DECALOGUE (The Ten Commandments). The statements of God quoted by Moses in Deuteronomy 5:6–18 are entitled "the ten words, or utterances" (Heb. עֲשֶׂרֶתהַדְּבָרִים aseret ha-devarim; LXX δέκα ῥήματα [Deut. 4:13], δέκα λόγοι [10:4]). The same title in Exodus 34:28 has traditionally been referred to the "original" version of these statements in Exodus 20:2–14  but see below). Mishnaic Hebrew עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת aseret hadibberot reflects the specialized use of דִּבֵּר dibber (cf. Jer. 5:13) for divine speech.
Problems of the Literary Setting
Exodus 19:9 announces a dialogue between God and Moses (or an address by God to Moses) to be held at Sinai and overheard by the people, for the purpose of making them believe Moses "ever after." Verse 19 tells of such a dialogue – the contents of which are not specified – amid smoke, quaking, and the blare of a horn (some exegetes identify it with the colloquy of verses 20–24, others, with the Decalogue). Again, after Moses descends to the people (19:25), God speaks ("to Moses," LXX A) the entire Decalogue (20:1ff.). Frightened by the thunder, the smoke, and the blaring horn, the people fall back and plead with Moses to be their intermediary; Moses reassures the people that God wants only to train them in the fear of Him, then approaches the cloud enshrouding God (20:15–18 (18–21)).
Deuteronomy represents God summoning the people at Horeb (Sinai) to let them hear His voice in order to train them in the fear of Him (4:10). He speaks to them "face to face" out of the fire – but Moses was standing between the people and God "to declare YHWH's word to you, because you were afraid of the fire and would not ascend the mountain" (5:4–5). After hearing the Decalogue, the frightened people plead with Moses to be their intermediary (5:20ff.).
The attempts to reconcile these accounts internally and with each other are not convincing. The accounts apparently combine different versions of the event: (a) God spoke with Moses, and the people overheard; (b) He spoke with Moses and then Moses transmitted His words to the people; (c) God spoke to the people directly. The relation of the Decalogue to God's purpose in speaking with Moses in the Exodus account is obscure; why He speaks it to the people in Deuteronomy is only slightly less so. Common to all versions, however, is the affirmation that at Sinai-Horeb the entire people heard God's voice (Ex. 19:9, 22 (?); Deut. 4:10ff., 33, 36; 5:19ff.; 9:10; Neh. 9:13). Medieval theologians deduced from the combination of the Decalogue and the motif of the people hearing God's voice, particularly in Exodus 19:9 and Deuteronomy 5:21, that God's purpose in proclaiming the Decalogue was achieved when "henceforth the people believed that Moses held direct communication with God, that his words were not creations of his own mind" (Judah Halevi, Sefer ha-Kuzari, 1:87), and hence, that the laws he subsequently communicated originated with God (Maim., Yad, Yesodei ha-Torah, 8:1f.). This is a likely interpretation of the present form of the Decalogue narrative.
The Decalogue comprised the stipulations of the
between God and Israel (Deut. 4:13). It was engraved on both sides of two stone "tablets of the covenant" לוּחֹת־הַבְּרִית or עֵדוּת] לֻחֹת הָעֵדֻת, traditionally rendered "testimony," is to be connected with Akkadian adū and Old Aramaic (עדיא ,עד(י "treaty"] by the finger of God; Moses ascended Mount Sinai and there he remained, fasting forty days before receiving the tablets (Ex. 24:12, 18; 32:15–16; Deut. 9:9ff.). Furious over the
Moses broke the first pair of tablets (Ex. 32:19; Deut. 9:17), after which he again ascended Sinai, remaining another forty days pleading on behalf of the people. After God forgave the people, Moses was ordered to provide a second pair of stones on which God wrote exactly what was written on the first pair (Ex. 32:30ff.; 34:1ff., 28; Deut. 9:18–20; 10:1–2, 10). God commanded that this pair be placed inside the
*Ark of the Covenant
, which was housed first in the tent sanctuary, later in the Tabernacle at Shiloh, and ultimately in the
in Jerusalem (Ex. 25:16, 21; 40:20; Deut. 10:2–5; I Kings 8:9). The Ark was conceived as God's footstool (I Chron. 28:2), which is comparable (Tur-Sinai, Haran) to the custom attested in Egypt and Hatti of depositing copies of pacts under the feet of gods who had witnessed them.
The account of these events is complicated in Exodus by the intervening presence, in 34:10–26, of another set of covenant stipulations, which Moses is also commanded to write down (34:27). These concern (1) alliances with the idolatrous Canaanites; (2) molten gods; (3) the festival of unleavened bread; (4) firstlings; (5) the Sabbath; (6) the festival of weeks; (7) the ingathering festival; (8) sacrifice; (9) first fruits; and (10) cooking a kid in its mother's milk. They are presented as the terms of God's renewed covenant with Israel, and repeat the injunctions from 23:23ff. and 34:10–19 touching on the chief offenses involved in the golden calf episode (other molten gods; an invented festival). In 34:27 and 28 references to the two distinct series of covenant stipulations are juxtaposed.
Critics have called the stipulations of Exodus 34 the "cultic decalogue," as distinguished from the traditional – or the "ethical" – decalogue, and regard it as the more ancient. This relative dating rests in large measure on the supposition that the "ethical decalogue" reflects the teachings of the literary prophets. Yet nothing of the peculiar emphases of literary prophecy (e.g., concern for the rights of the weak) appears in the "ethical decalogue," while its own ethical injunctions are found not only in pre-prophetic Israelite literature, but in extra-biblical sources as well (see below).
The interrelation of these two series of covenant stipulations is obscure; no less obscure is the relation of the Decalogue of Exodus 20 to the following law corpus (20:19–23 (22–26); 21–23) – "all the words of YHWH and all the rules" that Moses relayed to the people and wrote down in the "book of the covenant" (24:3–4, 7). Thus several entities called covenant documents appear in the formidably complex section, Exodus 19–34. Criticism has been unable to assign these documents convincingly to one or another of the narrative strands that have been analyzed in the Pentateuch (the Decalogue is often assigned to the "Elohist"). It is as likely as not that the covenant documents were preexisting entities incorporated more or less whole into the narrative. The Deuteronomic version of the Decalogue shows changes under the influence of its context and there is reason to believe that all of the covenant documents underwent changes (mostly accretions) before attaining their present form. (See Table: Decalogue 1.)
Versions of the Decalogue
In addition to the two versions of the Decalogue found in the masoretic text of Exodus and Deuteronomy, the Samaritan Pentateuch preserves slightly differing Hebrew texts. Its major innovation consists in counting, as the tenth "word," the injunction to publish the Decalogue on
– the sacred mountain of the
(the injunction combines Deut. 11:29a, 27:2b–3a, 4a [Samaritan version], 5–7, and 11:30). This dogmatic accretion to the text reflects the notion, first attested in the Hellenistic-Jewish literature (see below), that the Decalogue is an epitome of the Law, a capsule of its chief injunctions. A Hebrew version of the Exodus Decalogue appears in the
(c. second century B.C.E.) – evidently used in the liturgy, to judge from the
reading that immediately follows (see below). Nash is closely related to the Septuagint of Exodus, and is likely to be a copy from the Hebrew that underlies the Septuagint manuscript. A fragment
containing the Deuteronomic Decalogue has been found in
Cave 4 (4Q Deutm; c. first century B.C.E.).
A translation of the received Hebrew text of the Decalogue follows, paragraphed according to Norzi's Minḥat Shai. Minor divergences of D(euteronomy) from E(xodus) are in parentheses; where major divergences occur, E's version of the "word" appears on the left, D's on the right, with divergent matter in boldface. The divergences in early versions are in footnotes.
Divergences between the masoretic texts of E and D are wider than between each of them and their versions, or between the versional texts of E and D. This speaks for the priority of the masoretic text. The ground for the Sabbath in E is organically related to the opening command: reference to the Creation explains how the Sabbath is YHWH's, and why it is to be sanctified. Compared with it, D's ground – to give rest to slaves and remember the Exodus (cf. Deut. 15:15; 16:12; 24:18, 22; cf. Ex. 23:12) – is tangential. Rhetorical expansions in Deuteronomy's style occur in D's commands regarding the Sabbath and honoring parents (cf. 4:23; 20:17, and 5:26; 6:18; 12:25, etc.). The addition of ox and ass in its Sabbath command derives from the list in the last paragraph. A socioeconomic divergence appears in the last two paragraphs. E follows a general term (bayit; "household," as, e.g., in Gen. 18:19; 45:18; Deut. 25:9) with particulars in descending order, omitting real property. D includes real property, and so it puts wife first (as in E's particulars) and pairs bayit, taken as "house," with "field." D's divergences are thus of a piece with the rhetorical idiom of Deuteronomy, and reflect its post-settlement orientation.
The expansive and synthetic tendencies visible in D are carried even further in the versions, a climax being 4Q Deut. m's attachment of E's Sabbath ground onto D's (note 13). Ibn Ezra's remark on D's divergence from E applies to the entire recorded transmission of the Decalogue: "Words are like bodies, their meaning, like the soul; hence the custom of the wise… not to be too concerned with changing the words so long as their meaning stays the same."
The Division Into Ten "Words"
The entire passage in which (and in which only) God speaks in the first person is one long paragraph. Sifrei Numbers (112) calls it all "the first utterance" (concerning idolatry), though common opinion divides it into two (Ḥizzekuni: "The first two 'words' were said in a single utterance"). To make up ten, each sentence of the ban on coveting is counted a paragraph, though the cantillation connects them (cf. Minḥat Shai and Ibn Ezra, both of whom deprecate numbering the "words" according to the paragraphing).
Two sets of cantillations appear in the first paragraph and with the first four brief "You shall not's": the so-called "upper" set, which treats the whole paragraph as one long verse and breaks the "You shall not's" into four short ones, and the so-called "lower" set, which breaks the paragraph into four verses and unites the "You shall not's" into a single verse. The upper cantillation represents the traditional manner in which Israel heard the ten "words" at Sinai, and is used for the public synagogal reading of the Decalogue (some say, only on the Feast of Shavuot); the lower normalizes the verse-lengths, and is used on all other occasions (e.g., private reading; Minḥat Shai, Ḥizzekuni).
For Philo (Decal. 53ff., 66ff.) and Josephus (Ant., 3:91–92) the first "word" says that God is one and alone to be worshiped (i.e., "I YHWH" plus "You shall not make etc."). The Samaritans start the count with "You shall have no other gods" – which runs to the end of the paragraph, and adds a new tenth "word" (see above). The Samaritan notion that "I YHWH" stands outside the count had medieval Jewish proponents (see Ibn Ezra's
). The commonly held count makes "I YHWH" the first word (enjoining belief in God), "You shall have no other gods" to the end of the paragraph, the second (banning idolatry). The natural construction of the first sentence, however, subordinates it to the second (cf. Judg. 6:8–10; Hos. 13:2–4; Ps. 81:8–10), entailing the following count and characterization of the "words":
1. On the ground that it is He who liberated them from Egypt, God demands that Israel recognize as god no other divine beings (cf. Naḥmanides).
2. No image of any creature may be made for worship – no distinction being made between a symbol of another god and one used in the cult of YHWH. Any cult image is ipso facto "another god," an object of YHWH's jealousy (cf. Ex. 20:20 (23); Deut. 4:15ff.; the golden calf is in YHWH's honor, Ex. 32:5). This demand for an aniconic cult does not prohibit objects of religious art which are not intended as objects of worship (e.g.,
, trees, lions, cattle (I Kings 6:23ff., 29; 7:25, 29)). If, however, such an object became venerated, it was then banned (II Kings 18:4).
3. Using God's name for a vain thing has traditionally been understood to mean false oaths (cf. Ps. 24:4; Targ.); but evil prayer (cf. Ps. 16:4) or sorcery might be intended too. Frivolous oaths (Philo, Josephus) and, finally, any idle use of God's name (e.g., as in an unnecessary benediction (Ber. 33a)) came to be included. Another possibility (Staples, Sperling) is that the phrase should be translated as: "You shall not speak the name of YHWH to that which is false." In other words, do not identify a false god with YHWH. Given the previous prohibition of having no other gods, Israelites might have been tempted to identify other gods with YHWH. To identify a false god with Yahweh was to commit a crime so severe that Yahweh would not acquit he offender.
4. Observance of the Sabbath rest, according to E, respects God's consecration of the day at the end of Creation. D's motive associates a purely ethical notion (cf. Ex. 23:12) with the general ground, expressed in the first "word," of Israel's duty to obey God's commands (cf. Deut. 6:21–24).
5. Honor is due to both father and mother (cf. Lev. 19:3; and Ex. 21:15, 17; Lev. 20:9; Deut. 21:18ff.; 27:16). Juxtaposition of this "word" to the preceding injunctions concerning God's honor was later explained by the parents' partnership
with God in creating offspring (Mekh. Sb-Y to 20:12, Naḥmanides; cf. Gen. 4:1).
6. "Murder" has traditionally rendered the Hebrew raẓaḥ here; for, though the verb covers non-culpable homicide as well (Num. 35:11, 27, 30; Deut. 4:42), to construe it as an absolute ban on killing would bring this "word" into conflict with the death penalty prescribed by the law for many offenses. The injunction affirms the sanctity of human life.
7. The verb na'af denotes sexual relations with a married woman by anyone but her husband (Lev. 20:10; Jer. 29:23; Ezek. 16:32). The inviolateness of a married woman is the basis of a patrilineal society.
8. Tradition understands ganav here to denote kidnapping, i.e., a theft liable to capital punishment – an offense of the same order as the two preceding (Mekh., Yitro, 8). But to make the legal penalty determinative in a document that ignores legal penalties throughout is unwarranted. Stealing at large is banned; the right of possession is affirmed.
9. The ban on false witness seeks to protect all transactions that require the honesty of the citizenry in the marketplace (Jer. 32:12) as well as the court.
10. Traditional legal exegesis understands ḥamad to involve action (Mekh., Yitro, 8, comparing Deut. 7:25; Mekh., SBY to 20:17: "one who exerts pressure to get something"; cf. Levi b. Gershom, who compares Ex. 34:24 ["no man will endeavor to take it from you"] and Micah 2:2, and concludes that "one does not violate this prohibition until he does something to obtain the object"). But (as Ibn Ezra to Deut. 5:16 observes) the verb may also be merely mental (e.g., Prov. 6:25), so that one wonders whether the actional interpretation does not arise out of misplaced legalism, i.e., the wish to define the prohibition in terms amenable to law enforcement. Since D expressly substitutes hitavvah (hit'awwah, "desire") for ḥamad in the second sentence, it clearly regarded the injunction as banning guilty desires.
Original Form and Date: Critical View
The divergent grounds of the Sabbath command in E and D, the disparity caused by the uneven presence of motive clauses and particulars, and the shift from first to third person with reference to God in the third "word" and thereafter (whence the rabbinic theory that only the first two were heard "from the mouth of God" (Mak. 24a); but such shifts are common (e.g., Ex. 23:13–25; 34:11–26)) have given rise to the theory that the "words" were originally all terse and only later received, unequally, additional clauses. A representative attempt to reconstruct the original form of the "words" (Stamm and Andrew in bibl.) follows:
I am YHWH your God:
You shall have no other gods besides me.
You shall not make yourself a graven image.
You shall not take the name of YHWH in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal (a person, i.e. kidnap).
You shall not bear false witness.
You shall not covet.
Criteria for dating even this shortened form of the Decalogue are wanting. Monolatry, aniconism (cf. the empty cherub throne over the ark), and the sanctity of the divine name are coeval with the beginnings of biblical religion. The Sabbath as a sacred day of rest is found in the manna-story (Ex. 16 [J, 11th–10th cent.]). The ethical values of the Decalogue are common to other ancient Near Eastern civilizations. Comparisons with the Egyptian "Protestation of Guiltlessness" (a guide for the deceased during his final judgment after death) have often been made: "… I have not stolen … I have not been covetous … I have not robbed … I have not killed men … I have not told lies … I have not committed adultery, etc." (Pritchard, Texts, 35). While there is no proof of Mosaic origin, there is no ideational or substantive objection to the Decalogue's originating in Moses' time. Literary influence of supposedly later Deuteronomic and priestly material has been found in the motive clauses; but even this is questionable in the light of the possibility that the influence may have run the other way. Reminiscences of the Decalogue have been detected in Hosea 4:2; 12:10; 13:4 and Jeremiah 7:9.
Structure and Arrangement
A dual structure can be seen in the Decalogue: items one through four deal with man's relation to God; six through ten with man's relation to man; and the fifth, with relation to parents, forming a bridge between the two (Philo). The first five "words," having particularly Israelite orientation, are furnished with additional motive clauses; and they alone each contain a reference to "YHWH your God." The last five "words" have neither – being universal ethical requirements (PR 21:99).
While the biblical text gives no indication of how the "words" were distributed on the tablets, it is commonly assumed that they stood five over against five. An ingenious homily based on this assumption correlates the "words" opposite each other on the tablets thus: Murder is an injury to God whose image man is – apostasy is equivalent to marital infidelity – stealing will lead to a false oath (cf. Zech. 5:3–4, Prov. 30:9) – the Sabbath-breaker attests falsely that God did not create the world in six days and rest on the seventh – he who covets his fellow's wife will end by fathering a child who rejects his true parent and honors another (Mekh., Yitro, 8).
The "words" are ranged in a fairly clear descending order from matters divine to matters human, and within each group from higher to lower values. Duties to God come first: the obligation to worship Him alone precedes treating His name with reverence, and both precede the symbolic piety of Sabbath rest. Respect for parental authority naturally follows respect for God. The purely ethical injunctions are ranged in an obvious hierarchy: life, the family, right of possession, reliability of public statements. The last "word" – the ban on guilty attempts or desires – deals with what is both least culpable and
most ethically sensitive; it acts as a safeguard against infringing on any of the other ethical injunctions.
Setting in Life
In later times, the Decalogue pericope (Ex. 19–20) was part of the liturgy of the Feast of Shavuot – by tradition, the anniversary of the Sinai theophany (Meg. 31a; Tosef., Meg. 4:5). This provides an analogy to the modern theory that in ancient Israel a festival of "covenant renewal" existed, whose liturgy included the solemn recitation of the Decalogue (Deut. 31:11). Support for the theory has been sought in formal similarities between the categorical (apodictic) idiom of the Decalogue and passages in Hittite vassal treaties which, among other things, require regular public reading of the document. The absence of any reference to such a festival in the biblical calendars militates against the theory. Moreover, when a commemorative function is attached to a festival, it is invariably related to some mighty or redemptive act of God on behalf of man (
), but the Sinai theophany is not counted among these acts until very late biblical times (Neh. 9:13–14). The analogy of Deuteronomy 31:11 suggests, on the contrary, that in biblical times the public recitation of covenant stipulations would have been a secondary adjunct to one of the major festivals. Only later, when the "gift of the Torah" was appreciated as a boon (not only a solemn obligation (a glimmer of this is seen in Deut. 4:8)), did it become the fit subject of a major commemorative festival.
Jeremiah 35:6–7 shows that the rule of an order (here the Rechabites) might be formally quite similar to the Decalogue. Like the founding father Jonadab ben Rechab, God defined the conduct required for the well-being of his "holy people" largely through prohibitions. Among such clusters of admonitions (cf. especially Lev. 19, "which contains the entire Decalogue" [Lev. R. 24:51] the Decalogue stands out for its generality and suggestiveness, and its balance of essential religious and ethical injunctions. Not much is known of the mode of transmission of the Decalogue and its setting in life before it was incorporated into the narratives of the Torah. The Decalogue came to be regarded as a summary of biblical law. Philo worked out the classes of law generated from each "word": the third "word," for example, covers all the rules of oaths; the fourth, all the sacred seasons and festivals; the fifth, all duties toward masters, elders, and rulers; the sixth, all sexual morality; the seventh, all bodily injury; the eighth, laws of debt, partnership, and robbery. This notion eventuated hymns for the Feast of Shavuot called Azharot ("Instructions"), in which the entire canon of 613 commandments was artfully distributed under the heads of each of the ten "words" (Siddur R. Sa'adyah Ga'on, ed. I. Davidson et al. (1941), 191–216; I. Elbogen, Gottesdienst (1924), 217–8).
The Nash papyrus reflects liturgical recitation of the Decalogue which was practiced in Egypt down to late times (J. Mann, in HUCA, 2 (1925), 283).
from Second Temple times found in the Qumran caves contain the Decalogue (see bibl.); and evidence that this practice was maintained among Babylonian Jews is found in Jerome (to Ezek. 24:15 ; see