Throughout Jewish history, circumcision signifies the covenant between the Jewish people and G-d, blessed be He, as the Torah says (Genesis 17:11).

However, male circumcision is also one of the oldest known human surgical procedures, with historical records and archeological evidence dating the practice back to ancient Egyptians in the 23rd century BCE.

Given that circumcision is of such an importance to serve as a literal marker of the covenant, why is this not a unique ritual which would IMO maybe make more sense for something this important. Perhaps someone could confuse it with Ancient Egyptians, so I don't get why something so important is also something that was rather common in the culture that Israelites came from.

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    I recall reading that circumcision was in some ancient cultures in Mesopotamia a way to form a binding covenant between two parties, and that Hashem specifically chose this ritual because it would be familiar to Avraham.
    – ezra
    Aug 10, 2023 at 3:03
  • @ezra Ohhh, I didn't know that. Makes sense. Thanks!!
    – setszu
    Aug 10, 2023 at 3:24
  • What would you suggest instead? Anything else would have been co opted by other cultures as well.
    – Schmerel
    Aug 13, 2023 at 2:53
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    The Rambam, in the Moreh Nevuchim, notes that a main goal of the Torah is to bring Jews away from idolatry. As such, there were many practices that were adopted into Judaism to redirect Jews towards monotheism. For example, sacrifices were an extant practice which was codified in the Torah towards a monotheistic God. There are other mitzvot in the Torah that have basis in practices of other ancient cultures. So although what you'll find in the Torah is not an exact copy, it is a Jewish version of it, to redirect people away from idolatry.
    – bondonk
    Aug 13, 2023 at 10:53
  • Is there evidence about how late it was still being practiced in Egypt?
    – Nahum
    Jan 9 at 4:06

3 Answers 3


According to Wikipedia, the Egyptians did not practice full circumcision, and in Jewish law they would be considered uncircumcised.

There are four types of circumcision.1 As practiced in Judaism and in the United States, the foreskin is completely removed. However, in ancient Egypt and elsewhere in Africa, only part of the foreskin was removed. In the Pacific Islands, the frenulum was snipped but the foreskin was left unmodified.

In addition, the evidence brought in the study quoted in Wikipedia is very weak: one picture and a record of 120 people undergoing circumcision. That is not strong enough to base any sort of conclusion on, but a lot of historians have a habit of presenting their guesswork as established fact. The author himself quotes Herodotus as saying circumcision was introduced to Egypt by the Jews.

  • From what I've read in the past, I thought that Herodotus didn't mention Jews at all? Do you have a source for this? Also someone mentioned circumcision being practiced in Ancient Mesopotamia as a way of forming a covenant between two parties, so I think it would be good if that is discussed.
    – setszu
    Aug 11, 2023 at 23:56
  • My source for Herodotus is the very link you brought. As for ezra's point, that sounds like typical academic guesswork, where they take an established fact and make up a Just-So story to explain it.
    – N.T.
    Aug 13, 2023 at 4:17
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    The Chumash clearly says the bris milah was something introduced to Egypt bc of Yisroel
    – Dude
    Sep 11, 2023 at 10:07
  • @Dude Where? Didn't Egyptians have circumcision since even before 2000 BCE or something like that (though it was probably not the same kind)? Maybe it refers to a different practice regarding circumcision. Egyptians seemed to have had some form of circumcision before what would become Israel was there.
    – setszu
    Sep 12, 2023 at 18:06
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    Rashi in b'reishis 41:55 quoting Mid. Tanchuma Mikeitz 7, Gen. Rabbah 91:5 that when the famine got bad Yosef demanded they get circumcized and paro tells them to do whatever Yosef says to do
    – Dude
    Sep 12, 2023 at 22:29

Avraham and his progeny—the Israelites—were always destined to settle in Canaan—not Egypt—where circumcision would indeed mark them as distinct as the folks that populated Canaan did not circumcise themselves.

Per Tanach, the inhabitants of Shechem (Bereishis 34) and the Pilishtim (Shoftim 14)—all of whom resided in Canaan/Israel—did not practice circumcision.

Milah would be a unique marker in such an environment.


The whole reason why Egypt started circumcising, is because Yosef made them (Rashi on Bereishis 41:55) (Why he made them is a whole seperate discussion):

He gave them this order because Joseph had told them to be circumcised.

The Jews introduced circumcising to the Egyptians.

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