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Which Ten
Commandments?
by Cliff Walker and Jyoti Shankar

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Two Different Questions

The Constitution of the United States of America protects the Religious Liberties of her citizens by prohibiting the government from making decisions regarding the religious practice of individuals or even sects. Unfortunately, certain rapacious citizens are busy trying to force everybody else to practice the same religious rituals and honor the same religious codes that these insatiable gluttons practice -- rather than allowing each individual and sect to make these decisions as they see fit.

(Perhaps some of us do not respect a code of ethics that would inspire people to be this greedy, and would like the option of finding a better way to live our lives.)

A popular move in this direction is the effort to post a Reader's Digest-like condensation of the Protestant version of the first set of stone tablets of the Hebrew Ten Commandments in public school classrooms, courtrooms, town squares, and any other place they can litter the landscape with advertisements hawking their specific religious beliefs. The United States Supreme Court even posts these things in its halls!

The problem with this is displayed by showing that if the text is to be believed (which it is not), then there are numerous versions of the so-called Ten Commandments. First the tables of stone that Moses allegedly brought down from the mountain and then broke, one morning in a fit of pique (sing rickety tickety tin), contained different Commandments from that set which replaced the first one. These are not just minor things like a few pronouns here and there (although we would expect an edict from an omnipotent, omniscient deity to be at least that precise); we're talking about two completely different sets of codes. Interestingly, the first set, which was broken and replaced, is the set which these insatiable religionists most often wish to post in public places.

We at Positive Atheism Magazine think it is not our government's job to decide which set of Ten Commandments to post. (Hell! We don't think our government ought to be endorsing religion at all, but that's a different argument!) In order to enunciate our point very clearly, we raise the the following question two different ways:

Which Ten Commandments?

 

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Two Tables of Stone
equals
Two Lists of Commandments

One of the best-kept secrets in the discussions on the Ten Commandments concerns the fact that (according to the story) Moses smashed the first set of tables in a fit of anger, because the Israelites chose to worship the golden calf. (That this would happen or would be told casts doubt on the whole Exodus tale, but we will not cover that here.)

As the tale goes, Moses smashed the tables of stone, and God said he'd make a new set of tables containing "the words that were on the first" (Ex. 34:1). However, as we will see on this page, the second Ten Commandments in no way resemble the first set. To popularize this knowledge is to knock the wind out of this entire move to place "The" Ten Commandments in our schools.

 

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First Tables of Stone
(Exodus 20, "which Moses didst break")
 

  

Second Tables of Stone
(Exodus 34, "the words that were on the first")
 

1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.
 

  

1. Thou shalt worship no other god (For the Lord is a jealous god).
 

2. You shall not make for yourself a graven image. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.
 

  

2. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
 

3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
 

  

3. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep in the month when the ear is on the corn.
 

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
 

  

4. All the first-born are mine.
 

5. Honor your father and your mother.
 

  

5. Six days shalt thou work, but on the seventh thou shalt rest.
 

6. You shall not kill.
 

  

6. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, even of the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
 

7. You shall not commit adultery.
 

  

7. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread.
 

8. You shall not steal.
 

  

8. The fat of my feast shall not remain all night until the morning.
 

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
 

  

9. The first of the first fruits of thy ground thou shalt bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.
 

10. You shall not covet.
 

  

10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.
 

Adapted from Microsoft Bookshelf 98

  

K Budde, History of Ancient Hebrew Literature

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Three Religious Sects
equals
Three Lists of Commandments

Whenever a sect prevails upon our government to honor "the" Ten Commandments, controversy will arise over which Ten Commandments -- although this controversy is seldom over which tables of stone we're reading from (seeing as how no Ten Commandments enthusiasts would admit this discrepancy and very few others even know of it). As with any obscure piece of knowledge, you can't get very far if very few people believe what you're saying. This is the problem with the two tables of stone argument, and is why we keep it in the realm of interesting trivia: this argument is not very powerful in the public arena of debate.

The way to get attention in the arena of public debate is to come across with something that's obvious, that affects a large number of people. It helps if we can also show the discrepancy to be patently unfair.

The most obvious problem with posting any set of Ten Commandments is that the three major sects which acknowledge the Ten Commandments each use a different list of Commandments! If our government is going to post these as being the most important laws ever issued -- laws written in stone by the finger of the creator of the Universe -- what message are we sending if we can't even get the list of Commandments right?

The list that inevitably gets posted is that of the Protestants (of course: neither Roman Catholics nor Jews spend much energy trying to inflict their religious views upon the rest of us in such a trivial manner). So if our government sides with the Protestant sects by posting their list of Commandments, then what are Jews and Roman Catholics to think? Are we playing favorites with the Protestants? Some people tell us that these differences are trivial, but we beg to differ: we're dealing with what is alleged to be the infallible word of the creator of the Universe. If this is the case, we'd better get this right. And if it isn't, then why all the fuss to get these posted in the schools?

The ordering of the Commandments themselves varies between the three lists in two very significant ways. First, the Hebrew list has a unique First Commandment: "I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." This was dropped by both the Roman Catholic and Protestant sects because neither sect has ever had a beef with the nation of Egypt, so both split the Hebrew Second Commandment into two parts (although both split it up quite differently).

Secondly, the Roman Catholic Church has always been very keen on the use of images and icons and the like. In order to keep this from appearing to conflict with the Hebrew prohibition against images, the Roman Catholic Church dropped this prohibition from their list of Ten Commandments (this was very easy to accomplish while it was still against the law to publish the Bible or for laypersons to read it). To compensate, the Roman Catholics split the final Protestant and Hebrew Commandment into two separate Commandments. With the Protestants and the Hebrews, the wife is listed after the house and amidst a longer list of a man's property which is not to be coveted. The Roman Catholics at least have the dignity to separate the wife from among the other property, giving her a Commandment of her own. But a hilarious result follows this change: the numbering of most of the Roman Catholic Commandments is off by one! If a Protestant, for example, speaking about murder, talks about "the Sixth Commandment," a Roman Catholic listener will become confused because the Sixth Commandment is about adultery in Roman Catholicism!

Several other smaller problems crop up when the Ten Commandments are brought into public discussion in a diverse community: First, the Ten Commandments order people to worship a specific deity -- even though humankind has endorsed over 5,000 different gods, goddesses and their consorts and about 20 percent of the world's population worships no deities whatsoever! Secondly, is the prohibition against "graven images" a taboo against art and sculpture? Some think so and others are not so sure. Thirdly, if the Commandments order us to honor the Sabbath, why do most Christians honor Sunday (not to mention Muslims who honor Friday)? Fourthly, what does the ban on killing mean in light of the genocide ordered by the Hebrew deity and committed by both Protestants and Roman Catholics?

There are others, but we'll leave you with what we consider to be the stickiest of all questions in this debate: Why on earth do you want to post instructions about adultery in a classroom full of young children? Excuse me, but shouldn't the timing of sex education be controlled by the parents of each individual child?

Posting only the Protestant version will serve only to draw attention to these discrepancies, but posting all three (just to be fair) would cause even more problems. The easiest way around this is obvious: keep the Ten Commandments in the houses of worship and in the home where they belong!

The easiest way to see these discrepancies is to display the three sets in parallel column, as we have done on our "Which Ten Commandments?" poster. Here, though, are the Ten Commandments listed one-by-one, with the three versions of each compared.

 

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Protestant
 

  

Roman Catholic
 

  

Hebrew
 

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
 

  

1. I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.
 

  

1. I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
 

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
 

  

2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
 

  

2. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; Thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; And showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.
 

3. 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.
 

  

3. Remember thou keep the Sabbath Day.
 

  

3. 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.
 

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
 

  

4. Honor thy Father and thy Mother.
 

  

4. Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work. But the seventh day is the sabbath in honour of the Lord thy God; on it thou shalt not do any work, neither thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
 

5. Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
 

  

5. Thou shalt not kill.
 

  

5. Honour thy father and thy mother; in order that thy days may be prolonged upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
 

6. Thou shalt not kill.
 

  

6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
 

  

6. Thou shalt not kill. (some say, "Thou shalt not murder.")
 

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
 

  

7. Thou shalt not steal.
 

  

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
 

8. Thou shalt not steal.
 

  

8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
 

  

8. Thou shalt not steal. (some say "Thou shalt not kidnap.")
 

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
 

  

9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife.
 

  

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
 

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.
 

  

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods.
 

  

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
 

King James Bible, issued by the American Bible Society.
 

  

Catholic Catechism by Peter Cardinal Gasparri, "published with Ecclesiastical approval" and bearing the imprimatur of Patrick Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop, New York. P J Kenedy & Sons, 1932.
 

  

Bloch Publishing Company, New York, 1922.
 

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Ten Punishments
(Let's post these in the schoolroom!)
 

 
 

1. Exodus 22:20: He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed.
 

 
 

2. Leviticus 24:16: And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death.
 

 
 

3. Exodus 31:15: Whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.
 

 
 

4. Exodus 21:15: He that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
 

 
 

5. Exodus 21:17: He that curseth his father or his mother, shall surely be put to death.
 

 
 

6. Exodus 22:19: Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.
 

 
 

7. Leviticus 20:13: If a man lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death.
 

 
 

8. Leviticus 20:10: And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.
 

 
 

9. Mark 16:16: He that believeth not, shall be damned.
 

 
 

10. Malachi 2:1-4: And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, ... behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces.
 

 
 

Compiled by the late Jyoti Shankar,
publisher of Bubbles Online Magazine
for Positive Atheism.
 

 

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