Friday, July 23, 2010

Getting back to circumcision

Ric wanted to know how they knew if someone had been circumcised or not. The only answer anyone at Zac's could come up with was that they looked to see. So today I consulted the Wise Man of the West (aka JT) who is the biggest biblical scholar I know. He said, 'Oh, um, yes, they must have looked if necessary.'

Why would it be necessary?

In chapter 15 of the Book of Acts it's established that circumcision isn't necessary for Christians but in chapter 16 Paul sends Timothy to be circumcised before they set off on their travels. The best reason put forward for this is that it would give him the credibility and authority that he'd need to talk to senior Jewish figures. Which is when the question about 'how would they know?' arose.

Enter Sherlock Hinds. Now you need to follow this carefully.

So Timothy has a Jewish mother and according to Jewish law that makes him Jewish but his father was Greek and he hadn't been circumcised as a baby. Jewish men had to be circumcised to take part in the Passover or any other rites. (It was a sign of being one of God's chosen people.)

Paul was in the habit of going to the temple to talk to influential people. The outer courtyard of the temple was for gentiles and was separated from the inner courts by a barrier called seroq. The punishment for a gentile crossing this line was death. So you'd have to be pretty sure of your Jewishness if you wanted to go any further.

Timothy and Paul could tell anyone who challenged Timothy's right to be in the inner temple that he was indeed a Jew, and maybe the scar of circumcision was just added proof if it were needed. A bit like showing your passport at border control. (see postscript)
This doesn't answer the original question but it gives another reason. Without looking, I don't see how else they could possibly tell whether someone had been circumcised or not.

The bit that interested me, when I was googling this question, was the layout of the temple. The further in you progress - or not- the more important you had to be. Inside the court of the gentiles you get the court of women, beyond which lay the bit where men could go and then priests and then the Holy Place. But the four corners of the women's court are set aside, two for storing oil and wood for the sacrificial fires, one for lepers and one for Nazarites. Which says a lot ...

I'll come back to what Jesus says about women in another post.

Postscript: "In ancient times, the mikvah was used by the holy priests prior to performing sacred temple services and by both men and women to purify themselves, before going into the holy temple." The mikvah is a very specialised type of communal bath.


Steve Hayes said...

I once knew a Xhosa woman in Durban show insisted that she could tell whether someone was circumcised or not without taking their pants down.

Uncircumcised men were dirty, shiftless, immoral, immature and several other bad things, so she could tell.

The Xhosas practise circumcision, but the Zulus (in the majority in Durban) do not.

Ole Phat Stu said...

If BP had been a jewish company, the oil spill would never have occurred, because they'd have had a cutoff ;-)