“The Height of Foulness”
Circumcision in European Religious and Popular Culture
Images of circumcision in European religious and popular culture were consistently, often profoundly hostile. Abelard, Aquinas, Luther, and others wrote or spoke on the subject critically when referring to Jewish circumcision, but piously when the subject was the circumcision of Jesus. Fantasies about circumcision entered ritual murder accusations, while Italian farces portrayed rabbis bent on emasculating frightened Christian men. Circumcision appears in the work of John Donne and Alexander Pope, and possibly as a theme in The Merchant of Venice. It was featured in satires composed in reaction to the British “Jew Bill” of 1753, and it provides a foundational scene in Tristram Shandy.
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