|I expected Moses to look a bit more 'Jewish'|
According to the majority of Christian denominations, the Ten Commandments are the written word of God transmitted to the prophet Moses during the Israelite sojourn in the wilderness sometime in the Bronze Age. These sparse regulations have attracted much commentary and interpretation and are supposedly a ‘blueprint’ for appropriate conduct in a civilised society. I will now examine each of these exaltations to lead the good life from the lofty perspective of the unredeemed infidel.
Commandment 1: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
The commandment of exclusivity: You must worship Yahweh to the exclusion of all other deities. What is uncomfortable for Christians is the implicit assumption, made by God, that other gods exist. At the time the commandments were written in stone, the Israelites had no trouble with polytheism. Indeed, evidence suggests that the Jews were originally polytheist themselves. Their ‘theology’ evolved into monotheism over the centuries. And although the pantheon was no longer worshipped, the discarded deities had the annoying habit of lingering on the couch like bad guests after a party.
Commandment 2: Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image, or 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: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God is a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands that love me and keep my commandments.
This commandment is quite clear and the ancient Israelites understood it very well. This is why there is no ancient Jewish art of 'human form’ of note. The early Christian church took no notice of this proscription and the Catholic church has never had a problem with iconography and the construction of graven images. Some Protestant sects have taken this commandment more seriously but the Catholics have played fast and loose on this one and can expect some punishment meted out through the generations. On second thoughts, everything will be okay, they just need to repent and the smiting will magically disappear…..
I'm impressed with the deities’ concept of justice. You break the rules and not only do you get punished but also your blameless grandchildren. What sort of fair justice system is that? Could you imagine this principle being upheld in any court of law, in any country which considers itself civilised? Theologians are very good at cherry picking the 'words of God' but have very little to say on God’s providential justice system.
What are we to make of a jealous god? Jealousy is not a characteristic we treasure in our fellow human so why should it be acceptable in a god worthy of the name? Not only is he jealous but he is petulant as well. You had better worship him, or else.
Commandment 3. Thou shalt not take the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Here we go again; God is throwing a hissy fit. I suppose if we bother to take his name in vain we can expect chastisement unto the fourth generation, again.
Commandment 4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Nothing wrong in taking a day off from toil. Even God needed a rest after six days of making stuff. Supernatural beings are people too.
Commandment 5: Honour thy father and mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord God giveth thee.
Nothing intrinsically wrong with this statement even if it doesn't have a ‘get out’ clause. Perhaps a caveat should be introduced: 'Honour your parents unless they are useless, stupid, evil bastards'. As I recall, if you are disrespectful to your parents, you invite death by stoning (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). And then we have the implicit threat: If you are not respectful, you might just happen to accidently slip and be propelled down a disused mineshaft by an unseen guiding hand.
Commandment 6: Thou shalt not kill.
I like this one. Every civilisation has this rule and it is essential for any well ordered society. Also it makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. When folk stop obeying this commandment you know you are in Africa. Interesting to note, that God only meant for this commandment to apply to Israelite society; the Israelites were free to kill their neighbours with impunity. In fact God commanded/commended it. And as we are beginning to see, it is not going to turn out well if you defy your capricious megalomaniac all loving God.
Commandment 7: Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Good luck with that one.....
Commandment 8: Thou shalt not steal.
Everything I said about the sixth commandment applies here.
Commandment 9: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
This is probably the most sublime and sophisticated of the commandments. It is about fair play and justice and does not jibe too well with some of the earlier injunctions; laudable nonetheless.
Commandment 10: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covert thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass (snigger), nor anything that is thy neighbour's.
All the other commandments concern deed. This rule is about 'mind control'. Not only should we not steal or sleep with the neighbour's missus, we should not think about it either. Consequently, this has got to be the hardest commandment to keep. As humans we have the gift of imagination and fantasy. If you can switch this off then you are a god yourself, or a moron- take your pick.
So there you have it: The Ten Commandments as interpreted by a mere mortal. Do we conclude that these are rules delivered by a supernatural agent with the powers of omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence or could it be the words of primitive, parochial, savage tribesmen devoid of sophisticated philosophical and scientific principles? If we believe that men make gods, and that they make them in their own image, then we are not looking at theology but an artefact of anthropology. The commandments are a window into the mind of a particular set of ancient barbaric tribes-people and are not due, and do not deserve, any especial reverence.