Circumcision (Lat. circumcisio, a cutting around), a practice of eastern nations, consisting in cutting off the prepuce or foreskin in males and the internal labia in females. Among the Jews it is a strictly religious rite, and is used only on males. In ancient times it was not only obligatory on all males born of Jewish parents, but also on all proselytes, and on all the slaves of Jewish masters. The rite originated, according to the book of Genesis, in the command of God to Abraham, and was nationalized by Moses. It was thenceforth practised by the Jews, except during the journey through the wilderness. Circumcision among the Jews is performed on the eighth day after birth. From the fact that this rite was required by religious ordinance, the term "un-circumcised" became a term of national reproach, and is analogous to the word "heathen" as used by Christian writers. The Egyptians, according to Herodotus, practised circumcision. It is certain that at a later period in Egyptian history, under Persian and Greek influence, circumcision was confined to the priests and sages, but Herodotus makes no limitation in his statement. On the other hand, he states that the tonsure was confined to the priests. He also says that the Colchians (an Egyptian colony, as he believed) practised circumcision.
The same authority tells us that the Ethiopians practised it; and to this day the Coptic and Abyssinian Christian churches observe the custom. The Abyssinian church imposes the rite on both sexes. The Epistle of Barnabas testifies to the fact of Egyptian circumcision, and declares also that the ceremony was observed by the Arabians and Syrians. Jerome says that in his day the majority of Egyptians, Idumseans, Ammonites, Mo-abites, and Ishmaelites were circumcised. The Mohammedans also practise it; and although the Koran does not enjoin it, it has extended itself wherever the Mohammedan religion has been adopted. In Arabia the rite is performed on both sexes. The Arabians have a tradition that Mohammed said that circumcision was honorable in women. Pythagoras is said to have submitted to circumcision in order to obtain instruction from the Egyptian priests in their sacred doctrines. A portion of the Phoenician nations practised the rite, but the Philistines did not. The aboriginal Mexicans were found to observe this custom.
The Friendly Islanders, the inhabitants of the Indian archipelago, those on the west coast of Africa, those of Madagascar and the Philippine islands, and even the Hottentots, have a custom regarded as a remnant of the same observance.