Evidence #269 | November 15, 2021


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The Book of Mormon indicates that circumcision was known and practiced among Lehi’s descendants. Circumcision was also practiced in Mesoamerica during pre-Columbian times.

Circumcision and the Old-World Heritage of Book of Mormon

Circumcision, from an early period in biblical times, was a token of the covenant God made with Abraham. For ancient male Israelites, circumcision was considered necessary to be included in the covenant community.

And God said unto Abraham, thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is the covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you” (Genesis 17:9–11).

This practice was also intended to point covenant Israel to the necessity of loving the Lord and following his teachings, as seen in these passages from Deuteronomy:

  • “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart and be no more stiffnecked” (Deuteronomy 10:16).
  • “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

The family of Lehi and the people of Zarahemla who came from Jerusalem would surely have been familiar with this practice. For instance, Nephi’s brother Jacob cited the words of Isaiah which looked to a future day when “the uncircumcised and the unclean” would no longer be found in Israel (2 Nephi 8:24). He also pronounced a prophetic woe upon all those who were “uncircumcised of heart” (2 Nephi 9:33; Isaiah 52:1). Centuries later, the resurrected Jesus made reference to the cessation of circumcision, suggesting that it had been practiced among Lehi’s posterity at least until His coming, and possibly after (Moroni 8:8).

Abraham's Journey from Ur to Canaan, by Josef Molnar. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

Circumcision in Mesoamerica

There is evidence that a form of circumcision was practiced in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and possibly from an early time. Bernal Diaz del Castillo reported that the people along the Gulf Coast of Mexico practiced circumcision,1 and Juan Diaz reported that inhabitants of the island of Ulua were also circumcised.2 According to Patricia de Fuentes, “the peoples of the Totonac and Olmec civilizations on the gulf coast circumcised male infants approximately one month after birth.”3

Image via https://apalacheresearch.com/2021/05/04/the-totonac-people-of-mexico/.

In the Maya region of Campeche and Yucatan Mexico, stone columns carved with phallic imagery provide evidence of circumcision. This and additional evidence from Classic Maya art led Mayanist Stephen Houston to suggest that “this may reflect a Maya version of the Jewish bris”4 in which “the foreskin had been sliced away.”5


Early Spanish sources and pre-Columbian art (some of which dates to the earlier Classic period) point toward the same conclusion—circumcision was practiced in America during pre-Columbian times. Exactly where this practice originated, what it meant to its practitioners, and how it may relate to the Book of Mormon are questions that can’t yet be fully answered.

It is not implausible that the practice of circumcision among the descendants of Lehi and Mulek may have influenced surrounding cultures to adopt the same or a similar ritual. In fact, Christ’s statement near the end of Nephite history that circumcision was “done away in me” (Moroni 8:8) may hint at widespread cultural pressure to perpetuate it. Whatever the case, the presence of circumcision among Book of Mormon peoples is consistent with an ancient American setting.

John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 486–487.

BibleGenesis 17:9–11Deuteronomy 10:16Deuteronomy 30:6Isaiah 52:1Book of Mormon2 Nephi 8:242 Nephi 9:33Moroni 8:8


Genesis 17:9–11

Deuteronomy 10:16

Deuteronomy 30:6

Isaiah 52:1

Book of Mormon

2 Nephi 8:24

2 Nephi 9:33

Moroni 8:8

  • 1 Bernal Diaz, The Conquest of New Spain, trans J.M. Cohen (London: Penguin Books, 1963), 42.
  • 2 Patricia de Fuentes. The Conquistadors: First Person Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico (Norman, OK and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 16.
  • 3 Fuentes. The Conquistadors, 214n.23. See also 210n.4. See also H. David Tuggle, “The Columns of El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico,” Ethnos 33 (1968): 68.
  • 4 Stephen Houston, The Gifted Passage: Young men in Classic Maya Art and Text (New Haven, CT: University Press, 2018), 31. See also figure 10.
  • 5 Houston, The Gifted Passage, 104.
Customs and Ceremonies
Book of Mormon

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