Circumcision in History

Circumcision is one of the oldest elective medical procedures on record. There are many, interesting theories about why it was practiced in cultures and religion.


In ancient times, especially in hot, humid climates, circumcision gave males better protection against infections. It also gave adult males less erectile dysfunction, thus enhancing fertility.

As a blood sacrifice.
In some ancient cultures, the life of the firstborn child was sacrificed to the gods to ensure protection of the life and health of future offspring. Circumcision fulfilled a blood sacrifice, but only offered the foreskin to the gods instead of the child’s life.

In ancient days, pruning the fruit trees – especially cutting off their thorns, produced more fruit. Since men were believed to implant the seed of humanity into their female partners, who were only seen as vessels for that seed to grow into an infant, “pruning” a man by removing the tip of his foreskin (as circumcision was in earlier times) was supposed to increase fertility. And indeed, since it removed erectile dysfunction from men whose foreskins had never separated from their glans, as in the case for at least 1 in 10 adult males, such “pruning” would have increased their fertility.

Gods and men like Adam who were purportedly born without a foreskin (which does occur albeit rarely) were perceived as more perfect, as icons. In Judaism, such “purity” was seen as Tamin – flawless. Thus, circumcising to look like the gods or like perfect men, was common, sometimes among all the men in a culture, sometimes only among the groups’s priests.

As a covenant.
In ancient times, a legal document was often “sealed” with the blood of animals. Since circumcision involved slicing off the tip of the foreskin (though later, it sliced off the entire foreskin), which produced bleeding, circumcision was seen as a legally binding agreement between a male and God.

As a rite of passage into manhood, and as initiation into a tribe.
Converts to Judaism were expected to circumcise in order to join the Jewish tribe, especially when Jews were living in areas where only Jewish males were circumcised. For others, especially tribal cultures in Africa and among the Aborigines, circumcision was a rite of passage into manhood, and performed on males entering puberty or before marriage. Indeed, they were expected – and encouraged — to bear the pain of their circumcision “like a man.”

Group identity.
Similar to initiation into the tribe, circumcision was perceived as identity with a group that circumcised when it was living among cultures that left men intact.

Click here for our new book
The Circumcision Decision: An Unbiased Guide for Parents