In Genesis 17, it is written,

24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; NKJV, ©1982

כד וְאַבְרָהָם בֶּן־תִּשְׁעִים וָתֵשַׁע שָׁנָה בְּהִמֹּלוֹ בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ כו בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה נִמּוֹל אַבְרָהָם וְיִשְׁמָעֵאל בְּנוֹ

Does the scripture provide any clues regarding who circumcised Abraham? Also, are there any clues in the words בְּהִמֹּלוֹ (behimolo) or נִמּוֹל (nimol)?1


        1 Binyan nifʿal can be understood as passive voice (e.g., he was circumcised) or reflexive (e.g., he circumcised himself). See Pratico and Van Pelt, p. 125, § 12.7, 1: “The Niphal stem is used to express simple action with either a passive or reflexive voice.”


Pratico, Gary D.; Van Pelt, Miles V. Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

  • 2
    I would suggest that you have answered your own question (and efficiently so) by the reference you quote. The verb can be either passive or reflexive and gives no clue as to who did the circumcising. Nor is there any other evidence in scripture. Up-voted +1 for the question and the answer.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 7, 2020 at 4:35
  • The same ambiguity between the passive and reflexive voices exists in Romanian as well (e.g., crucified Himself under Pontius Pilate).
    – Lucian
    Aug 7, 2020 at 5:43
  • 1
    I agree - the question answers itself.
    – Dottard
    Aug 7, 2020 at 6:09
  • 2
    @DerÜbermensch The text mentioned in the OP states: "Abraham was circumcised." It does not say "Abraham circumcised himself." It is, therefore, not inconceivable that Sarah actually performed this rite. It may be recalled that Moses' wife, Zipporah, is described as having done the same thing: Exodus 4:25: "Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, 'You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.'" However, as a Hebrew, it seems doubtful that Sarah would have expressed the same revulsion toward Abraham.
    – Xeno
    Sep 20, 2021 at 23:34

3 Answers 3


The sages say that Avraham circumcised himself.

בהמולו" - בהפעלו כמו בהבראם (לעיל ב) (נטל אברהם סכין ואחז בערלתו ורצה לחתוך והיה מתיירא שהיה זקן מה עשה הקב"ה שלח ידו ואחז עמו שנאמר וכרות עמו הברית לו לא נאמר אלא עמו ב"ר רש"י ישן) - Rashi (Genesis 17:24)

Loosely translated (I am only referring to the topic) it means that When Avraham took a knife and held his orla he was scared to circumcise himself. Which comes as Rashi stating explicitly that Avraham circumcised himself.

Having studied this in Hebrew as a mother-tongue language it means in the scripture that Avraham circumcised himself, and the second Nimol is passive because it also references Yishmael, but the B'himolo means that Avraham did it to himself as Hifil always means.



Gill suggests two possibilities:

who circumcised him is not said, very probably Eliezer his head servant: the Jews, who affect to know everything, say (u), that he sent for Shem, the son of Noah, who circumcised him and his son Ishmael; but it is most likely that Ishmael was circumcised by Abraham himself, as seems from Genesis 17:23; and Abraham might circumcise himself, as Ben Melech thinks.

  • I mentioned this to other contributors. The text in the OP states: "Abraham was circumcised." It doesn't say "Abraham circumcised himself." It is, therefore, conceivable that Sarah actually performed the rite. We seem to have a precedent if we recall that Moses' wife, Zipporah, is described as doing the same thing Exodus 4:25: "Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet, and she said, 'You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me.'" Imagine attempting to do this yourself! (Eliezer could have been another candidate as you rightly state.) +1.
    – Xeno
    Sep 20, 2021 at 23:43

I think that one that did the circumcising should be circumcised already. He must have circumcised himself. I cannot help thinking how painful this would be for a grown man, a ninety-nine-year-old man! But this is the faith of our father Abraham.

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