The Ten Commandments
A book by Joseph Lewis
What Are the Commandments?
Were one to turn to the Bible for the Commandments, he would find them difficult to discover. They are not written on the first page of the Bible. They are hidden among its many pages and obscured by a multitudinous number of texts. If the reader thinks that the "Ten Commandments" are as specific and as definite as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States, he will be sadly disappointed. To find them is like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
There is no table of contents in the Bible, nor is there an index to the Holy Scriptures to indicate where the Ten Commandments may be found.
Were acknowledged leaders of the various religions based upon the Bible asked where the Decalogue could be found, there would be much confusion and contradiction on their part. Some would say that the Ten Commandments are recorded in the 20th Chapter of the second book of the Five Books of Moses, called Exodus. Others would state that they are to be found in the 5th Chapter of the fifth book of the Five Books of Moses, called Deuteronomy; while others would maintain that Chapters 22 and 23 of the Book of Exodus contain the revealed words. And yet "covenants" as binding as the so-called Decalogue are found in Chapters 31, 32, 33 and 34 of the Book of Exodus.
In view of these facts, let us "search the Scriptures" ourselves and see what we find.
The Ten Commandments as Revealed in the Book of Exodus
Although we have been told that the Ten Commandments can be found in Chapter 20 of the Book of Exodus, I think that the preceding chapter, describing the deliverance of the Commandments to Moses, should be quoted as it provides an introduction to this momentous event.
I quote Chapter 19 of the Book of Exodus, the second book of the so-called Five Books of Moses: [**1]
1. In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.
2. For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.
3. And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;
4. Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.
5. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine.
The significance of these statements to the Decalogue will be apparent when we come to the culminating event. "God's" flattery of the Children of Israel by boasting how he miraculously "bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself," while at the same time reminding them of "what I did unto the Egyptians," is not without a purpose. Because of subsequent events, we are deeply concerned with the promise as stated in the fifth verse quoted above, where God says: "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine."
I now quote Chapter 19, verses 6 to 9:
6. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
7. And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him.
8. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord.
9. And the Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the Lord.
These preparations were essential to the magical performance that was to follow. There are certain forms of "sanctification" that so stultify the mind that imaginary events are as vivid and real as though they had actually occurred. The methods of "purification" generally consist of fasting, praying, repeating certain formulas, and sexual abstinence. This was undoubtedly the reason for these instructions as recorded in the above verses. Visions of having "seen" God are not unknown in such states of hallucination.
I quote Chapter 19, verses 10 and 11:
10. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes,
11. And be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.
Here is a distinct promise. By preparing themselves according to the directions given by Moses, the children of Israel are to have the rare privilege of watching God "come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai." This consists of some form of ritual purification, mentally preparing the people in the manner of the priests and magicians which was so prevalent in primitive tribal life.
I quote Chapter 19, verses 12 and 13:
12. And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall he surely put to death:
13. There shall not a hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.
What great mystery was concealed on the mountain that made death the penalty for anyone even to "touch the border of it"? Why the necessity for so much mystery when such an important event was to take place -- except as a precaution to avoid exposure? All acts associated with the event should have been open and aboveboard. They should have been performed in the simplest manner so that all might understand their meaning. This one particular event should have been entirely devoid of confusion or deception.
Mystery about the ceremonies was deliberately created, however, and fear was the instrument used to paralyze the mind in order to make it more receptive. This accounts for the taboo with the death penalty for violation. For so simple an infraction as touching the border with a hand, the culprit was to be "stoned" or "shot through." No living thing must violate this sacred performance, and so beasts were included in the taboo. On too many occasions, especially in matters concerning purported conversations and messages from gods, mystery has been employed by charlatans to hoodwink the people.
I quote Chapter 19, verses 14 and 15:
14. And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes.
15. And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives.
What the other acts of self-mortification were that Moses demanded of the Children of Israel in order that they might "sanctify" themselves, we do not know; but that sexual abstinence was one of them is stated in the verse quoted above: "Be ready against the third day; come not at your wives." It is also not clear why it was necessary for them to "wash their clothes." But this is certain: the three days of preparation necessary for "sanctification," during which urgent physical functions were to be restrained for the purpose of preparing a proper receptive mentality, coupled with the strain of three days of anticipation, had their desired effect in confusing the senses and making the mind more susceptible to the mystical impressions being prepared for it. This method is almost universally practiced when "communion with God" is sought by the "inner self." It varies with different types of people, but the ultimate results are the same. Some eat herbs and roots and some drink intoxicating beverages to produce the mental exhilaration that results in visions and hallucinations. This form of ritual was practiced by nearly all primitive tribes and persists even today. Many of the current religions could not exist were it not for the mental intoxication that certain rituals produce to disarm the mind from detecting the delusion. The early Hebrews had their own methods of self-inducing feelings of grandeur and power, particularly as to their connection and association with their Deity. They were like the Negroes of the Niger, who have their "fetish water," the Creek Indians of Florida, who have their "black drink," the Mexicans, who have their "peyotl," the Samoyeds of Siberia, who use a poisonous toadstool, certain natives of the United States who smoke "stramonium" -- all of which are used to bring about a feeling of direct communication with divine power and to produce ecstatic visions. [*2]
Among the Kiowa Indians of Mexico, "mescal" is eaten as food for the "soul." Its psychic manifestations are considered "as supernatural grace bringing men in relation with the gods." [*3] In Greece some form of intoxication was used in the celebrations of the established cults. The Pythia of Delphi, after a three-day fast, chewed laurel leaves until she was intoxicated, thus producing a state of ecstasy. The worship of Tracain Dionysus was celebrated in the dead of night mid the weirdest of sounds, frenzied shouting and sighing, which produced a state of "holy madness." [*4]
Professor William James's investigation of this phase of mysticism is very pertinent here. He observes: "Nitrous oxide [and it might be other substances], when sufficiently diluted with air, stimulates the mystical consciousness in an extraordinary degree. Depth beyond depth of truth seems revealed to the inhaler. This truth fades out, however, or escapes, at the moment of coming to; and if any words remain over in which it seemed to clothe itself, they prove to be the veriest nonsense. Nevertheless, the sense of a profound meaning having been there persists; I know of more than one person who is persuaded that in a nitrous-oxide trance we have a genuine metaphysical revelation." [*5] The relationship of the above to the events as biblically recorded is obvious as I continue quoting, Chapter 19, verses 16 to 19:
16. And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
17. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
18. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
19. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
These verses offer additional evidence that the restrictions and taboos imposed upon the people were to bewilder them. When mystery is purposely introduced into any event, it is more than likely used for the specific purpose of concealing a fraud. And that in substance was the purpose of this ceremony.
I continue with Chapter 19, verses 20 and 21:
20. And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.
21. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish.
The eagerness of the Children of Israel to see their God was natural. Thousands would have been ready to pass through the valley of the shadow of death for such a privilege.
I quote Chapter 19, verse 22:
22. And let the priests also, which come near to the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break forth upon them.
It is quite obvious that their "vision" of God was an hallucination which followed their "sanctification." There is a certain form of religious ecstasy that creates from the imagination mystical figures that appear real, having been impressed upon the mind by autosuggestion. This is undoubtedly the vision of God that the Children of Israel saw and heard. When in this state of complete self-hypnosis every mental picture suggested is vividly reflected in the devotee's mind, as he imagines that scene and event to be. Many are hypnotized into a "state of ecstasy" by genuflecting, kneeling or making the sign of the cross. There are some awe-inspiring objects that make overemotional people "feel" that they are in the "presence of God." Was Mount Sinai such an object? Some stand before the wide ocean and claim that they feel "God's" presence; others have a similar experience when viewing the starry heavens or the vast forests, before altars in churches, and during religious revivals.
I quote Chapter 19, verses 23 to 25:
24. And the Lord said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the Lord, lest he break forth upon them.
25. So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.
There seems to have been a perfect observance of the rules laid down by Moses, for it does not appear that the Lord visited his vengeance upon any of the people or broke forth upon them. And now the supremely important event is to take place: The Ten Commandments are to be issued!
I quote Chapter 20, verses 1 to 17:
1. And God spake all these words, saying
2. I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4. 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:
5. 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;
6. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7. 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.
8. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10. 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:
12. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
13. Thou shalt not kill.
14. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15. Thou shall not steal.
16. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17. 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.
I count in the above quotation seventeen separate and distinct verses, with at least thirteen separate and distinct "commands." That these seventeen verses and thirteen separate and distinct commands have since been condensed into what are known as the "Ten Commandments" is something that will require analysis, for we shall find that not all the religions which accept these Commandments arranged them alike. Some religious systems fail to include certain provisions that are not in harmony with their ritual, while others number them differently.
And then again, why particularly ten? Why not a different number or an odd number? Why not only One Commandment incorporating all the rules promulgated by the Bible Deity?
Anthropologists tell us that the explanation is simple. They tell us that our fingers are the basis of our arithmetical table, and for that reason we count and measure in units of ten.
Our criticism of the method employed in imparting these Commandments, or of the use of so many when a lesser number might have been sufficient, is not exactly the point which prompts this study. The important matter under consideration is that we are told that there is a set of Ten Commandments in the Bible, and that they were handed down by the God of the universe for the peoples of the earth to follow as essential to their happiness and salvation.
There is, however, no justification for calling these the Ten Commandments. There are nine additional verses to the chapter that could very properly be included and are just as vital as the "Commandments" now condensed into the Decalogue.
For the sake of continuity and for a better understanding of the complete text, I quote the remaining part of Chapter 20, which is verse 18:
18. And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
Without the trappings and distractions of the early priest-magicians, Moses could not have successfully perpetrated his illusions. Thunder and lightning in the days of the Biblical Hebrews was still something to fear, and the priests knew full well its terrifying effect. Psychologists today understand that certain rituals were perfected to distract and numb the senses while the religious ceremonies were being performed. Modern spiritualists hold seances in dark rooms, thereby depriving the participants of their sense of sight where sight would prove disastrous to this particular form of deception. Others resort to swinging lights as a medium of hypnosis; congregation singing and response in churches have their use in accomplishing the proper mental receptiveness by the process of sense deception.
The weird sounds of the trumpet have been used by the medicine men of primitive societies for deceptive purposes. Its fear-inducing effects are staggering, especially to ignorant, superstitious people amid surroundings as awesome as Mount Sinai was supposed to have been.
I quote Chapter 20, verse 19:
19. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
The consternation of the Israelites is evident from their pleading with Moses that only he should speak to them. The angry acts of God certainly gave them no assurance that they were not in danger. God had commanded them not to touch or come near Mount Sinai until they had heard the trumpet. Now that the trumpet had sounded and they approached for the message as well as for the sight of God, there appeared "thunderings and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking."
I quote Chapter 20, verse 20:
20. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
Once under the spell of the magician-priest, it is his pet phrase to comfort his devotees with the words, "fear not." This is done to counteract the effect of the excitement that might get beyond control, cause mental derangement, and produce unrestrained violence.
I quote Chapter 20, verses 21 to 24:
21. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.
22. And the Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
23. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.
24. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.
If an altar of earth had to be made and certain sacrifices performed, why did not God incorporate these instructions in the Commandments? Why was it necessary to make "burnt offerings and peace offerings"? Sheep and oxen in those days were the standards by which people measured their wealth. And what peculiar sort of God was it who would record his name in the different parts of the country where there were owners of sheep and oxen? The whole performance looks suspicious. It seems like a trick by which the people are induced to "sacrifice" their possessions to the priests of the "Lord."
The evidence from the above narrative is sufficient to prove that this ceremony took place in the days of the most primitive tribal life and among the most superstitious kind of people. The element of blood sacrifice stands out prominently as part of the ritual, and we can determine the age of a religion just as effectively by its ritual as we can determine the age of the earth by its geological formation.
I quote Chapter 20, verses 25 and 26:
25. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.
26. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.
Of all the important things in life that God could impart to man on this only occasion in which he made a pilgrimage to earth, what precious knowledge did he reveal? Let me repeat -- it is so worthy of reiteration: "And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it."
There is significant meaning in the words of verse 26, as it was once universally part of the ritual taboo associated with "holy" altars. That this entire narrative is but part of the scheme to make plausible the ability of a priest-magician to commune with God is evident. Such performances took place in all tribes similar to the early Hebrews. In those days the priest-magician "talked with God" with more than casual familiarity. Someone had to possess that ability, for the primitive mind could not conceive that life could go on without the personal direction of a deity. It was through the mediumship of the priests that the god selected his "chosen people" for special favors and blessings, and protected them against the forces of evil.
That none shalt go up "by steps unto mine altar" lest "thy nakedness be discovered" only strengthens the delusion and is a threat to inspire fear -- the basic principle of all religious beliefs.
This, however, shall not deter us from a further search for the Commandments as revealed in the Book of Deuteronomy.
The Ten Commandments as Revealed in the Book of Deuteronomy
It is not for me to determine why one version of the Ten Commandments should be found in the Book of Exodus and another in the Book of Deuteronomy. If, as is contended, Moses was the author of both books, then these precepts, if they were divinely spoken, should be as infallibly identical as two perfect reflections of the same thing. Let us see.
I quote the fifth of the Five Books of Moses, called Deuteronomy, Chapter 5, verses 1 to 5:
1. And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep and do them.
2. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.
3 The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.
4 The Lord talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire,
5 (I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to shew you the word of the Lord: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount.)
I know that it is somewhat bold to contradict so great a lawgiver as Moses or to doubt the veracity of one who has seen God "face to face." Nevertheless I must challenge a statement recorded in verse 4, where the narrator says that the Lord did talk face to face with the people. Our first version said that if anyone approached the mount he would surely die. However, verse 5, immediately following, indicates that the writer of this version of the Ten Commandments was well aware of this contradiction.
This contradiction is not to be lightly dismissed, in view of the supposed seriousness of the event. If the event took place, then all descriptions of what occurred should be as definite as any law of nature. This disparity and contradiction cause several doubts to be raised -- first, as to the accuracy of the events, and second, as to the validity of the narrative.
These are the Ten Commandments as recorded in the 5th Chapter of the fifth of the Five Books of Moses, called Deuteronomy:
6. I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
7. Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
8. Thou shalt not make 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 waters beneath the earth:
9. Thou shalt not bow down thyself 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,
10. And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.
11. 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.
12. Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.
13. Six days thou shalt labor, and do all thy work:
14. 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, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.
15. And remember that thou west a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.
17. Thou shalt not kill.
18. Neither shalt thou commit adultery.
19. Neither shalt thou steal.
20. Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbor.
21. Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbor's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbor's.
I find that there are in this narrative sixteen separate and distinct verses with at least thirteen separate and distinct "commands." Why they have been condensed into "ten" deserves some explanation. Nothing in the narrative justifies this arrangement. Who is responsible for the condensation of these so-called precepts of God?
Professor Andrew C. Zenos, Dean and Professor of Biblical Theology at McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, supports this contention in his analysis of the Decalogue when he says:
"The arrangement of the moral precepts in the form of ten commandments was neither demanded by the nature of the subject nor suggested by logical or philosophical considerations. It is the result of deference to the popular regard and conventional value of the number ten, recognized at the time." [*6]
However, in the condensation and rearrangement of these Commandments we shall find, as we did in those recorded in the Book of Exodus, that not all the religions which accept these Commandments as a divine revelation arrange them alike. Some are placed in different positions and some are entirely omitted because they are not in harmony with the ritual of a particular creed.
The variations existing between the two sets of Commandments require serious consideration, especially in view of the statement of Moses that these were delivered to the Children of Israel who were present at the time and were still living. Verse 3 distinctly states, "The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day."
But today we are told by Biblical authorities that these separate sets of Commandments "exhibit some variants." [*7] And so we proceed to find what these "variants" are, and why.
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