I heard it claimed recently that Circumcision was an act that was already practiced before God came to Abraham. The claim mentions that God took it and made it a token of His covenant with his people, rather than invented it to be a token for the covenant.

What is the typical Jewish response to the claim?

  • A similar idea is said about the rainbow which existed beforehand but was chosen as a sign covenant with Noach. Also along these same lines is the new moon which Hashem chose to be a religiously significant symbol existed beforehand.
    – user6591
    Sep 2, 2014 at 19:19
  • "What is the typical Jewish response to the claim?" Jews don't have a typical response to what every random priest makes up. A lot of Christian beliefs don't have Jewish sources.
    – user613
    Sep 5, 2014 at 7:26
  • 1
    @user3949142 This is an historical claim. Jews either agree with it or not.
    – user3178
    Sep 5, 2014 at 15:55
  • 1
    @user3949142 The Jews, in general, either agree with this historical claim or not. The claim, though made on a Christian site to a Christian question, was in a secular, historical context. Your hypothetical question, whether similar or not, is irrelevant. If you know of some information that indicates that Abraham was the first to circumcise please share it. Otherwise, you are not constructively helping the question.
    – user3178
    Sep 6, 2014 at 16:12
  • 1
    You're stressing the word historical, so what's his historical evidence to back it up? If he doesn't it's just a claim that a random person made, and I don't get why we Jews would have an opinion. Abraham was commanded to have a circumcision, so the fact was he never had one before. So someone in 2014 makes a baseless claim that other random people did it before Abraham, so we Jews have to have an official opinion on what he says?
    – user613
    Sep 6, 2014 at 20:46

2 Answers 2


The Medrash Tanchuma (on Noach 6:5) says that 7 were born circumcised, including prior to Abraham: Adam, Seth and Noah.

Complete text as brought there:

תמים זה אחד משבעה מהולים שנולדו בעולם: אדם הראשון נברא מהול. ושת בנו נולד מהול, דכתיב: (שם ה) ויולד בדמותו כצלמו. נח נולד מהול, דכתיב: תמים היה בדורותיו. יעקב נולד מהול, דכתיב: (שם כה) ויעקב איש תם. ויוסף נולד מהול, דכתיב: (שם לז) אלה תולדות יעקב יוסף, שהיה דומה לאביו. משה נולד מהול, שנאמר: (שמות ב) ותרא אותו כי טוב הוא. ואיוב נולד מהול, דכתיב: (איוב א) איש תם וישר

... He was perfect ... This is one of the seven that was circumcised when born into the word: The first man was created circumcised, and Seth his son was born circumcised, as it says "... and he begot in his likeness after his image ..." Noah was born circumcised as it says "... He was perfect in his generations ..." Jacob was born circumcised as it says "... Jacob was an innocent man ..." Josef was born circumcised as it says "... These are the generations of Jacob: Joseph ..." that he was similar to his father. Moses was born circumcised as it says "... she saw him that he was good ..." And Job was born circumcised, as it says "... sincere and upright ...".

(Note that "sincere" in Job is the same Hebrew word as "innocent" regarding Jacob, and is the same root as the "He was perfect" regarding Noah).

So according to that lacking a foreskin was already viewed as a sign of holiness, and thus there would be no reason to think that others hadn't picked up on that and sought to imitate it.

  • Do you have the second source in English? I guess you are saying that the thought comes from this collection of manuscripts in your first source. It says that those were printed in the 1800's. Is there evidence that Judaism believed this before those manuscripts were compiled and printed?
    – user3178
    Sep 2, 2014 at 19:31
  • @fredsbend, the Medrash Tanchuma is at least over 1000 years old, considering that Rashi quotes from it. The Wikipedia discussion is about versioning of different prints of it. Here is a reference in English I could find online (with a different content, but the point is the same).
    – Yishai
    Sep 2, 2014 at 19:37
  • 2
    in retrospect yes, but perhaps then no.
    – ray
    Sep 2, 2014 at 20:47
  • That doesn't mean anyone actually circumscrised.
    – user613
    Sep 5, 2014 at 7:23

Wikipedia’s article on the History of Male Circumcision gives evidence of circumcision

Sixth Dynasty (2345–2181 BCE) tomb artwork in Egypt has been thought to be the oldest documentary evidence of circumcision, the most ancient depiction being a bas-relief from the necropolis at Saqqara (c. 2400 BCE) with the inscriptions reading: "The ointment is to make it acceptable." and "Hold him so that he does not fall".

The date of Avrohom’s circumcision is 1948 AM which is equivalent to 1812 BCE so it seems there is evidence for circumcision before Avrohom.

  • 8
    The question asked "What is the typical Jewish response to the claim?" I'm not sure that this source fits that bill.
    – Isaac Moses
    Sep 2, 2014 at 19:37
  • 1
    @IsaacMoses It would be a nice augment to an answer that discusses the Jewish aspect first.
    – user3178
    Sep 2, 2014 at 19:48
  • 3
    +1 "Jewish responses" should include the best of what science knows at the time, which is what is listed here. That is (broadly) the technique of the Rambam, integrating science and received Torah wisdom.
    – Mike
    Sep 2, 2014 at 21:54

You must log in to answer this question.