circumcision of their son. As a (moderately) good Catholic myself I went to mass today, and although the gospel story was about Jesus' circumcision the priest didn't mention that aspect at all. So I asked him after mass -he is a friend of our family and easy to get on with - why the church changed the dedication of the day and his only response was that the church is still run by Europeans who find that topic embarrassing. I think he found it embarrassing too when I asked him. He is American (this is in California) so I am sure he is circumcised, but I guess with all the scandals recently anything relating to penises could be awkward. But for us CIRCLISTERS - Happy Circumcision Day!
Whilst we are on the topic of the circumcision of Christ. The Cyber Hymnal lists two only, old hymns by Sebastien Besnault dedicated to the glory of the circumcision.
Perhaps we would all stand up and sing on January 1, 2008
Chris (California, USA)
In a book by Thomas Cahill called Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (New York: Doubleday), the author writes, speaking of the earliest, Jewish Christians and their reaction to Paul's gentile converts, "In their encounters with Paul's gentile "Jews" they often found themselves shocked at the new converts' blank ignorance of Jewish law and practice....They were unclean and knew nothing of the need for ritual bathing and washings; they ate anything; they did not keep the Sabbath; their men were uncircumcised...."
Connected with the last point, Cahill adds a footnote: "Jews could react just as negatively to the uncircumcised as Greeks and Romans to the circumcised. As late as 1987, Phlip Roth would write to Mary McCarthy, "I am still hypnotized by uncircumcised men when I see them at my swimming pool locker room. The damn thing never goes unregistered. Most Jewish men I know have similar reactions, and when.I asked several of my equally secular Jewish male friends if they could have an uncircumcised son, they all said no, sometimes without having to think about it and sometimes after the nice long pause that any rationalist takes before opting for the irrational."
Cahill does not indicate where this letter is published. Best wishes to all, Greg.
Different cultures have different view of circumcision. Some have asked if boys are embarrassed when they are circumcised post-infancy. This of, course, greatly depends upon the culture. Read this interesting text and see photos of boys' experiences of circumcision.
Circumcision is a much more ancient practice than Islam. It is more ancient than Judaism too - it was depicted in ancient Egyptian writings and pictures 5000 years ago. It was practiced by the non-Jewish inhabitants of north Africa and Asia Minor long before the birth of the prophet Mohammed. Pythogoras (he of the square on the hypoteneuse) had to be circumcised before he was allowed to study in the library of the University of Alexandria (the world's oldest documented University) - this was long before Christ or Mohammed. (Since Greeks did not approve of circumcision it shows how great Pythagoras' thirst for knowledge must have been!)
Circumcision is not mentioned in the Qu'ran (Koran). It came into Islam not from Judaism but because it was already the custom of the Arab people who were the first Muslims. Claiming that it came from the Jews is just a way the author hopes to turn Muslim's against the practice. It is funny, is it not, the way that anti-circ activists of all cultures feel the need to turn to lies to advance their cause. I guess that says all that needs to be said about the merits of their case.
In ancient Greece, it was impolite to show the glans at all. During the games or other sport occasions the Greeks tied strings and bows around the foreskin to prevent the glans from protruding. There is a series of Greek vase paintings, available, if I remember correctly, from the Boston Museum of Art. I cataloged these once for the Classics Library at the University of Illinois when I worked in that particular library in the mid '50's. The Greeks also in the theatre had a kind of "Punch" figure, a ribald man who had a dildoe strapped on that always showed the exposed glans. This evoked much laughter and ridicule. The Greeks (ancient) even had a special word for someone who is either: circumcised, bald headed, or a dirty old man. All concepts are subsumed in one word: psolos.
I lived for sometime in the late '50's in Berlin, Germany, and had contact with lots of young lads from east Germany. The weekly, mind you, shower was part of my duties. Out of 60 some lads between 12 and 18 there was nary a cut cock. I was tremendously disappointed. Eventually I had intimate contact with a guy they called "Bulle." He had a gorgeous pair of balls and cock to match. He was probably 16. In our grappling I tried to pull back his foreskin, and he cried with pain. Never to be exposed. I wonder what ever happened to him and his sex life.
The exposed glans for Europeans is both exceedingly repellent yet somehow fascinating. Just examine any art work from the earliest pre-Christian era to the present day - foreskins are always present, no glans exposed on staturary or in paintings. Not Grecian vase painting where erections are obvious, they are always covered by the foreskin. Phimosis was a real turn-on, a beauty mark. One exception, the Egyptian god Bes, which I recently discovered in Turkey, a competitor to the many bosomed Diana/Artemis of the Ephesians. Also the god Min, worshipped in Egypt, was obviously circumcised.
The Hodges paper I gave a full reference to in my original posting:
(Bull. Hist Med. 2001, 75, 375-405).
That's volume 75, pages 375-405, published in 2001. The title is rather verbose
"The ideal prepuce in ancient Greece and Rome: male genital aesthetics and their relation to lipodermos. circumcision, foreskin restoration and the kynodesme".
It should be in your local university library but you can probably obtain a pdf of it - I have one but I'm not prepared to post it to the group without checking the copyright situation. An html version is to be found at
- it has various hyperlinks to illustrations not in the original but at least on my computer the Greek characters fail to display.
There is a lot of research into it - curiously one-eyed, as you might expect - iconic representations of circumcised penes (such as the magnificent Egyptian statue posted to this groups a few months back) as well as ones showing retracted foreskins have somehow remained invisible to Mr Hodges ....
If on the other hand you were enquiring about Herodotus, the reference is
given by Hodges is Herodotus History 2.104 in Herodotus, the Histories, tr Robin
Waterfield (OUP 1998) p 134. Also 2.36 and 2.37 in the same
work, on p 109
Male Genital Modifications Throughout HistoryAs a follow-up to my earlier rather flip posting here is a list of all the male genital modifications I know of which have been practiced by various societies, more or less in order of severity.
1. Dorsal slit of prepuce. Polynesian islands, some parts of Melanesia, some parts of Central Asia. Maybe other places too. (Often regarded as a form of circumcision - though little or no skin is actually removed the glans is exposed).
2. Circumcision. Asia Minor, Africa, South and Central America (in the past), North America (now), Australia, Philippines, UK (1920-1950) and all Muslim, Jewish and Coptic Christian communities. Various methods of operation etc.
3. Removal of all skin from the penis (foreskin and shaft skin) -Arabia. (It is said that in the past skin was also removed from the area around the genitals too). Probably no longer practiced but recorded by Thesiger post WW2.
4. Subincision - opening the urethra on the lower side by cutting downward from the meatus. The extent of the cut was variable and would sometimes be extended in stages. Some parts of Australia - probably no longer practiced.
5. Removal of one testicle. Described by Bryk in some African societies.
6. Castration. Removal of the testes, leaving the penis intact. Arab countries (for servants), Europe until 1840 (to preserve juvenile singing voice).
7. Castration and amputation of the penis. China until ~1910 (for servants), India (among some sects) - still practiced.
Indications of geographical areas do not imply that all peoples in those areas practiced a particular modification, nor that these were not also performed elsewhere.
Circumcision In Victorian America (mid-1800-early 1900 AD)
I thought I'd share some of these fascinating quotations on circumcision from the mid-1800's through the early part of the 20th Century. While most seem to focus on the "fact" that the operation would STOP the young male from masturbating (and we all know it has NOT turned out to be an effective strategy for accomplishing that!), it was also seen as a remedy for a myriad of ailments. Ironically, many Circlist members, rather than seeing the tightness one of the doctors recommended as a deterrent to pleasure, pronounce it an enhancement of sensations during both masturbation and intercourse. I suppose those staid Victorians never heard of using lube or dry-stroking! The first is by Kellogg (yes that Kellogg, the breakfast cereal guy) and has been oft-quoted by anti-circ groups. Now the very arguments once used to popularize the practice of circumcision are being cited as reasons to end it.
1888 "A remedy for masturbation which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision. The operation should be performed without administering anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutory effect upon the mind, especially, if it is connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases." John Harvey Kellog, creator of the Corn Flake, Treatment for Self-Abuse and Its Effects, Plain Facts for Old and Young," Burlington, Iowa: P. Segner & Co. 1888, p. 295.
1860 "In cases of masturbation
we must, I believe, break the habit by inducing such a condition of the parts as
will cause too much local suffering to allow of the practice to be continued.
For this purpose, if the prepuce is long, we may circumcise the male patient
with present and probably with future advantages; the operation, too, should not
be performed under chloroform, so that the pain experienced may be associated
with the habit we wish to eradicate." On An Injurious Habit Occasionally
Met with in Infancy and Early Childhood, Athol A. W. Johnson. The Lancet, vol. 1
(7 April 1860): pp. 344-345.
1895 "In all cases of
masturbation circumcision is undoubtedly the physician's closest friend and
ally... To obtain the best results one must cut away enough skin and mucous
membrane to rather put it on the stretch when erections come later. There must
be no play in the skin after the wound has thoroughly healed, but it must fit
tightly over the penis, for should there be any play the patient will be found
to readily resume his practice, not begrudging the time and extra energy
required to produce the orgasm. It is true, however, that the longer it takes to
have an orgasm, the less frequently it will be attempted, consequently the
greater the benefit gained... The younger the patient operated upon the more
pronounced the benefit, though occasionally we find patients who were
circumcised before puberty that require a resection of the skin, as it has grown
loose and pliant after that epoch." E.J.Spratling, Masturbation in
the Adult, Medical Record, vol. 24. (1895): pp. 442-443.
1900 "Finally, circumcision
probably tends to increase the power of sexual control. The only physiological
advantage which the prepuce can be supposed to confer is that of maintaining the
penis in a condition susceptible to more acute sensation than would otherwise
exist. It may increase the pleasure of intercourse and the impulse to it: but
these are advantages which in the present state of society can well be spared.
If in their loss increase in sexual control should result, one should be
thankful." Editor, Medical News. Our London Letter. Medical
1900 "It has been urged as an
argument against the universal adoption of circumcision that the removal of the
protective covering of the glans tends to dull the sensitivity of that
exquisitly sensitive structure and thereby diminishes sexual appetite and the
pleasurable effects of coitus. Granted that this be true, my answer is that,
whatever may have been the case in days gone by, sensuality in our time needs
neither whip nor spur, but would be all the better for a little more judicious
use of curb and bearing-rein." E. Harding Freeland, Circumcision as a
Preventative of Syphilis and Other Disorders, The Lancet, vol. 2 (29 Dec. 1900):
1901 "Another advantage of
circumcision... is the lessened liability to masturbation. A long foreskin is
irritating per se, as it necessitates more manipulation of the parts in
bathing... This leads the child to handle the parts, and as a rule, pleasurable
sensations are elicited from the extreamly sensitive mucous membrane, with
resultant manipulation and masturbation. The exposure of the glans penis
following circumcision ... lessens the sensitiveness of the organ... It
therefore lies with the physician, the family adviser in affairs of hygiene and
medical, to urge its acceptance." Ernest G. Mark, Circumcision,
American Practitioner and News, vol. 31 (1901): p. 231.
1901 "Frequent micturition
[urination], loss of flesh, convulsions, phosphatic calculus, hernia, nervous
exhuastion, dyspepsia, diarrhea, prolapse of rectum, balantis, acute phimosis
and masturbation are all conditions induced by the constricted long prepuce, and
all to be rapidly remidied by the simple operation of circumcision." H.
G. H. Naylor, A Plea for Early Circumcision, Pediatrics, vol. 12 (1901): p. 231
1902 "I have repeatedly
seen such cases as convulsions, contstant crying in infants, simulated hip joint
diseases, backwardness in studies, enuresis, marasmus, muscular incoordination,
paralysis, masturbation, neurasthenia, and even epilepsy, cured or greatly
benefited by the proper performance of circumcision." W.G.Steele, MD.
"Importance of Circumcision." Medical World,Vol. 20 (1902): pp.518-
1914 "It is generally accepted
that irritation derived from a tight prepuce may be followed by nervous
phenomena, among these being convulsions and outbreaks resembling epilepsy. It
is therefore not at all improbable that in many infants who die in convulsions,
the real cause of death is a long or tight prepuce. The foreskin is a frequent
factor in the causation of masturbation... Circumcision offers a diminished
tendency to masturbation, nocturnal pollutions, convulsions and other nervous
results of local irritation. It is the moral duty of every physician to
encourage circumcision in the young." A.L. Wolbarst, MD.
"Universal Circumcision as a Sanitary Measure." Journal of the
American Medical Association, (1914) Vol.62. pp.92-97.
1915 "Circumcision not only
reduces the irritability of the child's penis, but also the so-called passion of
which so many married men are so extreamly proud, to the detriment of their
wives and their married life. Many youthful rapes could be prevented, many
separations, and divorces also, and many an unhappy marriage improved if this
unnatural passion was cut down by a timely circumcision." L.W.
Wuesthoff, MD. Benefits of Circumcision. Medical World, (1915) Vol.33. p.434.
1915 "The prepuce is one of the
great factors in causing masturbation in boys. Here is the dilema we are in: If
we do not teach the growing boy to pull the prepuce back and cleanse the glans
there is danger of smegma collecting and of adhesions and ulcerations forming,
which in their turn will cause irritation likely to lead to masturbation. If we
do teach the boy to pull the prepuce back and cleans his glans, that handling
alone is sufficient gradually and almost without the boy's knowledge to initiate
him into the habit of masturbation... Therefore, off with the prepuce!"
William J. Robinson, Circumcision and Masturbation, Medical World, vol.33
1935 "I suggest that all male
children should be circumcised. This is "against nature", but that is
exactly the reason why it should be done. Nature intends that the adolescent
male shall copulate as often and as promiscuously as possible, and to that end
covers the sensitive glans so that it shall be ever ready to receive stimuli.
Civilization, on the contrary, requires chastity, and the glans of the
circumcised rapidly assumes a leathery texture less sensitive than skin. Thus
the adolescent has his attention drawn to his penis much less often. I am
convinced that masturbation is much less common in the circumcised. With these
considerations in view it does not seem apt to argue that 'God knows best how to
make little boys.'" R.W. Cockshut. Circumcision. British Medical
Journal, Vol.2 (1935): p.764.
1941 "[Routine Circumcision]
does not necessitate handling of the penis by the child himself and therefore
foes not focus the male's attention on his own genitals. Masturbation is
considered less likely." Alan F. Guttmacher, Should the Baby Be
Circumcised?, Parents Magazine, vol.16 (1941): pp.26, 76-78. "index2.html"
Interesting to note that circ was viewed as a way to promote health to the point of saving young lives and that the promised diminishment of pleasure would be sufficient to keep de-sensitized husbands docile and in their own marital beds. No wonder the practice became so widespread! It must have seemed irresistible to wives and mothers. Interesting how we now feel that a tight circumcision actually increases a man's pleasure. How times change!
P.S. What about that name from the 1935 quote!!! R.W. Cockshut? Apropos, no?
Is this what makes us circumsexual?
I don't believe that the Jews have ever claimed they were the first to circumcise, merely that their ritual form of circumcision is a requirement of their Covenant with their God. It is not something they expect of non-Jews. Indeed, the Old Testament reports many other Semitic peoples as practicing circumcision: the Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, Sodomites and Midionites. The Carthaginians also originally circumcised. If one accepts the historical reality of Abraham, he began circumcising at a time when the Egyptians were themselves well into the practice. It seems unlikely to me that the human races suddenly all began to cut off their foreskins 3-5,000 years ago. It is possible that the leader of a group of Sumerians who adopted the belief in one God, might have been unaware of the practice elsewhere in the Middle East and adopted it as a unique mark of their relationship with that God. It may also be that Abraham was himself inherently a 'circumsexual' and interpreted his own intense, and, perhaps to him mystical fixation, as God-inspired. In the absence of the discovery of some cuneiform tablets telling us, we will probably never know! In a secularized western world it is only to be expected that we should seek a socio-psycho-scientific reason for our circumcision obsessions, in the religious world of the ancients it would be natural to assume that the overwhelming urge to circumcise had been placed in our mind by God.
One of the issues we are trying to explore in this thread is 'why' each of us, in our own ways, has that obsessive interest in circumcision. Why should we assume that it has not affected (should one say 'afflicted'?) men and women throughout the whole of human existence? The use of 'stone' knives in early accounts of circumcision (e.g. Zipporah circumcising Moses' son at a time when metal, surgical instruments were available in Egypt) suggests the practice traces back at least to the flint blades of the Stone Age. Either the use of stone blades was a practice harking back to earlier times, or the account is a reworking, into Jewish tradition, of an older story. (The first tale of a baby hidden in bulrushes appears in ancient Egyptian mythology. Of course, if one believes in the Judeo-Christian God (or let us suppose that God actually exists) there can be no better reason to circumcise!
The idea that Jews initially cut off only the tip of the foreskin appears to be an invention of anti-circumcision 'academics' who offer no evidence for their assertion. The Jews did adopt the practice of Peri-eh at the time of Hellenistic domination of the Mediterranean area. This was to prevent Hellenistic Jews from trying to 'restore' their foreskins, so they could appear naked in the gymnasia. In addition to pulling the foreskin forward and slicing it off, the Jews began to remove the inner layer left by the old method. (The Greeks abhorred the exposed glans and when a young athlete appeared naked he fixed a leather loop around his foreskin and tied the end around his waist to ensure the skin could not slide back and reveal his glans, which would elicit social contempt. The fact that Jews needed to 'restore' their foreskins indicates that sufficient had been cut off to leave the glans visible. There are a number of illustrations of circumcised men - including Hebrews - from ancient times and these clearly show the glans completely exposed.
Our word, circumcise, is simply derived from the Latin for 'to cut around', and tells us nothing about its origins. If we look at the Arab and Hebrew terms something interesting arises. The Arab word khitan shares the same root, kh-t-n with khatan and khatuna. These relate to father-in-law, son-in-law and marriage. Similarly, the Hebrew words (which I cannot print because I only have them in Hebrew script) used in the sense of circumcise and circumciser also mean wife's father and daughter's husband. These first occur in the Old Testament in connection with the Mideonites (who, interestingly, circumcised at puberty) (Ex 3:1, 4:18 and 25) and the Sodomites (Gen 19:12 and 14). Do they suggest that circumcision was performed by the father-in-law on the bridegroom? Does this help to explain our own interest in circumcision as an obligation to be gone through (i.e. forced) as a requirement for marriage and by extension sex? (Perhaps itself a metaphor for allowing us to establish our own identity?) Does it help us understand why many of our fantasies relate to circumcision being mandated by authority figures (eg military, schools, step fathers, prisons, slave owners?
Among many African tribes, sexual intercourse is forbidden with uncircumcised boys, but, once circumcised, the youth has free rein with the girls of the village. In his book, Voodoo Eros, (c 1930s), the anthropologist Bryk, quotes an-already-circumcised, thirteen-year-old Sebeyi boy: "Every boy longs to be circumcised... Because it looks fine and the women will have sexual intercourse only with those that are circumcised; the uncircumcised uerit are simply boycotted by the women."
Does this help explain the 'interest' some of us have in circumcision being required by and/or performed by women? If circumcision, is seen as a requirement for sexual activity that is performed on our sexual organ, is it any wonder that it has taken on a sexual significance of its own? Is this what makes us circumsexual?
and the Law