Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Egyptian Circumcision Mystery

After the Isralites crossed the Jordan, on 10 Nissan, in imitation of the crossing of the Red Sea, they were circumcised, in imitation of the mass circumcision that took place (per some authorities) on 10 Nissan,  forty years earlier.

At this second mass circumcision God tells Joshua "Now the shame of  Egypt is removed from you."  What is the shame of Egypt? 

The archeological evidence says there was nothing unique about circumcision in the ancient near East. Lots of people did it. There's especially good evidence that ancient Egyptians were circumcised. So perhaps being uncircumcised was considered the "shame of Egypt?" 

Chazal, of course,  operated under the assumption that only Jews circumcised. So they read the verse as follows.. 

After the 8th plague Pharaoh said:ראו כי רעה נגד פניכם / see the evil is in front of you. 

While it's possible that ra'ah, the word for evil, in this context refers to Ra, the Egyptian solar diety, Chazal understood it to be a particular star. They say that Pharoah is reporting  that he knows by astrology that something evil is waiting for the Israelites in the desert. 

According to this line of interpretation the act of circumcision satisfies the astrological prediction. The stargazers saw rivers of blood in the forecast and thought that meant a massacre. But they were wrong. Really it was the mass circumcision they saw. Thus, the circumcision removed "the shame" (or in this reading "the reproach") of Egypt. 

So vote in the comments. Which reading seems best to you?

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