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In Gen. 17:12, it says

"And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed."

In Lev. 12:3,

"And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised."

Why not (as in modern clinical practice) circumcise a child immediately from birth; what is the significance of waiting 8 days, before a male child is circumcised?

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    Another consideration(which no one yet has mentioned) is that the mother is ritually impure with a male child for 7 days, and continues in her purifying for 33 days(Lev. 12:2-5). Yet if she has a female child, she is ritually impure for 14 days, then continues with her purifying for 66 days......Why? – Tau Feb 6 '18 at 4:51
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On the eighth day, the amount of vitamin K and prothrombin present is elevated above 100% of normal and is the only day in the males life in which this will be the case under normal conditions. If surgery is to be performed, day eight is the perfect day to do it. Vitamin K and prothrombin are at their peak on that day. Vitamin K and prothrombin are vital to coagulation, therefore stopping bleeding and healing faster. Ref. by S I McMillen, MD in his book "None Of These Diseases".

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  • Thank you for your response! Of course, no mention of female studies are shown, and in any case, physicians all over the world perform MALE circumcision shortly after birth, with no apparent consequences. The reason, I believe is spiritual: it encompasses the truth of why God required circumcision under the Old Covenant, and why circumcision(vs any other act) in the first place. Was God merely being "capricious"? Or, is there a deeper truth that He was giving those who follow after His Covenant? – Tau Feb 10 '18 at 18:05
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    @Tau yes there is a spiritual reason. Abraham was promised a seed that all nations would be blessed through. The circumcision of the reproductive organ has to do with the promised seed that would shed his blood to bring us into a covenant with the Father. The 8th day symbolized the first day of the week that he would be ressurected, as Justin martyr and other church fathers suggested. – diego b Feb 11 '18 at 8:56
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    @Tau There's a small peak in VitK on the 3rd day, many doctors prefer to put it off until then. But its all irrelevant in modern Western medicine, since a Vit K shot is generally given to all newborns in case of internal bleeding. It's a broad policy, and some do reject it unless needed to avoid unnecessary shots. Honestly it's insurance driven. – Joshua Feb 11 '18 at 15:05
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    This does not explain the ancient custom, since they did not know that. You need to either assume direct revelation about the eighth day or a process in which people find the optimal moment. – user2672 Feb 28 '18 at 4:01
  • Interesting answer, but I wonder in which extend it could be concordism? We can find modern reasons for everything. – Quidam Nov 16 '19 at 1:18
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It seems that circumcision was a practice taken over from Egypt by the Israelites. In Egypt, grown men would circumcise themselves or get circumcised, and boys would do this on the border of manhood. This is common in many Ancient Near Eastern cultures. At least one of the goals of circumcision was to protect a person in the netherworld (Lods, A. 1943. "La 'mort des incirconcis'," Comptes rendues des séances de l'Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, pp. 271–283).

Although the scriptural sources suggest that 8-day circumcision had been practised for a long time (since Isaac) by the Israelites, that does not appear to have been the case. All these scriptural references are from the P-source (one of the sources of the Pentateuch), which was written in the context of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE.

It seems then that we must explain both a late circumcision (your actual question) and an early circumcision (compared to related cultures). Propp (1987: "The Origins of Infant Circumcision in Israel," Hebrew Annual Review, pp. 355–370) suggests several reasons for an early circumcision on pp. 362–363:

[T]hrough experience the Israelites probably discovered the operation is less painful for babies. Infant circumcision also relieved the individual of the painful choice of undergoing the trauma, for in his adulthood he might have been reluctant. [...] [C]circumcision may have been considered salutary. Either God pro- tects the Israelite child, or demons avoid it [...] Babies were circumcised as soon as it was safe because they were liable to die, for, as Lods (1943) shows, circumcision was believed to improve one's fate in the world of the dead.

And on p. 366 for a late circumcision:

[T]he blood clotting mechanism does not function fully until the age of six months and is particularly deficient in the first two to four days after birth. A few bad experiences would have shown the advisability of waiting a while. But why was the eighth day, i.e., a week plus a day, singled out as the proper time for circumcision? The number eight elsewhere signifies the end of a period of taboo. [...] It seems that the infant is taboo until its eighth day, when circumcision introduces it to the world.

(The part left out contains relevant references, but is omitted for brevity.)

I would like to add the following point to this: during the Babylonian exile, the Hebrews lived in a multicultural environment and felt it was important to establish an identity. It is from this that the strict rules from Leviticus and other P-passages originate. In such an environment, it can be important to "mark" a child as belonging to your group so that he remembers it himself, and feels physically connected to his own group.

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  • Thank you for your response! The point you made about being "marked" as belonging to a particular group(Nation of Israel), is very true..."and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth."(Deut. 14:2) Circumcision is a peculiar action, and it singularly identifies Israel from the other nations around them. Of course, today it is common, I find the source of Egyptian circumcision less than compelling, though numerous sources seem to agree-though not offering much evidence. – Tau Feb 10 '18 at 18:21
  • The point is God commanded Abram to "walk perfect before Me", and He declared His Covenant to Abram(a father), who after his circumcision became "Abraham"(father of many). Sarai (princess) was changed to Sarah(mother of many). The 8th day command was given to Abraham, so it predated the Law 400+ years, though walking perfect(whole) before God was the prerequisite for circumcision. – Tau Feb 10 '18 at 18:34
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It may be beneficial to compare this law to another similra law concerning sacrifices,

Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.

Some have regarded this seven-day period as a humane treatment of the animals, but i don't see it as such. The motive for the seven-day period is most probably a ritual concern than it is a purely ethical one; the ancients may have regarded young animals as ritually unfit for sacrifice similar to a blemished animal (perhaps it was considered too weak and unstable and incapable of surviving on its own). The number seven signified completion in the ancient world, so once the animal went through the seven-day period it was considered stable, healthy and fit for divine consumption.

Now you may ask, "what has this all got to do with circumcision?"

There is much evidence that circumcision in ancient Canaan was considered a kind of sacrifice to the gods, and it is reasonable to assume that the Israelite's too regarded it as such. In fact there is evidence in the bible itself that circumcision was regarded as a kind of sacrifice. See Exodus 4:24-27 and also here for more on circumcision and its sacrificial nature. Hence the need to wait seven days before the child is fit for the circumcision ritual.

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Originally the milah(circumcision) ritual commanded by God in the old testament was a bloodletting ritual. The ritual required only the severing of the frontal part of the foreskin to scar it and let it bleed, not total amputation. Amputating the entirety of the foreskin would have killed too many children, even on the eighth day during this time period when survival beyond infancy was hard enough. Total amputation of the foreskin was not strictly required until later when Rabbi wanted to prevent Jewish men from being able to stretch out and restore the remnants of their foreskins. You can read more about that here in this book, page 44 and 45: https://books.google.com/books?id=SF6fbjNe0yYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=when+did+metzitzah+start&hl=en#v=onepage&q=milah&f=false

If you are looking for a more uniquely Jewish perspective I suggest visiting http://www.beyondthebris.com and checking out a Brit Rechitzah in the Brit Shalom ceremony. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brit_rechitzah

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  • I removed the unnecessary proselytism not related to these specific texts (but that reads later anachronistic religious views into the text not related to the original practice at the time these texts were written). – Dan Feb 6 '18 at 3:31
  • @Rabbit340 Thank you for your response! I am more interested in why the Scriptural reason for circumcision on the 8th day, and not right after the child is born. – Tau Feb 6 '18 at 4:43
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That it was brought over from egyptian practices is not correct. God established this covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:10) long before Egypt was a thought in any pharoah's mind.

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