On the Hill of Circumcision

Those who used the breviary early this morning may have gotten a glitch at the First Reading. I currently have the entire contents of the KJV and WEB Bibles in the database. As a result, the file pulls a Scripture reference and passes it to a parsing function which looks at it for colons, dashes, and commas. The short reason why there was an error this morning is because today’s first reference: Joshua 4:19-5:1, 15:10-15 overwhelmed the parser with the sheer volume of its punctuation. The longer answer is that I didn’t fully program the parser to handle this kind of Scripture reference because of a fundamental disquietude concerning our current Daily Office lectionary.

I know—the rule is common prayer. And I abide by it (99% of the time…). As a result, the Daily Office lectionary from the BCP is what is in there and what will remain in there.

But on occasion I have to register my objections, and this is one of them.

Whenever I look at a reference that causes my parser to break a sweat, I always have the same question: why? Why is there a gap here that we have to deal with? What is it about the intervening verses that the BCP Daily Office lectionary doesn’t include them. Did the compilers feel that they were too boring? Too strange? Too uncomfortable? Too raunchy? And how does the absence of these texts from our day-to-day biblical experience skew our understanding and apprehension of the Bible?

Here are the verses that we were instructed to—er—cut out today…:

At that time the LORD said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. And Joshua made him sharp knives, and circumcised the children of Israel at the hill of the foreskins. And this is the cause why Joshua did circumcise: All the people that came out of Egypt, that were males, even all the men of war, died in the wilderness by the way, after they came out of Egypt. Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised. For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: unto whom the LORD sware that he would not show them the land, which the LORD sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey. And their children, whom he raised up in their stead, them Joshua circumcised: for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them by the way. And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole. And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day.

What about this was deemed unnecessary? Who got to decide that we shouldn’t encounter this, and what were their reasons for doing so? In a time when we are arguing over identity and covenants (recalling both the Anglican Covenant and the whole Communion without Baptism controversy) aren’t these verses worth hearing?

One enterprising reader compiled and sent to me a reverse Daily Office Lectionary which identifies which passages are, and therefore are not, included within the Lectionary. It makes for enlightening reading. He gave me permission to put it into a database with a web front-end but my current massive busyness has prevented me from accomplishing this yet. Soon, however…

I think it’s time to start revisiting the lectionary. I have no problem with a Mass lectionary with gaps. After all, that’s not the purpose of a Mass lectionary. But the function of the Daily Office lectionary is to move us through the entire Scriptures each year. Ours doesn’t—and that’s worth a serious discussion.

14 thoughts on “On the Hill of Circumcision

  1. bls

    I wonder if it’s possible to get through the whole Bible in a reasonable way in one year….

  2. Toni

    Isn’t there a certain flexibiltiy built in the daily lectionary?

    In the Concerning the Lectionary section one finds the following, “Any Reading may be lengthened at discretion.”

    So any omitted section may be included.

    Though I do find it peculiar that this particular passage was omitted.

  3. Bill Dilworth

    Thanks, bls, but I was hoping for a comparison with the present lectionary. It appears that the ’28 book skips the odd chapter here and there, too – I’m just wondering if it omits less.

    I don’t like either of the present lectionaries (Office and Eucharist) very much, myself.

  4. Derek Olsen

    I haven’t done an exhaustive study of the ’28 lectionary. Some of the others that I have studied demonstrate two ways of dealing with it.

    The first, and one good answer to bls’s question, is Cranmer’s original construction which moved through most everything minus a section of Leviticus, most of Ezekiel, and basically all of Revelation. The issue with it from a liturgical perspective is that the lectionary is completely independent of the liturgical year; it follows the civil calendar.

    The lectionary deemed the best in terms of both completion and attention to the liturgical year is the Revised 1922 tables done in advance of the English Proposed 1928 BCP.

    I’m wondering if a modernization of the ’22 might be worth doing…

  5. brian m

    A friend of mine, who is a Reformed Episcopal Church priest in Canada, has drafted an office lectionary that apparently includes the entire Bible including the “Apocrypha”:


    He has also posted the Canadian 1918 office lectionary, which I believe to be identical to the Revised UK 1922 tables cited above, on his homepage:


    Please note that his comprehensive lectionary is organized per the calendar, not the liturgical, year.

  6. Bruce M Carpenter

    Some of the older lectionaries do include the passage, but not 1928 ECUSA or SSF Celebrating Common Prayer which both omit the whole of chapter 5. Canada 1962 includes only vs 1; Scotland 1929 omits 2-9, and England 1961 omits 2-12. As pointed out above, the rubric on pg 924 says you can read it if you want. I find it not very edifying.
    As the Oxford Annotated says, most feel rightly that the God of Joshua is infinitely remote from the God of Jesus. What with condoning wholesale slaughter of men, women, children, cattle, etc. Offering up such as a holocaust to God?

  7. Derek Olsen

    I believe that Marcion used a similar gloss on the text.

    But here also we go back to the previous post on the Church and the Interpretation of Scripture. One of the things impressed firmly upon me by my mentors is a respect for the canon. One of the reasons why a canon generally and a closed canon specifically are important is because the canon consists of those books with which the church has wrestled from the beginning.

    Millions of thoughtful Christians throughout history have struggled with how to read the texts of genocide. Indeed, some of the allegorical and moral readings of the text so eschewed by modern schools of interpretation offered the Churchan opportunity to absolutely refuse one literal sense of the text (God wants Joshua to butcher babies) yet to still find edification within it.

    The key problem with Marcion from this perspective is that what he offers isn’t truth but a cop-out. By chopping out the Old Testament, he removes the need for us to struggle to make sense of the text and to determine what the heart of our moral and spiritual compass is and must be: Jesus, the Word of Life revealing God in flesh.

  8. brian m

    Mr. Carpenter, are the UK 1961 lectionary tables available online anywhere? I have only ever seen it cited in Fr. Hunwicke’s yearly ORDO, and never in table format.

  9. dale caldwell

    i confess i have come to mostly drift entirely loose from the readings in the official lectionary, but generally i follow the 1943 episcopal lectionary . the problem with most post-19th century lectionaries is that they assume that biblical scholars know more about the holy one than those who pray. alas.

    so this year’s crop of pharisees who make up the biblical department of princeton university–the same school which gave us fundamentalism a century ago–agree that the god of joshua is not the god of jesus. of course joshua and jesus are the same name. if one reads the deleted text not in the fundamentalist, literal way in which protestants seem stuck, then the prophecy of offering up men, women, and children to the holy one, an offering fulfilled in the person of jesus the christ, becomes quite beautiful. paul echoes this idea several times: romans, 12:1-2 being one instance.

  10. Bill Dilworth

    Great – now that you’ve brought my attention to the problem, I’m noticing all these gaps in the lectionary for the first time! And they aren’t uncommon.

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