On Ash Wednesday, just before leaving for our church's evening service, I came across a short post: "Only Religion Could Get People To Worship a Foreskin" on my friend Canadian Atheist's website. This article had a link to: "The Cut That Divided Jews and Christians - and the Mystery of the Missing Circumcision in Artworks" in the HUFFINGTON POST Intrigued, I gave both articles a brief scan and then Uni and I went off to worship. While I forgot it during the worship, it did come back to mind, so after a brief comment on Canadian Atheist's post the next morning, I decided I needed to read the longer article more carefully and interact with it. I found it well worth reading and even recommend it.
The article was written by Bernard Starr, whom we're told is a "psychologist; Journalist; College Professor." He is also "author of 'Jesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew'" and is organizing an art exhibit entitled "Putting Judaism Back in the Picture: Toward Healing the Christian/Jewish Divide."
Mr. Starr introduces his article with a description of the Christian Feast of the Circumcision, which celebrates Jesus' circumcision "with a parade featuring Jesus' foreskin carried in a reliquary which villagers stormed to kiss," in what I suppose could be described as an act of holy fellatio.
The article goes on to tell us that the 2,000 year old holy foreskin disappeared over 30 years ago and many suspect that the Vatican was somehow involved in the theft, as even the mention of Jesus' foreskin was declared grounds for excommunication in 1900. Though apparently the Feast is still celebrated, the focus has shifted to Mary the Mother of Jesus. The author questions as to why Christians would celebrate such a thing. "Weren't" he asks, "differences about circumcision a major factor in the split between Judaism and Christianity?"
Well, I'd answer that question with a yes and a no. While circumcision was a factor, the major factor was recognition of Jesus as Messiah. There were in the early days, as well as today, still Jewish Christians who were/are circumcised. The big split over this issue was in the first century church itself.
The author does a pretty good job of relating the story of the introduction of Gentiles (non-Jews and uncircumcised) into the early church, except for his assertion that "Paul introduced the notion of 'circumcision of the heart'" as a "symbolic substitute for physical circumcision." He quotes Paul's words in Romans 2:28, 29: "But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter." This was however, no new idea of Paul's. His predecessor Stephen had earlier accused those of the Jewish Sanhedrin of being "stiffnecked and uncircumcised in hearts and ears" (Acts 7:51). Of course, the idea preceded Stephen by about 1,500 years and is found in both the Torah and the prophets. In fact, circumcision of the heart was predicted as a future act of the LORD in His restoration of His people:
"And they will confess their iniquity ... then at last their uncircumcised heart will humble itself ..." (Leviticus 26:40, 41).
"And the LORD will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, that you may live" (Deuteronomy 30:6).
"Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskin of your heart" (Jeremiah 4:4).
"Behold days are coming declares the LORD when I will punish all who are circumcised and yet have a foreskin ... for all the nations are uncircumcised but all the House of Israel are uncircumcised of heart" (Jeremiah 9:25).
Paul saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the Messianic promises and those who were "in Christ" whether Jew or Gentile as the recipients of those promises. He recognized the Jewishness of Jesus as well as his own Jewishness and states that his desire is for Israel to turn to their Messiah. It is sad, even tragic that those who came later rejected this Jewishness.
There is a quote that is misleading: "The Savior's circumcision was the occasion of the first shedding of His precious blood. The Cross overshadowed the Lord Jesus even while He lay in a crib by swaddling bands bound. The knife which cut the Lord's flesh on that day foreshadowed the centurion's spear which would pierce His side, releasing the saving torrent, the blood and water (John 19:34)." While it appears to be attributed to John's Gospel, that is not its source; John said no such thing!
The article is illustrated with Medieval and Renaissance art depicting the baby Jesus as uncircumcised, even when He is obviously "looking more than eight days old." And of course, Michelangelo's well-known sculpture of David depicts him as uncircumcised.
Mr. Starr does not buy any of the arguments for this "falsifying" and very ably refutes them. He sees the ignoring of historical context as an explanation for the pervasiveness of not only the falsifications but as part and parcel of the anti-Semitism of the times. when "Jews were demonized, marginalized and persecuted - as well as charged with killing Jesus."
The author's contribution to the effort at reconciliation is an art exhibit "with new renditions of existing works" which he is organizing ("Putting Judaism back in the Picture"). Let's hope he has some success with it. (I wonder if Michelangelo's David could be reworked with a Dremel tool?)
Back to his original question: "Why would Christians ... celebrate - no less worship - Jesus' circumcision?" Answering from my perspective as an evangelical Christian and attempting to be biblical, I'd have to say that the worship of a foreskin is idolatry; there is no biblical warrant for this or any other adoration of relics. But to celebrate Jesus' circumcision is another matter (though I have no desire for a feast or a parade).
His circumcision was a Jewish rite in which He partook as a member of the covenant community of Israel. It was done in accordance with the Mosaic Law and it was a beginning of a lifetime of Law-keeping. Jesus kept the entire Mosaic Law; there is no recorded instance of His violating it, though He did cross the line many times when it came to man-made interpretations. It is because He fulfilled the Law actively by keeping its precepts and passively by taking its penalty, that I as non-Jew can partake of the promises given to Abraham and through the whole Hebrew Scripture.
So I believe we should celebrate Jesus' Jewishness. There is no room in Christian faith for anti-Semitism, or even of attempting to ignore our Jewish roots.