Werner Forman/Art Resource, N.Y.

RITE OF PASSAGE. In this relief from the Old Kingdom tomb of Ankhmahor, vizier of Pharaoh Teti (ruled 2345–2333 B.C.E.), in Saqqara, Egypt, a seated priest is shown circumcising a standing youth during a ceremony marking the boy’s passage into manhood. For ancient Egyptians and many Semitic peoples, male circumcision, whether performed at puberty or eight days after birth as in the Biblical tradition (Genesis 17:12), was a once-in-a-lifetime rite, sometimes carried out in large groups and typically accompanied by celebrations and festivals.