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Circumcision of Jesus

January 4, 2019

From about the 6th century or so in the Western churches, 1 January was designated as the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus (eight days after 25 Dec).  Luke 2:21 mentions Jesus’ circumcision and formal naming.  In the medieval period, however, the date was treated as another feast dedicated to Jesus’ mother, Mary.  This is indicative of the growing centrality of Mary-devotion in the medieval period (in practical terms, overshadowing Jesus in popular piety), and it may also reflect a certain lack of concern or even an uneasiness about Jesus’ Jewishness.

The readiness to acknowledge Jesus the Jew has varied, with much of church history appearing to ignore or have little to say about the topic.  This is even evident in church art.  If you go through the many paintings of the infant Jesus (often pictured with the infant John the Baptist), typically a nude Jesus with his genitals showing, it’s interesting to note how many appear to show an uncircumcised Jesus.

So, I think that it’s important in historical terms to have in the church calendar a reminder that Jesus was not some generic human, but a quite specific person:  male and most definitely Jewish.  Perhaps especially in light of the sad history of Christian treatment of Jews, it’s particularly appropriate.  It at least does justice to history.

 

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6 Comments
  1. The unbelievable anti-Semitism throughout history has always stunned me. I mean, didn’t all those medieval Christian Europeans know Jesus was a Jew? Instead, we have cases of Christian fanaticism like the outbreak of anti-Semitism with the first Crusade, another outbreak after the Black Plague, and the horrible depictions of the Judensau, etc.

    The scholarly demonstration that Jesus is to be seen in a Jewish context is perhaps one of the most important breakthroughs of the 20th century in NT scholarship.

  2. Good point. Thanks.

  3. TLCTugger permalink

    Michelangelo’s David is likewise a depiction of a genitally intact male Jew. I think Europeans imagined that departed souls are again whole once they pass on, so it’s ok to immortalize them that way in art.

    And while we’re discussing the circumcision of Jesus, let us remember that the New Testament makes plain in a dozen places that physical circumcision is not part of Christianity. 95% of the world’s Christians don’t circumcise children.

    • Uh, it’s not relevant whether Christians circumcise their male offspring. The point is that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, and Jews circumcise their male offspring. Stay on the point, please. And the only places in the NT that speak against circumcision are in cases where someone was trying to impose circumcision upon gentile/pagan converts. As about 95%of today’s Christians are gentiles, of course they aren’t typically circumcised (unless you’re an American born after WWI, as I am).

  4. robertstl permalink

    “This is indicative of the growing centrality of Mary-devotion in the medieval period (in practical terms, overshadowing Jesus in popular piety), and it may also reflect a certain lack of concern or even an uneasiness about Jesus’ Jewishness.”

    Very interesting. How odd that they would not recognize that Mary too was Jewish. I guess once someone becomes enthroned in heaven or on stained glass or in one’s imagination, we no longer see them as human beings.

  5. As you wrote … it is particularly appropriate.

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