Thursday, November 05, 2009

The "Real" Ten Commandments

In recent years, we have witnessed lawsuit after lawsuit about Ten Commandments monuments and plaques on public lands.  This post is not about whether they should or shouldn’t be allowed to stay (they shouldn’t), but concerns what people are arguing about in the first place.

We consistently see an image of stone tablets with the Ten Commandments:

(1) Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
(2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…
(3) Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain…
(4)  Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
(5)  Honour thy father and thy mother.
(6)  Thou shalt not kill.
(7)  Thou shalt not commit adultery.
(8)  Thou shalt not steal.
(9)  Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
(10)  Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife …

These commandments are listed (with some additional verbage) in Exodus 20:3-17.  But there is no mention of stone tablets and in Exodus 21 through Exodus 23 the commandments continue in great length – far more than ten.

The actual commandments specified on the stone tablets are defined in Exodus 34.  After Moses breaks the originals, Exodus 34:1 describes the remaking of these tablets:

1And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.
 2And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.
 3And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount.
 4And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.

 And then in Exodus 34:10-28, God quotes the commandments for Moses:

 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:
 (1) 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.
 (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.
 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.
 (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)  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.
 (9) 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.
(10) 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.

Here we finally get the phrase “The Ten Commandments”, but these are not the same commandments we see on courthouse lawns.  Why?  Maybe because they don’t support the Fundamentalist viewpoint that United States law is based on “The Ten Commandments”.  Let’s see:

The 1st and 2nd have to do with worshipping God – no laws there.
The 3rd and 6th have to do with a festival/celebration – no law for that one.
The 4th has to do with sacrifice and depending on how you interpret it, possibly human sacrifice (what exactly does redeem mean in this instance?) – again, no law.
The 5th – resting on the Sabbath, mmm, some local “blue laws”, but nothing of any moral or ethical significance.
The 7th – appearing before the Lord? – no law.
The 8th – not really a commandment, just a statement, but it actually appears to be part of the 7th, so maybe I misnumbered them.  But then it appears to only be nine commandments.
The 9th – again ritual and sacrifice – no law.
And finally, the 10th has to do with bring food to the temple and prohibitions on cooking lamb.

Do you see a theme here?  I do: worship god, observe festivals and food rituals, and oh yes, properly cook your lamb!  There is absolutely nothing of value in these commandments.  They are completely without any moral or ethical substance or significance.  Instead of saying don’t steal or murder or rape, etc. he makes sure that the commandments that were permanently etched in stone, not once, but twice, consisted of pure crap.
So if you are going to argue that “The Ten Commandments” need to be posted on public land because they form the basis of our country’s legal system, I think you need to reread your Bible.

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