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SBL e-journal

Tzemah Yoreh

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2015

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Speculating about the Original Text of the Decalogue

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TheTorah.com

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https://thetorah.com/article/speculating-about-the-original-text-of-the-decalogue

APA e-journal

Tzemah Yoreh

,

,

,

"

Speculating about the Original Text of the Decalogue

"

TheTorah.com

(

2015

)

.

https://thetorah.com/article/speculating-about-the-original-text-of-the-decalogue

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Symposium

Speculating about the Original Text of the Decalogue

The Seven Commandments: The Supplementary Approach at Work

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Speculating about the Original Text of the Decalogue

Ten Commandment made from Murano glass at Kedumim Synagogue. Photo by Daniel Ventura

Prologue: A Lopsided Text

The text under discussion is most popularly called “The Ten Commandments,” because it appears like a list of ten rules. They are often divided neatly into 5 and 5, and pictorially, each half is placed on one tablet.[1] To do so, however, the artist must usually cheat, by including only the first few words of certain commandments. This is because, lengthwise, these commands are not of a piece. Some are very short, others quite long. To make the point graphically, below is one of the standard divisions of the rules into 5 and 5:

6 לֹא תִּרְצָח.

7 לֹא תִּנְאָף.

8 לֹא תִּגְנֹב.

9 לֹא־תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁקֶר.

10 לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ לֹא־תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ.

2 לֹא תַֽעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל־תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַֽאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ לֹא־תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם כִּי אָנֹכִי יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֵל קַנָּא פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבֹ֧ת עַל־בָּנִים עַל־ שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִים לְשֹׂנְאָי וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לַאֲלָפִים לְאֹהֲבַי וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְוֹתָי.

3 לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת־שֵׁם־יְ-הֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא כִּי לֹא יְנַקֶּה יְ-הֹוָ֔ה אֵת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ לַשָּׁוְא.

זָכוֹר אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּֽעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּךָ וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַי-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לֹא־תַעֲשֶׂה כָל־מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ־וּבִתֶּךָ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָֽתְךָ וּבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת־יָמִים עָשָׂה יְ-הֹוָה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ אֶת־הַיָּם וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּם וַיּנַח בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי עַל־כֵּן בֵּרַךְ יְ-הֹוָה אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ.

כַּבֵּד אֶת־אָבִיךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר־יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ.

 

It is hard to believe someone would design such a lopsided list, and for this reason, scholars for several generations have attempted to reconstruct a more balanced and symmetrical Ur or original set of commandments. In this piece, I offer one such reconstruction; it differs from most in suggesting that the earliest form of the text contained only seven commandments.[2]

Part 1

The Variety within the Decalogue:
The Pastiche Problem

The Decalogue is made up of three kinds of texts.[3]

A. Long (God-Focused) Prohibitions

The first prohibitions—not to have another god, not to make idols, not to worship idols, and not to use the name Yhwh in vain—relate to God’s exclusivity and are thematically related to each other.[4] Each of these commandments is justified by a reason, either before or after the commandment.

B. Positive Injunctions

The two positive injunctions (observation of the Sabbath and respecting one’s parents) are unrelated to each other or to the other commandments. The commandment to observe the Sabbath is very long.  The commandment to respect one’s parents includes a promise or reward connected to Israel’s dwelling in the Promised Land, which is unique in this collection, which otherwise never mentions “the land.”

C. Short (Ethical) Prohibitions

Three of the commandments are two-word prohibitions focusing on very specific actions: “You shall not murder (לֹא תִּרְצָח)”; “You shall not fornicate [with a married woman] (לֹא תִּנְאָף)”; “You shall not steal (לֹא תִּגְנֹב).” “You shall not bear false witness against your fellow (לֹא־תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁקֶר)” contains five words instead of two, but is similar.

The final prohibition, “You shall not covet your fellow’s house (לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ)” begins with a short (four-word) sentence, but it is elaborated with the longer: “You shall not covet your fellow’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor,” throwing off the pattern.

None of these five commandments offers any motive-clauses or reasons; apparently, their reasons are self-evident.   

The Form-Critical Problem: What Is This Text For?

The complexity of this legal pastiche, seemingly without thematic focus, makes it difficult to determine the function this composition served. Popularly, it is seen as the axiomatic basis of the Torah’s legal corpus,[5] but this is difficult to support, since so many of the biblical laws (such as laws of purity and impurity, the sacrificial code, and the holidays) are for the most part unrelated to it.

Positionally, the Decalogue can be seen as the legal preamble to the longer law code, the Covenant Collection, that begins at the end of the chapter. Nevertheless, it does not look like, or function as an introduction. Neither can it function as the basis for a covenant between God and the People of Israel. This may explain the first three commandments focused on God’s exclusivity, but would not adequately explain the other commandments.

I believe that the solution to the pastiche problem is that a core version of the text has been expanded.  I show the evidence for this below.

Part 2

The Utility of this Divergence:
Shabbat as a Test Case

The Ten Commandments are one of the only texts that have two different versions recorded in the Torah itself, in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5. The most telling difference is in the formulation of the commandment to observe Shabbat. In the Exodus version, we are told to remember the Sabbath (זכור) because God created the world in six days, and on the seventh, he rested. In the Deuteronomy version, we are told to keep the Sabbath (שמור) so that one’s dependents can rest, and that one must have compassion for ones slaves since the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt.[6]

The divergence between the two Decalogues offer bible critics a rare window into the development of one the seminal texts in the Jewish canon. Most scholars believe that an earlier version of the Decalogue contained no reason for observing the Sabbath, and that the versions in Exodus and Deuteronomy reflect two different reasons provided by different authors, with each presenting his worldview.[7]

Deuteronomic Reasoning and Redacting

An editor of the Book of Deuteronomy supplied a reason in line with his familiar trope of compassion for one’s dependents, justified throughout the book by alluding to the Israelite slavery in Egypt.  The Deuteronomistic editor was responsible for the framing of the legal code of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 1-11, 27-30), whose discourse has a sermonizing quality and which contains multiple exhortations to behave ethically. It appears that the moralizing Deuteronomistic editor wished to put his stamp on this seminal text, and thus added his most common ethical argument: behave compassionately to your slaves since you were slaves yourselves.

Priestly Reasoning and Redacting

The editor of the final form of the Ten Commandments in Exodus was Priestly, and thus supplied a reason in line with Priestly Genesis 1:1- 2:3, the first of the two accounts of the creation of the world.[8] One of the Priestly source’s primary concerns is the observation of the Sabbath, and Priestly injunctions to observe the Sabbath appear many times in the Pentateuch. Many commentators have pointed out the centrality of the Sabbath to P’s laws and overall structure,[9] but by interpreting Shabbat in the Decalogue in line with its creation story, P is perhaps asserting that the laws of the Torah are tied to the very fabric of creation, that law and order are inherent to how God created the universe.

The following table compares the two versions of the Shabbat law in the Decalogue with the P (blue) and D (purple) additions highlighted:

Exodus

Deuteronomy

20:8 Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. 20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 20:10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of Yhwh your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. 20:11 For in six days Yhwh made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore, Yhwh blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it. 5:12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as Yhwh your God has commanded you. 5:13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 5:14 but the seventh day is a sabbath of Yhwh your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do. 5:15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Yhwh your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore Yhwh your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

כ:ח זָכוֹר אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ: כ:ט שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּֽעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּךָ: כ:י וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַי-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לֹא־תַעֲשֶׂה כָל־מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ־וּבִתֶּךָ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָֽתְךָ וּבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ: כ:יא כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת־יָמִים עָשָׂה יְ-הֹוָה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ אֶת־הַיָּם וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּם וַיּנַח בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי עַל־כֵּן בֵּרַךְ יְ-הֹוָה אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ:

ה:יב שָׁמ֛֣וֹר אֶת־י֥וֹם֩ הַשַּׁבָּ֖֨ת לְקַדְּשׁ֑֜וֹ כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוְּךָ׀ יְ-הֹוָ֣֥ה אֱ-לֹהֶֽ֗יךָ: ה:יג שֵׁ֣֤שֶׁת יָמִ֣ים֙ תַּֽעֲבֹ֔ד֘ וְעָשִׂ֣֖יתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּֽךָ֒: ה:יד וְי֙וֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔֜י שַׁבָּ֣֖ת׀ לַי-הֹוָ֣ה אֱ-לֹהֶ֑֗יךָ לֹ֣א תַעֲשֶׂ֣ה כָל־מְלָאכָ֡ה אַתָּ֣ה וּבִנְךָֽ־וּבִתֶּ֣ךָ וְעַבְדְּךָֽ־וַ֠אֲמָתֶךָ וְשׁוֹרְךָ֨ וַחֲמֹֽרְךָ֜ וְכָל־בְּהֶמְתֶּ֗ךָ וְגֵֽרְךָ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ לְמַ֗עַן יָ֛נוּחַ עַבְדְּךָ֥ וַאֲמָתְךָ֖ כָּמֽ֑וֹךָ: ה:טווְזָכַרְתָּ֗֞ כִּ֣י־עֶ֥֤בֶד הָיִ֣֨יתָ׀ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֗֔יִם וַיֹּצִ֨אֲךָ֬֜ יְ-הֹוָ֤֨ה אֱ-לֹהֶ֤֨יךָ֙ מִשָּׁ֔ם֙ בְּיָ֥֤ד חֲזָקָ֖ה֙ וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֑ה עַל־ כֵּ֗ן צִוְּךָ֙ יְ-הֹוָ֣ה אֱ-לֹהֶ֔יךָ לַעֲשׂ֖וֹת אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּֽת:

Part 3

J and E – Identifying the Two Main
Strata of the Decalogue

The case of Shabbat is serendipitous, since the two parallel versions allow us to see the redactors at work. Since no such hard evidence exists for the rest of the Decalogue, we are forced to look for other indicators. I posit that the original core was comprised of short commands. To explain how I go about identifying what is original and what is a redactional layer, I need to pause and explain my overall approach to the composition of the Pentateuch.

Supplementary versus Documentary: A Note on Method

Many of the readers are familiar with source criticism, the theory that the Torah is made up of multiple sources, most famously J, E, P, and D. But what is the nature of the relationship between these sources? Here, the type of source theory utilized makes a big difference.

According to the approach of the Documentary Hypothesis, the relationship between documents, such as J, E, and P, is one of parallel texts, each telling a similar story, and combined by a redactor into one. In this approach, if we could disentangle the sources properly and completely (assuming material hasn’t been lost), each document should read well on its own. 

According to the approach of the Supplementary Hypothesis, the Pentateuch began with one original text, and was expanded by successive additions, a natural process for a culture in which the written word was respected especially texts written in God’s name. According to this theory, even if we were able to isolate each layer properly, only the original layer would read well on its own. The later layers can only be read together with the older material that they supplement, and trying to read them in isolation would yield incomplete and incoherent texts, since they were never meant to stand independently.   

I subscribe to the Supplementary Hypothesis, and believe that the search for three or four different fragmentary documents does not accord with how ancient Jewish texts would have been transmitted. There are multiple supplementary models; in my view, the original text upon which all others were built was E, and the first author to add to the E core text was J.

Criteria for Distinguishing between J and E

Several clues suggest what is redactional, namely the supplementary layer added by J, and what is the original E text.

A. Length

If my hypothesis of a core text of short commandments is correct, then anything that is not a short commandment is redactional. The four short ethical prohibitions, which appear not to have been tampered with, suggest what the original list should look like.

B. Addition of Reasons

We have seen that P and D each added material to a shorter core text. Specifically, each added reasons for the observation of the Shabbat. Thus, any text that contains a motive clause, namely that adds a reason onto a prohibition, likely reflects J’s attempt to do the same.

C. God’s Different Names

In the passage containing the Decalogue, two different names are used to designate God. For example, in the first two verses, “Elohim” (v. 1) states that he is “Yhwh” (v. 2). Long ago, biblical scholars realized that the choice of God’s name is often significant, and that different names may reflect different authors. As I argue in my book, it is my view that E uses the name Elohim exclusively and J uses Yhwh almost exclusively.[10] Thus, any text that uses the name Yhwh is likely a J redactional layer.

D. Philosophy: Who Brought Israel out of Egypt?

The text should fit properly with the overall philosophy of the source from which they derive. Thus, concepts that are unique to J everywhere else should be assigned to J not E.

For example, Yhwh identifies himself as the God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt (v. 2). Although we might consider this a biblical truism, Yhwh’s active agency should not to be taken for granted.

One the most significant proof texts for this is Exodus 3:7-10.  (J = Red  E = Green)

ג:ז וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְ-הֹוָ֔ה רָאֹ֥ה רָאִ֛יתִי אֶת־עֳנִ֥י עַמִּ֖י אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וְאֶת־צַעֲקָתָ֤ם שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙ מִפְּנֵ֣י נֹֽגְשָׂ֔יו כִּ֥י יָדַ֖עְתִּי אֶת־מַכְאֹבָֽיו: ג:ח וָאֵרֵ֞ד לְהַצִּיל֣וֹ׀ מִיַּ֣ד מִצְרַ֗יִם וּֽלְהַעֲלֹתוֹ֘ מִן־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַהִוא֒ אֶל־אֶ֤רֶץ טוֹבָה֙ וּרְחָבָ֔ה אֶל־אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָ֑שׁ אֶל־מְק֤וֹם הַֽכְּנַעֲנִי֙ וְהַ֣חִתִּ֔י וְהָֽאֱמֹרִי֙ וְהַפְּרִזִּ֔י וְהַחִוִּ֖י וְהַיְבוּסִֽי: ג:ט וְעַתָּ֕ה הִנֵּ֛ה צַעֲקַ֥ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בָּ֣אָה אֵלָ֑י וְגַם־רָאִ֙יתִי֙ אֶת־הַלַּ֔חַץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר מִצְרַ֖יִם לֹחֲצִ֥ים אֹתָֽם: ג:י וְעַתָּ֣ה לְכָ֔ה וְאֶֽשְׁלָחֲךָ֖ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה וְהוֹצֵ֛א אֶת־עַמִּ֥י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִם:
3:7 Yhwh said, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, and I know their sorrows. 3:8 I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up and out of that land to a good and broad land, to a land flowing with milk and honey; to the dwelling place of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 3:9 Now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to me. Moreover I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 3:10 Come now, and I will send you to the king of Egypt, so that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

In verses 7-8, Yhwh tells Moses that he, Yhwh, will take the Israelites out of Egypt, whereas in verses 9-10, Moses the man is appointed to take the Israelites out of Egypt. This distinction is evident elsewhere in Exodus[11] and is one of the distinguishing differences between the J source (red) and the E source (green) in the book of Exodus.[12]  In J, Yhwh takes an active role in the Exodus, whereas in E, whose designation for God is “Elohim,” human agency is emphasized.    

Part 4

A Piece-by-Piece Analysis of the Decalogue

The Commandment not to have Another God

כ:ב אָנֹכִי יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים כ:ג לֹא יִהְיֶה־לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל־פָּנָי:
20:2 [Since] I, Yhwh, am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: 20:3 You shall have no other god but Me.[13]

The first verse, “I am Yhwh your God who took you out of Egypt,” precedes the commandment: “You shall have no other God but me,” and explains it. We have already identified this statement with J who asserts throughout the Exodus that Yhwh alone was responsible for the Exodus. The commandment: “You shall have no other god but me,” is a short prohibition, and may be reasonably attributed to the E core text.[14]

Thus, dividing this prohibition into J and E layers, yields the following; it is important to remember that even though v. 3 follows v. 2, it was written first:

כ:ב אָנֹכִי יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים כ:ג לֹא יִהְיֶה־לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל־פָּנָי:
20:2 [Since] I Yhwh am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: 20:3 You shall have no other god but Me.

The Commandment not to Make Idols

כ:ד לֹא תַֽעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל־תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַֽאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ: כ:ה לֹא־תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם כִּי אָנֹכִי יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֵל קַנָּא פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבֹ֧ת עַל־בָּנִים עַל־ שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִים לְשֹׂנְאָי: כ:ו וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לַאֲלָפִים לְאֹהֲבַי וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְוֹתָי: ס
20:4 You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I Yhwh your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, 20:6 but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

We can safely assume that the motive clause introduced by “for I am Yhwh your God” is an addition, especially since it uses the name Yhwh. But even the text before that is too long to be original.

This text contains two prohibitions: not to make an idol or image, and not to worship them. In theory, both could be original. Yet, this second prohibition is the only example of a commandment in this text that cannot be read on its own, and is a follow-up from a previous commandment, and is thus likely supplementary.[15]

Treating v. 5 as supplemental does not solve the problem fully since v. 4 itself is long. It is comprised of 16 words, and they add little in terms of content to “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image [or likeness],” the probably core. The reasons for the expansion in v. 4 may be found in the other more certain expansion, vv. 5b-6. These verses give the reason for the commandment and add a carrot and stick, threat/reward.  They are expressed with a tone of vehemence and urgency; it is not surprising that an editor (J) who felt strongly about the issue would add 5b-6 as a rhetorical flourish to the base commandment.

I also suspect that this same editor added the (otherwise obvious) prohibition not to bow down to these idols or images.[16] Finally, the idea of Yhwh visiting the iniquity of the parents on the children is used elsewhere by J (Exod 34:6).[17]

Dividing this prohibition into E and J yields the following:

כ:ד לֹא תַֽעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל־תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַֽאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ: כ:ה לֹא־תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם כִּי אָנֹכִי יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֵל קַנָּא פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבֹ֧ת עַל־בָּנִים עַל־ שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִים לְשֹׂנְאָי: כ:ו וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לַאֲלָפִים לְאֹהֲבַי וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְוֹתָי: ס
20:4 You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image or any likeness[18] of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I Yhwh your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, 20:6 but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

The Commandment not to Take Yhwh’s Name in Vain

The next commandment: “Do not take your Yhwh your God’s name in vain, for he will not forgive whomsoever takes his name in vain,” employs the name Yhwh as J commonly does and E never does. This commandment is an extension of J’s description of Yhwh as an impassioned or jealous God of the previous J verses.

The Shabbat Commandment

כ:ח זָכוֹר אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ: כ:ט שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּֽעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּךָ: כ:י וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַי-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לֹא־תַעֲשֶׂה כָל־מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ־וּבִתֶּךָ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָֽתְךָ וּבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ: כ:יא כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת־יָמִים עָשָׂה יְ-הֹוָה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ אֶת־הַיָּם וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּם וַיּנַח בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי עַל־כֵּן בֵּרַךְ יְ-הֹוָה אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ: ס
20:8 Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. 20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 20:10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of Yhwh your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. 20:11 For in six days Yhwh made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore Yhwh blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.

I have already shown above that v. 11 is a Priestly expansion, yet this still leaves quite a long commandment (29 words). These factors and the use of Yhwh as the divine name (v. 10) suggest that J added this commandment.

In theory, vv. 9 and 10 could be an expansion by an editor (J), who felt that “Remember the Sabbath” was not sufficiently clear. The problem is that this editor—according to my construction of E and J—would be absolutely right. Readers of E would have simply no idea what was being talked about, there is no reference to Shabbat anywhere in the source.[19] Shabbat requires some context.[20]  It does, however, appear in J – twice.[21]   Moreover, Shabbat is unique here since all the other laws would be common sense to an “ethical monotheist” requiring no elucidation. Shabbat breaks this rule as it is a purely ritual commandment. Thus, I think that the entire commandment about Shabbat was added in later (by J). 

The Commandment to Honor One’s Parents

כ:יב כַּבֵּד אֶת־אָבִיךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר־יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ: ס
20:12 Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land that Yhwh your God is assigning to you.

The motive clause with the reward of a long life is an expansion from J, since it uses the name Yhwh. Furthermore, the notice that Yhwh will be giving the land of Canaan to the Israelites employs the same divine agency as Yhwh personally delivering the Israelites from Israel, which, as I noted above, is the perspective of J.[22]  E, in contrast, prefers to emphasize human agency.

As with Shabbat, it is possible that the opening line, which is only five words, was original to the E Decalogue. However, all the other likely E elements of the Decalogue list prohibitions, and thus the opening of the Shabbat commandment and the entire honoring parents commandment are best attributed to J.  

The Four Short Ethical Commandments

The four paradigmatic short prohibitions are all part of the original E core.

The Commandment not to Covet

כ:יד לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ ס לֹא־תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ: פ
20:14 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house: you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

This is a classic example of a redaction explanatory expansion. “Do not covet your neighbor’s house” is the basic commandment and the general category of “your neighbor’s house” is expanded to include other objects and people belonging to the neighbor.

Since there is no theological or ideological reason to attribute this expansion to an additional author, this expansion could be a clarification original to E. Stylistically, however, it makes sense to attribute this expansion to J, since we have seen his penchant for elaboration. Given that the other six commandments attributed to E range from two to seven words, attributing the four-word general commandment to the E base text and its expansion to J also makes sense.[23]

The source division of this commandment yields:

כ:יד לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ ס לֹא־תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ: פ
20:14 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

The Original Seven Commandments

The reconstructed core text exhibits a uniform style and is more focused and structured. The commandments are seven short prohibitions each beginning with the negative לא.

א לֹא יִהְיֶה־לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל־פָּנָי.
1 You shall have no other god but Me.
ב לֹא תַֽעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל [וְכָל־תְּמוּנָה.]
2 You shall not make an image [or any likeness.]
ג לֹא תִּרְצָח.
3 You shall not murder.
ד לֹא תִּנְאָף.
4 You shall not commit adultery.
ה לֹא תִּגְנֹב.
5 You shall not steal.
ו לֹא־תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁקֶר.
6 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
ז לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ.
7 You shall not covet your neighbor’s household.
Conclusion

The Original Function of E’s Decalogue

The original seven commandments of the E Decalogue were not meant to function as a comprehensive law code or even as principles.[24] Rather, they were a few of the most important discrete laws people should live by. They are, in my reconstruction, the only laws recorded in the E document, which distinguishes it from the other sources, each of which have extensive law collections.[25]

These seven commandments are part of a “libertarian” strand found in the Bible:[26] acknowledging God’s kingship rather than observing specific laws shows allegiance to God. In E, the act of revelation is more important than the specific laws, all of which are common sense for an ethical monotheist, especially given that they are part of the broader ancient Near Eastern legal tradition. The main point of the revelation is to prove that Moses, who led Israel out of Egypt, is God’s messenger and speaks with God’s authority.

This authentication is needed since in the version of E that I isolate, God has not participated in the Exodus at all after appointing Moses in Chapter 3. It was Moses who smote the Egyptian with his plagues, it is Moses who split the sea and killed the Egyptians, and it was Moses who brought them to Mount Sinai. Now God needs to tell the Israelites that Moses was acting with His authority.     

Appendix

The Decalogue with Colored Sources

כ:א וַיְדַבֵּר אֱ-לֹהִים אֵת כָּל־הַדְּבָר֥ים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר: ס
20:1 God spoke all these words, saying:
כ:ב אָנֹכִי יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים כ:ג לֹא יִהְיֶה־לְךָ אֱ-לֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל־פָּנָי:
20:2 I Yhwh am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: 20:3 You shall have no other gods besides Me.
כ:ד לֹא תַֽעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל־תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַֽאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ: כ:ה לֹא־תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם כִּי אָנֹכִי יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֵל קַנָּא פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבֹ֧ת עַל־בָּנִים עַל־ שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִים לְשֹׂנְאָי: כ:ו וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לַאֲלָפִים לְאֹהֲבַי וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְוֹתָי: ס
20:4 You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I Yhwh your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, 20:6 but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
כ:ז לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת־שֵׁם־יְ-הֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא כִּי לֹא יְנַקֶּה יְ-הֹוָ֔ה אֵת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ לַשָּׁוְא: פ
20:7 You shall not swear falsely by the name of Yhwh your God; for Yhwh will not clear one who swears falsely by His name.
כ:ח זָכוֹר אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ: כ:ט שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּֽעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּךָ: כ:י וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַי-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לֹא־תַעֲשֶׂה כָל־מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ־וּבִתֶּךָ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָֽתְךָ וּבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ: כ:יא כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת־יָמִים עָשָׂה יְ-הֹוָה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ אֶת־הַיָּם וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּם וַיּנַח בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי עַל־כֵּן בֵּרַךְ יְ-הֹוָה אֶת־יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ: ס
20:8 Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. 20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 20:10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of Yhwh your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. 20:11 For in six days Yhwh made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore Yhwh blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
כ:יב כַּבֵּד אֶת־אָבִיךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר־יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ: ס
20:12 Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land that Yhwh your God is assigning to you.
כ:יג לֹא תִּרְצָח ס
20:13 You shall not murder.
לֹא תִּנְאָף ס
You shall not commit adultery.
לֹא תִּגְנֹב ס
You shall not steal.
לֹא־תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁקֶר: ס
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
כ:יד לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ ס לֹא־תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ: פ
20:14 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house: you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

Published

February 5, 2015

|

Last Updated

September 23, 2019

Footnotes

View Footnotes

Dr. Rabbi Tzemah Yoreh has a Ph.D. in Bible from Hebrew University. He has written many books focusing on his reconstruction of the redaction history of Genesis through Kings. He is the author of The First Book of God, and the multi-volume Kernel to Canon series, with books like Jacob’s Journey and Moses’s Mission. Yoreh has taught at Ben Gurion University and American Jewish University. He is currently working towards ordination at the International Institute for Secular and Humanistic Judaism.