By JR on Sunday, April 02, 2017
Are the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20 an interpolation?
There are three versions of the 10 Commandments in the Torah -- found in Exodus 20, Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5.
The version that people seem to use most is that in Exodus 20, though the version in Deuteronomy is very similar. Exodus 34 is only roughly similar. One of the commandments in Exodus 34 is: "Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk”, which has got just about everyone puzzled.
But let us leave Exodus 34 aside for a moment. It is only in Deuteronomy that we read: "And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments". There is no mention of stone tablets or 10 commandments in Exodus 20.
Most importantly, however, the Exodus 20 commandments are not embedded in the Mount Sainai story at all. They just somehow appear in the middle of the narrative without explanation. The narrative before and after the 10 commandments just carries on as if there were no 10 commandments.
So why was a list of 10 commandments jammed into the middle of another story? We don't know for sure. It is as mysterious as not cooking a kid in its mother's milk. But I have a suggestion that flows from my critique of the creation story in Genesis 1. In my comments about that I noted that it was only in Exodus 20 that the Sabbath was tied to creation. The Sabbath is not justified in that way in the other two versions of the commandments.
So in my previous comments I suggested that the mention of the creation in Exodus 20 was an interpolation -- something added in long after the original text was written. Looking at the strange disconnection of Exodus 20 from its surrounding narrtive, however, I am inclined to go further. I think that the whole ten commandments list in Exodus 20 is an interpolation. There was no such list there originally.
So how and why? I think it goes back to what is clearly another interpolation into the orginal Torah: The Genesis 1 creation story. The priestly authors of Genesis 1 needed to give it some authority in the original Torah so took the original Ten Commandments story recorded in Deuteronomy, added in the bit about creation, and positioned it fairly early in Exodus. It's like a shag on a rock there but as long as it is something that occurs in roughly the right place, it should pass muster.
The Deuteronomy version occurs fully in context and is presumably fairly true to the original stone tablets.
So what about Exodus 34, which has LOTS of commandments? It speaks of 10 commandments but I actually find 12. And a lot of the commandments that are there do not correspond to anything in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. For example:
“Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.[b]
Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel. 24 I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.
So the only list which explicitly describes itself as the Ten Commandments is quite different from what we call the Ten Commandments. How come?
I think we can see what has happened if we look back at Exodus 19 and 20. In 19:7 we read that the Israelits had ALREADY agreed to abide by the commands of YHVH. But that was not enough. YHVH went on to do a further thunder and lightning display. And after the interpolation we read in 20:18 that the people were terrified by that.
And from that point we get chapter after chapter of laws and regulations that YHVH laid down. It was a fairly complete code of community behaviour. Neither Exodus 34 nor Deuteronomy are like that
One thing that seems clear is that obedience to YHVH's commends was required as part of the covenant between YHVH and the Israelites. And we read in chapter 18 that Moses was already administering a set of such laws, BEFORE the arrival at Sinai. In 19:5 we read that obedience to the law of YHVH was essential to the covenant.
So the fact that Exodus 34 lists various different commandments would seem to suggest that it has simply made a different selection out of a whole body of laws that YHVH commanded. The 10 commandments were given under very impressive circumstances so the giving of them would be well remembered.. What was actually in the commandments, however, had fallen out of memory so a a guess at which laws were in the Commandments was made.
To use a modern analogy, the Ten Commandments were like an executive summary or a journal abstract. They were the foundation of divine law but far from the whole of it. And there are different ways of writing an executive summary or a journal abstract.
So my summary is that the Exodus writer was concerned about the whole body of the law and only picked out ten of them as special in an offhand sort of way. The Deuteronomy author, however, may have had a fair cvopy of the original commandments on stone and reproduced that.
And subsequent priestly scholars -- perhaps the ones who also wrote Genesis 1 -- saw the Deuteronomy record as superior so used it as the basis for an interpolation into Exodus. It follows that Deuteronomy is the "official" or original record of the 10 commandments and that the Exodus 20 version should be disregarded.
The three sets of Commandments are below:
And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
34 The Lord said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. 3 No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain.”
4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands.
10 Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. 11 Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
12 Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. 13 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles.[a]
14 Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
15 “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.
17 “Do not make any idols.
18 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
19 “The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. 20 Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons.
“No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
21 “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
22 “Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.[b]
23 Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel. 24 I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.
25 “Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning.
26 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.
“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
27 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.
6 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
7 “You shall have no other gods before[b] me.
8 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
11 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
16 “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
17 “You shall not murder.
18 “You shall not commit adultery.
19 “You shall not steal.
20 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
21 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
22 These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.