The following is the first chapter from my bite-size Disinformation book 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know, published in 2003.
For more on me, check out this website, The Memory Hole.
First Amendment battles continue to rage across the US over the posting of the Ten Commandments in public places — courthouses, schools, parks, and pretty much anywhere else you can imagine.
Christians argue that they’re a part of our Western heritage that should be displayed as ubiquitously as traffic signs. Congressman Bob Barr hilariously suggested that the Columbine massacre wouldn’t have happened if the Ten Commandments (also called the Decalogue) had been posted in the high school, and some government officials have directly, purposely disobeyed court rulings against the display of these ten directives supposedly handed down from on high.
Too bad they’re all talking about the wrong rules. Every Decalogue you see — from the 5,000-pound granite behemoth inside the Alabama State Judicial Building to the little wallet-cards sold at Christian bookstores — is bogus. Simply reading the Bible will prove this. Getting out your King James version, turn to Exodus 20:2-17. You’ll see the familiar list of rules about having no other gods, honoring your parents, not killing or coveting,
and so on. At this point, though, Moses is just repeating to the people what God told him on Mount Si’nai. These are not written down in any form.
Later, Moses goes back to the Mount, where God gives him two “tables of stone” with rules written on them (Exodus 31:18). But when Moses comes down the mountain lugging his load, he sees the people worshipping a statue of a calf, causing him to throw a tantrum and smash the tablets on the ground (Exodus 32:19).
In neither of these cases does the Bible refer to “commandments.” In the first instance, they are “words” which “God spake,” while the tablets contain “testimony.” It is only when Moses goes back for new tablets that we see the phrase “ten commandments” (Exodus 34:28). In an interesting turn of events, the commandments on these tablets are significantly different than the ten rules Moses recited for the people, meaning that either Moses’ memory is faulty or God changed his mind.
I. Thou shalt worship no other god.
II. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
III. The feast of unleavened bread thou shalt keep.
IV. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest.
V. Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest,
and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.
VI. Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord God.
VII. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven.
VIII. Neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
IX. The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.
X. Thou shalt not seethe a kid [ie, a young goat] in his mother’s milk.
Above Image: Moses with the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt (1659).