The 10 Commandments: Root of Our Morals, or Crap Carved in Stone

While I was headed out to lunch, one of my co-workers noticed my atheist “A” pin and asked me what it stood for. I answered, “atheist” and he looked a little taken aback. He then asked if atheists believe in the 12 commandments. I looked at him a bit sideways, and he eventually corrected himself. Since I was heading out the door for lunch, I didn’t really want to run through the 10 Commandments with him (I’ve discovered over the years that Christians are surprisingly ignorant of the 10 commandments – how could anyone familiar with them think I adhered to “”You shall have no other gods before me”? ). So I just told him I was a humanist; I believed in treating all humans with respect and dignity. He seemed satisfied.

The 10 commandments are mentioned three times in the old testament, and referred to in the new when Jesus dismisses a few of them (that’s right Christians, you either follow Jesus, or you adhere to the 10 Commandments, you can’t have both).

I’m sure most people are aware of the vague circumstances surrounding the 10Cs in the story, but people do tend to make some mistakes so here’s a quick synopsis. The Israelites are slaves in Egypt, God decided to let them go at some point. They wander out into the dessert. 3 months later, they come to Mt Sinai. Moses went up and down the mountain several times to bring messages from God back to the people, only to have God come down the mountain as a cloud and talk to them directly (Ex 19: 1-25).

The 10 Commandments, Mach 1 (Ex 20:1-17), Given Orally (big boomy voice in a cloud?)

1 And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Then God tells them to make a dirt alter and kill some animals for him (Ex 20:24), tells them to free their slaves after 6 years (Ex 21:2), and if they beat their slaves but the slave can get up after a couple of days it’s ok (Ex 21:21); all kinds of godly stuff.

Then God tells them that he will send down an angel … and they had better pay attention to him! (Ex 23:21) If they do, God will “be an enemy to their enemies”.

Then, God invites Moses and and 73 of his closest friends (Ex 24:1)to have a little tet-a-tet with him. So, they have a little party, kill a bull, Moses sprinkles bull blood on the Israelites, and they head up the mountain. They see God standing on a clear blue platform refered to as the “firmament” (what the ancients thought the sky was).

Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.(Ex 24:10-11)

God invited Moses the rest of the way up the mountain to give him a hard copy of the laws that he hard previously just spoken. Moses apparently waited for seven days on a little precipice, them God called him and he walked into a cloud were he stayed for 40 days. (Ex 24: 15-18) God tells Moses how the people should worship him, including how to make some pretty little curtains with loops and fringes. (Ex 26)

They were carved on two tablets, front and back, by God’s finger. (Ex 31:18) Moses came down the mountain, saw the Hebrews dancing around a gold calf, got mad and smashed the tablets (the tablets that were made by God himself … were smashed out of anger … that’s pretty mad). And that’s not all he did:

And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. (Ex 32:20)

Then God gave them the plague!

And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.(Ex 32:35)

God got upset and couldn’t decide what to do (Ex 33:5). So, Moses put up a tent where him and God would meet “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Ex 33:7-11). God told Moses to chisel out a couple of new tablets with “the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke”.

-The 10 Commandments, mach 2 (Ex 34 10:26) Written in stone (and apparently lost at some point)

10 Then the LORD said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you. 11 Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 12 Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. 13 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. 14 Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

15 “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.

17 “Do not make cast idols.

18 “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt.

19 “The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. 20 Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons.
“No one is to appear before me empty-handed.

21 “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

22 “Celebrate the Feast of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. 23 Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel. 24 I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God.

25 “Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Feast remain until morning.

26 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.
“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

A bit different than the first ones given.


Deuteronomy is pretty much a rehash of the Exodus story, including the 10 Commandments. Not much worth mentioning. The wording is not exactly the same, but it’s pretty similar.


In Mathew 19, some guy steps up out of the crowd and asks Jesus what he needs to do for eternal life. Jesus says to follow the commandments. The guy says, which ones (mmmm, this would seem odd if the story was written by Jews …)

And lo, one having come near, said to him, `Good teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have life age-during?’

And he said to him, `Why me dost thou call good? no one [is] good except One — God; but if thou dost will to enter into the life, keep the commands.’

He saith to him, `What kind?’ And Jesus said, `Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness,

honour thy father and mother, and, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’

The young man saith to him, `All these did I keep from my youth; what yet do I lack?’

Jesus said to him, `If thou dost will to be perfect, go away, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.’ (Mathew 19:16-21)(Young’s Literal Translation)*

So, Jesus knocks the list down to 5, and adds a 6th; the Golden Rule.

Anyhoo, in Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus refers to the Golden Rule as the greatest commandment – so, it is a bit funny that God forgot all about it earlier … must have slipped his mind. He had so much to do with the Exodus and all.

The Golden Rule is present in many world religions, many predating Christianity. The ancient Greek philosopher Pittacus (640-568 BC) mentions it, Buddhism, which started in the Indian subcontinent around 400BC, has it as a major principle. It’s a good rule. Much better than the “don’t’ boil a goat in it’s mother’s milk” rule. If I were God, I think I would have introduced in on day 1. With all the little re-writes and editing going on in the Bible, you think somebody would have added it a little sooner to make God not look like such an ass. Oh well. Stupid is as stupid does.


*(I used Young’s Literal Translation because some translations like to change the part where Jesus says he’s not God – for shame).

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3 Comments on “The 10 Commandments: Root of Our Morals, or Crap Carved in Stone”

  1. Rev. Barky Says:

    “Moses came down the mountain, saw the Hebrews dancing around a gold calf, got mad and smashed the tablets”

    I read this last year just for kicks out of my Gideon and thought what a dumb ass thing to do. Why didn’t he use something else that wasn’t so “sacred” – then he goes up again and gets another set – and God gives him a slightly different set of rules this time. Huh? Oh yea, and don’t you dare eat any 4 legged insects!

  2. Ed DeJean Says:

    In searching Google sources relevant to writing a blog issue dealing with those who demand the posting of the Ten Commandments , I came upon the Universal Heretic. The tantalizing thought occurs to me — How many would demand the posting of the Ten Commandments if the prerequisite for such posting was reading the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy and signing a letter affirming that this is just the God for them?

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