The Oldest Known Illustration of Circumcision (2400 B.C.E.) (Open Culture)

in Art, History | June 17th, 2014

What do we have here? Just the oldest known illustration of circumcision being performed. Actually, it’s a colorful re-creation of a bas-relief (see original here) found in an Egyptian tomb built for Ankhmabor in Sakkara, Egypt. It dates back to around 2400 B.C.E.

The origins of circumcision remain unclear. According to this online essay, a stele (carving on stone) from the 23rd century B.C.E. suggests that an author named “Uha” was circumcised in a mass ritual. He wrote:

“When I was circumcised, together with one hundred and twenty men, there was none thereof who hit out, there was none thereof who was hit, and there was none thereof who scratched and there was none thereof who was scratched.”

By the time you get to 4,000 B.C.E., you start to find exhumed Egyptian bodies that show signs of circumcision. And then come the artistic depictions. The Sakkara depiction comes with the perhaps helpful written warning,“Hold him and do not allow him to faint.”

via Elif Batuman

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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