Ancient & Modern
Located in northeastern Africa, Egypt is bordered by the Red Sea and Israel to the northeast, by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, by Libya to the west, and by Sudan to the south. The whole country totals 1,001,450 km² (386,660 square miles), but the area of settlement comprises only the Nile River valley, the Nile River delta, and a few oases ‒ less than 4% of the total land area. The rest is desert. The Suez Canal, enabling ships to transit between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean (via the Red Sea), is situated in northeast Egypt. Beyond the Suez Canal is the Sinai Peninsula, the land bridge to Asia.
Significant locations in Ancient Egypt
Map © 2011 www.mideastweb.org
Modern Egypt (2011 borders)
Map © 2011 www.map-of-egypt.org
Little is known about the daily life of the Ancient Egyptians, but proof of circumcision abounds in temple reliefs. Early Egyptologists assumed that all Egyptian males were circumcised, but more recently both circumcised and uncircumcised penises have been found on the unwrapped mummies of Pharaohs. Modern Egyptologists have pondered about just whom among the Egyptians were circumcised and why. An early Masonic historian, Godfrey Higgins (in Anacalypsis London 1836), writes, “Priests only of the Egyptians were circumcised”. Candidates for priesthood, and for circumcision, were usually chosen from among puberty-age, virgin boys. A more modern Masonic historian, Manly P. Hall, asserts in Freemasonry of the Ancient Egyptians (Los Angeles 1936), “In ancient Egypt learning was regarded as a high privilege and education was under the direction of a small number of individuals who were organized into bonds, pledges and vows of secrecy.... (a candidate) having applied at Heliopolis, was referred to the Learned of the Institution at Memphis, and these sent him to Thebes (where) he was circumcised.”
Some historians have contended that the priests of Egypt were circumcised as a sacrifice, a forsaking of ‘sinful pleasures’. However, the concept of sex as sin is not known to have been a part of the Egyptian religion. What is known is that the circumcised penis was a symbol of fertility, as can be seen in temple reliefs throughout 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. This myth is thought by some to be the progenitor of the blood cults in which animals were sacrificed, as seen in the blood covenants of some modern Semitic religions. Another theory, quite unorthodox, holds that the Great Pyramid (Cheops) was not a tomb at all (it contained no artifacts, no mummies, etc.) but was a temple of initiation. The young initiates to the priesthood were, supposedly, led single file through the narrow passages receiving one initiatory degree after another and, reaching what is now called the Queen’s Chamber, they were circumcised and then proceeded up the Grand Gallery towards the King’s Chamber and their final degree. The circumcised priests were the guardians of immortality; symbols of fertility and life everlasting.
Portrayal of Ancient Egypt in popular modern culture
Arts & Entertainment Television Networks. Content appraisal by a Circlist member.
The programme took us to the great temple at Karnak which was built to honor the god Ahmen, creator of the universe. It is said that he found himself alone in the universe, so he masturbated himself and out spewed mankind. This belief was covered in detail, as were the daily rituals in which the statue of the God was masturbated by the wife of God. ‘Hand’ and ‘female’ were apparently synonymous in the Egyptian language because of this.
Another God masturbated himself with his mouth (shown on many temple walls) and the creator God, Ahmen, masturbated himself into his mother’s mouth each night (representing nightfall) and then was re-born of his own making each morning (sunrise).
Masturbation, pederism, public sex, complete body shaving, and ritual circumcision were de rigueur for the Egyptians of the day.
The first evidence of more sophisticated surgical instruments comes from Egypt, regarded by the later Greeks and Romans as the cradle of medicine. By the time of the pyramid builders (around 2600 BC), the Egyptians were making copper surgical blades sharp enough for simple operations such as circumcision. Ancient Egyptian men were normally circumcised sometime during later childhood, this custom being prevalent in Africa. It seems to have spread to the Jews, Arabs and other Near Eastern people from the skilled and talented Egyptians. More elaborate circumcision rituals were performed on the holy men and royalty, as well as forced upon many slaves taken from conquered nations.
Their religion lasted longer than Christianity has even been in existence thus far. The thought all of this sex, and the worship of it, was very bad in Christian eyes. But the Egyptians had no guilt in respect of such things.
German opinion in the 1880s
LIFE IN ANCIENT EGYPT
Adolf Erman (Director of the Egyptian Museum, Berlin)
First published in 1886. English Edition (1894) edited by Helen Mary Tirard
Republished by Dover Publications Inc.: Mineola NY, 1971.
Chapter II : The People of Egypt.
Circumcision was also practised from early times by the Egyptians, yet probably they did not attach so much importance to this curious custom as the Jews and Mohammedans. It first became a religious token amongst the Jews, who zealously tried to distinguish themselves in all ways from the surrounding heathen; had the Egyptians also regarded it as a divine institution they would have mentioned it more frequently.
Chapter XX : War.
(Description of war with the Libyans in the reign of Merenptah, 14th son of Ramses II, 1236 BC.)
In fact, after a fight of six hours, his troops succeeded in gaining a splendid victory, a victory so glorious that Mar’eayu, the Libyan prince, did not await the issue, but fled from the field leaving behind his sandals and his quiver. The whole camp, with all the treasure as well as all the family of the prince, fell into the hands of the Egyptians. The camp was burnt after being plundered by the soldiers; in it there were found of metal vessels alone 3174, while 9376 captives completed the sum of the spoil. In order to prove to the people at home the number of the dead, they cut off certain portions of the fallen, e.g. the hands in the case of the Aqayuasha, who practised circumcision; they then loaded the donkeys with this booty.
(Footnote by Circlist member Frank Elsby: This is the only passage from which we gather that the Egyptians attached any importance to their custom of circumcision)
Welsh opinion in the 1980s
ANCIENT EGYPT : A SOCIAL HISTORY
Alan B. Lloyd, Department of Classics, University College of Swansea.
Chapter 4 - The Late Period, 664‒323 BC.
Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Thanks to Herodotus we are well informed on the priests’ mode of life during the mid fifth century BC, and we need not doubt that his comments held true for the entire period under discussion. Not surprisingly, he lays great stress on their obligation to maintain a high level of ritual purity: they shaved their bodies every other day, had to be circumcised, wore only linen garments and sandals of papyrus, and washed twice a day and twice a night.
Circlist member travel experience and opinion
The academics tend to give the impression that it was only the priests who were circumcised. Yet engravings in the tombs, depicting everyday life, show that ordinary men such as fishermen and agricultural workers, were circumcised as well.
This depiction of a carpentry workshop making beds and headrests, dating from the old Kingdom (c. 2686 – 2181 BC) is from Rosalie David’s book “The Egyptian Kingdoms”, published in 1975 by Elsevier Publishing Projects SA, Lausanne. I have seen lots of pictures like this in the tombs and other publications. Most of these tombs are off the usual tourist route and photography is not allowed, hence no images of my own.
Statuettes of young boys in Egyptian museums show them as uncircumcised.
My own conclusions, based on practical observations as well as the papers quoted above, is that circumcision was universal in ancient Egypt. It was done routinely on boys aged 11/12 without any sanctions from their many gods. It was just the accepted thing, and they did not make any fuss about it.
Upper Egypt and the Nubians
Living in the same location long before the coming of the ancient Egyptians, this extraordinary black-skinned race has lived in a state of timelessness throughout the history of Egypt. Now converted to Islam, they still keep themselves to themselves in their mud-hut villages, much the way they did during the days of the Pharaohs. They are, according to some anthropologists, among the world’s oldest circumcisers; practicing puberty-age circumcision rites long before Moses and even before the circumcised priests of Egypt. Meroë is the ancient Nubian capital, located on the right bank of the Nile some 200km north-east of Khartoum in what is now the northern fragment of Sudan. Notwithstanding the modern border, the Nubians should not be overlooked when considering the history of Ancient Egypt; their influence at the time of the Pharaohs was considerable.
Circumcision in modern Egypt
Circumcision of boys in modern Egypt is not significantly different from the routines followed in other Arab/Islamic countries. Almost all will have been circumcised by mid-puberty. Most done in the age group 5 to 11 years, a growing percentage as infants and a few during the early stages of their sexual development.
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