Book: The Hunt for Ancient Israel
Chapter: Pain, Gain, or Both? Circumcision, Trauma, and (R)Emasculation in Post-Exlic Israel
Recent years have seen a turn to the “human factor” of exile, as scholars increasingly apply insights from various social sciences to their interpretation of the events following the demise of the kingdom of Judah. One area of research within this development focuses on issues of gender; more particularly, on the experience of compromised masculinity that would have accompanied defeat and deportation. Leaning on insights from masculinity studies, trauma studies, and postcolonial critique, this article explores the possibility of construing circumcision–a ritual whose popularity seems to have increased during the exile–as a coping mechanism, which functioned to restore a sense of agency, masculinity, and, paradoxically, physical wholeness. This approach not only helps to account for the peculiarly gendered nature of this identity marker, but also offers an explanatory matrix for the ambivalent treatment circumcision receives in the biblical texts, as a ritual that accomplishes both insider identity and otherness, and can symbolize either virility or emasculation.