Bible for Atheists: Genesis 17

Genesis 17

God makes Abram an offer he can’t refuse. Abram shall be henceforth known as Abraham, for he will become “the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” (NRSV, Genesis 17:5) Abraham’s descendants will be kings of all the land of Canaan and all Abraham has to do is cut off his foreskin, the foreskins of all the males in his house, the foreskin of every baby born in his house, and the foreskin of any slave bought with his money.

Um…what the fuck, God? What is the deal with God’s foreskin fetish? In Chapter 17 of the NRSV the words foreskin and circumcision occur eight times between verses 9 and 14.

Well, I have an idea why God had such a strange request, and I can thank Professor Heinegg of Union College’s English Department. I took his World of the Bible class junior year. It was a secular class about the Bible and its place in history and as an historical document.

The reason why the Jews have been practicing circumcision might be to distinguish themselves from neighboring tribes. This was Heinegg’s explanation of other Jewish traditions as well, such as their food laws. In order to have a distinct cultural identify they chose to do things differently than their neighbors.

Back in the day, when you saw a Jewish man’s penis you knew something about him. You might know he is one of you, or that he is an enemy, but either way it identifies him as a Jew.

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