Abrahamic covenant is the name given to the quid pro quo covenant that Chapter Seventeen of Genesis alleges exists between God and Abraham. According to Genesis 17, God promises Abraham:
Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
In return, Abraham is to:
Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
The Scripture also says that God has changed Sarai’s name to Sarah (which suggests nobility) and that she shall bear Abraham a son.
Questioning the Abrahamic Covenant
DeMeo (1989), by geographical study, identifies East Africa and the Near East as the origin of male circumcision. He says it then spread to Egypt where the Jews learned about it.
Many have wondered why God would create men with a foreskin with documented protective, immunological, sensory, and sexual physiological functions only to require that it be cut off after eight days of life.
Lisa Braver Moss (1991) wrote:
I am a Jew and I question circumcision. I have been questioning circumcision ever since I learned of the rite as a girl. At that time I questioned circumcision because it seemed wrong to cause pain to infants and because it seemed strange to surgically alter a healthy God-given part of the body. As I grew into adulthood I added questions. I continue to add them. I question circumcision because of its risks. I question it because it is seen by many as a perfunctory act rather than a spiritual one. I question it because it seems to require parents to take advantage of their infant's dependence and weakness. I also question it because of the paradox that those who support infant circumcision often cringe at the idea of circumcision of an older child as a puberty rite. I am sure all of these concerns are familiar to health professionals, who also question circumcision.
Finally, there is a slightly more esoteric concern. I question infant circumcision because it seems to me that a person's age should not affect our attitude towards his suffering. In other words, if we find the circumcision of older children offensive, we should find infant circumcision equally offensive. The most significant reason we as a society continue to practice infant circumcision, both medically and ritually, is that we do not respond to the suffering of infants in the same way we respond to the suffering of older children and adults. As parents our connection with our newborns is a very tenuous one, however strong it may feel when we first hold our little one and look into his or her eyes. The tenuousness of the bond only becomes apparent when we compare it to our bond with our older children. I personally could not subject my five-year old, or my two-year-old, to circumcision now for any reason other than absolute life or death necessity. This is not to say that it was easy for me to do at their birth, only that it would be impossible now. It is precisely this phenomenon that the advocates of routine neonatal circumcision are articulating when they advise parents to get it over with now because if one were to wait until the baby were older one would never do it. There is a way in which our infants are strangers to us as compared to our older children.
Michael Glass (2003) reports contradictions between the Abrahamic covenant story (Genesis 17) and other Hebrew Scripture.
Some contemporary Jewish parents feel that circumcision is a painful amputation that inflicts pain, physical, sexual, and psychological harm to a child. They wish to protect a son from such harm and so have adopted a peaceful, non-cutting naming ceremony usually called Brit Shalom instead of the traditional Brit Milah. Goodman (1999) has called for an end to ritual cutting.
Debunking the Abrahamic Covenant
Jewish Professor Leonard Glick (2005) observes that Genesis contains two covenants between God and Abraham. The first is in Genesis 15:18-21. It does not mention circumcision. The second covenant in Genesis 17 is a later addition by Judean priests. Child circumcision did not become firmly established in Israel until after Gilgal in 1604 BCE, more than two centuries after the death of Abraham. According to Glick, the priests gained control after the Babylonian captivity, which ended in 538 BCE and at that time the changes were made to Genesis Chapter Seventeen. Glick suggests that the choice to require circumcision of infant boys may have been because the boys cannot put up resistance. It is clear that the alleged covenant that required circumcision of male infants on the eighth day was a later fabrication by circumcised Judean priests and did not come from God.
Modern psychology offers an explanation for such behavior by the circumcised priests. Male circumcision is a highly traumatic surgical amputation that affects its victims for life. Van der Kolk (1989) has shown that traumatized persons are compelled to repeat their trauma on themselves or others. The compulsion of circumcised men to repeat the trauma of circumcision is seen in the huge numbers of men with adamant father syndrome. It appears that the circumcised priests ascribed their compulsion to an edict of God.
Does the Abrahamic covenant apply to Christians?
- Chessler AJ. (CIRP) Justifying the Unjustifiable: Rite v. Wrong. Buffalo Law Review (Original faksimile). 4 January 1997; 45(2): 555-613. Retrieved 31 August 2023.
Genesis 17:5-8, Bible Gateway. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
Genesis 17:9-13, Bible Gateway. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
- Demeo, James: The Geography of Genital Mutilations, The Truthseeker. (March 1989). Retrieved 26 February 2020.
- Moss, Lisa (April 1991).
The Jewish Roots of Anti-Circumcision Arguments, gaamerica. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
- Glass, Michael (April 2003).
What the Bible Reveals About Circumcision and Sexual Violence, Circumcision Reference Library. Retrieved 8 November 2022.
- Goodman J. Jewish circumcision: an alternative perspective. BJU Int. January 1999; 83(1): 22-7. PMID. DOI. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
- Glick LB (2005):
Chapter One, in: Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America. Edition: 1st. Oxford University Press. Pp. 15-18. ISBN 9780195176742. Retrieved 2 March 2020.
- Goldman R. The psychological impact of circumcision. BJU Int. 1999; 83(1): 93-103. PMID. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
- van der Kolk BA. The compulsion to repeat the trauma: re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism. Psychiatr Clin North Am. June 1989; 12(2): 389-411. PMID. Retrieved 10 November 2022.
Acts of the Apostles 15:1-30., Bible Gateway. Retrieved 22 October 2023.