The Ten Commandments

 

"Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man, living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of 10 things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these 10 things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever till the end of time...but he loves you."

George Carlin

 

 

A Critical Look

 

In the Bible, the Ten Commandments are the divine law given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai. They have a paramount place in the ethical systems of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Listed in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, the commandments are divided into duties toward God, one's neighbors, and society. They function as general stipulations decreed by God as part of God's covenant with the people of Israel. In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, the case law following the listing of the commandments is based on them and deduced from the principles contained in them. In Islamic tradition, Moses brings new revelation in the form of the commandments.

 

An examination reveals that in the Bible itself, there seem to be two different versions of the Ten Commandments.  One version appears twice, in Exodus 20 and then again in Deuteronomy 5, the second is from Exodus 34.  Further confusing the issue is that the version in Exodus 34 differs greatly from the versions in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 and lists several commandments not listed in what most Judeo/Christian/Islamics consider the proper “Ten”. 

 

Of interesting note, if one takes the time to actually read the Bible, at the end of Exodus 19, Moses is told by God to go down off the mountain, and Moses went down. 

24”And the LORD said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest he break forth upon them. 25So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.”

Then from Exodus 20:1 – 17 we have God speaking, what are to most, the Ten Commandments. 

 

 1And God spake all these words, saying,

2I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

12Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

13Thou shalt not kill.

14Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15Thou shalt not steal.

16Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.”

 

The trouble with these verses is  - whom is God speaking to?  If Moses was the only one allowed to approach God and God had already sent him back down the mountain who was there to record what was said? 

 

Exodus 20 would make more sense in the chronological events listed if Exodus 20 verses 1 through 17 are removed.

 

Exodus 19:25 “So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.”

 

Exodus 20 Verse 18 is where Moses is speaking to the people and then goes back up the mountain to talk with God again.

18And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. 20And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.

Exodus 21 is where God gives Moses the “judgments” that he is to set before the people.  These “judgments” seem to be rules and continue through the end of Exodus 23.  Exodus 24 Verse 4 states: “and Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the Morning…” then Verse 7 states: “And he took the Book of the Covenant, and read in the audience of the People: and they said, “all that the Lord hath said we will do, and be obedient.”


So far at no point here is there mention of the Ten Commandments as such, nor is there mention of the “Stone Tables” upon which they were written.

 

Exodus 24:12 is where to find the first reference to the “Stone Tables” (some versions of the Bible say “Tablets” vice Tables”).

 

“And the Lord said unto Moses, come up to me into the Mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.”

 

Exodus 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31 is where we have God giving Moses the instructions to build the “Ark of the Covenant” and the “Tabernacle” in which it is to be housed, along with the “altar” and the “court” and the appointment of Aaron and his son’s and their garments and specific rites, rituals and ceremonies which they are to perform and further interior construction details and the specific monetary offerings the people should give and apparently how to mix God’s favorite perfume.

 

Only at the end of Exodus 31 do we come down to it, verse 18 states:

 

And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.”

 

What was written upon these “tables of stone”?

 

Many take it on faith that the things spoken of by God in Exodus verse 20 (to which we do not know whom God was speaking) is what was written on the “tables”.  If one reads the actual text of the Bible a very different impression will be formed.  An impression that we have absolutely no idea what the “two tables of testimony” that God gave to Moses said.

 

In Exodus 32 we have the children of Israel “corrupting themselves” by creating and feasting before the golden calf that they created during Moses’ absence.  Then when Moses descended from the mountain he broke the tables.

 

Exodus 32:19 And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.”

 

Also of interesting note is that Moses, when he came down from the mount and broke the tables of stone, had not yet given the people God’s instruction for the building of the “Tabernacle,” but in Exodus 33:7 Moses moves the tabernacle from the camp and “pitched it without the camp.”  It isn’t until Exodus 35:21 that work started on the tabernacle.

 

It isn’t until Exodus 34 verse 10 that God makes mention of the ‘covenant’ and Moses receives the “Ten Commandments.” Once again we ask… where did the Ten Commandments listed in Exodus 20 come from?

 

10And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.

11Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

12Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:

13But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:

14For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

15Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;

16And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.

17Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

18The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

19All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.

20But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

21Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

22And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.

23Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel.

24For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.

25Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

26The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

27And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.

28And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

 

Note that Verse 28 of the above quoted chapter says “Ten Commandments”, this is the only version referred to in the scriptures as the “Ten Commandments”!

 

Working from the above quoted chapter one must come to the conclusion that the actual Ten Commandments read:

1. 14For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

2. 17Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

3. 18The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I  

       commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

4. 19All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.

5. 21Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt 

       rest.

6. 22And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering

       at the year's end.

7. 23Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel.

8. 25Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the

       passover be left unto the morning.

9. 26The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.

10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

 

Why the confusion?  Why 2 versions of the “Ten Commandments?

 

In explanation we offer the following:

 

In Deuteronomy 5:6 the version of the Ten Commandments as quoted from Exodus 20:1 – 17 again appear:

 

6I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

            7Thou shalt have none other gods before me.

8Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth:

9Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,

10And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.

11Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

            12Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.

            13Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work:

            14But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son,

            nor thy

daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.

15And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.

16Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

            17Thou shalt not kill.

            18Neither shalt thou commit adultery.

            19Neither shalt thou steal.

            20Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.

            21Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his

manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's.

 

It is from Deuteronomy 5 that we have today’s version of the Ten Commandments. 

 

We at the Truth Seekers contend that the version in Deuteronomy 5 was later redacted to Exodus 20!

 

We now know enough about the Old Testament, both historically and archeologically to understand that a large number of the things in it were written centuries after the events described. Many things were “redacted.” Simply put, many of the Prophecies and stories were forged during some hundreds of years. Views would seem to be more authoritative appearing under the name of some famed figure of the past.

 

The ‘Ten Commandments’ from Deuteronomy 5 were “redacted’ to Exodus 20 and assigned to Moses! There are few in the Old Testament who are more authoritative or famous than Moses.

 

The book of Deuteronomy and the following books of the Bible through 2nd Kings are so closely related linguistically and theologically that they are considered by scholars to be the second great literary work on the history of Israel in the Bible.  Many scholars agree that the “Deuteronomistic History” was written in the days of King Josiah to serve his religious ideology and territorial ambitions of a united Judean Kingdom.

 

In 622 BCE during the reign of King Josiah the High Priest Hilkiah discovered an ancient and mysterious “Book of the Law” this document became the inspiration for a religious reform of unprecedented severity.  This has to be the single most audacious thing that the Hebrew priests perpetrated on their own people.  For more details see the Truth Seekers pages on the Bible and the Evolution of the Holy Books.

 

By the closing years of the sixth century BCE the Israelite priesthood had codified their tribal rules, and were writing with all the authority of their singular deity. The famed ‘Ten Commandments’ – even today erroneously accepted in the popular mind, as absolute and universal rules to live by, are nothing other than a codification of Judean male property rights.

 

In their original full versions, two of the commandments endorse slavery; the taboo on adultery was an attempt to stop polygamous Jewish males taking each others wives (‘foreign’ concubines and wives had no rights); the ‘honor’ to be accorded parents merely endorsed a draconian patriarchal social structure; even the taboo on murder was open to interpretation, since the slaying of enemies and wrong-doers would not be ‘murder’ but the Lord’s will!

 

Here was intolerance writ large. No spirit of ‘live and let live.’ In their essentials, these barbarous ‘Laws’ ratified the correctness of annihilating enemies, the subjugation of women, the enslavement of conquered tribes, the suppression of dissent and the curtailment of any liberality, especially relating to the body or sexuality. The priests of other cults were to be murdered, their ‘altars, images and groves’ to be destroyed (Exodus 34.13).

 

‘Foreign’ women were a particular cause for concern (just look how Delilah had brought Samson down by cutting his strength-giving hair! – and ‘foreign’ in this context meant from a town a whole 25 miles from Jerusalem! Captured war brides were to have their head shaved (Deuteronomy 21.14) but otherwise could ‘give delight.’ However Hebrewness could only be inherited from a Hebrew female. The stress was upon racial purity and in the real politic of the sixth century; even the original Judeans, ‘the people of the land’ were summarily excluded from ‘the Jewish race.’

 

Critics of the Christian Bible occasionally score a point or two when in a discussion with the religious community by noting the many teachings in both the Old and New Testaments encourage the “believer” to hate and to kill (lessons that historically Christians and Muslims have taken all too seriously). As a counter to the above argument the Bible defendant is apt to offer as an indisputable parting shot, “But don't forget the Ten Commandments. They are the basic Bible teaching. Study the ten commandments.”

 

Do study the Ten Commandments! They epitomize the childishness, the vindictiveness, the sexism, the inflexibility and the inadequacies of the Bible as a book of morals!

 

Actually, only six of the popular Ten Commandments deal with individual moral conduct and even then may be subject debatable scrutiny for proper application. 

 

The first four commandments are all cut from the same bolt of cloth. Essentially, they say:

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

2. Thou shalt not make thee any graven images or bow down to them.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the lord in vain.

4. Keep the Sabbath holy.

 

In essence, the first four commandments teach us that God has an uneasy vanity, and like most dictatorial personalities, must resort to threats, rather than intellectual persuasion, to promote a point of view.

This point of view was required at the time as the “Children of Israel” were divided, The Yahweh ‘sect’ was concentrated in the south in Judah and the Elohim ‘sect’ was in the north among the Israelites. Though initially of the same clan and stock the Judeans felt they had a claim to rule over all Hebrews and the Israelites did not feel the same.  They each developed their own countries with their own kings and both also had their own biblical versions.  During the 7th and 6th centuries BCE these separate but similar “bibles” were merged in an effort to once again unite the tribes of Israel under one King and one Banner. This fact lends further validity to our assertion that the “Redacted Ten Commandments” were inserted into Exodus 20.

 

The Fifth Commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother” is seemingly an extension of the authoritarian rationale behind the first four.

 

Honor, however, cannot and should not be automatically bestowed. An intellectually honest person can honor only those who, in their opinion, warrant their honor.

The fact that one has biologically procreated does not in and of itself warrant honor. Why should any child be commanded to honor, without further basis, parents who do not warrant honor? All of us know children who have been abused, beaten or neglected by their parents. What is the basis for honor there? How shoul a child honor a parent who sexually molests them, or is dependent on drugs or alcohol?

Honor those who merit your honor would be a much more appropriate teaching, and if that includes your parents, great!

We suggest that “Honor your children” would be a much more useful commandment.

 

The Sixth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” is a good rule to live by, however, to kill in self-defense may be regrettable, but it is certainly morally defensible and completely sensible conduct.

 

The Seventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The subject of the Seventh Commandment raises the question of absolutes.

 

Fidelity in a marriage is a sound rule, making for happiness, but some marriages may out last affection. Other couples may agree upon and wish to live by different rules. Until recently Christian marriages were not dissolvable except by death, so the ban of divorce coupled with the ban of adultery obviously created great distress. Adultery, it must be remembered, involves an act between consenting adults. Should it really rate in the “Big Ten?”

How much more relevant and valuable would it have been to have a commandment that forbade the violent crimes of rape and incest?

 

The Eighth Commandment: “Thou shalt not steal” is at face value a sound commandment however this commandment too needs not to be thought of in absolutes.  A person should not be put to death for the crime of stealing depending upon the circumstances.  Should people who are cold or ill steal to ameliorate their situations? Should the child who is hungry steal? The punishment for stealing should fit the crime and not be too extreme.

 

The Ninth Commandment:Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Is normally construed to mean “don't lie,” this is a valuable moral precept.

 

Interestingly, in biblical times this ‘commandment’ was a tribal commandment and meant to apply only to persons within the tribe - it was perfectly all right to bear false witness against those not of the tribe.

False witness is found among the principal sins forbidden by Mohammed in the Koran, but in keeping with the Hebrew Bible it too only applies to fellow Muslims, it reads; one of the principal sins forbidden by Mohammed is false witness against a brother Muslim.

How much better off would the entire world be if we expanded this commandment to include everyone, not just those of our tribe(s)?

 

The Tenth Commandment: Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's.”  Which is usually defined as desiring or coveting things to which you have no rightful claim.

 

While perhaps important to keep the peace in the small pastoral landscape and close village life of ancient Judea, covetousness somehow does not seem like such a major offense.

If you can't have a comfortable house or a productive farm, what is the great harm in wishing you did? Covetousness may be unproductive and petty, but to make it a capitol crime is patently absurd.

Bible apologists sometimes will excuse the triviality of the tenth commandment on the basis that covet, in a more superstitious age, once meant “to cast an evil eye.” Someone who coveted “his neighbor's house” was purportedly casting an evil eye on that property with a view toward its destruction. Whether one accepts the apologist's definition of covet or the more popular meaning, the tenth commandment seems to lack importance.

 

As pointed out time and time again at our web site very little in Judeo/Christian/Muslim dogma is original. Most of it is borrowed - as a small sampling just dealing with the Ten Commandments:

 

 

Surely if Jews, Christians and Muslims had good intentions, they would want to debunk their Holy Books themselves, to extract from them the modest number of teachings that can be applied universally and to publicly label the rest fables, mythology, legends, superstition and sexism.

 

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