What is it with the Ten Commandments?


Yesterday, a 6,000 pound monument to the Ten Commandments was installed on the grounds of the Arkansas state capital building. Then that very night, someone drove into the monument and destroyed it. The driver has been arrested and it is not clear what his motives were. Maybe he was trying to emulate Moses who also smashed up the tablets on which the commandments were written (Exodus 32:19). Not many people recall that bit of the story.

Supporters of putting up the monument made the usual fatuous claims as to why it is not purely a religious symbol, saying that it “honors the roll [sic] the Ten Commandments have played in the history of the nation’s law.”

When people say that, I am pretty sure that they have no idea what the commandments say. The first four have basically no real content or legal status and consist of demands to grovel to god. Of the remaining six only two (do not kill and do not steal) have any relationship to current laws. Of the rest, three (honor your parents, do not lie, do not commit adultery) do not carry any legal penalties for violating them.

Eddie Izzard gives up some background on Moses and the commandments and thinks that the last commandment about not coveting your neighbor’s ox, wife, etc. was clearly put in by Moses to see if anyone was still paying attention to his list. Moses likely knew that we stop reading the terms and conditions agreements after the first few sentences.

Also why would Moses put wives second on the list of things to not covet, after oxes? Wouldn’t disallowing wife coveting make the adultery prohibition redundant? And what about a woman coveting her neighbor’s husband?

Comments

  1. chigau (違う) says

    Maybe the driver is a Catholic who objects to the Protestant version of the commandments.

  2. says

    They have a stupid 10 commandments monument outside the county courthouse in Clearfield. I periodically consider trolling them by pointing out that they are blasphemous – they’re the Cecil B. DeMille version, shortened “word of god” and god really doesn’t like having a jewish freemason movie-maker tweaking his script.

  3. jrkrideau says

    A Few Surprising Findings about Fundamentalists.
    Since fundamentalists insist the Bible is the revealed word of God and without error, you would think they’d have read it. But you’d often be wrong.

    Bob Altemeyer, (2006), The Authorians pg. 142.
    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

    Also why would Moses put wives second on the list of things to not covet, after oxes

    Well, it was probably more difficult and more expensive to replace a good ox? From what my father said a good ox or, even more a good team of oxen are not easy to find and can be expensive. Finding a new wife or husband (given the normal mortality rates back then) was likely a lot easier than replacing a good ox. I am interpreting covet here as steal or run off with them.

    Any 16th/17th C English linguists here who can comment on “covet”

    A real problem with the bible (well the last time I looked at it 40 years ago) is that something like the King James Version and presumably other versions lacked context or the correct terms.

    I never understood the Golden Calf reference. Why would anyone worship a Golden Calf? It was not until a few years ago I realized that the KJV Golden Calf was almost certainly the Apis Bull. Suddenly, whether I believed the story or not, it made sense in context.

  4. says

    Of the rest, three (honor your parents, do not lie, do not commit adultery) do not carry any legal penalties for violating them.

    Lying under oath is illegal in the US; it’s called “perjury” – although I hear president Trump plans to make it a sacrament.
    Adultery may still be illegal in some states, but it used to be a crime they could prosecute you for. That beats a stoning any day, but it was still a serious issue and it’s still factored in to divorce settlements.

    One of the things that has always distressed me about the US is the degree to which the common law is influenced by religious strictures. Marriage, death with dignity, LGBT issues, parents basically owning their children, the whole farcical bit about pretending to believe court testimony because it’s under oath, just wars – there’s a lot of overtly religious underpinning to many laws. And even that’s not good enough for some people.

    Bring back Hamurrabi’s code. (that’d have been interesting during the Wall St crash)

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ Marcus
    One of the things that has always distressed me about the US is the degree to which the common law is influenced by religious strictures.

    I think we are very slightly better up here, North of you, but it beats the Kingdom, does it not?

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    Arrest made after Ten Commandments monument at Arkansas Capitol toppled, shattered

    In a Facebook Live video to an account under the name Michael Reed, a driver appears to shine his headlights on the monument and shouts, “Freedom!” as he drives toward it. As the vehicle hits the granite, the video cuts out.
    In another Facebook video posted early Wednesday, a man who called himself Michael Reed described his beliefs in both Jesus and the separation of church and state. He spoke from a seat in a 2016 Dodge Dart.
    Reed was reportedly diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder after being taken to a mental facility for evaluation following the (Oklahoma) crash. He was released from Norman’s Griffin Memorial Hospital in January 2015 under an agreement with the Oklahoma County district attorney’s office for continued treatment and therapy.

    Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, who sponsored the 2015 law to erect the monument on state grounds, called the statue’s destruction “an act of violence.”
    Rapert told reporters at a news conference later Wednesday that a new statue has already been ordered.

    Reed also previously knocked over a Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma.

  7. Chiroptera says

    Marcus Ranum, #7: …if he were muslim he’d be a terrorist.

    Well, he did destroy a Christianist symbol. Can he be labeled “leftist”? If so, then the “terrorist” label may come back up.

  8. timberwoof says

    Many of the Commandments are unconstitutional, and Christians pick and choose which outweighs which and under what circumstances. Many Republicans defend Fox News’ Constitutional right to lie (in violation of a Commandment), while happily wanting to curtail my Constitutional rights to speech when they think it violates some Commandment.

  9. busterggi says

    Making graven images is prohibited in the 10C, maybe a believer finally took that one seriously and unmade it.

  10. says

    Since there are 3 versions of the commandments, it would be interesting if some day a group sued a state/city because they put up the wrong version. Doctrinal differences seem to catch more eyes than “mere” church/state separations. (Slight riff off chigau’s comment @1.

  11. springa73 says

    Given that common law evolved in a Christian society, it would really surprise me if it had not been heavily influenced by religious concepts of right and wrong.

  12. Mano Singham says

    springa73,

    But the basic concepts of right and wrong (such as don’t kill and steal) surely predate any particular religion, since no community could survive if they were violated with impunity.

  13. says

    @Mano #14:

    Christopher Hitchens showed the absurdity of morality allegedly having been given to us via the Bible:

  14. Reginald Selkirk says

    Given that common law evolved in a Christian society…

    It is my understanding that British common law derived much from Roman law. So isn’t it accurate to say that Christianity evolved in a Common Law environment?

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    Maybe he was trying to emulate Moses who also smashed up the tablets on which the commandments were written (Exodus 32:19). Not many people recall that bit of the story.

    Where do you get that not many people remember it? It’s a major part of any telling of the story that I’ve heard.

    I’m guessing a lot of people have seen the 1956 movie, which actually embellished the scene by having Moses throw the stones at the golden calf, causing an explosion. The original Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch Mount Sinai.

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