Thursday, 5 May 2011

Ten Commandments or just three?

The Catholic and Protestant versions of the 10 commandments are not the same.  Perhaps the biggest difference is that idolatry is not only permitted in the Catholic version, but more or less required.  This is why crucifixes in Catholic churches are usually complete with a Jesus, whereas in Protestant churches the crosses are bare.  The exclusion of the second commandment (about idolatry) means that the ninth is split into two for catholics.  Strangely they chose to do this rather than adopt the tenth commandment from Deuteronomy.  (See below.)  However, laying these differences aside, do the commandments make sense otherwise?  Which version do we follow?  You might be surprised that the Old Testament has more than one set of 10 commandments!

The 'published' commandments are normally based on the original set as delivered in Exodus 20.  However, the stone tablets carrying these instructions were smashed by Moses after the Israelites made the golden calf.  Fortunately someone took to trouble to remember what they were, because they have been useful ever since.

The commandments were then delivered again (Deuteronomy 4:13.) and they are then substantially different.  1 to 4 are pretty much the same but 10 is that a kid should not be boiled in its mother's milk!  (This does appear as a 'lesser' commandment in Ex 20 and hence is part of the Jewish halacha, but it seems surprising that it in Deuteronomy it is promoted to be one of the 'top ten').

Given their fate, it is surprising that the original set of laws are more generally adopted.  Maybe it is because they are more relevant to people who are no longer members of a dessert dwelling tribe?  Judge for yourself.

Four of the commandments are simply religious edicts.  Three more are prohibitions that are not embodied in modern law:  honour thy parents; adultery is punished by death (but generally only if you are female); and generic coveting (which is after all only a 'thought crime'). 

That leaves only three that are maintained in present day law in most 'christian countries' - you may not kill or steal, and in some situations (but not all) you are not allowed to lie.

Is anything missing from these commandments?  It would appear so.  Tomorrow I will talk about that, but in the meantime you might like to read an earlier post about 'Do Old Testament Laws still count?'.


EdG said...

This is great. I analysed the 10 commandments the same way according to evolutionary philosophy - 4 have gone extinct, 3 need to adapt, and 3 survive. Clearly they are ancient rules from ignorant ancients. The fact that they were carved in stone is a pretty good indicator of that...

Plasma Engineer said...

Well - carved in stone, then broken in a rage, then carved again but different, and then carelessly lost. Odd isn't it!

Malleus said...

I like to think that I am sharp, but I totally missed that if the first set of tablets was smashed upon Moses coming down from the mountain, how do we know what was on them? If the broken bits could have been reconstructed, there would have been no reason to write a new set. Maybe Moses didn't like the first draft and used his holy wrath to force a rewrite.