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Journal of the Jesus Movement in Its Jewish Setting: From the First to the Seventh Century


Two diametrically opposed assumptions have influenced interpretations of circumcision rituals in ancient Judaism: either women performed the operation on their infant sons because children at birth and during infancy remained under the purview of the mother; or, conversely, men—specifically a ritual agent known as the mohel—performed circumcisions, because only they were typically granted authority to carry out the ritual. This study reassesses the pertinent texts, including Exodus 4 and passages from the books of Maccabees and the Babylonian Talmud (b. Šabb. 134a; b. Yebam. 64b; b. ʿAbod. Zar. 27a), to determine whether women in ancient Judaism may have circumcised their infant sons; and shows that an older, family-based ritual practice in which either mothers or fathers performed the operation was being replaced by late antiquity by a specialist-based ritual performed by mohels from outside the household.

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