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In Leviticus 12:3 what was the symbolic significance of choosing the eighth day after birth for the time of circumcision?

[Lev 12:3 KJV] (3) And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.

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    You might want to also ask this on judaism.stackexchange.com
    – Ruminator
    Apr 2 '19 at 13:47
  • @Ruminator this question is perfectly acceptable on BH.SE. In fact the same question was already asked a year ago and generated some good answers as well. I already marked as duplicate.
    – Bach
    Apr 3 '19 at 13:52
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    What I said was that he might want to also ask this there. I didn't mark it as closed or down vote it. In fact, I came to the question because I was interested in the answer! +1
    – Ruminator
    Apr 3 '19 at 13:58
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In a compilation made in mid-13th century France by Chizkuni, there is an explanation quoting Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, that the 8th day had been chosen by God for circumcision of the newly born so that the whole family could rejoice in that celebration. Otherwise, the mother of the child could not be part of it due to her still being ritually unclean:

Leviticus 12:2 Say to the Israelites: 'A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. (NIV)

On the other hand, in the same Chizkuni's compilation, it is underlined that this commandment is so important that it can be performed on the eighth day, that it overrides the work prohibition on the Sabbath. Only preparatory activities associated with the circumcision are forbidden even on the Sabbath, whereas the circumcision itself overrides the Sabbath provided it is performed on the eighth day. [For more please see Chizkuni, Leviticus 12:3:2; also in Shabbat 132a:1, 132a:13]

Then, the 8th-day circumcision becomes a sort of a model for any animal sacrifice:

Leviticus 22:27 When a calf, a lamb or a goat is born, it is to remain with its mother for seven days. From the eighth day on, it will be acceptable as a food offering presented to the Lord. (NIV)

So, there are 4 meaningful things here:

  1. 8th-day, so that the mother is clean, therefore able to attend the ritual and rejoice with the family all together
  2. 8th-day, override the Sabbath prohibition
  3. 8th-day, as a symbol/token that animal sacrifice ok
  4. 8th-day, as a symbol/token for anything committed for sacrifice / becoming sacred

But this is not it. There is another very interesting thing, we are approaching the symbolic significance of the 8th-day circumcision: in a Midrash on Leviticus 12:3, this is related to Leviticus 22:27 (above) and to Ecclesiates 3:19.

Ecclesiastes 3:19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. (NIV)

But for the end of Eccl. 3:19, this Midrash is going:

Midrash Tanchuma Buber, Emor 21:1: ... as the one dies, so does the other die. They all have the same lifebreath, but the superiority of the human over the beast is nil ('YN). This is the translation required by the latter part of this section. [...] Because the lifebreath of the human is given from above, concerning it a rising up is written. And because the beast is given from below, concerning it a going down is written (Eccl. 3:21). […] And what is the meaning of 'YN? It is that < the human > speaks, but < the beast > does not ('YN) speak. And moreover, while there is knowledge in the human, in the beast there is no ('YN) knowledge. And moreover, while the human knows the difference between good and evil, the beast does not ('YN) know the difference between good and evil. And moreover, the human gets a reward for his works, but the beast does not ('YN) get a reward for its work. And moreover, when the human dies they care for him and he is buried, while the beast is not ('YN) buried.

Now to the 4 above, we can add a 5th symbolical meaning:

  1. common fate of human beings and of the animals, yet the superiority of the human over the beast.

As a conclusion, if we sum up 1 > 5 and try reading Leviticus 12:3 + Leviticus 22:27 in the light of Eccl. 3:19, the symbolical meaning would be:

  • On the 8th day: circumcision & joy, so that everybody may join in.

  • From the 8th day, animals good for a sacrifice

  • Humans and animals are both mortals

  • YET humans, provided they are giving away their “animal side” through sacrifice, they can overcome death. Remember, circumcision is a sign of the Covenant (Gn 17:1–27), it is about “putting off the body of the flesh” (see Col. 2:11 and Phil. 3:3).

Finally, circumcision on the 8th day, overriding Sabbath prohibitions, because it is about human “putting off the body of the flesh”, and taking on his spiritual status. That would be, I think, the symbolical meaning.

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My own understanding of this is that seven days is the full time of creation, six days of creating work and one day of rest in that creation - a fulfilled accomplishment, a resting in that fulfilled activity.

But on that seventh day, Eve was deceived and Adam transgressed. And in the cool of the day, the evening, the sun now falling in the heavens, God walked (no longer at rest) and God spoke 'Adam, where art thou ?'

So another day began. A new creation. :

My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. [John 5:17 KJV.]

The ritual of circumcision is a matter of the removal of flesh. And that removal is associated with the manner of procreation, the passing on of sinful flesh to another generation.

But Abraham was circumcised before he had Isaac, so Isaac (in a figure) is born not of the flesh but of the spirit. A new creation.

It was the eighth day when Jesus rose, for it was the end of the sabbath, the sabbath was passed, Mark 16:1. A new day dawned, a new creation, a resurrection.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. [II Corinthians 5:17 KJV.]

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  • A fascinating and definitely possible interpretation. But how do you connect circumcision with creation? Is there a Biblical connection apart from the metaphorical connection you offer?
    – user25930
    Apr 1 '19 at 1:04
  • Where is the "eighth day" in the story of creation? The story of the resurrection of Jesus also lacks "eighth day" but only uses "first day of the week". Is it not placing words in the mouth (or pen) of other authors to read "eighth day" into these accounts?
    – user25930
    Apr 1 '19 at 6:51
  • That is an idea that is new to me, that the serpent found an opportunity to deceive Eve because God was resting after the six days of creation. I would dismiss it out of hand if it were in any other book but in Genesis (for some reason) God is not portrayed as omniscient. Could it have been the only way that God could be all powerful and all good? If he were not all knowing in advance? In the scriptures, God has ordered every detail in a way that some will be winners and some will be losers. If he doesn't know the results then he isn't to blame when bad things happen to good people. ?
    – Ruminator
    Apr 3 '19 at 14:26
  • In other words, if God was asleep then he isn't to be faulted for not preventing the Satan's attack. It trades a philosophic/theological problem for a thorny moral one.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 3 '19 at 14:27
  • Since all Jewish males are circumcised on the eighth day are you saying that all males are, in a figure, born of the spirit or are you saying Isaac, in particular born of the spirit?
    – Ruminator
    Apr 3 '19 at 14:35

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