When Christ our Savior was eight days old, as is traditional with Jewish boys, he was circumcised, like we all were in the ‘70s, except sometimes I’m not sure, looking at myself, but rarely, nudity is shameful and I’m busy enough already, but when I do look, I seem to be somewhere in between the Jewish Elect and a Frenchman. “Ask your mom,” someone suggests, someone who doesn’t understand that a conversation about the existence or non-existence of my foreskin, with my mother, is a conversation too far and only even thinking about it makes me want to step with dignity onto a funeral pyre, singing hosannas as my discomfort burns. “He smiled the whole time,” someone whispers as I char and smoke. “So brave in his willingness to escape uncomfortable things.”
When Christ Our Savior was eight days old and circumcised, we’re told, he was circumcised in a cave, which seems doubtful, because where would you send congratulatory flowers? After the circumcision, an old woman (who knows how she was invited) took the foreskin and the Holy Navel String and preserved them in a carved alabaster box, in a vial filled with spikenard oil, also called muskroot.
We learn, later, that Mary of Bethany bought the alabaster box with the oil-filled vial of Christ’s foreskin and navel string, which she then used to anoint Jesus’s own head and feet. “Feet” sometimes meant genitals, in the Bible, in the Older Testament, like when Naomi told Ruth to lay at the feet of Boaz, a name we don’t hear much anymore, what with all the Calebs, Liams, and Logans in the world, but when Ruth lays at the feet, she’s laying at his grown-up bathing suit area, which is crude, of course, and I’m sorry, but I didn’t write the Bible on account of how I rarely have the time. Mary of Bethany’s brother was Lazarus, whom we remember, mostly, because he wouldn’t stay dead.
Even while we venerate the foreskin, we are also unsure if it exists. If Jesus is perfection, wouldn’t he have arrived already circumcised? Or, if Jesus is perfection, would he have need of circumcision? Would the foreskin itself also be a part of that perfection? If he was circumcised, the foreskin, then – Christ’s foreskin, then – can be seen as the first Christian martyr, the first to shed blood for Christ himself, a paradox that is impossible to solve so we leave it shimmering to light our way.
And if he wasn’t circumcised—but that is too despairing to dwell on, isn’t it, my ducks. He had to, because we have an alabaster box. We have an oil-filled vial. We have muskroot and hope and the tangible wrinkled fruit of his body. The world is too empty, too grim, without it.
There have been many Holy Foreskins by the way, throughout history, as if the savior’s penis was mostly sleeve cut into rings and I’m sorry. One foreskin was stolen, by the way, in the year of our lord nineteen hundred and eighty-three, from the town of Calcata, which only sounds like Calcutta, but is in Italy, not in India, as far as we know, geography being as inexact as it is, as far as I am concerned.
Did Birgitta of Vadstena, who comes to us from fourteenth century Sweden, eat the foreskin? No, she did not. That was Agnes Blannbekin, whose revelations, hopes, fears, and loves were tenderly transcribed by her Franciscan confessor. “Crying and with compassion, she began to think about the foreskin of Christ, where it may be located,” after the Resurrection. “And behold, soon she felt with the greatest sweetness on her tongue a little piece of skin alike the skin in an egg, which she swallowed. After she had swallowed it, she again felt the little skin on her tongue with sweetness as before, and again she swallowed it. And this happened to her about a hundred times.” It took me about a hundred times to understand that I didn’t really like coconut water, so we come to understanding in our own way, but in the right time.
So, ultimately, where did the Christ’s Holy Foreskin go, after the Resurrection? Maybe it flew to heaven, this holy piece of the holiest of flesh. A seventeenth century theologian asserted, in an essay sadly lost to history, and to us, that when Christ ascended, bodily, into heaven, after the crucifixion, of course his foreskin – wherever it might be – ascended, too. Nothing of this most divine body could stay on the earth, and why should it, now that all were redeemed by the sacrifice.
Leo Allatius tells us, in his Discourse on the Foreskin of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which none of us at the point can find, that the foreskin sailed swiftly through the night sky, finding the planet Saturn, father of Zeus, and holding it as a ring, as a gambler holds a promise.