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Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice$
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Jennifer Wright Knust and Zsuzsanna Varhelyi

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199738960

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738960.001.0001

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Jesus’ Circumcision and Strategic Self-Sacrifice

(p.251) 13 Passing
Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice

Andrew S. Jacobs

Oxford University Press

Discussing Christian applications of the Roman concept of self-sacrifice, Andrew Jacobs analyzes late ancient representations of Jesus’ circumcision, re-interpreted as a form of strategic sacrificial giving. Adapting the modern notion of racial “passing” to offer new insights into the complicated meanings of Jesus’ Jewishness, Jacobs argues that references to Jesus’ purportedly sacrificial circumcision were employed to reinscribe the categories of “Jew” and “Christian” in ways that connected the self-sacrifice of Christ’s foreskin to the salvific bloodshed of the crucifixion. Circumcision, Christians like Tertullian and Ambrose argued, enabled Jesus’ initially Jewish mission, but his submission to the practice was intended to fool Jews so that their future critique would have no merit. From the late ancient Christian point of view, Jesus “passed” as Jewish, but was not, in fact Jewish at all. The late antique discussion of Jesus’ circumcision therefore reified Judaism as a thing to be conquered and repudiated.

Keywords:   self-sacrifice, circumcision, “passing”, identity, imperial Christianity

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