Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Does Circumcision Function as an Initiatory Rite?

I'd like to make two points:

(1) Ishmael was circumcised and yet OUT of covenant with G-d.

(2) Avraham was uncircumcised and yet IN covenant with G-d.

Misc. Note:  Thought this was an interesting observation made by Gary Porton:


"...the Shammaites required the gentile to be circumcised for the expressed purpose of his conversion, and this position is supported by the discussion of the heave offering in the Palestinian Talmud.  On the other hand, the Hillelites held that while converts, like all other Israelites, needed to be circumcised, they did not have to be circumcised upon their conversion.  If they had been circumcised before they decided to convert, that circumcision was valid.  From the Hillelites' point of view circumcision was not necessarily a part of the conversion ritual, it was merely the physical mark of the covenant between [Adonai] and the Israelites.  For the Shammaites, on the other hand, circumcision was a ritual which had to be performed specifically for the purpose of joining the People Israel;  therefore, a circumcised gentile had to undergo a symbolic circumcision at the time he became an Israelite.  Thus, while both the Shammaites and the Hillelites require converts to be circumcised, they do so for different reasons because they seem to have different views concerning the significance of the act.  For the Shammaites, circumcision appears to be an entrance requirement into the People Israel:  Native-born Israelite babies and converts must be circumcised as a sign that they have entered the Israelite community.  According to the Hillelites, males are circumcised as a sign that they belong to [Adonai's] people, so that gentiles do not need to undergo a symbolic circumcision if they were already circumcised at the time of their conversion," pg. 141 The Stranger Within Your Gates by Gary Porton

9 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Me too. I've come to think of conversion in this way:

      (1) initiation: renunciation of idolatry, dedication to HaShem. This is the stage at which the covenantal laws become obligatory;

      (2) ratification: receiving the physical sign of the covenant

      (3) consummation: participation in the Passover.

      Delete
    2. I don't agree completely with what your thoughts on Avraham and Ishmael, because Ishmael seems to in the covenant in a certain manner at least, and Avraham's later circumcision was part of the historical development of what it meant to be in the covenant.

      However, setting aside this point, I have no fundamental objections against your threefold division. What you say seems to be reconcilabe with the provisions of Ex. ch. XII, provided that the legitimate authorities of the nation are understood to be supervising the matter. A person cannot become a member of a nation without the consent and acceptance of the public authorities of that nation.

      Suppose, for instance, that in biblical times there were male Moabites or Ammonites — heads of families or individuals — who wanted to become covenant members. This was prohibited and they could never be accepted, even if they had true faith.

      From a NT perspective one can connect your first step to the acceptance of immersion in the name of Yeshua (baptism), which symbolizes our new birth. If at this point the laws of the covenant become obligatory, then circumcision would be expected to follow soon, perhaps on the eight day after the immersion.

      We have to face the problem, however, that this result may be incompatible with Paul's vehement opposition against Gentile circumcision. I know quite well that in the One Law camp it is presumed that Paul only opposed the Pharisaic conversion, not the circumcision ritual as such. But it is very difficult to bring forward hard proof for this presumption, which, if true, would seriously complicate Paul's position on Gentile inclusion.

      To all probability, Paul would never permit Gentile circumcision, either as part of a Pharisaic conversion or as your step of ratification. So, while I admit that your position is attractive as a way of reconciling the demands of Ex. ch. XII with the general teachings on faith explicitly found in the NT, yet I don't think it is able to solve the Pauline problem.

      Delete
    3. Regardless if we solve the Paul issue concerning circumcision exactly, what is clear, is that the Pharisaic understanding of circumcision concerning gentiles was not correct, thus we have to look elsewhere.

      Delete
    4. Messianic 613,

      Re: "Ishmael seems to in the covenant in a certain manner at least..."

      That's not in the text (Gen. 17). Rather, when Avraham requests that Ishmael be included in the covenant, G-d refuses and says He will establish His covenant with Isaac. Though Ishmael was circumcised, he did not belong to the people of the covenant.

      And there may have been good reason for this. It says that Ishmael was a "mocker" which means that he rejected G-d. He most likely then became an idolater after marrying an Egyptian woman. In short, Ishmael had no interest in dedicating his life to HaShem and for that reason was excluded from the covenant--even despite being circumcised in the flesh.





      Delete
    5. You should read what is said in Genesis ch. XVII in its context. Avraham's request is not that Ishmael will be a covenant member but that the genealogical line of the covenant be through Ishmael, because he doubts the divine promise concerning a future son, as is clear from Gen. 17:17.

      If Ishmael wasn't included in the covenant at all, then how could he receive the sign of the covenant, circumcision? The point of the text is that the chosen line is not established through Ishmael, but through Isaac. There were others, who were not in the genealogical line but were yet included in the covenant, for instance the servants of Avraham, since they belonged to his house (Gen. 17:27). Think for instance of Eliezer.

      It appears then, that Ishmael had a position comparable to that of a servant. The covenant wasn't continued through his genealogical line, but nevertheless, since he belonged to the house of Avraham, he was a covenant member and had to receive the the covenantal sign of circumcision. That he was a mocker and didn't remain faithful, and that this was foreseen by HaShem, is another matter.

      Delete
  2. Great post Peter and Hillel was correct, it is the only way it could make sense, making circumcision into a full conclusion rite does not jive well with scripture and even worse with the Apostolic Writings.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The halachah is based on the Hillelite position. However, one should notice that according to this halachah the conversion process of an already circumcised person is not completed before the previous circumcision is formally corrected — or 'completed' as one may say — by making it a covenantal sign. This is done by drawing a drop of blood from the member through a small additional cut and by reciting the blessing required over the mitzvah of circumcision. That such a correction is necessary for the validity of the circumcision as a covenantal sign is understandable, since context matters. A person could have been circumcised as part of another religion's ritual, or for non-religious reasons, and such a circumcision obviously would not count as covenantal.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Messianic613, I really like your blog and the stuff I find there, and actually think you should post more. Following there are some things I have to say about some of what you said on your first reply!

    However, setting aside this point, I have no fundamental objections against your threefold division. What you say seems to be reconcilabe with the provisions of Ex. ch. XII, provided that the legitimate authorities of the nation are understood to be supervising the matter. A person cannot become a member of a nation without the consent and acceptance of the public authorities of that nation.

    I think this is exactly against what Paul fought: the gentiles would get included through faith despite the understanding of the "rabbis" - that circuncision was the turning point - because:
    the Bible does not teach that [even though it can be said that it is from the Bible that this teaching is derived];
    it was not the case with Abraham and
    the "Messianic Beit Din" decided otherwise.

    Suppose, for instance, that in biblical times there were male Moabites or Ammonites — heads of families or individuals — who wanted to become covenant members. This was prohibited and they could never be accepted, even if they had true faith.

    Rashi understands the "they shall not get in the assembly of the Lord" to mean they cannot marry Israelite woman, not that they cannot get in the covenant. In fact, if this is so, the promise to Abraham that all the families/nations would be blessed in him would never be accomplished.

    From a NT perspective one can connect your first step to the acceptance of immersion in the name of Yeshua (baptism), which symbolizes our new birth. If at this point the laws of the covenant become obligatory, then circumcision would be expected to follow soon, perhaps on the eight day after the immersion.

    I agree with batism being the turning point and disagree with circuncision following immediatly : Abraham is the paradigm, and he was in a covenant with the Lord long before circuncision.

    One thing is very important:circuncision is not asked of a ger [and he is already a ger in the Exodus Pesach passage] until he wants to eat Passover! One thing that is very interesting is that the only immeadite circuncision command we[I :P] know of in the Bible is the one for slaves: these ones should be circuncised immediatly [or at least very soon]. I think[backed up by Mark Nanos] that this has something to do with the Galatinas passage that deals with the son of the free and the son of the slave.


    Shabat Shalom

    ReplyDelete