Circumcision has been practiced for millennia, across continents andcultures. Anthropologists disagree about its origins; some think it goes back15,000 years to a single culture, some think it originated independently atdifferent times, in different places, for different reasons. We know that Australianaborigines, Native Americans, and ancient Egyptians practiced it, dating back atleast 6,000 years.Over time, circumcision took on religious significance in Judaism, Islam, andeven Christianity. Jews consider it a commandment from God; Muslims believe itto be one of five acts that “befit the natural state of man.” And then there is theHoly Foreskin (or prepuce) of Jesus, cut off in a cave on his eighth day of life,and supposedly handed down through the centuries by popes, kings, and evenCharlemagne himself. It was thought to have magical properties—and if theaccounts are to be believed it would have had to, given that during the MiddleAges, there were as many as 18 Holy Prepuces scattered across Europe.
John Harvey Kellogg prescribedcircumcision (along with, it should benoted, Corn Flakes) to preventmasturbation.
By the mid-19th century, circumcision was medicalized. It was proposed astreatment for a range of conditions, from the mutually counterintuitive—priapismand impotence, paralysis and epilepsy—to some that are still cited today:prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and foreskin-related problems likephimosis and balanitis.By the turn of the 20th century, it was widely advocated by doctors, includingJohn Harvey Kellogg, who prescribed circumcision (along with, it should benoted, Corn Flakes) to prevent masturbation.