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Friday, May 25, 2007

The Twenty Commandments

Although Franc Tremblay and Dawson Bethrick have shown time and again that the Ten Commandments are morally worthless, I think that an analysis of the textual source for these lists is supremely fascinating.

Casual references to the scriptural source for the Ten Commandments will usually mention two locations (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), but it's relatively rare to hear about the other place they're listed (Exodus 34). Usually, the reason for this is that although there's an obvious citation of the phrase "Ten Commandments," there isn't a recognizable list- at least, of the so-called orthodox version of the Commandments.

You see, looking a bit closer at Exodus 34 shows that there actually is a set of Ten Commandments therein- and there are even some that can be recognized, such as the command to worship only Yahweh (the name of the Hebrew deity), the prohibition against making any idols, and the command to observe the Sabbath. And yet, the other items in the list are strange, concerned primarily with Temple worship and cultic feasts.

In fact, if one were to dive a bit closer into the text of Exodus 34, and in fact, the larger surrounding corpus, one would find two parallel but slightly different narratives, laid end to end in Exodus, which indicate a human composition of the Pentateuch.

I performed such an analysis years ago just after I left Christianity, and have now posted this on my website. If you're interested, you can find it here.

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3 Comments:

At 5/25/2007 11:42 AM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

I remember the first time I ever seethed a baby goat in its mothers milk. I was 8 years old, just learning how to seethe baby goats for myself.

I milked the mother goat for what seemed like an eternity just to get enouh milk to submerge her kid in. I lit the fire and got the milk boiling, and then *PLOP* in went the baby goat.

It obviously didnt like the seething, but what can ya do? It was good and broiled in its own mothers milk in due time.

But later that day, in a fit of rleigious piety, I opened my Bible and decided to review the ten commandments, just for the supernatural joy of it. And then it struck me: Do not seethe a kid in its mothers milk.

How could I have overlooked such an important commandment only until AFTER I had broken it?

I knew that I had infuriated the grand creator of existence - the being who created the billions of stars found within each of the billions of galaxies, the creator of life, the inventor of logic.

This all powerful and important and wise being was incredibly concerned with whose milk one uses to seethe baby goats. I knew that there would be hell to pay.

 
At 5/25/2007 3:13 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Seems like an odd commandment, I'll readily admit. And then there's the one about not eating shellfish or pork.

But if those sound so ridiculous to us now, why do other commandments (delivered in the same divine breath) carry so much weight with Christians?

It's an interesting topic to discuss- I brought it up last Saturday when talking with John and his buddies at the Flying Saucer, which is why I've taken some more interest in it after several years.

 
At 6/01/2007 5:06 PM, Blogger Chris declaimed...

Zach --

Textual criticism is a particular interest of mine. I'll admit that I haven't read completely through the earlier writeup that you linked that examines the two parallel textual traditions contained in Exodus. I scanned well enough to see that you've run into one of the same sort of issues that made it possible to have developed the Documentary Hypothesis, namely the duplication of the same story elements with contrasting details. In these portions of Exodus, we have at the very least threads of P (Priestly source) and J (Yahwistic source), and perhaps a bit of E (Elohistic source).

If you have discovered the multisource nature of the Pentateuch on your own through recognizing and analyzing these multiple threads of the same basic story, I'd say excellent work. You're in good company with Wellhausen and his successors.

Although there are a number of more difficult works that deal in textual history from scholars such as Frank Moore Cross Jr., David Noel Freedman, Baruch Halpern, Ziony Zevit, and Mark Smith, I recommend further reading first in the books by Richard Elliot Friedman, especially "Who Wrote the Bible?", "The Bible with Sources Revealed", and "The Hidden Book in the Bible". Fantastic stuff. Apart from textual study, the archaeology-focused books by William Dever are enjoyable and informative, and perhaps mix in a bit of Israel Finkelstein for a somewhat alternative (i.e., more minimalistic) perspective.

Anyway, it is interesting to see that you're venturing into other disciplines. I thoroughly enjoyed your "Evolution 101" podcasts. My favorite episodes were probably the several on the molecular evidence. Going into that, I was familiar with the role of ERVs in indicating a common ancestry, but not with the other lines of molecular evidence.

Although you don't seem to be producing new podcasts, thank you anyway for leaving these up for download. I didn't discover them until you had apparently concluded their production.

 

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