The Ten Commandments part 1 of 2

INTRODUCTION

To hear Bible supporters say it, the world was in lawless chaos until Yahweh gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Well, archeologists have found other written codes of law that preceded the Bible. The Egyptians had a law code as far back as 3,000 years BCE. The Sumerian Code of Lipit-Ishtar— about 1900 years BCE — dealt with the rights of persons, marriages, successions, penalties, and property and contracts. The text of the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi goes back to almost 1800 years BCE. It even has, at the top, an image of the king in prayer before the god of justice; 282 laws cover economic law, family law, criminal law and civil law. The Hittite Law Code goes back to 1400 years BCE. They have a long legacy.

Human history goes back about 7 million years. With the exception of Homo sapiens, the different human species that roamed the planet have become extinct. Homo sapiens fossils have been found as old as 500,000 years. The modern form originated about 100,000 years ago in Africa. No other animal, including earlier human species has a voice box like ours. This development gave us a range of communication more robust than other human specie. Without it, complex society would not be possible. The transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture began about 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. The Semitic language has the longest recorded history. Tablets dating to 4500 BCE have been found.

My purpose for sketching the long history that preceded written law is to show that Homo sapiens managed to improve their living standards for 90,000 years without written laws. Hunting and gathering tribes were too small to be in need of written laws. They couldn't afford to fight among each other because the loss of one member in primitive times was a catastrophic loss to the other members.

It was the development of agriculture that ended the need for migrating to find food. When property became a measure of wealth, a lone farmer could not protect himself and his property from pillaging by marauders. So it became necessary to group together and pay for common protection. The earliest tablets were tax records. In sum, population density added to the social complexities that necessitated a commonly felt need to codify standards of behavior.

As with all things in life, there is nothing that can't be abused. I like to think of them as traffic laws like the kind we are familiar with when driving. Their value is that they allow us to go in directions of our choosing without interfering with one another. In this way they maximize our freedom to travel. But when the traffic laws are designed to force us to travel in the same direction, they hinder our freedom of travel.

The downside of entrusting elitists to legislate and enforce laws is the inherent temptation to impose self serving laws that restrict freedom. Instead of protecting us from violence they actually increase it. I submit that common criminal violence is insignificant compared to the violence that stems from religion and politics. It is wars that fill the history books, not the actions of lone criminals.

The Ten Commandments, including the last five, do not have any relevance as a universal code of ethics for a secular society. They were instead, superstitious taboos designed to avoid calamity by supernatural forces. On the surface, the language of modern religion seems to depart from the primitive superstitions of heathens. But down deep, when the language is striped of its mystery, modern religions are still the same old primitive superstitions from which they supposedly to depart. When we investigate the superstitions behind Mosaic Law, it becomes clear that they are a mix of old rules for promoting social cooperation and new ones for enforcing social conformity.

In biblical days priests played a dual role as kings; they were the mediators between man and the gods. Thus all of God's laws came from Moses. There were no witnesses to the exchange between Moses and God; it is the credibility of Moses upon which all Old Testament law rests. Actually credibility rests upon the unknown writer or writers who wrote about Moses. There is no record of Moses' existence outside the Bible. It is what courts call hearsay and dismiss as evidence.

In Exodus 19, we learn how the Ten Commandments came about. It was Moses, the reputed author of the Book of Exodus, who wrote that it was he alone who went to the top of Mt. Sinai to hear God. It was Moses who said there were witnesses to this event, but it was Moses who also told the people to keep away, otherwise God would kill them. According to Moses, there was a blast of trumpet so loud that the people trembled. The mountain was wrapped in smoke. When Moses spoke, God answered in thunder. It was a theatrical performance you might expect from a rock and roll band. God played a trumpet that to this day, no one ever heard, except Moses. He speaks in thunder, a language that to this day, no one has been able to interpret, except for Moses. These are the words some writer said Moses told the people what God told him.

Protestants generally use Exodus 20:2-17. Catholics favor Deuteronomy 5:6-21. I note the differences when the Catholic sequence does not follow the biblical sequence. Commentary follows the biblical sequence.

Preface

EX. 20:2 - I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery

DEUT. 5:6 - I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Both the Catholic and Protestant versions omit the preface, probably because it is not a commandment. Still, its reference to Egypt, tells us that they were meant to apply to the parochial interests of the Israelites. At this time Yahweh is a tribal God and not the same god as the Christian Trinitarian god. Christian religions refuse to accept the commandment's application to Jews only; yet they maintain that the Bible is the infallible word of God.

SLAVERY

An infallible Creator of all the people would be proud of what he accomplished. Instead, this one brags about the death and destruction he caused in Egypt for the sake of one nationality; which, by the way, he brought into slavery in the first place 1/4th the story is recounted in Genesis in the story of Joseph.; Historically, it implies that while God freed the Hebrews from slavery, he left all other slaves in slavery. Such a statement has the earmark of a tribal priest masquerading as God's spokesman. In ancient cultures, the triple role of priest-magician-god was common.

Another problem is that it never happened. The Children of Israel are said to have lived in Egypt for over 400 years. The ancient Egyptians had historical records, yet they have no record of the Israelites ever even living in Egypt. That this story was believed in ancient times is understandable. Today, it is inexcusable.

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT

Protestant: EX. 20:2 -You shall have no other gods before me.

DEUT. 5:7 - You shall have no other gods before me.

Catholic: I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange Gods before me.

Watch how over the centuries the definition of "other gods" changed. When the Pentateuch was written Jews were not monotheists, they were monolatrous. In monolatry, there is a belief in the existence of other deities but only one is to be worshipped. In monotheism there is a denial of all gods except one. The gods of Pharaoh during the Passover had demonstrable magical powers. Two gods, Asherah and Baal are prominently mentioned in later chapters. Taken as the word of God, even God himself believed in the existence of other gods.

In the era of the prophets, as Isaiah explains below, Yahweh evolved into the one God in all existence. This includes Satan, which to this day, Jews see Satan as one of Yahweh's angels. At this stage Judaism has become completely monotheistic and has stayed that way.

5I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I gird you, though you do not know me,
6
that men may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.
7
I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the LORD, who do all these things. (Isaiah 45:6)

The New Testament writers elevated Satan to the status of a rival god, not to be worshipped of course. This changes Christianity to a non-monotheistic religion.

31Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; (John 12:31)

But Jesus was still a Jew who believed in Yahweh.

34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"(Mark 15:34)

Centuries of debate followed after the gospels on how to deify Jesus. Was he God at creation, God at birth or God after his ascension? The solution to this debate is the doctrine of the Trinity which states that God is composed of three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In 787 CE an ecumenical council adopted the Nicene Creed, defining the Son as of the same essence with the Father. Take note that the Trinity was a legislated decision. The Trinity is diametrically opposed to the Jewish belief of unity.

Then there is Islam, which is also derived from the Bible. So now we have three religions, each saying not to worship the other God. As this is written, the matter is being forcibly debated in the Middle East.

THE SECOND COMMANDMENT

Protestant: EX. 20:4-5 - You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.

DEUT. 5:8-10 - You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Catholic - You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain

In the Protestant version (Ex. 20:4-5), the second commandment prohibits graven images. This conforms to the Jewish practice. The early Christian church prohibited images in places of worship because they feared it would lead to idolatry-the practice of worshipping the images themselves and paying homage properly due to the deity.

The Catholic version (Deut 5:11a) skips over the regulation against graven images in Deut 5:8-10. It is seen as an explanation for the first commandment. This variation occurs because it would impact on the art so prominent in Catholic churches. Protestants once attacked the Catholic position as sophistry, but now ignore the command against graven images. From this point on, the Catholic version is out of synch with the biblical versions.

What a brutal commandment! The Hebrew God describes himself as a jealous, vindictive and fearsome God. Make a mistake and your innocent descendents to the fourth generation will be punished. It is not enough to fear for your own life; you should fear for the life of your children as well. As a god, he is much more powerful than all of history's human tyrants put together. The God who could frighten the most people would have the most worshippers. One of the most despicable passages of God's vengeance can be found in Leviticus 26: 14-39. Frightened people will do anything to appease a supersensitive and vicious god. Fear is the cornerstone of religious belief to this day.

Early cultures had no knowledge of natural causes or natural geography. They related natural events to the gods who dwelled either above a roof in the sky, on the flat surface of earth, or in the water upon which earth floated (See Genesis Chapter 1). They believed in sympathetic magic, which is an anthropological term to describe the common primitive belief that a person or thing can be supernaturally affected through any name or an object that represents it. They also believed in animism—objects and natural phenomenons are life forms. Thus the image of a person contained part of the soul of the one it represented, and that whoever possessed the image could bring evil to the person. A familiar example of sympathetic magic and animism is the voodoo practice of sticking pins in an effigy to cause pain to the person it resembles.

This commandment does not only prohibit religious images it prohibits all images, which in practice would forbid works of art of any living creature, even of the sun, moon and trees. As a result, there is no Hebrew artwork that depicts God; there is no Hebrew artwork of that time. The fear was that a sympathetic relationship could develop from the image represented and the consequences would not be known until the Day of Judgment. An image of a god was especially volatile.

SELF-CONTRADICTIONS

After condemning idol worship, God commanded (Ex. 25:18-21) the construction of two gold cherubim (a symbol of angels) to stand on each side of his "mercy seat" (symbol of his throne). The cherubim and the mercy seat were to sit on top of ark the covenant (another symbol).

On another occasion (Num.  21:5-9), Moses had his people construct a bronze serpent.  When a poisonous snake bit someone, all they had to do is look at the idol and they would live. 

NEW TESTAMENT

Christianity was not completely free from this fear of images.  Revelation 13:15-17 warns against the devil's ability to give life to images. This so-called beastly image would go about putting marks on people.  During the witchcraft craze women were searched for bodily marks to determine if they were witches or not —skin imperfections like moles and warts were perceived as marks. To this day, some cults are opposed to being identified by photographs, signatures and Social Security numbers because they perceive them as devil's marks. 

THE THIRD COMMANDMENT

Protestant: EX. 20:7 - You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

DEUT. 5:11 - You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Catholic - Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you.

By skipping the graven image commandment, the Catholic version is one command ahead of the biblical versions.

SEMANTICS

NRSV: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

NIV: You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

KJV: Thou 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.

NAB: You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.; For the Lord will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain.

TANAKH: You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God; for the Lord will not clear one who swears falsely by his name.

From what is supposedly a direct quotation from God, a change of a word here and there produces a profoundly different meaning. From the Protestant NRSV and NIV, "misuse" could be accidental or unintentional. Either way, you are a sinner. The old Protestant KJV and the new Catholic NAB stick with the word "vain" which certainly means respect, but it could also mean fruitless. Certainly prayers are fruitless since there is no such thing as a God who answers the prayers of men. The word "falsely" in the Jewish Tanakh suggests insincerity or intentional lying. Until recently it was common practice in courtrooms for witnesses to swear on the Bible as if it would prevent perjury, even though the purpose of trials is to determine who is telling the truth. Besides, taking an oath in the name of God violates this Commandment.

TABOO

In Hebrew thought, each god had an identity and a name. To utter the god's name was to attract the god's attention. Therefore it was believed that to utter the name "Yahweh" was to prompt the god to respond. In other words, one did not use the personal name of the god for vain or empty reasons lest the god react in anger and with punishment. The ancient Jews became so concerned with this command that the divine name was uttered only once a year on the Day of Atonement when it was solemnly pronounced seven times by the high priest.

The taboo against pronouncing the divine name prompted Hebrew scribes to take steps to prevent readers from saying "Yahweh." The Hebrew form reads YHWH in English and JHVH in German. The scribes inserted the vowels of adonai into the divine name so it would read YaHoWaH, or Jehovah in German. The group that calls themselves "Jehovah's Witnesses" mistakenly believes that "Jehovah" is actually the Jewish name for God. Most English translations use "LORD" in place of "Yahweh."

MAGIC

As in the Second Commandment, this law is premised on sympathetic magic and animism. Not only images, but also the name of a person was a vital part of his soul. Subsequently, cursing a person when mentioning his name was believed to make the curse come true. To mention or even know the sacred name of God was considered especially catastrophic. In Exodus 3:13-15, Moses asks God his name. The answer was "I AM WHO I AM." The God of Israel's name is nowhere in the Bible. Another passage on this matter can be found in Exodus 6: 2,3 where God says through Moses "and my name "Jehovah", or "Adonai", or "The Lord" or "Yahweh" was I not known to them" — depending which Bible you read. In other words, none of these are his name. Because of the taboo, to this day the name of the Israelite God is unknown.

This brings up an interesting point about the god whose name is "Jesus." To Hebrews, the greatest blasphemy is to call Jesus "God." To Christians the greatest blasphemy is to say he is not. Yet according to the doctrine of the Trinity, they are one in the same. Technically, the words "God" and "Christ" do not violate this command.

There are several Biblical references to the power of words. In John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Meaning God created the world with the words he spoke in Genesis Chapter 1. Jesus was said to perform his miracles by the power of words. For example in Mark 2:2-10, after Jesus' words healed a paralytic, he was accused by some scribes of blasphemy. His response was that he had the power to forgive sins.

PUNISHMENT

For blasphemy, Lev. 24:16 prescribes the penalty of death by stoning.

THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT

Protestant: EX. 20:8-11 - Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.

DEUT. 5:12-15 - Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your manservant, or your maidservant, or your ox, or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day

Catholic - Honor your father and your mother.

EXODUS VERSES DEUTERONOMY

The Bible presents two conflicting reasons for obeying the Sabbath rule. The Exodus rationale for the Sabbath is God's seventh day of rest after creation. In the Deuteronomy version, the Sabbath was set off to commemorate the Israelite's liberation from Egypt. It is to be expected for Christians to strip any reference to Egypt. In Mark 2:27, Jesus gives a third reason: "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath"

If God rested after the creation, the Sabbath could be interpreted to apply universally. But if the Sabbath is to commemorate Jewish emancipation from Egyptian slavery then this command applies to Jews only. If both occurred on the day of a full moon there is no conflict. The odds are 1 to 29 that they did not occur on a day of the full moon. The Bible does not say. But then, neither do Egyptian records suggest that Jewish slavery ever existed.

Christians ignore the Deuteronomy version because of its Jewish-ness. Protestants revised it with, "Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy." Catholics call it the Lord's day with "Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day." The term "Lord's day" was meant to establish the day when Christ was supposed to have risen from the dead.

WHEN IS THE SABBATH

If God had hallowed the Sabbath you think he would have given it a name instead of leaving it to the pagan Greeks. No mention of days of the week can be found in the Bible because the early Hebrews had no calendars. The significance of the number seven has nothing to do with the Creation and everything to do with lunar cycles. The lunar month to the primitive Hebrews was approximately 28 days and the four visible quarters of the lunar month average seven days. The lunar progression from New Moon to Full Moon symbolized the stages of Creation. The word "Sabbath" comes from the Babylonian "Shabattum," which means the day of the full moon.

Therefore the day of taboo was meant to coincide with the full moon. Despite the lunar cycle being closer to 29 days, the Hebrews stuck with the seven-day cycle. So because of the cumulative errors, there is no way to determine the Sabbath even if the celebrated events had actually occurred. Because of the confusion, Muslims celebrate the Sabbath on a Friday, Jews on a Saturday, and Christians on Sunday regardless of the moon cycles.

The command to honor or keep the Sabbath day originally referred to the Jewish holy day which runs from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. The day starts at sundown because in Genesis 1:3, light followed darkness. The Sabbath includes most of Saturday probably because Saturn is the traditional ruling planet of Judah. I suspect that Christians chose Sunday as the Sabbath because of the connection of Jesus with the sun.

The earliest known Hebrew calendar dates back to 1000 BCE, during the time of Solomon. Credit goes to the ancient Babylonians who first standardized a lunar year of 354 days as far back as 18 BCE. By 541 BCE they formalized the 365 day year. What is today known as the Jewish calendar did not adjust to the solar year until after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem (587 BC). Even the Gregorian calendar (named after Pope Gregory III in 1575) was influenced by the taboo of the full moon. Church fathers decreed that Easter should be celebrated on the Sunday immediately following Full Moon that fell on or after the vernal equinox, which they took as March 21. But if this Full Moon fell on a Sunday, the festival should be held seven days later. Another problem: If a devout believer insisted on maintaining the Sabbath according to moon cycles he would have to depend on Israel time and disregard the time zone he lived in.

CHRISTIANITY

Only a handful of Christians pay attention to this commandment. They can be identified by their "seventh-day" identities (e.g. Seventh Day Adventists). Christians also break the scriptural definition of what it means to "keep the Sabbath." Orthodox Jews keep this ruling and often with considerable difficulty. For example, Sabbath regulations forbid the kindling of fire on the holy day (Ex. 35:3). During the Inquisition, the inquisitors could find Jews in the winter by looking at their chimneys. Orthodox Jews obey the letter of the law but evade its intent and spirit. They hire non-Jews to do it for them.

THE PENALTY

In Exodus 20:8, the word "remember" is more than a gentle reminder; it was a strict warning. Failure to observe the Sabbath for any reason including ignorance was a punishable offense. There is an illustrative story in Num. 15:32-36 where an unsuspecting Israelite is caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath. He is brought before Moses and subsequently sentenced to death by stoning. In Ex. 35:1-3, the penalty of death was added to include lighting fires. However, one of God's spokesmen, the prophet Isaiah denounced the Sabbath in Isaiah 1:13, "New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation - I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity."

TABOO

The Hebrews have gotten too much credit for their enlightenment on God's ways. The number "Seven" had what anthropologists' call a homeopathic magical significance — symbolic actions can change ones luck. Lev. 25:4 prohibits growing crops every seven years. From Genesis to Revelation, the word "seven" appears 453 times in 383 verses. If God rested on the seventh day, then one risked dire consequences by doing otherwise. So to protect a person from bringing God's wrath upon himself, they killed him. It reminds me of many of today's laws (war on drugs) that aim at protecting a person from himself by imposing penalties far more severe than the person could inflict on himself if he had been left alone.

ON WOMEN

Exodus 20:10 lists your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns but it leaves out any reference to wife or female companion. Women were totally excluded from anything considered sacred which, of course, included the Sabbath. It was a woman who brought sin into the world by tempting the first man (Gen. 3) to disobey God. Thus women ranked lower than livestock. Consider the ramifications. If a woman gave childbirth on the Sabbath, a man could not help her because it would qualify as work. The taboo against women also had to do with menstruation. One reference can be found in Lev. 15:19-31, which makes a fetish out of avoiding contact with menstrual blood or even anything that comes in contact with a menstruous woman. Participation by a menstruous woman on the Sabbath was especially taboo.

One of the absurd contradictions between Judaism and Christianity is the duality between Eve and Mary, the mother of Jesus. On one hand, women were excluded from anything sacred because of Eve's temptation and the burden of menstruating, and yet it was Mary who mothered the most sacred of beings: a God who came to redeem the transgressions of the first woman. Paul sees no contradiction in Romans 5:19: "For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous." Both religions blame the first woman for offering the tempting fruit, but they absolve the first man for accepting it. And that is one reason why women are not allowed in the clergy and why it has taken so long for women to achieve parity with men.

HOW DOES GOD REST

First of all it is an outright absurdity and self-contradiction that God can be omnipotent and yet have need for rest. But if we accept the absurd argument that God rested on the 7th day, then the matter of rest leaves open two curiosities. How does God rest? And what happens when God rests?

One of the classical arguments for God's existence is called "the sustaining first cause" argument, which maintains that nothing can move unless God initiates the motion. For us humans, we can rest for a day and everything will go on without us. What we know today that was not known in biblical days is that all matter and energy are in a state of continuous motion. So if God were to rest for even an instant, the universe would proceed to collapse. If he rested for a day it would collapse beyond recognition.

A similar argument is called the "entropy argument" which maintains the universe would run out of energy if God did not keep things pumped up. Where God gets this new energy is another matter. But here again, if God rested even once for a day, his creation would collapse and he would have to rebuild it again and again.

The most popular is the "design argument" which perceives God as the universe's designer. Now since the universe hasn't collapsed while God rested than it must be that the universe can exist without God's constant presence. If the universe can exist for one day or even for even one instant without God then it can exist forever without need of God to keep it going. Thus if God had time to rest, his ever presence is not needed. So you can never know when he is present and when he is not present. This leads to the conclusion that if there is such thing as an omnipresent God; he could never rest for an instant.

 

TEN COMMANDMENTS PART 2