History in the Bible Podcast

The Ten Commandments (Aseret ha-D'varim)

Podcast Episodes: 1.16 Exodus IV: Origins of the Old Israelite Religion and 1.21 Deuteronomy I: Moses Farewells his People.

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If Christians know anything about the Old Testament (Tanakh), they know about the Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue. In Judaism this list has the more prosaic name of Aseret ha-D'varim, the Ten Things or Ten Words.

The Ten Commandments in Judaism and Christianity

The revered collection of laws known to Christians as the Ten Commandments is presented twice in the Bible: in chapter 20 of Exodus, and chapter 5 of Deuteronomy. The collection is named explicitly as the Ten Things in the Tanakh in only three places: Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13 and Deuteronomy 10:4.

In the Tanakh the collection is called the Ten Things. In later rabbinic texts the collection is referred to as Aseret ha-Dibrot, Ten Sayings. It is never referred to as the Aseret ha-Mitzvot, Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments do not hold the same high place in Judaism as they do in Christianity. The collection that Christians privilege as the Ten Commandments is but one part of the legal code that Jews are enjoined to obey. According to Jewish tradition, God gave the Jews 613 mitzvot. Here is an accessible list of the 613 mitzvot, based on the works of the great 13th century Jewish scholar Maimonides, Rambam.

Exodus 20 versus Deuteronomy 5: Which version?

The main difference between the two renditions of the Ten Commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy concerns the rationale for the sabbath. In Exodus 20 the rationale is clear and makes perfect sense:

20

8 Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord 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. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.

In Deuteronomy chapter 5, the sabbath is linked to the exodus, but Deuteronomy does not say why. As I discuss in my episodes on the book, Deuteronomy insists on the exodus as the central motivation for all social and religious practices, so it shoe-horns the exodus as justification.

Two Translations

Both Judaism and Christianity accept Deuteronomy's list of the commandments as canonical. Here are two translations. Apart from the language, note the differences in how they divide the verses.

NJPSV English translation and versification (1985)

This is the New Jewish Publication Society Version (NJPSV) translation and division into verses, of Deuteronomy:

5

6 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the and of Egypt, the house of bondage. 7You shall have no other gods beside Me.

8 You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters below the earth. 9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I the Lord 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, 10 but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

11 You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God; for the Lord will not clear one who swears falsely by His name.

12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath day of the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your as, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male or female slave may rest as you do. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

16 Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may long endure, and that you may fare well, in the land that the Lord your God is assigning you.

17 You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

18 You shall not covet your neighbour's wife. Your shall not crave your neighbour's house, or his field, or his male or female slave, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour's.

King James Bible English translation and versification (1611)

This is the King James Bible translation and division into verses, from Deuteronomy:

5

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 shewing 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 labour, 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 wast 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.

16 Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which Yahweh thy God giveth thee.

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 neighbour.

21 Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's.

The Ten Commandments: Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Lists

This table shows the three main lists of the Ten Commandments, from Deuteronomy. Here I use the New Jewish Publication Society Version text and versification. I have replaced the euphemism the Lord with the word that actually appears in the text, God's personal name Yahweh.

Modern Judaism
(Talmudic division)
Hellenistic Judaism, Most Protestants, and Orthodox
(Septuagint's division)
Catholics and Lutherans
(St Augustine's division)
1 6 I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. 6 I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. 7 You shall have no other gods beside Me. 6 I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. 7 You shall have no other gods beside Me. 8 You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters below the earth. 9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I Yahweh 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, 10 but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
2 7 You shall have no other gods beside Me. 8 You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters below the earth. 9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I Yahweh 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, 10 but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments. 8 You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters below the earth. 9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I Yahweh 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, 10 but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments. 11 You shall not swear falsely by the name of Yahweh your God; for Yahweh will not clear one who swears falsely by His name.
3 11 You shall not swear falsely by the name of Yahweh your God; for Yahweh will not clear one who swears falsely by His name. 11 You shall not swear falsely by the name of Yahweh your God; for Yahweh will not clear one who swears falsely by His name. 12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as Yahweh your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath day of Yahweh your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your as, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male or female slave may rest as you do. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Yahweh your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore Yahweh your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
4 12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as Yahweh your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath day of Yahweh your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your as, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male or female slave may rest as you do. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Yahweh your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore Yahweh your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day. 12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as Yahweh your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath day of Yahweh your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or your as, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male or female slave may rest as you do. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Yahweh your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore Yahweh your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day. 16 Honour your father and your mother, as Yahweh your God has commanded you, that you may long endure, and that you may fare well, in the land that Yahweh your God is assigning you.
5 16 Honour your father and your mother, as Yahweh your God has commanded you, that you may long endure, and that you may fare well, in the land that Yahweh your God is assigning you. 16 Honour your father and your mother, as Yahweh your God has commanded you, that you may long endure, and that you may fare well, in the land that Yahweh your God is assigning you. 17a You shall not murder.
6 17a You shall not murder. 17a You shall not murder. 17b You shall not commit adultery.
7 17b You shall not commit adultery. 17b You shall not commit adultery. 17c You shall not steal.
8 17c You shall not steal. 17c You shall not steal. 17d You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
9 17d You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. 17d You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. 18a You shall not covet your neighbour's wife.
10 18 You shall not covet your neighbour's wife. You shall not crave your neighbour's house, or his field, or his male or female slave, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour's. 18 You shall not covet your neighbour's wife. You shall not crave your neighbour's house, or his field, or his male or female slave, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour's. 18b You shall not crave your neighbour's house, or his field, or his male or female slave, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour's.

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