05 November 2010

The Decalogue: The Ten Commandments of Many Religions

The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue (from Greek δεκάλογος), is a list of religious and moral imperatives that, according to the Hebrew Bible, were given by God to the people of Israel from the mountain referred to as Mount Sinai or Horeb. The Bible describes their initial form as an inscription on two stone tablets which God wrote with his finger, after which God gave the tablets to Moses. The Ten Commandments are recognized as a moral foundation in Judaism and Christianity, and their substance also figures in Islam and Baha'i Faith.

The text of the Ten Commandments appears in the Bible as two similar passages of length 14-15 verses, in Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21. These passages are referred to elsewhere in the Bible as the ten "devarim", which is the basis for dividing them into ten iotas.

The Ten Commandments declare the Lord, who brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, to be God; prohibit having other gods before the Lord, and making or worshiping idols; threaten punishment for those who reject the Lord and promise love for those who love him; forbid misuse of the Lord's name; demand observance of the Sabbath and honoring one's parents; prohibit murder, adultery, theft, false testimony, and coveting of one's neighbor's goods. The scheme for partitioning the passages into ten units varies between religions and denominations, as do their translation, interpretation and significance.

In Biblical Hebrew, the commandments are called עשרת הדברים (transliterated Aseret ha-Dvarîm) and in Rabbinical Hebrew עשרת הדברות (transliterated Aseret ha-Dibrot), both translatable as "the ten words", "the ten sayings" or "the ten matters". The English name "Decalogue" is derived from the Greek translation δεκάλογος dekalogos "ten terms", found in the Septuagint at Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 10:4.

According to the Bible, Moses remained 40 days and nights atop Mt. Sinai, also called Mount Horeb, receiving God's revelation. Moses then conveyed God's commandments to the Children of Israel in the third month after their Exodus from Egypt. Israel's receipt of the commandments occurred on the third day of preparations at the foot of the mount.

According to Jewish tradition, God's revelation at Mt. Sinai is a critical moment in the confirmation of the covenant between God and the nation of Israel, and one of the highpoints of Jewish history. Historians are divided as to the location of Mt. Sinai and whether all the tribes that would later constitute David's kingdom were present; some question whether it actually occurred.

The Ten Commandments were not the only laws revealed to Moses at Sinai. Exodus 21-23 contain a miscellany of laws conventionally called the "Book of the Covenant". These two revelations are not named until Exodus 24, which refers to a "book of the covenant"(Exodus 24:7) and "stone tablets" (Exodus 24:12) as two parts of the revelation.

While receiving the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant, the Children of Israel compelled Aaron to build a calf out of molten gold to serve as an altar for sacrifices to God. Upon seeing this, Moses flung the stone tablets in anger Exodus 32:192; consequently, Moses had to re-ascend Mt. Sinai to receive a new set of tablets from God. This event occasions a recapitulation of the account of God's inscribing two stone tablets Exodus 34:1-4, and conveying the Book of the Covenant Exodus 34:10-28, in a highly condensed form in Exodus 34, what historians call "the Small Covenant Code."

The Torah had a single author and represents a coherent narrative. According to traditional sources, Exodus 20 represents God's first inscription of the ten commandments. Although Exodus 34 describes God inscribing a new set of tablets, it does not provide the contents of the new set. Rather, the contents of the second revelation is presented in Deuteronomy 5. Most importantly, an entire corpus of law is revealed to Moses and the Children of Israel at Mt. Sinai and during their wanderings in the desert. Therefore, the Children of Israel already possess this law when all the tribes enter the land of Canaan together, forming a loose tribal alliance, until the formation of a kingdom around 1,000 BC.

The lists known as the Ten Commandments are given in passages in two books of the Bible: Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21. These passages are provided in English below, using the New Revised Standard Version translation and formatting. Various religions and denominations group the commandments differently; see the Division of the Commandments section for a detailed accounting.

According to Jewish tradition, Exodus 20:2-17 constitutes God's first recitation and inscription of the Ten Commandments on two tablets, which Moses presented to the Children of Israel who had left Egypt before placing in the Ark of the covenant. Deuteronomy 5:6-20 consists of God's re-telling of the Ten Commandments to the generation born during the wandering in the desert, and after the revelation at Sinai, prior to their entry to the land of Canaan.
Exodus 20:2–17
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; Do not have any other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Deuteronomy 5:6–21
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. Neither shall you commit adultery. Neither shall you steal. Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor. Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
In the third century the Jews changed to the new Talmudic numbering for the Ten Commandments, along with taking out books from the Old Testament that pointed toward Jesus Christ being the Messiah, making the first commandment be, "I am the Lord your God". Previous to this, they used the same numbering that the Orthodox Christian Church still uses today:
  1. I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
  3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Modern Talmudic Judaism also changes "covet" to "take".

In Islam Moses (Musa) is venerated as one of the greatest prophets of God. However, Islam also teaches that the texts of the Torah and the Gospels have been corrupted from their divine originals over the years, due to carelessness and self-interest. Despite this purported corruption, messages from the Torah and the Gospels still coincide closely with certain verses in the Qur'an. This is by-and-large the case with the Ten Commandments. Consequently, despite the Ten Commandments not being explicitly mentioned in the Qur'an they are substantially similar to the following verses in the Qur'an (using Jewish numbering of the Commandments):

  1. "There is no other god beside Allah." (Qur'an 47:19)
  2. "My Lord, make this a peaceful land, and protect me and my children from worshiping idols." (Qur'an 14:35)
  3. "And make not Allah's (name) an excuse in your oaths against doing good, or acting rightly, or making peace between persons; for Allah is One Who heareth and knoweth all things." (Qur'an 2:224) This quranic verse is not entirely analogous to the Old Testament's "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God..." Verse 2:224 is explained by the Prophet Muhammad as: "If anyone takes a solemn oath [that he would do or refrain from doing such-and such a thing], and thereupon realizes that something else would be a more righteous course, then let him do that which is more righteous, and let him break his oath and then atone for it" (Bukhari and Muslim; and other variants of the same Tradition in other compilations).
  4. "O you who believe, when the Congregational Prayer (Salat Al-Jumu`ah) is announced on Friday, you shall hasten to the commemoration of GOD, and drop all business." (Qur'an 62:9) According to the teachings of Islam, the Sabbath was abrogated by the revelation for Muhammed. Furthermore, the Sabbath was only decreed for the Jews. (Qur'an 16:124) God, however, ordered Muslims to make every effort to drop all business to attend the congregational (Friday) prayer. Believers are permitted to go about their affairs during the rest of the day.
  5. "....and your parents shall be honoured. As long as one or both of them live, you shall never (even) say to them, "Uff" (the slightest gesture of annoyance), nor shall you shout at them; you shall treat them amicably." (Qur'an 17:23)
  6. "....anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people." (Qur'an 5:32)
  7. "You shall not commit adultery; it is a gross sin, and an evil behaviour." (Qur'an 17:32)
  8. "They shall not steal." (Al-Mumtahanah 60: 12) and "The thief, male or female, you shall cut off their hands as a punishment for their crime, and to serve as an example from God. God is Almighty, Most Wise." (Qur'an 5:38)
  9. "Do not withhold any testimony by concealing what you had witnessed. Anyone who withholds a testimony is sinful at heart." (Qur'an 2:283)
  10. "And do not covet what we bestowed upon any other people. Such are temporary ornaments of this life, whereby we put them to the test. What your Lord provides for you is far better, and everlasting." (Qur'an 20:131)

In the 17th chapter, "Al-Israa" ("The Night Journey"), verses [Qur'an 17:22], the Qur'an provides a set of moral stipulations which are "among the (precepts of) wisdom, which thy Lord has revealed to thee" that can be reasonably categorised as ten in number. According to S. A. Nigosian, Professor of religious studies at the University of Toronto, these resemble the Ten Commandments in the Bible and "represents the fullest statement of the code of behavior every Muslim must follow".[56] However, these verses are not regarded by Islamic scholars as set apart from any other moral stipulations in the Qur'an, nor are they regarded as a substitute, replacement, or abrogation of some other set of commandments as found in the previous revelations.

  1. Worship only God: Take not with Allah another object of worship; or thou (O man!) wilt sit in disgrace and destitution. (17:22)
  2. Be kind, honourable and humble to one's parents: Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. (17:23) And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: "My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood." (17:24)
  3. Be neither miserly nor wasteful in one's expenditure: And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. (17:26) Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful. (17:27) And even if thou hast to turn away from them in pursuit of the Mercy from thy Lord which thou dost expect, yet speak to them a word of easy kindness. (17:28) Make not thy hand tied (like a niggard's) to thy neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach, so that thou become blameworthy and destitute. (17:29)
  4. Do not engage in 'mercy killings' for fear of starvation: Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin. (17:31)
  5. Do not commit adultery: Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils). (17:32)
  6. Do not kill unjustly: Nor take life - which Allah has made sacred - except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law). (17:33)
  7. Care for orphaned children: Come not nigh to the orphan's property except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength...(17:34)
  8. Keep one's promises: ...fulfill (every) engagement [i.e. promise/covenant], for (every) engagement will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). (17:34)
  9. Be honest and fair in one's interactions: Give full measure when ye measure, and weigh with a balance that is straight: that is the most fitting and the most advantageous in the final determination. (17:35)
  10. Do not be arrogant in one's claims or beliefs: And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). (17:36) Nor walk on the earth with insolence: for thou canst not rend the earth asunder, nor reach the mountains in height. (17:37)

The Ten Commandments in Buddhism refer to the 10 major precepts for Bodhisattvas.

The Brahma Net Sutra translated by Kumarajiva (circa 400 AD) has a list of ten major and forty-eight minor Bodhisattva vows. The ten major vows are as follows:
  1. Not to kill any living creature
  2. Not to steal anything
  3. Not to engage in any form of sexual misconduct
  4. Not to lie or use false speech
  5. Not to consume or distribute intoxicants
  6. Not to discuss the faults and misdeeds that occur by any Buddhist
  7. Not to praise oneself or disparage others
  8. Not to be stingy or abusive towards those in need
  9. Not to harbor anger or resentment or encourage others to be angry
  10. Not to criticise or slander the Three Jewels
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