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date: 07 December 2023



  • Martin Goodman


Circumcision of male genitalia was widely practised in the ancient near east, as Herodotus (2.104) was aware. In general both Greeks and Romans found the custom repulsive and ridiculous, which led to tensions especially with Jews, for whom circumcision, as a religious imperative, played a central role in establishing cultural identity. Jewish circumcision was prohibited by *Antiochus (4) IV Epiphanes and probably by *Hadrian, but *Antoninus Pius specifically permitted Jews to circumcise their own sons (Dig. 48.8.11). Although *Josephus wrote that other peoples, including Egyptian priests, practised circumcision in his day (Ap. 2.141–44), it was generally regarded as a distinctively Jewish custom by Greeks, Romans, and early Christians. Apostates from Judaism sometimes used epispasm, a surgical procedure to reverse circumcision, and rabbis after the *Bar Kokhba revolt changed the method of Jewish circumcision to make such reversal more difficult.


  • Jewish Studies

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