The Meaning Of Circumcision In Israel: A Proposal For A Transfer Of Rite From Egypt To Israel -- By: John D. Meade

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 20:1 (Spring 2016)
Article: The Meaning Of Circumcision In Israel: A Proposal For A Transfer Of Rite From Egypt To Israel
Author: John D. Meade


The Meaning Of Circumcision In Israel: A Proposal For A Transfer Of Rite From Egypt To Israel

John D. Meade

John D. Meade is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary. Dr. Meade earned his Ph.D. in Old Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is currently preparing a work on the ancient Christian canon lists for Oxford University Press (forthcoming 2017) and also the critical text of the hexaplaric fragments of Job for Peeters and the Hexapla Institute.

Introduction

The biblical text first mentions circumcision in Genesis 17, and researchers recognize that the meaning of the rite is innocuous in that context.1 The following study attempts to illumine the meaning of the rite of circumcision in Genesis 17, and consequently Israel’s circumcision in light of the background of the ancient Near East (ANE), specifically the Egyptian background.2 In general, this paper presupposes the theses, which John Walton has outlined succinctly.3 In particular, thesis two, “God often used existing institutions and converted them to his theological purposes,” is useful when examining the issue of circumcision in the Old Testament (OT).4 Genesis 17 does not assume a polemical nature, but rather assumes that the reader is already familiar with the rite of circumcision. If modern readers have the same understanding, then they would also be able to ascertain the significance of the Israelite rite.5

In order to demonstrate this point, I first argue for the probability of the Egyptian background to understanding Israelite circumcision over other less

possible ANE backgrounds. Second, I present the evidence of circumcision in Egypt around the time of Abraham, including a description of the actual rite itself, the age of the subject of the rite, the subjects of the rite, and the meaning of the rite in Egypt. Third, I endeavor to synthesize the conclusions from Egypt’s practice and significance with what the OT reveals about circumcision in Genesis 17. This article argues that circumcision in Egypt functions as an initiatory rite to the service of the king-priest, identifying the priesthood as belonging to and devoted to the king-priest, who was also affiliated with the de...

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