On The 10 Commandments

We've all been exposed to The 10 Commandments - at least I'd hope. They are to be found in the Old Testament of the Bible as derived from the Jewish Torah. The Torah is comprised of the first 5 books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

We've all seen pictures of the 10 Commandments, even if we've not actually read the relevant Bible/Torah passages.

Currently there exist many, many different versions/translations of the Old Testament. A few examples are The King James, The Jerusalem Bible, the New American Bible versions, as well as many others. But, for the purposes of this article I'll mainly stick with the Torah - The Original.

The oldest known complete Torah is estimated to have been created between 1155 AD and 1225 AD.

The Dead Sea Scrolls' creation, on the other hand, have been dated to between 385 BC and 82 AD with a lot of room for some different estimates. These Scrolls contain only portions of the Old Testament. But, except for the Book of Esther, portions of all the other books are reflected in the Scrolls. All indications are that the Scrolls almost perfectly match the oldest know Torah manuscript. Experts seem to agree in amazement at the lack of errors due to transliteration over the centuries.

Fragments of even older texts have been found, but none as complete as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Two examples of such finds are 2 sliver ampulets dated back to 600BC - these contain fragments of Numbers, among others.

All that being said, estimates put the time that God, with Moses' help, created the very first stone tablets of the 10 Commandments to somewhere between 1446 BC and 1290 BC. That's between 6 and 8 centuries before the 10 Commandments were committed to the fragments of writing - much less the entire document. Between the receiving of the 10 Commandments by Moses and the first full Old Testament, multiple millennia passed.

One must only assume, without additional evidence, that oral tradition carried the day during those many centuries. Did transliteration errors find their way into the Old Testament? No one, of course, knows.

But, for the sake of argument let's assume no transliteration errors presented themselves, at least for now.

Now, let's address the question: "What exactly is the Bible, specifically the Old Testament?"

Some would argue that it is the absolute word of God and should be taken literally. Others would argue that it was created to reflect man's seeking to explain the unknown. Still others may argue that it is the capture of man's history from times long ago via stories which could be understood by the people alive at the time of their writing while, at the same time, answering the "Why am I here?" question. Even others would argue that it is a recreation of stories and philosophies from times much older than the Bible. And, of course, there are other interpretations. Whichever view one chooses, it boils down to a matter of faith or belief, as none of the above may be proven - at least as yet.

All of the above-identified options will be addressed, at least indirectly, as this article continues.

As with the Creation story in the Bible (i.e., Genesis), there are multiple, conflicting passages relating to Moses receiving the 10 Commandments and the exact wording used in the Bible. They are to be found in Exodus & in Deuteronomy. The different versions of the actual 10 Commandments reflect slight differences in presentation (multiple authors?). Note: the text in RED reflects the actual "Commandments" portions.

As you might reason from the above depiction, the stone tablets upon which were inscribed the 10 Commandments were either very LARGE or the writing was very small. There's a lot of text there.

As is obvious, if one compares the biblical text with what we, today, know as the 10 Commandments, we'll see that "our" depicted versions are sort of a CliffsNotes version of the original. As to transliteration errors, the short lists we see today present one glaring example. The Commandment we know as "Thou Shalt Not Kill" is incorrect. The correct version of this is "Thou/You Shalt Not Murder". Look at the Torah's Exodus and Deuteronomy versions above, specifically Exodus verse 12 and Deuteronomy verse 17. There is a very large difference in connotation between "kill" and "murder".

Today, there are differences even in the short versions we see.

Each has the same basic content, only the numbers have been changed to protect the innocent - a little inserted humor, as it were..


As I raised the subject of a little humor, this is my favorite comedy skit on the 10 Commandments. Watch Mel Brooks as Moses.


Even the Qur'an has its own version, of sorts, of the 10 Commandments. In Islam, Moses was revered as a great prophet.

There is another set of differences in the Old Testament which relate to the 10 Commandments.

As related in the Bible, Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to receive the Commandments from God. After getting the 2 stone tablets Moses went back down the mountain to his people, the Jews. He saw that they were worshiping a "golden calf" - a BIG "no-no" per the Commandments. So, Moses destroyed the original stone tablets containing the 10 Commandments (Exodus 32:19).

Later, the tablets were recreated. Here's where 2 stories of their recreation are at odds.

In Exodus 34:1, God tells Moses to "hew out" 2 tablets like the first ones and that He, God, will inscribe the 10 Commandments again.

But, in Exodus 34:27 God tells Moses to write the Commandments himself.

As an interesting, perhaps, aside: the only place in the Old Testament that refers, by name, to the 10 Commandments is Exodus 34:28. However, there is no description here of exactly which 10 Commandments were included. With the lengthy text of the Torah's rendition, this final 10 Commandments would be hard to discern from only Exodus 34:28.

For the above 3 references, Click Here.

Enough of that for now. Is there any inkling or evidence that the 10 Commandments story (or something like it) predates the Hebrews?

Written laws, very similar to the 10 Commandments, existed long before the beginnings of Hebrew history.

Take for example The Code of Ur-Nammu. It is the most ancient code of laws known to exist. It is Sumerian in origin and dates back to between 2100 BC and 2050 BC - much, much older than the Hebrew civilization. The Code of Ur-Nammu has many of the same precepts as the 10 Commandments.

Another example is The Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi ruled Babylon between 1792 BC and 1750 BC. That's some 300 years before the estimated date of the 10 Commandments. While not reflecting the exact wording of the Old Testament, the concepts of the Code of Hammurabi relate fairly well.

As an aside: What we know as The Golden Rule (i.e., "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.") has its origins in, not the Bible, but the Code of Hammurabi; and it, in one form or another, is found in most religious texts throughout history. Also, look to Hammurabi for the origin of the ole saw "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth".

We, at least most of us, know the story of Moses. When Moses was a baby the Egyptian Pharaoh commanded that all Hebrew children be drowned in the Nile. (This is a foreshadowing of the story of Jesus & King Herod.) Moses is put in a basket, set afloat upon the Nile, and is rescued by Pharaoh's daughter. He was raised as an Egyptian and grew to be a "prince of Egypt". Later, he returned to his "roots" as a Jew and led the Jews "out of bondage". During the trip to the "Promised land" Moses was called by God to receive the 10 Commandments.

Now, having been raised in Egyptian royalty, Moses would have well acquainted with Egyptian culture, their gods, their laws, and their rituals. One such is the Egyptian Book of the Dead - clearly, by definition predating the 10 Commandments.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Spell 125, is of particular interest to this discussion. Spell 125 was to be recited by the deceased upon judgement by the gods after death.

It provides a list of things the deceased had NOT done as opposed to the 10 Commandments' list of things one shall not DO. As with other older "laws", it is similar in concept to the 10 Commandments.

Now, did Moses actually recreate the 10 Commandments from Spell 125 with some heavy edit? Did the Commandments come from other, older "rules" or some combination? Or, did Moses receive the Commandments directly from God? No one truly knows - it's a matter of belief.

It could be that God visited many differing peoples providing them rules upon which to live.

Or, could it be that civilization, any civilization, needs a somewhat common thread of rules/laws by which humans can live together peacefully so as to assure that the civilization survives?