Ten Commandments:
I venture now into perilous territory.  I really wish I didn’t have to talk about this.  But I would not have found the theory at all if I did not have the habit of rushing in where fools fear to tread.  Except for the evidence of the goddess, which actually constitutes indirect evidence in support of the theory, the Ten Commandments is the only reason I have embarked on talking about religion at all.  I do it because there is one legitimate question I cannot avoid.  “Where did you get this, or did you make it all up yourself?”  The answer is not easy. 

There are three kinds of mines in this field, depending on who is reading.  There are a large number of people who simply have no interest in scripture.  I tiptoe past that problem by saying there are so many people who take scripture seriously that if you want to have any understanding of what people are doing and have done, you really need to make a study of it.  At least read it all the way through. 

The second audience is those who are actively hostile.  I have run into two rationales.  Some say, “I haven’t read it, and I’m not going to read it because I know what it says already.  It says if you act nice good things will happen to you.”  That could hardly be farther from the mark.  That is a concept called “karma,” and three chapters into Genesis should convince you that karma is not a biblical concept.  More thoughtful people say, “I don’t take it seriously because everything it says it turns around and says something different.”  That’s pretty close.  But that should not trouble you.  There are multiple perspectives, just like in real life.  If you think it was produced by a supernatural power, then the contradictions might drive you to despair.  But you are stuck with them.  If you think it was not produced by a supernatural power that was trying to make life easy for you, the contradictions should not trouble you. 

The third audience is those who take scripture very seriously and who will find me looking at it in a way they do not like.  To them all I can say is that they are perfectly aware that there are others who disagree with them vehemently.  At least I am not among them.  I make no claim to have the final truth.  But I do plan to look at what it says in a few spots.

I have previously said that the Bible plays mind games with you.  You may win some of those games, but you probably won’t win them all.  The more you bring to the business of thinking about scripture the more it will beat you up mentally.  Let me give a few examples.

The Promised Land is described as a land, “Flowing with milk and honey.”  Did you know that it was and is a practice of nursing mothers to put honey on their nipples to encourage the baby to suckle?  Did you know that a truly vigorous baby can suck hard enough to draw blood?  Did you know that honey is viscous, making it a protective coating?  Are you any happier now? 

I once read through the books of Samuel and thought I could make it into a drama.  I turned it into what I thought was a perfectly presentable play.  David is usually thought of as the hero, but it’s really Saul.  As kings go in scripture he was one of the best.  He came to a sorry end.  The enemy killed him and nailed him to the wall of the city.  Remember Jesus words on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  He is quoting a psalm of David.  The psalm contains the line, “They have pierced my hands and my feet.”  This isn’t making things any clearer, is it?  Saul spent a lot of time persecuting witches.  He thought it was his duty.  All right, I know you don’t approve.  I don’t either.  It’s only when you compare him with other kings that he looks pretty good.  At all events, on the night before his death Saul consulted a witch.  She didn’t recognize him at first, but she did call up the soul of Samuel from hell for him.  The ghost had some unkind things to say.  Saul collapsed in horror.  By this time the witch recognized him.  Her response was to say more or less, “Come on, dear, and let me get you something to eat.  You have a big day tomorrow.”  The supreme irony is that one of the very people he has persecuted is the only one who is nice to him.  For that matter, she is practically the only nice soft hearted person in scripture or maybe in all of literature until the work of Joel Chandler Harris.  Then to cap it off, in the New Testament a man named Saul is busy persecuting Christians.  He is interrupted by a vision of Christ, whose words are, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” 

It seemed to me to be pretty good drama.  I felt smug about it.  Then I took a course in directing and there was a chapter on “The Structure of a Drama.”  I wasn’t interested because I though I knew what it said already.  But I read it anyway.  It started out, “In any drama, there is always some event that has happened before the curtain rises that propels the action in the story.”  Oops, thought I, I didn’t include that.  But scripture includes it.  The key impetus at the beginning of the story of Saul is the desire of the people of Israel to have a king.  The reason they want a king so badly is laid out in the book of Judges.  Something bad happens that essentially exterminates the tribe of Benjamin.  A king would not have permitted it.  It is never mentioned in the books of Samuel; only the effect is obvious.  In other words the story of Saul was written by a dramatist who knew a lot more about what he was doing than I knew.  In fact I would never have made the connection if I had not taken that course in drama. 

There are a number of other examples, buy you get the drift.  The closer you look the more you miss.  And you never know what is simply narrative and what is a setup to torment your mind. 

Thus surrounded by a diverse but uniformly hostile audience we creep into conflicted and impassioned land.  There are major religions based on scripture.  The New Testament is commentary on the Old.  The Old Testament is a commentary on the Law.  The law is commentary on the Ten Commandments.  This is the very heart of things.

In brief, Moses Prince of Egypt has identified with Israelite slaves and has persuaded them to follow him to freedom.  They wander in the vast Arabian wilderness east of the Great Rift.  He leads them to Mt. Sinai. This is thought to be in Egypt and can be climbed in a few hours.  Somebody pointed out Mr. Sinai from an airplane I was on, and it was in Saudi Arabia and was hundreds of miles across.  Wherever it is, he goes up into the mountain to chat with God.  God gives him the Ten Commandments, written in stone by the flaming finger of God.  Moses carries the Ten on two tablets back to the Israelites.  Talk about drama. 

Wait a minute.  How big was that finger?  It had to be small enough to write the text on stones small enough for a man to lift.  And in what script was it written?  A finger would be pretty good for writing in Hebrew.  It would be a lousy instrument for writing in Egyptian hieroglyphics.  No matter.  Moses brought the tablets back.  There he found the Israelites worshiping a golden calf.  In a fit of rage he smashed the stones, burned them, mixed them with water and made the Children of Israel drink it. 

So what kind of stone was it?  Does stone burn?  It certainly does.  You can burn limestone into lime.  Mix it with water and you get plaster, which sets up solid.  It’s good for building or whitewash, but you really don’t want to drink it.  Marble is metamorphic limestone.  Can you burn marble, too?  I would think so.  Is there marble or limestone on Mr. Sinai?  There is if it the Egyptian one.  Otherwise I don’t know.  The description of the mountain is very like an erupting volcano, but I am told Mr. Sinai is not a volcano at all, whichever one was being referred to.  I am left puzzled as usual. 

After showing his displeasure Moses goes back up the mountain and gets God to make another copy.  This second copy is the Ten Commandments or the Covenant between God and Israel.  A covenant is a bargain, a deal, a contract.  There are two sides to a contract.  Each party undertakes certain obligations.  There are many commandments in the Old Testament, but the Ten Commandments are not commandments at all.  They are the bargain. 

So we take a look.  “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  It identifies the parties to the bargain.  So far so good. 

Then it gets right down to business.  “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”  Got it.  “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”  Nice prose, but actually it’s the same commandment all over.  “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 even to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.”  Still the same idea.  If it does not sound fair to those great grandchildren, we shall get back to that.  “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.”  The name of a tribe might be the name of their god.  So it’s the same directive.  Don’t worship any other god.  Repeat many times with feeling and threats. 

Then the tone changes.  I shall paraphrase:  You will get the weekend off.  You will make your parents proud.  (There is an inserted word that means “so that.”  That word is out of place.  It is used frequently in Deuteronomy, which comes later.  It is a simplifying word.  At the presumed time of the exodus, intent was indicated by a change in the structure of the verb.  In other words, it does not belong but was inserted, probably by the Deuteronomist himself.  So we proceed with the next line, dropping the inappropriate word.)  You will live a long time.  You will not kill, commit adultery, steal, lie or envy anybody.

You see it’s a list of blessings.  That’s the other side of the bargain.  God asks one thing.  Stay out of any other churches, and in return He offers a list of things He will do for them.  There was no need to make a list of what was right and what was wrong.  People already knew that.  That was established in the Garden of Eden.  What He is saying is, “And in return I shall make decent people out of you.”  It’s the ultimate offer.  Thinking well of ourselves is the most important thing to people.  Loss of self esteem is the mark of clinical depression and is the common cause of suicide.  Lose your self respect and you don’t want to live.  Nothing else is worse.  That’s just the way we are.  God does not say no Israelite will ever be depressed.  But He does promise that in return for loyalty there will be no reason to be depressed.

So is it all just a marketing scheme?  “Worship me and I’ll make things nice for you”?  Hardly.  God is just pointing out how the world works.  If it were a marketing ploy the message would be that there is no limit to the number of people who could be included.  But there is a limit.  Not only are both sides of the covenant identified, but the words “Showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments,” are included.  That is thousands, not tens of thousands.  Reckoning from my computer reconstruction and supported by the data from Iceland on kinship and fertility, supported by the size of a parcel that can support a hundred farms in Wessex and again supported by the number of generations it takes an empire to collapse, it seems that a hundred families would be an ideal number for maximum fertility and maybe four hundred perfectly acceptable.  If a cottage shelters two parents, three children, two grandparents and a great grandparent, that is eight people.  Four hundred cottages would support thirty two hundred humans.  That is thousands, not tens of thousands.  The Ten Commandments is directed at such size a community, else it would be rejected out of hand with the remark, “Not for us.  There are already ten thousand of us.”  The ancient word falls precisely within the range of modern calculation. 

Consider.  As long as anybody knows, marriages have taken place in a religious context.  Of recent years, there is such a thing as a civil ceremony.  But that was rare if it existed at all in past times.  You married in a place of worship.  If nobody ever went into anybody else’s place of worship, then nobody could ever marry outside their church.  There would be lots of babies.  Things would go well, not just socially and economically but morally too.  That is the contract, the covenant.  Mate within your own group. 

As far as punishing those children, of course it’s unfair.  That’s why you shouldn’t do it.  Don’t marry outside because it will reduce the fertility of your children and their children and ultimately trash their lives, the country, the world. 

There have been efforts made to undercut the power of the words of the Covenant.  I do not know how he dared to do it, but the Deuteronomist inserted a word for “so that” that changes two blessing, “You will make your parents proud, you will live a long time,” into a threat, “You will honor your parents or I will kill you!”  He did it again.  In the passage about the Sabbath, according to a Hebrew interlinear interpretation I looked at, the sense is, “You will get the weekend off.  You will give you servants the weekend of so that they will be well rested and will work hard for you and you will prosper.”  Drop the later insertion and the sense runs, “You will get the weekend off, including not having to order your servants around.  You will prosper.”  A sly and brilliant man, this Deuteronomist, but he is evil out of all imagining.  He blinds us to the word of God.  Even I hesitate to challenge him, but there he stands challenged.

There is another place in scripture itself where the Covenant is undercut.  Remember the context.  Moses got the tablets, brought them back, found his people worshiping an idol, got into a snit, broke the tablets, went off and came back with a new copy that starts out, “Don’t you dare worship idols.”  The implication stares you in the face.  He must have changed the words.  There must have been a better version, but faced with events he was forced to conclude that the people Weren’t Ready For It Yet and brought back a simplified code.  That accounts nicely for the excited tone at the beginning of what we read and the more moderate tone later on. 

I smell a setup.  It looks to me like the story was built around the Covenant.  If you don’t like that, take it that the emphasis of the story was influenced by the Covenant.  Either way, the context implies, “Don’t worry.  He doesn’t really mean it.  I mean of course you shouldn’t worship other gods.  But it’s just another thing you ought not do, like don’t commit adultery.  See?  It’s not really a covenant.  It’s a set of rules.  We like rules, don’t we?  They mean we don’t have to think.  Just because God, or Moses, is all worked up about this doesn’t make it the most important thing in the world.”  But it is the most important thing in the world.

If scripture has gone so far in cloaking the Covenant, don’t expect all the intervening church authorities, who really have had marketing issues, to have turned it around.  The incredible thing is that the message is still visible at all. 

I have made bold to offer you an exegesis of the most momentous words in all of history.  Those words have meant a lot of different things to a lot of people.  Power to them.  I do not claim to have the only truth.  I do not claim to have the final truth.  I could raise objections to my own logic.  I just say that this looks like truth to me. 

So to the challenge, “Did you make this up yourself?” I can answer, “Apparently not, and I don’t see how you could have possibly missed it.”

There have been 1,033 visitors so far.  This is research not advice.  Linton Herbert

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