Hi there, reddit! I'm David Farley, a New York-based food and travel writer. I write for lots of publications -- the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, AFAR magazine, the Washington Post, to name a few -- and I teach writing at New York University. I also wrote the book, "An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town" (Penguin/Gotham Books), about my time living in a curious medieval hill town near Rome while searching for the foreskin of Jesus, which went missing from the town under mysterious circumstances 30 years ago.

Most recently, National Geographic Channel (the international one, not the North American version) and the French/German channel Arte made a documentary partly based on my book. The documentary, “The Quest for the Holy Foreskin,” is showing on Nat Geo at sporadic times this month (January 2014) and Arte plans to broadcast a slightly longer version later this year.

Here's the trailer for it:


Ask me anything about the Holy Foreskin that you've ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask.

Proof: http://imgur.com/UKly4yw



EDIT: I just found a full version of the documentary on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiqgWSMKp8M

Comments: 954 • Responses: 45  • Date: 

wickensworth1009 karma

How likely is it that somebody stole the foreskin so that they could have access to the DNA and eventually, when the science was advanced enough, clone an army of Jesuses? I'm guessing somewhere in the 80% range. Also, do you think Dan Brown is pissed I just gave way the plot to his next novel?

Electrosnack334 karma

Excellent question, wickensworth. I didn't go into this topic much in the book but in the documentary I interviewed a molecular genetic pathologist who confirmed that it would be possible to find out the DNA of Christ if the relic were in the right (or wrong) hands. Of course, this is assuming the the piece of flesh is really that of Jesus Christ.

ThaBomb165 karma

What do you think the odds of it actually being Jesus' foreskin are?

Electrosnack245 karma

You ThaBomb! Thanks. Unlikely. The molecular genetic pathologist I interviewed in the doc said, if preserved properly (as it was said in the Gospel of the Infancy that after Jesus' circumcision his foreskin was put in a jar of preservative oil) that a piece of flesh could last 2,000 years. The Holy Foreskin didn't start actually popping up in churches and monasteries in Europe until around the 11th and 12th centuries. There was an origin tale tied to it, that Charlemagne received the relic from an angel while praying in Jerusalem and he then gave it to Pope Leo III in the year 800. The earliest I could find this tale was in a document in the 1090s. After that it was repeated many times. So, likely, the piece of flesh people were venerating was some poor soul's foreskin but not likely to be Jesus's. That's just my take on it, though.


There was an origin tale tied to it, that Charlemagne received the relic from an angel while praying in Jerusalem

Imagine that. Praying in Jerusalem, when an angel appears out of nowhere, and hands you the foreskin of the son of God. How does one react to such a thing?

Electrosnack87 karma

Good point, anal_set_propulsion. One reacts by pointing out that Charlemagne never even went to Jerusalem!

sickmilk42 karma

Chuck Palahniuk? Is that you?

Electrosnack14 karma

Thank god, no!

wickensworth3 karma

He wrote that after my comment! I bet David could easily clone Jesus since he's so good at copying.

Electrosnack6 karma

Wait, wickensworth. You think I plagiarized Palaniuk just because I wrote a nonfiction book about the Holy Foreskin and said foreskin is a minor plot twist in his novel, Choke? Yeah, okay. Guilty as charged.

cyanydeandhappiness438 karma

why? just…why?

Electrosnack480 karma

Why? Why not?! I'm a history geek and when I heard the words "holy" and "foreskin" in dangerous succession to each other, it couldn't be ignored. That there were people for centuries venerating a supposed foreskin of Jesus really fascinated me. Was it the real flesh of Christ? Probably not. But that people at one time believed it was very intriguing to me. Then I started doing some research and found there was a whole cult of the Holy Foreskin in centuries past.

cyanydeandhappiness62 karma

so did you fund this yourself? or did you have a financial backing from other foreskin loving individuals? FYI - you've sadly sparked my interest enough to watch this documentary. I hope it doesn't make me miss my foreskin.

Electrosnack79 karma

Good question. I was approached by the two filmmakers. It started off as an IndieGoGo project so they could raise enough money to make a decent trailer and sell it. Eventually both National Geographic and Arte gave them the rest of the money to make it in return for airing it on those networks.

Here's the original IndieGoGo teaser: http://vimeo.com/28009971

OffensiveTackle36 karma

The trailer seems to give away the whole story.

1) There were old Vatican archives that talked about the foreskin.

2) A town claimed to have it.

3) A priest claimed it was stolen, but others claim it was taken by the Vatican.

Is there any more to the story? Is this a case of inflating a paragraph into a book?

Electrosnack56 karma

You might be right. There is more in my book, for sure. As for the documentary, there is quite a bit more than what is in the trailer, I think. There were also some incredible leads that didn't really pan out, unfortunately, but I still think the conclusion the filmmakers came to is a pretty good one. It's a different than the one I did in my book.

karmanaut175 karma

What is your rate of success with the pickup line "Oh, what do I do for a living? Well, I'm finding Jesus' foreskin."?

Electrosnack203 karma

I haven't tried that one yet. Note to self: try that tonight.

N8theGr8168 karma


Electrosnack127 karma

It should! Thanks for the question. I'd like it to make me be able to eat anything while maintaining my girlish figure. Alas, according to historical documents I found in the Vatican Library, the main powers attributed to the Holy Foreskin are those of granting fertility.

In fact, the priest in Calcata -- where the last Holy Foreskin last existed -- apparently used to go around selling angelic placards that he says he had rubbed up against the relic. The reason to apparently buy one? It would help women who had fertility issues. This was told to me by one of the people who grew up in Calcata.

alexdelicious52 karma

Would they, in turn, have to rub it against their vagina?

Electrosnack40 karma

Good one! Who knows what they did with it in the privacy of their own home. It's possible.

melcher708 karma

The last holy foreskin? Is there more than one?

Electrosnack22 karma

Yep. Or there was. At one time in the Middle Ages, there were over a dozen towns and monasteries that claimed to have the foreskin. The one that ended up in Calcata -- for what it's worth -- had been in Rome for centuries and was the only "papal approved" Holy Foreskin. And with those last four words, I think I just set someone up for an awesome joke. Who's taking it?

Ottertude154 karma

Sorry to be the one to break the news to you, but the holy foreskin ascended when Jesus did, then became the rings of Saturn. All others are forgeries


Electrosnack131 karma

I love this. I have to say, in doing my research on this topic, this was a twist I wasn't expecting at all. Leo Allatius, who wrote that the foreskin is the rings of Saturn, is also responsible for writing the first treatise about vampires.

zaikanekochan61 karma

So in other words, you are a man searching for Holy Dick Jerky? How does one become interested in such a thing?

Electrosnack55 karma

Thanks for the question. I have a master's degree in European history and have always dug the offbeat stuff -- the things that get buried in the footnotes of history. The Holy Foreskin was that sort of thing. And it was fun writing the book and (finally) using my history to degree to put the relic into a historical context. I got into the Vatican Library (I'm sure they've revoked my library card by now!) where I uncovered centuries-old documents dedicated to the Savior's foreskin. It was quite fascinating that people took this so seriously at one time.

zaikanekochan21 karma

Follow up: I noticed you capitalized Savior, is this a religious endeavor of yours, or is this merely a history chase? Thanks.

Electrosnack36 karma

Good observation! I'm not religious. Just a habit, perhaps, but thank you for pointing it out.

Kijafa41 karma

So...did you find it?

Electrosnack71 karma

Yes! Sort of.

startittays16 karma

Please elaborate!

Electrosnack53 karma

No spoilers here!

EatingSandwiches140 karma

Do you discuss in the Book ( as someone who has a History degree myself this interests me) the Historical significance of Relics in the Middle Ages and the impacts they had on cities/nations? For instance, the classic story of Venetians stealing the bones of St. Mark from Egypt. Or the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari, Italy?

Electrosnack49 karma

Thanks for the great question. Not much in the documentary. There wasn't enough time and it was the filmmakers from Spring Films (the company that produces most of Werner Herzog's documentaries) that had the final editorial say in this project.

But in my book I put the Holy Foreskin into a historical context (throughout its supposed 2,000 year existence) and I also write about the cult of relics, in general, in the book so that readers will understand how and why such a relic could even exist in the first place.

roniweiss38 karma

Have you considered becoming a travel writer version of Indiana Jones?

Do you have any other relics you want to be going after?

Electrosnack51 karma

Roniweiss! Don't I know you from somewhere? That thing called "reality" perhaps? I picked up a few other favorite relics along the way during my research: the Virgin Mary's breast milk was one of them. Calvin, always good for a sarcastic quip, said of the near ubiquity of the relic, “Had the virgin been a cow her whole life she could never have produced such a quantity.”

As for the Indiana Jones monicker, I think I'm done searching for weird relics for a while. I'm hoping my next book has nothing to do with Jesus or holy genitalia.

Nicks6531 karma


I sent you an email years ago with a couple of questions about your book and with a couple of questions about writing. I couldn't believe it when you responded the next day with like 4 pages of text. I still really appreciate it.

My only question is what's the next book going to be on? Anymore religious relics you'd like to investigate?

Edit: I don't write pretty on muh phone.

Electrosnack30 karma

Nicks65! Thanks for the question. I remember you! I'm always happy to answer people's questions about writing or traveling or whatever and I almost always respond to people who email with such questions. I'm happy to help.

I've had a few other book ideas but I've had to abandon them for logistical reasons. For example, the last one I was quite excited about and was telling someone about it at a party. That person then said, "My friend wrote that book." I looked it up on amazon and, sure enough, it was almost exactly the book I wanted to write. Wah wah. For now I'm just writing for newspapers and magazines and some day another book idea will happen.

Whatever it is, though, I doubt it will be of a religious nature. I'm fascinated with religion but I also don't want to be pegged as a "religious writer" of sorts.

batmanbirdboy29 karma

Have you ever read the book Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk? Quite a big chunk of the plot deals with Jesus' found foreskin.....and it sounded completely ridiculous in a fictional setting. You have to constantly have people going "Really? C'mon......really??"

Electrosnack24 karma

Thanks for the question and comment. You're totally right. It does make for good cocktail party chatter. It's pretty fun to have this super arcane knowledge of something few people really know much about. Which is why it was fun writing the history of the Holy Foreskin in my book. No one in English had really done that yet -- at least not in nonfiction book form and not outside of a dry academic paper.

mikejonas29 karma

Were you paid a salary or did you just work for tips?

Electrosnack21 karma

High five, mikejonas!

ImYourMutineer20 karma

Did you read "Choke" by Chuck Palahniuk? The holy foreskin is a plot point in the book. I can't remember if they touch on it in the movie though. You might find it interesting.

Electrosnack32 karma

Good question. I was wondering when someone was going to bring this up. I have read it. And seen the movie (which was really bad, by the way). I actually asked Chuck for a blurb for my book. He never responded.

maighdlin15 karma

I love all this stuff and will get the book, but for now how was the foreskin stored? Surely it would have rotted completely well before now. I know there was embalming techniques at the time Jesus was supposed to be hanging around but would it have been enough to keep a foreskin intact for thousands of years? Also why was it even kept in the first place? For his childhood Jesus was just a normal child of a carpenter. Did Rabbis just keep the foreskins and catalogue them or something just in case?

Electrosnack17 karma

Thanks, maighdlin. Great questions. According to the Gospel of the Infancy, which is one of those Apocryphal Gospels ("apocryphal," by the way comes from the Greek for "taken out" or "removed"), Jesus was circumcised and his foreskin was put in a jar of preservative oil. This might all possibly be fake. Every relic needs a good origin story.

Why was it kept? This is usually the first question people ask. I suppose, as I say in the trailer for the documentary, that if you had a virgin birth, you might have thought there was something special about the child. Of course, from my recollection, the idea of Jesus' mother being a virgin and giving birth didn't actually appear until around the third century.

You should read the Gospel of the Infancy. It's good reading. Like reading the script of a bad B-grade movie. Jesus as a teenager, according to this Gospel, was quite rebellious. He'd go around hurting, even killing, any one who had wronged him. No wonder they kept it out of the Bible!

Kijafa12 karma

How big is the Holy Foreskin supposed to be, and could you extrapolate how well-endowed the Son of God based on that?

Electrosnack11 karma

A thoughtful question. Given that at one time there were at least a dozen towns claiming to posses the foreskin of the savior (most were in France for some reason), one could extrapolate that Jesus was, in fact, very well endowed. Porn star endowed. Either that or the foreskin had the power to duplicate itself! In all seriousness, though, monasteries and churches were quite keen at one time to have such a prized relic, since miraculous relics lured pilgrims and those pilgrims would often fork out some cash. Not to be too cynical but it is true that there were some unscrupulous folks through history who took advantage of the pious believers in this way.

Bingohead12 karma

Hello I was under the impression that Agnes Blannbekin made up a story that she had eaten the foreskin to conceal the idea that it would have been resurrected and unaccounted for. 1. Does this mean you consider her to be a hoax or mistaken about what she had eaten (I don't believe she ever did visual confirmation)?

  1. What exactly are you looking for a foreskin or some embodiment of it's existence?

  2. Do you believe it's still in the form of a simple little amount of flesh or has it become a fishing instructor some where?

  3. If you had to pick one title and purpose would you consider yourself a religious man on a spiritual search, a scientist doing research, or a muse doing satire trying to point out absurdities in the matter ? thank-you for your time

Electrosnack12 karma

Excellent questions. Thank you! I think the perception of the Agnes Blannbekin story was that she had imagined the foreskin. It was in her mouth and she kept swallowing it. How's that for a medieval sexual metaphor! It was like a vision, similar to people seeing Jesus in a tortilla.

I don't think the Holy Foreskin is really the flesh of Christ. There are stories about it through history -- in the Gospel of the Infancy, written a couple centuries after Christ for example -- but the reference to Charlemagne giving the relic to Pope Leo III in 800 didn't surface in documents until the 1090s. At least from my research. What I think happened was that someone-- a relic dealer perhaps -- realized they could make some money by trying to sell a piece of flesh as the actual flesh of Christ. And if Christ ascended into heaven that piece of flesh could only be his foreskin. There's one reference to Christ's circumcision in the Bible -- in Luke -- and so I imagine someone came across that had had a light-bulb moment.

I'm not religious. I have a master's degree in history and I'm fascinated by these aspects of history that have fallen through the proverbial cracks. Once I heard about the Holy Foreskin I was fascinated. The more research I did -- mostly in the Vatican Library, the NYU library (where i teach) and the New York Public Library -- the more I discovered that this strange relic existed on the peripheries of several historical periods. From the papal schism in the 14th and 15th centuries to the Renaissance (where several painters did "Holy Circumcision" paintings) to the Sack of Rome in 1527 to the Reformation to 19th-century Romanticism to -- finally, phew! -- 20th-century secularism.

vxx11 karma

How often has other kids called you David Fartley?

Electrosnack17 karma

Good one, vxx. I haven't heard that one since fifth grade. Congratulations.

trueTTU11 karma

What do envision would be the single most important benefit or outcome in finding Jesus's foreskin?

Electrosnack10 karma

Cloning it would be fun. What if, I've wondered, the person turned out to be someone radically different in gender and ethnicity. Oops! Either we had the wrong idea all along or it wasn't Jesus' flesh after all. Likely, the latter.

_Gatekeeper10 karma

Are you Catholic?

Electrosnack14 karma

Hi _Gatekeeper! I was raised Catholic, but haven't really been practicing since I was a teenager. I'm more or less agnostic with some Buddhist leanings now.

hogpiesatwork5 karma

An agnostic with some Buddhist leanings making light of Christianity? On reddit? Of all the places!

Electrosnack15 karma

I wouldn't say that I'm necessarily "making light" of Christianity. This was a real thing, this cult of the Holy Foreskin. I'm just telling the story of it.

scratch7412 karma

how long have you been doing stuff like this?/when did you start getting interested in sort of offbeat history?

Electrosnack3 karma

Scratch741. Thanks so much for the question. And it's a good one. I'm not really sure just how long I've been interested in the offbeat and arcane in history. I got my master's degree in history about 15 years ago and have since been a freelance writer, penning articles on food and travel and cultural things.

Jesus' foreskin was just too odd for me to pass up when I first heard about it.

jonathandbrown7 karma

What about the rest of Jesus' penis?

Electrosnack10 karma

Well, if you're a believer, Jesus (and his penis) ascended into heaven. So I'd suggest looking there. There was a lot of religious scholarly debate over the centuries about whether or not the foreskin was "important" enough to have re-attached itself to Christ when he ascended. If the answer is yes, then that would make the relic people were worshipping fake. If the answer was no--the foreskin is as unimportant as, say, one's fingernail clippings or hair--then that would give acceptance to the idea that Christ's foreskin as a relic could exist.

ilikenewpasswords6 karma

Do you like wrestling?

Do you think wrestler Daniel Bryan looks like Jesus?

Electrosnack4 karma

I had never head of this Daniel Bryan. But, whoa, he does!

Spank_me_sideways5 karma

So your entire career is a joke?

Electrosnack5 karma

Pretty much!

Skeezypal5 karma

Please tell me that you used the phrase "And that's just the tip of the mystery!"

Electrosnack3 karma

Ooh, good one! With the exception of a few punny chapter titles, I tried to stay away from puns and jokes like that, as funny as they might be.

13thmurder5 karma

Are you aware that non-living flesh decomposes? Because that might present a problem here...

Electrosnack18 karma

Totally. Because I wrote the book and starred in the documentary it doesn't necessarily mean I'm a believer in it. I was fascinated by the fact that, through the centuries, people believed it and would venerate it and treat it like the flesh of god. That was my original and main interest in doing this research.

doublechokeslam5 karma

What are you doing to do with the foreskin once you find it?

Electrosnack27 karma

Nice user name! Once I find it I plan on cloning Jesus to create an army of robe-clad, sandal wearing Jesuses. I'm not sure what I'll do with them though. Any suggestions?

lawlshane2 karma

This is incredible work. I'm not even kidding or being childish.

Electrosnack2 karma

Thanks, lawlshane!

Quart32 karma

How are you going to find it? Do you have some sort of dick radar? If so, where'd you get it? There's this thing that works at the gas station down the road that I just stare cluelessly at when it asks me if that'd be all.

Electrosnack2 karma

No dick radar needed, Quart3. But if you invent one, please let me know!

KirksGirlxxx2 karma

How awesome is the Vatican library? I (most likely) will never have a good enough reason to be admitted myself, but its one of dreams to see it!

Electrosnack6 karma

Thanks, KirksGirlxxx. It was amazing being there. When I was doing a lot of promotion for the book -- radio interviews and such -- people would often ask if it's just like the way the library was portrayed in the movie Angles & Demons. I hadn't seen it (or read the book) so I couldn't answer. I was recently on a long-haul flight and had run out of movies to watch on the in-flight entertainment system. But there was Angels & Demons. I watched it and now I can say that the Vatican Library is not at all like it is shown in the movie. It was very archaic when I was there. The computer terminals were leftover from the '80s. Or so it seemed. They've since updated the library though and, I imagine, finally entered the 21st century.

i_meant_lulz1 karma

This is so stupid

Electrosnack2 karma

Thanks, I_meant_lulz!