Ian Bicking: the old part of his blog

The Tens of Commandments

In light of the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Ten Commandments, I thought it might be useful to look at them more closely. One of the arguments for putting the Ten Commandments in court houses is that they form a historical foundation for our laws. Let's look at that too...

Well, the first confusion is that there are many versions of the Ten Commandments. I'll use the two distinct ones, starting with Exodus 34:

  1. Thou shalt worship no other god (For the Lord is a jealous god).
  2. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
  3. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep in the month when the ear is on the corn.
  4. All the first-born are mine.
  5. Six days shalt thou work, but on the seventh thou shalt rest.
  6. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, even of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
  7. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread.
  8. The fat of my feast shall not remain all night until the morning.
  9. The first of the first fruits of thy ground thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.
  10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.

Hah, bet you didn't see that coming! While these laws are important in Judaism, most Christians don't seem to care about them at all, since like 100 A.D. or so. And what does All the first-born are mine mean? That's just creepy. Notably, none of these are reflected in even the slightest way in our laws. The Bible has two sets of commandments, though, the ones "which Moses didst break" and "the words that were on the first" that Moses did break. That he broke right before he killed three thousand people in the Lord's name. Exodus is so fucked up; the God presented in Exodus is simply an evil god.

Anyway, I digress. The Commandments I gave up there are "the words that were on the first". Here's the ones Moses didst break (Exodus 20), and you'll have to to figure out for yourself how God could be so infallible as to think these two sets match:

  1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself a graven image. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not kill.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

Let's talk about US law now:

  1. This law is Unconstitutional, by way of the First Ammendment (no established religion).
  2. Also Unconstitutional, both because of the established religion and freedom of speach (both in the First Ammendment).
  3. And again.
  4. Well, there are laws to this effect ("Blue Laws"). They are rather uncommon now. And frankly they seem rather Unconstitutional as well, especially seeing as we can't all agree on which day is the Sabbath. Though it always surprised me that we nearly all agree on seven days in the week. Except for those wacky Bahai (I think they worship on a 12 day cycle or something).
  5. I don't know what a law like this would be like. It's not Unconstitutional, but it's pretty unreasonable to enforce.
  6. This is a law! Wow, I bet when God gave this to Moses it was a pretty novel interpretation of morality! Especially since he followed it up with a lot of killing.
  7. Has been illegal. Probably still is some places, but not many. Its importance is still reflected in law (e.g., it's a justification for divorce).
  8. This is also a law! Again, a real shocker, without this one we'd all be stealing everything to this day.
  9. Well... not really a law. Under oath it's illegal. In some other cases its illegal (e.g., slander). But mostly not illegal.
  10. Wow... so legal as to be practically privileged. Even if it was, like 5 I can't see how it'd be enforced.

So, there's your legal foundation.

Created 30 Jun '05


Nice...very nice commentary. (I am serious in case you were wondering).

# Fly on the Wall

Awesome post, Ian - the God of Exodus is indeed way fucked up.

My only real comment is on #2 - no graven images. I just want to say that you could argue that we're going to start approaching that with the flag-burning amendment, if it ever actually gets passed. Our flag is sacred -> other flags are evil is not that big a leap.

Just the first thing I thought of when I read your post.

# Bill Mill

Well, the flag is a graven image according to some (like the Jehovah's Witnesses)... so if anything I'd say a flag burning ammendment would be counter to #2.

# Ian Bicking

There was a New Yorker commentary along the same lines six months ago, around the time the Alabama judge got kicked out, along with his ten commendments monument.

#5 has some law background as well, mostly about taking care of elderlies. Medicare and social security come to mind.

# mathieu

#5 has some law background as well, mostly about taking care of elderlies. Medicare and social security come to mind.

Medicare and Social Security seem rather contrary to me; the government is taking on a responsibility for the elderly in lieu of children. It's certainly not prescribed by any law (even though a law making parents the responsibility of their children would be entirely possible and constitutional).

Relatedly, the Amish don't pay Social Security, because they do take responsibility for their elders, and do not ask the government to support them in old age. I assume they consider this a religious prescription, since you don't get out of Social Security payments based solely on good intentions. It's much like they don't use insurance (again for religious reasons), relying on their community to mitigate disasters.

# Ian Bicking

Like WOW! I never thought that I would see the Commandments listed with "I am the Lord Your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" as the first Commandment anywhere outside of Messianic circles. Just to remind you there are New Covenant believers that keep the seventh day Sabbath and observe the first list of commandments that you give. They are called the "Moadim", God's appointed times.

I also want to point out that God isn't terribly interested in humanistic evaluations of what is moral and what isn't. You refer to giving commandments then commanding Israel to kill thousands. Life and death don't matter much. This was done to purify the land where His name was to be written.

# Count0

I also want to point out that God isn't terribly interested in humanistic evaluations of what is moral and what isn't. You refer to giving commandments then commanding Israel to kill thousands. Life and death don't matter much. This was done to purify the land where His name was to be written.

Wow. Killing thousands to write down your name? I guess I'm not terribly interested in Biblical evaluations of what is moral and what isn't then.

# Jim


My personal law is "always doubt of any list with TEN items -- there's probably something missing or something extra". If we had 12 fingers, there would be 12 commandments... :)

An getting even more off-topic: do you know why some people cross the number 7 (for example, the Lucida Blackletter font: http://www.fontage.com/pages/lblack.html)? Because when Moses announced the seventh commandment, "You shall not commit adultery", everybody said "Cross the seven! Cross the seven!". (It's funnier in portuguese...)

# Roberto

>God presented in Exodus is simply an evil god.

You might find interesting the work of Tillich


especially Love, Power, and Justice


where he develops the idea [and this is a radical paraphrase] that the forgiving, healing sort of Love that Christians talk about from the New Testament standpoint, and the (apparently) "evil god" of Exodus, where Justice was front and center, are, in fact, flip sides of the Power coin.

Small book, but an intellectual bagel if ever I chewed one.

# Chris Smith

Excellent! A number of years ago there was an essay over at the Internet Infidels (infidels.org at the time, haven't been there in a while) that compared the 10Cs with the 10 moral precepts of Solon the Athenian, and showed how much closer our system of law is to Solon than any subset of commandments presented by Moses.

I haven't decided yet if this is a lost cause or not. There are just so many stupid, stupid Americans who think that there's some evil atheist conspiracy to remove the 10Cs from our courtrooms, as if they are there by default, without realizing that it's their own evil theist conspiracy to inject them into the courtrooms in the first place.

"The average American is well below average." I forget who said that.

# infidel

I haven't had a chance to read it, but I assume The Real Ten Commandments is the article you are referring to, and these commandments:

  1. Trust good character more than promises.
  2. Do not speak falsely.
  3. Do good things.
  4. Do not be hasty in making friends, but do not abandon them once made.
  5. Learn to obey before you command.
  6. When giving advice, do not recommend what is most pleasing, but what is most useful.
  7. Make reason your supreme commander.
  8. Do not associate with people who do bad things.
  9. Honor the gods.
  10. Have regard for your parents.
# Ian Bicking

Yeah, that sounds familiar. I suppose it has less to do with "law" than I remembered.

# infidel

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

The opening phrase of the first ammendment clearly limits the ammendment's scope to Congress and the making of laws. How does this ammendment have any bearing on whether a court or any other public building can display the ten commandments? It's not as if Congress has passed a law that requires all courts in the republic to display the ten commandments--that would clearly be unconstitutional.

# Sean

The religious right is increasingly dangerous and dumb. Nothing can be done, nothing can improve the situation,the only thing you do is spend their energy through pissing them off, D E E P L Y. And why is it that when we do our best to communicate in a surgically accurately way, there is always someone that sees it as “pretentious”. The wisdom is there. The thesis is admonishing the scientific community to take a more active role in combating non-science and non-sense and in particular, to not legitimatize religious right drivel by appearing to debate it in an option A / option B forum. . . to get testy. Read again SLOWLY. Is it really that hard?

# Steven Franseen

I think your post would have been a lot more entertaining if you had written about the ten commandments of using Python, software engineering, or somesuch, which is really the reason I read this blog ;)

Oh well, happy hacking ;)

# Shannon -jj Behrens

I was going to respond to this message with a longwinded explenation on how that information is wrong completly, atleast from a Orthodox Jewish point of view. But then I came to a few conclusions: 1. Arguing religion over the web is pointless 2. I actually read the website which you quoted, and if you take your information from there then I should be arguing with your methods not your conclusions 3. You probably don't care enought to get into long winded explanations from a religion which you probably hardly will ever get exposed to

I just want to point out that from a religious Orthodox Jew that your post could of been alot more accurate (Rule of thumb, the bible makes alot more sense if you read the original Hebrew Jewish version (which has been verified to be accurate except for some very small differences with a Bible found from more then a thousand years ago), instead of re-re-retranslated and 'fixed up' Christian version (I don't mean to be disrespectful to Christians, but the translations were done by man and man isn't perfect by definition). Another example is this line: "While these laws are important in Judaism" which is incorrect when stated upon the first set of the ten commandments which are not true. The 'real' ten commandments in the original bible are stated in the link you brought and are very consistant.

Anyway, This is way more then I wanted to write anyhow. If you actually care fell free to email me if you want to talk about the subject.

# Daniel

Well, I would argue that the original Hebrew version is not what's really up for debate. It's not the idea of the Ten Commandments they are putting up, it is the Ten Commandments in the King James Version of The Bible. If they put the original Hebrew up... well, they didn't do that, did they? So it's true that there's many translations and interpretations. There are people that argue that the KJV is the purest undisputable truth. They don't argue this based on anything, but they argue it...

Anyway, I'm certainly not very educated on this stuff, but then I'm not seeking out truth in The Bible, so my motivation wanes quickly. I'm just pointing out some absurdities in how other people are using it. Jewish interpretations of the Ten Commandments might be more apropos if Jews were trying to get monuments errected in courthouses. But it's Protestant Christians (of the variety who like KJV) who are trying to get them errected. And these are the Ten Commandments they go by. Or don't go by, depending on the chapter. If they wanted to put it up in a historical and theological context, I might not mind at all... but again, that's not kind of monument we're talking about.

# Ian Bicking

Here you go Ian:


# Brian Ray

This is really simple--there is only one version. The Ten Commandments are listed twice: in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, but they are the same. Exodus 34 is not a second list of commandments (there's no list!), it's simply a renewal of the Covenant that God made with the nation of Israel. The reason this renewal was significant was because Moses had not yet reached the bottom of the mountain with his fresh set of tablets before he saw the israelites worshiping Jehovah by means of a Golden Calf (that's breaking the second commandment).

The article "Which Ten Commandments?" that you referenced is misleading: Catholics and Protestants DO have separate versions of the Ten Commandments, but only because Christians read the Ten Commandments from the Bible, and Catholics read it from their Catechism, which is derrived from, but not the same as the Bible's account. There is no difference between the Jewish and Christian versions of The Ten Commandments because they both read from the Hebrew text, or an English translation of the Hebrew text in the Pentateuch.

# Eric Radman

Another important thing you don't seem to know, is that (for judaism/jews) these commandments are just 10 commandments in 613. They're not really more important, they're just the first (and the only) ones that were spoken to all of the people. What was referred to, by saying that commandments are on a historical basis for US law, may be more about these 613 laws, not just the 10 you referred to. You can look at http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm for example. Please read the Talmud to see what they really meant with 'law'. And as the previous poster said, there's just one version. The link you put is silly in the sense that it places catholic, protestant and hebrew versions as different but parallel things. That's not right. All the versions are derived from the original one, the hebrew version. That's the incompetence of the scribes that made them different.

Many people hate dubbed films, so why do people argue on transcriptions of transcriptions of transcriptions? Read the original (or at least the oldest version)!

# anonymous

I you are measuring biblical law against the law of a secular country like the United States and saying that the U.S. law is right, you've got you're facts mixed up. Biblical law is higher than any U.S. law could ever be. If the U.S. law does not agree with Bible you should obey the Bible over the U.S. law. And you're pretty hung up on the unconstitutional.

# Anonymous

If you don't even know what some of the commandments mean then how can you critisize them?

# X