Erich Lessing

The Greek ideal of male beauty, as seen in this slightly larger than lifesize statue of the god Poseidon from the fifth century B.C.E., required an uncircumcised penis. The Romans as well as the Greeks glorified the male body in art and exposed it in real life. In those cultures, men who engaged in nude sports and public bathing saw the circumcised penis as a shameful blemish. Some Jews, wanting acceptance in Greek and Roman society, sought to reverse their circumcisions by an operation called epispasm.

The early Church, reflecting the Jewish community of which it was a part, seriously debated the necessity for circumcision. Paul and Luke concluded that, in the new world of Christ, circumcision is no longer necessary. Their views prevailed for Christians, while Jews maintained the almost unquestioned practice of circumcision.