Ten commandments exodus 20
The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The commandments include instructions to worship only God, to honour one's parents, and to keep the sabbath, as well as prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, and coveting. Different religious groups follow different traditions for interpreting and numbering them.
- Ten commandments exodus 20
- Passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy
- Traditions for numbering
- Religious interpretations
- Two tablets
- Use in Jewish ritual
- References in the New Testament
- Roman Catholicism
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints
- Sabbath day
- Killing or murder
- You shall not steal
- Early theories
- Hittite treaties
- The Ritual Decalogue
- United States debate over display on public property
The Ten Commandments are listed twice in the Hebrew Bible, first at Exodus 20:1–17, and then at Deuteronomy 5:6–21. Both versions state that God inscribed them on two stone tablets, which he gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. Modern scholarship has found likely influences in Hittite and Mesopotamian laws and treaties, but is divided over exactly when the Ten Commandments were written and who wrote them.
In biblical Hebrew, the Ten Commandments are called עשרת הדברים (transliterated aseret ha-d'varîm) and in Rabbinical Hebrew עשרת הדברות (transliterated asereth ha-dibrot), both translatable as "the ten words", "the ten sayings" or "the ten matters". The Tyndale and Coverdale English translations used "ten verses". The Geneva Bible used "tenne commandements", which was followed by the Bishops' Bible and the Authorized Version (the "King James" version) as "ten commandments". Most major English versions use "commandments."
The English name "Decalogue" is derived from Greek δεκάλογος, dekalogos, the latter meaning and referring to the Greek translation (in accusative) δέκα λόγους, deka logous, "ten words", found in the Septuagint (or LXX) at Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 10:4.
The stone tablets, as opposed to the commandments inscribed on them, are called לוחות הברית, Luchot HaBrit, meaning "the tablets of the covenant".
Passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy
The biblical narrative of the revelation at Sinai begins in Exodus 19 after the arrival of the children of Israel at Mount Sinai (also called Horeb). On the morning of the third day of their encampment, "there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud", and the people assembled at the base of the mount. After "the LORD came down upon mount Sinai", Moses went up briefly and returned and prepared the people, and then in Exodus 20 "God spoke" to all the people the words of the covenant, that is, the " ten commandments" as it is written. Modern biblical scholarship differs as to whether Exodus 19-20 describes the people of Israel as having directly heard all or some of the decalogue, or whether the laws are only passed to them through Moses.
The people were afraid to hear more and moved "afar off", and Moses responded with "Fear not." Nevertheless, he drew near the "thick darkness" where "the presence of the Lord" was to hear the additional statutes and "judgments", (Exodus 21–23) all which he "wrote" in the "book of the covenant" which he read to the people the next morning, and they agreed to be obedient and do all that the LORD had said. Moses escorted a select group consisting of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and "seventy of the elders of Israel" to a location on the mount where they worshipped "afar off" and they "saw the God of Israel" above a "paved work" like clear sapphire stone. (Exodus 24:1–11)
And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tablets of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. 13 And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God.
The mount was covered by the cloud for six days, and on the seventh day Moses went into the midst of the cloud and was "in the mount forty days and forty nights." (Exodus 24:16–18) And Moses said, "the LORD delivered unto me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly." (Deuteronomy 9:10) Before the full forty days expired, the children of Israel collectively decided that something happened to Moses, and compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf, and he "built an altar before it" (Ex. 32:1–5) and the people "worshipped" the calf. (Ex. 32:6–8)
After the full forty days, Moses and Joshua came down from the mountain with the tablets of stone: "And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount." (Ex.32:19) After the events in chapters 32 and 33, the LORD told Moses, "Hew thee two tablets of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tablets the words that were in the first tablets, which thou brakest." (Ex. 34:1) "And he wrote on the tablets, according to the first writing, the ten commandments, which the LORD spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the LORD gave them unto me." (Deuteronomy 10:4)
According to Jewish tradition, Exodus 20:1–17 constitutes God's first recitation and inscription of the ten commandments on the two tablets, which Moses broke in anger with his rebellious nation, and were later rewritten on replacement stones and placed in the ark of the covenant; and Deuteronomy 5:4–20 consists of God's re-telling of the Ten Commandments to the younger generation who were to enter the Promised Land. The passages in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 contain more than ten imperative statements, totalling 14 or 15 in all.
Traditions for numbering
Different religious traditions divide the seventeen verses of Exodus 20:1–17 and their parallels at Deuteronomy 5:4–21 into ten "commandments" or "sayings" in different ways, shown in the table below. Some suggest that the number ten is a choice to aid memorization rather than a matter of theology.
The Ten Commandments concern matters of fundamental importance in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: the greatest obligation (to worship only God), the greatest injury to a person (murder), the greatest injury to family bonds (adultery), the greatest injury to commerce and law (bearing false witness), the greatest inter-generational obligation (honour to parents), the greatest obligation to community (truthfulness), the greatest injury to moveable property (theft).
The Ten Commandments are written with room for varying interpretation, reflecting their role as a summary of fundamental principles. They are not as explicit or detailed as rules or many other biblical laws and commandments, because they provide guiding principles that apply universally, across changing circumstances. They do not specify punishments for their violation. Their precise import must be worked out in each separate situation.
The Bible indicates the special status of the Ten Commandments among all other Torah laws in several ways:
The Ten Commandments form the basis of Jewish law, stating God's universal and timeless standard of right and wrong – unlike the rest of the 613 commandments in the Torah, which include, for example, various duties and ceremonies such as the kashrut dietary laws, and now unobservable rituals to be performed by priests in the Holy Temple. Jewish tradition considers the Ten Commandments the theological basis for the rest of the commandments; a number of works, starting with Rabbi Saadia Gaon, have made groupings of the commandments according to their links with the Ten Commandments.
The traditional Rabbinical Jewish belief is that the observance of these commandments and the other mitzvot are required solely of the Jewish people and that the laws incumbent on humanity in general are outlined in the seven Noahide laws, several of which overlap with the Ten Commandments. In the era of the Sanhedrin transgressing any one of six of the Ten Commandments theoretically carried the death penalty, the exceptions being the First Commandment, honouring your father and mother, saying God's name in vain, and coveting, though this was rarely enforced due to a large number of stringent evidentiary requirements imposed by the oral law.
The arrangement of the commandments on the two tablets is interpreted in different ways in the classical Jewish tradition. Rabbi Hanina ben Gamaliel says that each tablet contained five commandments, "but the Sages say ten on one tablet and ten on the other", that is, that the tablets were duplicates. This can be compared to diplomatic treaties of the ancient Near East, in which a copy was made for each party.
According to the Talmud, the compendium of traditional Rabbinic Jewish law, tradition, and interpretation, one interpretation of the biblical verse "the tablets were written on both their sides", is that the carving went through the full thickness of the tablets, yet was miraculously legible from both sides.
Use in Jewish ritual
The Mishna records that during the period of the Second Temple, the Ten Commandments were recited daily, before the reading of the Shema Yisrael (as preserved, for example, in the Nash Papyrus, a Hebrew manuscript fragment from 150–100 BCE found in Egypt, containing a version of the ten commandments and the beginning of the Shema); but that this practice was abolished in the synagogues so as not to give ammunition to heretics who claimed that they were the only important part of Jewish law, or to dispute a claim by early Christians that only the Ten Commandments were handed down at Mount Sinai rather than the whole Torah.
In later centuries rabbis continued to omit the Ten Commandments from daily liturgy in order to prevent a confusion among Jews that they are only bound by the Ten Commandments, and not also by many other biblical and Talmudic laws, such as the requirement to observe holy days other than the sabbath.
Today, the Ten Commandments are heard in the synagogue three times a year: as they come up during the readings of Exodus and Deuteronomy, and during the festival of Shavuot. The Exodus version is read in parashat Yitro around late January–February, and on the festival of Shavuot, and the Deuteronomy version in parashat Va'etchanan in August–September. In some traditions, worshipers rise for the reading of the Ten Commandments to highlight their special significance though many rabbis, including Maimonides, have opposed this custom since one may come to think that the Ten Commandments are more important than the rest of the Mitzvot.
In printed Chumashim, as well as in those in manuscript form, the Ten Commandments carry two sets of cantillation marks. The ta'am 'elyon (upper accentuation), which makes each Commandment into a separate verse, is used for public Torah reading, while the ta'am tachton (lower accentuation), which divides the text into verses of more even length, is used for private reading or study. The verse numbering in Jewish Bibles follows the ta'am tachton. In Jewish Bibles the references to the Ten Commandments are therefore Exodus 20:2–14 and Deuteronomy 5:6–18.
The Samaritan Pentateuch varies in the Ten Commandments passages, both in that the Samaritan Deuteronomical version of the passage is much closer to that in Exodus, and in that Samaritans count as nine commandments what others count as ten. The Samaritan tenth commandment is on the sanctity of Mount Gerizim.
The text of the Samaritan tenth commandment follows:And it shall come to pass when the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land of the Canaanites whither thou goest to take possession of it, thou shalt erect unto thee large stones, and thou shalt cover them with lime, and thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this Law, and it shall come to pass when ye cross the Jordan, ye shall erect these stones which I command thee upon Mount Gerizim, and thou shalt build there an altar unto the Lord thy God, an altar of stones, and thou shalt not lift upon them iron, of perfect stones shalt thou build thine altar, and thou shalt bring upon it burnt offerings to the Lord thy God, and thou shalt sacrifice peace offerings, and thou shalt eat there and rejoice before the Lord thy God. That mountain is on the other side of the Jordan at the end of the road towards the going down of the sun in the land of the Canaanites who dwell in the Arabah facing Gilgal close by Elon Moreh facing Shechem.
Most traditions of Christianity hold that the Ten Commandments have divine authority and continue to be valid, though they have different interpretations and uses of them. Through most of Christian history the decalogue was considered a summary of God's law and standard of behaviour, central to Christian life, piety, and worship.
References in the New Testament
During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explicitly referenced the prohibitions against murder and adultery. In Matthew 19:16-19 Jesus repeated five of the Ten Commandments, followed by that commandment called "the second" (Matthew 22:34-40) after the first and great commandment.
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul the Apostle also mentioned five of the Ten Commandments and associated them with the neighbourly love commandment.
In Roman Catholicism, Jesus freed Christians from the rest of Jewish religious law, but not from their obligation to keep the Ten Commandments. It has been said that they are to the moral order what the creation story is to the natural order.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church—the official exposition of the Catholic Church's Christian beliefs—the Commandments are considered essential for spiritual good health and growth, and serve as the basis for social justice. Church teaching of the Commandments is largely based on the Old and New Testaments and the writings of the early Church Fathers. In the New Testament, Jesus acknowledged their validity and instructed his disciples to go further, demanding a righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees. Summarized by Jesus into two "great commandments" that teach the love of God and love of neighbour, they instruct individuals on their relationships with both.
The Eastern Orthodox Church holds its moral truths to be chiefly contained in the Ten Commandments. A confession begins with the Confessor reciting the Ten Commandments and asking the penitent which of them he has broken.
After rejecting the Roman Catholic moral theology, giving more importance to biblical law and the gospel, early Protestant theologians continued to take the Ten Commandments as the starting point of Christian moral life. Different versions of Christianity have varied in how they have translated the bare principles into the specifics that make up a full Christian ethic. Where Catholicism emphasizes taking action to fulfil the Ten Commandments, Protestantism uses the Ten Commandments with the intention of outlining the Christian life to each person, and making each person realize, through their failure to live that life, that they lack the ability to do it on their own.
The Lutheran division of the commandments follows the one established by St. Augustine, following the then current synagogue scribal division. The first three commandments govern the relationship between God and humans, the fourth through eighth govern public relationships between people, and the last two govern private thoughts. See Luther's Small Catechism and Large Catechism.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) doctrine, Jesus completed rather than rejected the Mosaic Law. The Ten Commandments are considered eternal gospel principles necessary for exaltation. They appear in the Book of Mosiah 12:34–36, 13:15–16, 13:21–24 and Doctrine and Covenants. In Mosiah, a prophet named Abinadi taught the Ten Commandments in the court of King Noah and was martyred for his righteousness. Abinadi knew the Ten Commandments from the brass plates.
In an October 2010 address, LDS president and prophet Thomas S. Monson taught "The Ten Commandments are just that—commandments. They are not suggestions."
The Strangite denomination has different views of the Decalogue.
The Qur'an includes a version of the Ten Commandments in sura Al-An'am 6:151:
Another Chapter of The Qur'an also includes a version of the Ten Commandments in Al-Isra According to Abdullah Ibn Abbas °the verses of Chapter 17 Al-Isra are the Quranic version of the ten Commandments Commandment 1 Verse 22 "Set not up with Allah any other ilah (god), (O man)!" Commandment 2 Verse 23 "And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour." Verse 24 "And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: "My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was small." Commandment 3 Verse 26 "And give to the kindred his due and to the Miskin (poor) and to the wayfarer. But spend not wastefully (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift ." Commandment 4 Verse 29 "And let not your hand be tied (like a miser) to your neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach (like a spendthrift), so that you become blameworthy and in severe poverty." Commandment 5 Verse 31 "And kill not your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin." Commandment 6 Verse 32 "And come not near to the unlawful sexual intercourse." Commandment 7 Verse 33 "And do not kill anyone which Allah has forbidden, except for a just cause." Commandment 8 Verse 34 "And come not near to the orphan's property except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength." Commandment 9 Verse 35 "And give full measure when you measure, and weigh with a balance that is straight." Commandment 10 Verse 36 "And follow not (O man i.e., say not, or do not or witness not, etc.) that of which you have no knowledge (e.g. one's saying: "I have seen," while in fact he has not seen, or "I have heard," while he has not heard). Verily! The hearing, and the sight, and the heart, of each of those you will be questioned (by Allah)."
All Abrahamic religions observe a weekly day of rest, often called the Sabbath, although the actual day of the week ranges from Friday in Islam, Saturday in Judaism (both reckoned from dusk to dusk), and Sunday, from midnight to midnight, in Christianity. Sabbath in Christianity is a day of rest from work, often dedicated to religious observance, derived from the Biblical Sabbath. Non-Sabbatarianism is the principle of Christian liberty from being bound to physical sabbath observance. Most dictionaries provide both first-day and seventh-day definitions for "sabbath" and "Sabbatarian", among other related uses.
Observing the Sabbath on Sunday, the day of resurrection, gradually became the dominant Christian practice from the Jewish-Roman wars onward. The Church's general repudiation of Jewish practices during this period is apparent in the Council of Laodicea (4th century AD) where Canons 37–38 state: "It is not lawful to receive portions sent from the feasts of Jews or heretics, nor to feast together with them" and "It is not lawful to receive unleavened bread from the Jews, nor to be partakers of their impiety". Canon 29 of the Laodicean council specifically refers to the sabbath: "Christians must not judaize by resting on the [Jewish] Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord's Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ."
Killing or murder
Multiple translations exist of the fifth/sixth commandment; the Hebrew words לא תרצח (lo tirtzach) are variously translated as "thou shalt not kill" or "thou shalt not murder".
The imperative is against unlawful killing resulting in bloodguilt. The Hebrew Bible contains numerous prohibitions against unlawful killing, but does not prohibit killing in the context of warfare (1Kings 2:5–6), capital punishment (Leviticus 20:9–16) and self-defence (Exodus 22:2–3), which are considered justified. The New Testament is in agreement that murder is a grave moral evil, and references the Old Testament view of bloodguilt.
You shall not steal
Some academic theologians, including German Old Testament scholar Albrecht Alt: Das Verbot des Diebstahls im Dekalog (1953), suggest that the commandment translated as "you shall not steal" was originally intended against stealing people—against abductions and slavery, in agreement with the Talmudic interpretation of the statement as "you shall not kidnap" (Sanhedrin 86a).
Idolatry is forbidden in all Abrahamic religions. In Judaism there is a prohibition against worshipping an idol or a representation of God, but there is no restriction on art or simple depictions. Islam has a stronger prohibition, banning representations of God, and in some cases of Muhammad, humans and, in some interpretations, any living creature.
In Christianity's earliest centuries, some Christians had informally adorned their homes and places of worship with images of Christ and the saints, which others thought inappropriate. No church council had ruled on whether such practices constituted idolatry. The controversy reached crisis level in the 8th century, during the period of iconoclasm: the smashing of icons.
In 726 Emperor Leo III ordered all images removed from all churches; in 730 a council forbade veneration of images, citing the Second Commandment; in 787 the Seventh Ecumenical Council reversed the preceding rulings, condemning iconoclasm and sanctioning the veneration of images; in 815 Leo V called yet another council, which reinstated iconoclasm; in 843 Empress Theodora again reinstated veneration of icons. This mostly settled the matter until the Protestant Reformation, when John Calvin declared that the ruling of the Seventh Ecumenical Council "emanated from Satan". Protestant iconoclasts at this time destroyed statues, pictures, stained glass, and artistic masterpieces.
The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Theodora's restoration of the icons every year on the First Sunday of Great Lent. Eastern Orthodox tradition teaches that while images of God, the Father, remain prohibited, depictions of Jesus as the incarnation of God as a visible human are permissible. To emphasize the theological importance of the incarnation, the Orthodox Church encourages the use of icons in church and private devotions, but prefers a two-dimensional depiction as a reminder of this theological aspect. Icons depict the spiritual dimension of their subject rather than attempting a naturalistic portrayal. In modern use (usually as a result of Roman Catholic influence), more naturalistic images and images of the Father, however, also appear occasionally in Orthodox churches, but statues, i.e. three-dimensional depictions, continue to be banned.
The Roman Catholic Church holds that one may build and use "likenesses", as long as the object is not worshipped. Many Roman Catholic Churches and services feature images; some feature statues. For Roman Catholics, this practice is understood as fulfilling the Second Commandment, as they understand that these images are not being worshipped.
For Jews and Muslims, veneration violates the Second Commandment. Jews and Muslims read this commandment as prohibiting the use of idols and images in any way. For this reason, Jewish Temples and Islamic Mosques do not have pictures of God, saints or prophets.
Some Protestants will picture Jesus in his human form, while refusing to make any image of God or Jesus in Heaven.
Strict Amish people forbid any sort of image, such as photographs.
Originally this commandment forbade male Israelites from having sexual intercourse with the wife of another Israelite; the prohibition did not extend to their own slaves. Sexual intercourse between an Israelite man, married or not, and a woman who was neither married or betrothed was not considered adultery. This concept of adultery stems from the economic aspect of Israelite marriage whereby the husband has an exclusive right to his wife, whereas the wife, as the husband's possession, did not have an exclusive right to her husband.
Critical scholarship is divided over its interpretation of the ten commandment texts.
In Julius Wellhausen's classic documentary hypothesis of the formation of the Pentateuch (see JEDP), first published in 1878, Exodus 20-23 and 34 were composed by the J or Jahwist writer and "might be regarded as the document which formed the starting point of the religious history of Israel." Deuteronomy 5 then reflects King Josiah's attempt to link the document produced by his court to the older Mosaic tradition.
In a 2002 analysis of the history of this position, Bernard M. Levinson argued that this reconstruction assumes a Christian perspective, and dates back to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's polemic against Judaism, which asserted that religions evolve from the more ritualistic to the more ethical. Goethe thus argued that the Ten Commandments revealed to Moses at Mt. Sinai would have emphasized rituals, and that the "ethical" Decalogue Christians recite in their own churches was composed at a later date, when Israelite prophets had begun to prophesy the coming of the messiah, Jesus Christ. Levinson points out that there is no evidence, internal to the Hebrew Bible or in external sources, to support this conjecture. He concludes that its vogue among later critical historians represents the persistence of this polemic that the supersession of Judaism by Christianity is part of a longer history of progress from the ritualistic to the ethical.
By the 1930s, historians who accepted the basic premises of multiple authorship had come to reject the idea of an orderly evolution of Israelite religion. Critics instead began to suppose that law and ritual could be of equal importance, while taking different form, at different times. This means that there is no longer any a priori reason to believe that Exodus 20:2–17 and Exodus 34:10–28 were composed during different stages of Israelite history. For example, critical historian John Bright also dates the Jahwist texts to the tenth century BCE, but believes that they express a theology that "had already been normalized in the period of the Judges" (i.e., of the tribal alliance). He concurs about the importance of the decalogue as "a central feature in the covenant that brought together Israel into being as a people" but views the parallels between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, along with other evidence, as reason to believe that it is relatively close to its original form and Mosaic in origin.
According to John Bright, however, there is an important distinction between the Decalogue and the "book of the covenant" (Exodus 21-23 and 34:10–24). The Decalogue, he argues, was modelled on the suzerainty treaties of the Hittites (and other Mesopotamian Empires), that is, represents the relationship between God and Israel as a relationship between king and vassal, and enacts that bond.
"The prologue of the Hittite treaty reminds his vassals of his benevolent acts.. (compare with Exodus 20:2 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery"). The Hittite treaty also stipulated the obligations imposed by the ruler on his vassals, which included a prohibition of relations with peoples outside the empire, or enmity between those within." (Exodus 20:3: "You shall have no other gods before Me"). Viewed as a treaty rather than a law code, its purpose is not so much to regulate human affairs as to define the scope of the king's power.
Julius Morgenstern argued that Exodus 34 is distinct from the Jahwist document, identifying it with king Asa's reforms in 899 BCE. Bright, however, believes that like the Decalogue this text has its origins in the time of the tribal alliance. The book of the covenant, he notes, bears a greater similarity to Mesopotamian law codes (e.g. the Code of Hammurabi which was inscribed on a stone stele). He argues that the function of this "book" is to move from the realm of treaty to the realm of law: "The Book of the Covenant (Ex., chs. 21 to 23; cf. ch. 34), which is no official state law, but a description of normative Israelite judicial procedure in the days of the Judges, is the best example of this process." According to Bright, then, this body of law too predates the monarchy.
Hilton J. Blik writes that the phrasing in the Decalogue's instructions suggests that it was conceived in a mainly polytheistic milieu, evident especially in the formulation of "no-other-gods-before-me" commandment.
If the Ten Commandments are based on Hittite forms that would date it somewhere between the 14th-12th century BCE. Archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman argue that "the astonishing composition came together … in the seventh century BCE". Critical scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann (1960) dates the oral form of the covenant to the time of Josiah. An even later date (after 586 BCE) is suggested by David H. Aaron.
The Ritual Decalogue
Some proponents of the Documentary hypothesis have argued that the biblical text in Exodus 34:28 identifies a different list as the ten commandments, that of Exodus 34:11–27. Since this passage does not prohibit murder, adultery, theft, etc., but instead deals with the proper worship of Yahweh, some scholars call it the "Ritual Decalogue", and disambiguate the ten commandments of traditional understanding as the "Ethical Decalogue".
According to these scholars the Bible includes multiple versions of events. On the basis of many points of analysis including linguistic it is shown as a patchwork of sources sometimes with bridging comments by the editor (Redactor) but otherwise left intact from the original, frequently side by side.
Richard Elliott Friedman argues that the Ten Commandments at Exodus 20:1–17 "does not appear to belong to any of the major sources. It is likely to be an independent document, which was inserted here by the Redactor." In his view, the Covenant Code follows that version of the Ten Commandments in the northern Israel E narrative. In the J narrative in Exodus 34 the editor of the combined story known as the Redactor (or RJE), adds in an explanation that these are a replacement for the earlier tablets which were shattered. "In the combined JE text, it would be awkward to picture God just commanding Moses to make some tablets, as if there were no history to this matter, so RJE adds the explanation that these are a replacement for the earlier tablets that were shattered."
He writes that Exodus 34:14–26 is the J text of the Ten Commandments: "The first two commandments and the sabbath commandment have parallels in the other versions of the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5). … The other seven commandments here are completely different." He suggests that differences in the J and E versions of the Ten Commandments story are a result of power struggles in the priesthood. The writer has Moses smash the tablets "because this raised doubts about the Judah's central religious shrine".
According to Kaufmann, the Decalogue and the book of the covenant represent two ways of manifesting God's presence in Israel: the Ten Commandments taking the archaic and material form of stone tablets kept in the ark of the covenant, while the book of the covenant took oral form to be recited to the people.
United States debate over display on public property
European Protestants replaced some visual art in their churches with plaques of the Ten Commandments after the Reformation. In England, such "Decalogue boards" also represented the English monarch's emphasis on rule of royal law within the churches. The United States Constitution forbids establishment of religion by law; however images of Moses holding the tablets of the Decalogue, along other religious figures including Solomon, Confucius, and Mohamed holding the Qur'an, are sculpted on the north and south friezes of the pediment of the Supreme Court building in Washington. Images of the Ten Commandments have long been contested symbols for the relationship of religion to national law.
In the 1950s and 1960s the Fraternal Order of Eagles placed possibly thousands of Ten Commandments displays in courthouses and school rooms, including many stone monuments on courthouse property. Because displaying the commandments can reflect a sectarian position if they are numbered (see above), the Eagles developed an ecumenical version that omitted the numbers, as on the monument at the Texas capitol (shown here). Hundreds of monuments were also placed by director Cecil B. DeMille as a publicity stunt to promote his 1956 film The Ten Commandments. Placing the plaques and monuments to the Ten Commandments in and around government buildings was another expression of mid-twentieth century U.S. civil religion, along with adding the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.
By the beginning of the twenty-first century in the U.S., however, Decalogue monuments and plaques in government spaces had become a legal battleground between religious as well as political liberals and conservatives. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State launched lawsuits challenging the posting of the ten commandments in public buildings. The ACLU has been supported by a number of religious groups (such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the American Jewish Congress), both because they do not want government to be issuing religious doctrine and because they feel strongly that the commandments are inherently religious. Many commentators see this issue as part of a wider culture war between liberal and conservative elements in American society. In response to the perceived attacks on traditional society, other legal organizations, such as the Liberty Counsel, have risen to advocate the conservative interpretation. Many Christian conservatives have taken the banning of officially sanctioned prayer from public schools by the U.S. Supreme Court as a threat to the expression of religion in public life. In response, they have successfully lobbied many state and local governments to display the ten commandments in public buildings.
Those who oppose the posting of the ten commandments on public property argue that it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. In contrast, groups like the Fraternal Order of Eagles who support the public display of the ten commandments claim that the commandments are not necessarily religious but represent the moral and legal foundation of society, and are appropriate to be displayed as a historical source of present-day legal codes. Also, some argue like Judge Roy Moore that prohibiting the public practice of religion is a violation of the first amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion.
U.S. courts have often ruled against displays of the Ten Commandments on government property. They conclude that the ten commandments are derived from Judeo-Christian religions, to the exclusion of others: the statement "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" excludes non-monotheistic religions like Hinduism, for example. Whether the Constitution prohibits the posting of the commandments or not, there are additional political and civil rights issues regarding the posting of what is construed as religious doctrine. Excluding religions that have not accepted the ten commandments creates the appearance of impropriety. The courts have been more accepting, however, of displays that place the Ten Commandments in a broader historical context of the development of law.
One result of these legal cases has been that proponents of displaying the Ten Commandments have sometimes surrounded them with other historical texts to portray them as historical, rather than religious. Another result has been that other religious organizations have tried to put monuments to their laws on public lands. For example, an organization called Summum has won court cases against municipalities in Utah for refusing to allow the group to erect a monument of Summum aphorisms next to the ten commandments. The cases were won on the grounds that Summum's right to freedom of speech was denied and the governments had engaged in discrimination. Instead of allowing Summum to erect its monument, the local governments chose to remove their ten commandments.