Saturday, 14 July 2012

Another Ten Commandments

Continuing the Judeo-Christian story of the 'Ten Commandments'...

In What The 'Ten Commandments' Really Tell Us we saw how the story was almost certainly an attempt to create a convenient 'history' or at least to rewrite it by the winners which had then been grafted onto another invented origin myth.

Here we see yet another attempt to stitch another set of rules into the same narrative. Curiously too, these are the only 'ten commandments' the Bible refers to. Maybe they'll be more useful as the basis of law and morality for a civilised nation than the earlier lot.

We'll take a look a bit later but first a little background.

As we saw in What The 'Ten Commandments' Really Tell Us, the story went that when Moses turned his back on the Israelites, despite all the things they supposedly saw Yahweh do, and despite the fact that they heard him (they weren't allowed to look for some reason) giving out some rules from the top of Mount Sinai, they decided to follow Aaron's new religion. Apparently, Aaron, despite actually going with Moses to see Yahweh on top of Mount Sinai, has set up a new religion based on worshipping a golden calf made out of the women's ear-rings, to which the Israelites had transferred their loyalty (seriously!).

This takeover bid had happened when Moses was away talking to Yahweh on top of a mountain, during which Yahweh had allegedly written the commandments he had earlier announced, on some stone tablets.

Now, Yahweh had noticed this going on and told Moses he was really going to show those Israelites a thing or two, having lost his rag with them.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves: They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.

And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.
Phew! Once again Moses saves the day and talks sense into Yahweh who is about to destroy the Israelites! He even manages to get Yahweh to repent for his evil thoughts!
And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
Obviously, Yahweh had not yet become the omniscient god who knows all things and can still be taught the error of his ways by a top priest, who the people are so lucky to have telling them what to do, eh? Not like those other false prophets who so nearly brought destruction on the people with their evil ways and lesser gods! You can't go far wrong with a powerful prophet like that in charge, can you. Even got Yahweh to say sorry and feel guilty!

Can you guess who wrote this stuff yet?

But there was a problem. When Moses went back down the mountain he completely lost it, smashed the stone tablets, and ordered a bout of gratuitous blood-letting, killing about 3000 men.

That'll teach 'em and show 'em who's boss around here!

Talk about toys out of the pram!

So, that's the background. Naturally, Yahweh tells Moses to get two more stone tablets and come back up the mountain where he will write them all out again for him.
And 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.
We now find Moses back up the mountain talking to Yahweh again - and conveniently alone:

Firstly, Yahweh very helpfully tells Moses that he's going to drive all those other people away and that they are to destroy everything:
Observe 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.

Take 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: But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest 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; And 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.
There's nothing like a bout of killing, destruction and land-grabbing to bring the people back on side when you're losing your grip, especially when they're following all these other rival gods, or rather rival gods' priests. This priestly rivalry can get a bit messy at times, but needs must...

Okay, now for the 'Ten Commandments', final version. (Exodus 34:17-26)
1 Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
2 The 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.
3 All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.
4 But 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 Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.
6 And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
7 Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.
8 For 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 Thou 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 The 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.
And 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.
But hold on. Didn't Yahweh say he was going to write these out again for Moses in Exodus 34:1? (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).

I suppose he has to explain why it took Yahweh forty days and nights to write this stuff out.
And 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.
This is the first and only use of the phrase 'the ten commandments' in the Bible, apart from in Deuteronomy, where Moses is quoted as saying they are the ones spoken by Yahweh from the 'mount' on the 'day of assembly'.
And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the ten commandments, which the Lord spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the Lord gave them unto me.
So, someone has got themselves in a right old muddle over the telling of this tale and no one now seems sure exactly which commandments are the ten being written about, how they were announced and to whom.

And someone is obviously still twitchy about this rival molten golden calf god thing.

But where is the resemblance between this list and the one announced to the people from the top of Mount Sinai? (What Is It With The 'Ten Commandments'?). Gone are the unnecessary rules about murder, adultery, coveting, etc, which any decent human society is going to have anyway, and which were almost certainly common to followers of the priests of other gods.

Instead, we have rituals and rules which work out very nicely for the priests: rules about giving them a share of the crops and new-born cattle, apart from asses, obviously. What use would a load of male donkeys be? Much better to have a tasty lamb instead.

And, rather handily, number eight is not so much a rule as a promise by Yahweh which gives the priesthood an excuse for perpetual wars and expansionism at the expense of other people - something which is bound to keep the people on side.

Come on people! Throw your lot in with the Yahwehists! For just a few lambs, some bullocks, and a share of the harvest, you get to go land-grabbing with impunity and can even tell yourself you're being righteous! Got it in writing from Yahweh himself!

I'll bet the other cults didn't offer that, eh?

After that first failed attempt to frighten the people into submission with the Mount Sinai Spectacular, that little incident with the golden calf worked out rather nicely for the Yahwehist, and the new rules even include stuff about giving them some freebies.

Not so sure about the last one though. Maybe someone's mum once made him eat some goat seethed in its mother's milk. Yuk! And what's the point in being a high priest and boss of the people if you can't impose a little food fad on them? At least it didn't include anything about shellfish, what with there not being that many in a desert.

Nice work if you can get it.

But, more to the point, how on earth is this list supposed to have the slightest relevance to anyone today? How on earth can you base society, a moral code and a system of law on this list? It is utterly useless unless you want a wholly agricultural society in which anything goes so long as you don't make molten gods, have a day off once a week, eat ritual food at certain times and remember to give the priests a share of your produce (no donkeys accepted and no seething kids in their mother's milk!)

Oh! You can invade neighbouring countries and take their land, obviously. Tell 'em Yahweh said so.




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5 comments :

  1. "But hold on. Didn't Yahweh say he was going to write these out again for Moses in Exodus 34:1? (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)."

    Yes, and we can assume that Yahweh in the story did write what was on the first tablets.

    AND THEN he commanded Moses to begin taking FURTHER dictation, and that this dictation is not what was previously on the first commandments, but instead that these new ten commandments taken by dictation are the words of the covenant -- The Ten Commandments.

    Which is why whenever you see someone quoting the ten commandments from Exodus 20, you should quickly direct them to look at Exoduse 34, the only place where the phrase "The Ten Commandments" is used, and see what it refers to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exodus. Argh.

      Delete
    2. Problem is, that's not what Deuteronomy 10:4 says. Whoever wrote that had Moses claiming the stone tablets had the commandments which the Lord spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the Lord gave them unto me..

      What a muddle, eh?

      Delete
  2. Interestingly, in the fourth commandment of the final draft, the word 'redeem' actually means sacrifice. Whether or not God expects people to sacrifice their first-born son, or a lamb in place of the son, is ambiguous. But assuming it is the lamb that is the sacrifice, should we break the necks of all unredeemed first born-sons?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm not sure about that. I understood 'redeem' to mean save, but one never knows... :-)

    ReplyDelete

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