Erich Lessing

Three impaled Israelites are shown on a portion of the reliefs commissioned by the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib for his palace at Nineveh to celebrate his capture of Lachish. A careful examination of the original reliefs, now in the British Museum, makes it clear that the naked Israelites are circumcised, with the entire prepuce removed and the entire glans exposed.

Not all ancient Near Eastern peoples practiced as complete a version of circumcision as the Israelites did. The Egyptians, for example, may have simply made a V-shaped dorsal cut that left the prepuce in place and allowed the foreskin to hang freely. Some Israelites may have practiced the Egyptian form of circumcision. In the Book of Joshua, Yahweh tells Joshua, in preparation for celebrating Passover, to circumcise the Israelites “a second time” (Joshua 5:2). This may have been necessary because some of the Israelites had not had all of their foreskins removed.