Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/672

This page has been validated.

who have vanquished them continue to present the usual proofs of their prowess, there must arise the circumcision of living captives, who thereby become marked as subjugated persons. A further result is obvious. As the chief and the king are propitiated by bringing them these trophies taken from their foes, and, as the primitive belief is that a dead man's ghost is pleased by whatever pleased the man when alive, there will naturally follow a presentation of such trophies to the ghost of the departed ruler. And then where in a highly-militant society governed by an absolute despot, divine by descent and nature, who, owning the entire population, requires them all to bear this badge of servitude, and who, dying, has his dreaded ghost anxiously propitiated, we may expect that the offering of these trophies taken from enslaved enemies to the king will develop into the offering of like trophies taken from each generation of male citizens to the god in acknowledgment of their slavery to him. Hence, when Movers tells us that among the Phœnicians circumcision was "a sign of consecration to Saturn," and when proof is given that of old the people of San Salvador circumcised "in the Jewish manner, offering the blood to an idol," we are shown just the results to be anticipated as eventually arising.

That this interpretation applies to the custom as made known to us in the Bible, there is clear evidence. We have already seen that the ancient Hebrews, like the modern Abyssinians, practised the form of trophy-taking which necessitates this mutilation of the dead enemy; and, as in the one case, so in the other, it follows that the vanquished enemy, not slain, but made prisoner, will by this mutilation be marked as a subject person. That circumcision was among the Hebrews the stamp of subjection, all the evidence proves. On learning that among existing Bedouins, as Mr. Palgrave shows, the only conception of God is that of a powerful living ruler, the sealing by circumcision of the covenant between God and Abraham becomes a comprehensible ceremony. There is furnished an explanation of the fact that, in consideration of a territory to be received, this mutilation, submitted to by Abraham, implied that "the Lord" was "to be a god unto" him; as also the fact that the mark was to be borne not by him and his descendants exclusively, as favored individuals, but also by slaves not of his blood. And, on remembering that in primitive beliefs the returning double of the dead potentate is believed to be indistinguishable from the living potentate, we get an interpretation of the otherwise strange tradition narrated in Exodus concerning God's anger with Moses for not circumcising his son: "And it came to pass by the way in the inn that the Lord met Moses, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet." That circumcision among the Jews was a mark of subordination to Jahveh is further implied by the facts that under the foreign ruler Antiochus, who brought in foreign