1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Decalogue
DECALOGUE (in patristic Gr. ἡ δεκάλογος, sc. βἰβλος or νομοθεσία), another name for the biblical Ten Commandments, in Hebrew the Ten Words (Deut. iv. 13, x. 4; Ex. xxxiv. 28), written by God on the two tables of stone (Ex. xxiv. 12, xxxii. 16), the so-called Tables of the Revelation (E.V. “tables of testimony,” Ex. xxxiv. 29), or Tables of the Covenant (Deut. ix. 9, 11, 15). These tables were broken by Moses (Ex. xxxii. 19), and two new ones were hewn (xxxiv. 1), and upon them were written the words of the covenant by Moses (xxxiv. 27 sqq.) or, according to another view, by God himself (Deut. iv. 13, ix. 10). They were deposited in the Ark (Ex. xxv. 21; 1 Kings viii. 9). In Deuteronomy the inscription on these tables, which is briefly called the covenant (iv. 13), is expressly identified with the words spoken by Jehovah (Yahweh) out of the midst of the fire at Mt. Sinai or Horeb (according to the Deuteronomic tradition), in the ears of the whole people on the “day of the assembly,” and rehearsed in v. 6-21. In the narrative of Exodus the relation of the “ten words” of xxxiv. to the words spoken from Sinai, xx. 2-17, is not so clearly indicated, and it is generally agreed that the Pentateuch presents divergent and irreconcilable views of the Sinaitic covenant.
As regards the Decalogue, as usually understood, and embodied in the parallel passages in Ex. xx. and Deut. v., certain preliminary points of detail have to be noticed. The variations in the parallel texts are partly verbal, partly stylistic (e.g. “Remember the Sabbath day,” Ex.; but “observe,” &c., Deut.), and partly consist of amplifications or divergent explanations. Thus the reason assigned for the institution of the Sabbath in Exodus is drawn from the creation, and agrees with Gen. ii. 3. In Deuteronomy the command is based on the duty of humanity to servants and the memory of Egyptian bondage. Again, in the tenth commandment, as given in Exodus, “house” means house and household, including the wife and all the particulars which are enumerated in ver. 17. In Deuteronomy, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife,” comes first, and “house” following in association with field is to be taken in the literal restricted sense, and another verb (“thou shalt not desire”) is used.
The construction of the second commandment in the Hebrew text is disputed, but the most natural sense seems to be, “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image; (and) to no visible shape in heaven, &c., shalt thou bow down, &c.” The third commandment might be rendered, “Thou shalt not utter the name of the Lord thy God vainly,” but it is possible that the meaning is that Yahweh’s name is not to be used for purposes of sorcery.
The order of the commandments relating to murder, adultery and stealing varies in the Vatican text of the Septuagint, viz. adultery, stealing, murder, in Ex.; adultery, murder, stealing, in Deut. The latter is supported by several passages in the New Testament (Rom. xiii. 9; Mark x. 19, A.V.; Luke xviii. 20; contrast Matt. xix. 18), and by the “Nash Papyrus.” It may be added that the double system of accentuation of the Decalogue in the Hebrew Bible seems to preserve traces of the ancient uncertainty concerning the numeration.
Divisions of the Decalogue.—The division current in England and Scotland, and generally among the Reformed (Calvinistic) churches and in the Orthodox Eastern Church, is known as the Philonic division (Philo, de Decalogo, §12). It is sometimes called by the name of Origen, who adopts it in his Homilies on Exodus. On this scheme the preface, Ex. xx. 2, has been usually taken as part of the first commandment. The Church of Rome and the Lutherans adopt the Augustinian division (Aug., Quaest. super Exod., lxxi.), combining into one the first and second commandments of Philo, and splitting his tenth commandment into two. To gain a clear distinction between the ninth and tenth commandments on this scheme it has usually been felt to be necessary to follow the Deuteronomic text, and make the ninth commandment, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife. As few scholars will now claim priority for the text of Deuteronomy, this division may be viewed as exploded. But there is a third scheme (the Talmudic) still current among the Jews, and not unknown to early Christian writers, which is still a rival of the Philonic view, though less satisfactory. Here the preface, Ex. xx. 2, is taken as the first “word,” and the second embraces verses 3-6.
See further Nestle, Expository Times (1897), p. 427. The decision between Philo and the Talmud must turn on two questions. Can we take the preface as a separate “word”? And can we regard the prohibition of polytheism and the prohibition of idolatry as one commandment? Now, though the Hebrew certainly speaks of ten “words,” not of ten “precepts,” it is most unlikely that the first word can be different in character from those that follow. But the statement “I am the Lord thy God” is either no precept at all, or only enjoins by implication what is expressly commanded in the words “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Thus to take the preface as a distinct word is not reasonable unless there are cogent grounds for uniting the commandments against polytheism and idolatry. But that is far from being the case. The first precept of the Philonic scheme enjoins monolatry, the second expresses God’s spiritual and transcendental nature. Accordingly Kuenen does not deny that the prohibition of images contains an element additional to the precept of monolatry, but, following De Goeje, regards the words from “thou shalt not make unto thyself” down to “the waters under the earth” as a later insertion in the original Decalogue. Unless this can be made out, the Philonic scheme is clearly best, and as such it is now accepted by most scholars.
How were the ten words disposed on the two tables? The natural arrangement (which is assumed by Philo and Josephus) would be five and five. And this, as Philo recognized, is a division appropriate to the sense of the precepts; for antiquity did not look on piety towards parents as a mere precept of probity, part of one’s duty towards one’s neighbour. The authority of parents and rulers is viewed in the Old Testament as a delegated divine authority, and the violation of it is akin to blasphemy (cf. Ex. xxi. 17 and Lev. xx. 9 with Lev. xxiv. 15, 16, and note the formula of treason, 1 Kings xxi. 13).
We have thus five precepts of piety on the first table, and five of probity, in negative form, on the second, an arrangement which is accepted by the best recent writers. But the current view of the Western Church since Augustine has been that the precept to honour parents heads the second table. The only argument of weight in favour of this view is that it makes the amount of writing on the two tables less unequal, while we know that the second table as well as the first was written on both sides (Ex. xxxii. 15). But we shall presently see that there may be another way out of this difficulty.
Date.—It is much disputed what the original compass of the Decalogue was. Did the whole text of Ex. xx. 2-17 stand on the tables of stone? The answer to this question must start from the reason annexed to the fourth commandment, which is different in Deuteronomy. But the express words “and he added no more,” in Deut. v. 22, show that there is no conscious omission by the Deuteronomic speaker of part of the original Decalogue, which cannot therefore have included the reason annexed in Exodus. On the other hand the reason annexed in Deuteronomy is rather a parenetic addition than an original element dropped in Exodus. Thus the original fourth commandment was simply “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” When this is granted it must appear not improbable that the elucidations of other commandments may not have stood on the tables, and that Nos. 6-9 have survived in their original form. Thus in the second commandment, “Thou shalt not bow down to any visible form,” &c., is a sort of explanatory addition to the precept “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image.” And so the promise attached to the fifth commandment was probably not on the tables, and the tenth commandment may have simply been, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house,” which includes all that is expressed in the following clauses. Such a view gets over the difficulty arising from the unequal length of the two halves of the Decalogue.
It is quite another question whether there is any idea in the Decalogue which can be as old as Moses. It is urged by many critics that Moses cannot have prohibited the worship of Yahweh by images; for the subsequent history shows us a descendant of Moses as priest in the idolatrous sanctuary of Dan. There were teraphim in David’s house, and the worship of Yahweh under the image of a calf was the state religion of the kingdom of Ephraim. Even Moses himself is said to have made a brazen serpent which, down to Hezekiah’s time, continued to be worshipped at Jerusalem. It is argued from these facts that image-worship went on unchallenged, and that this would not have been possible had Moses forbidden it. The argument is supported by others of great cogency. Although the literary problems of the chapters which narrate the law-giving on Mt. Sinai are extremely intricate, it is generally agreed that Ex. xx. cannot be ascribed to the oldest source, and if, in accordance with many critics, this chapter is ascribed to the Elohist or Ephraimite school, its incorporation can scarcely be older than the middle of the 8th century, and is probably later. With this, the condemnation of adultery in Gen. xx. 1-17 (contrast xii. 10-20, xxvi. 6-11) is in harmony, and the prohibition of the worship of the heavenly bodies is aimed at a form of idolatry which is frequently alluded to in the times of the later kings. The lofty ethics (e.g. tenth commandment) is in itself no sound criterion, whilst the external form of the laws, though characteristic of later codes, need not be taken as evidence of importance. But the general result of a study of the Decalogue as a whole, in connexion with Israelite political history and religion, strongly supports, in fact demands, a post-Mosaic origin, and modern criticism is chiefly divided only as to the approximate date to which it is to be ascribed. The time of Manasseh (cf. especially its contact with Micah vi. 6-8) has found many adherents, but an earlier period, about 750 B.C. (time of Amos and Hosea), is often held to satisfy the main conditions; the former, however, is probably nearer the mark.
The Decalogue of Exodus xxxiv.—In the book of Exodus the words written on the tables of stone are nowhere expressly identified with the ten commandments of chap. xx. In xxv. 16, xxxi. 18, xxxii. 15, we simply read of “the testimony” inscribed on the tables, and it seems to be assumed that its contents must be already known to the reader. The expression “ten words” first occurs in xxxiv. 28, in a passage which relates the restoration of the tables after they had been broken. But these “ten words” are called “the words of the covenant,” and so can hardly be different from the words mentioned in the preceding verse as those in accordance wherewith the covenant was made with Israel. And again, the words of ver. 27 are necessarily the commandments which immediately precede in vv. 12-26. Accordingly many recent critics have sought to show that Ex. xxxiv. 12-26 contains just ten precepts forming a second decalogue.
These consist not of precepts of social morality, but of several laws of religious observance closely corresponding to the religious and ritual precepts of Ex. xxi.-xxiii. The number ten is not clearly made out, and the individual precepts are somewhat variously assigned. They prohibit (1) the worship of other gods, (2) the making of molten images; they ordain (3) the observance of the feast of unleavened bread, (4) the feast of weeks, (5) the feast of ingathering at the end of the year, and (6) the seventh-day rest; to Yahweh belong (7) the firstlings, and (8) the first-fruits of the land; they forbid also (9) the offering of the blood of sacrifice with leaven, (10) the leaving-over of the fat of a feast until the morning, and (11) the seething of a kid in its mother’s milk. This scheme ignores the command to appear thrice in the year before Yahweh which recapitulates Nos. 3-5, and the decade is obtained by omitting No. 6, which some hold to be out of place. Others include “none shall appear before me empty-handed” (xxxiv. 20), and unite Nos. 4-5, 9 and 10. C. F. Kent (Beginnings of Heb. Hist. pp. 183 sqq.) obtains a decalogue from scattered precepts in Ex. xx.-xxiii., which corresponds with Nos. 2, 7, 6, 3 and 5 (in one), 9 and 10 (in one), 11 above, and adds (a) the building of an altar of earth (xx. 24), (b) offering from the harvest and wine-press (xxii. 29), (c) firstlings of animals (xxii. 29 sqq.; cf. No. 7, and xxxiv. 19); (d) prohibition against eating torn flesh (xxii. 31). The so-called Yahwist Decalogue in xxxiv. presupposes a rather more primitive stage in society, partly nomadic and partly agricultural; No. 6 is suitable only for agriculturists and cannot have originated among nomads. The whole may be summed up in a sentence:—“Worship Yahweh and Yahweh alone, without images, let the worship be simple and in accord with the old usage; forbear to introduce the practices of your Canaanitish neighbours” (Harper). It would seem to represent more precisely a Judaean standpoint (cf. the simpler customs of the Rechabites, q.v.).
If such a system of precepts was ever viewed as the basis of the covenant with Israel, it must belong to a far earlier stage of religious development than that of Ex. xx. This is recognized by Wellhausen, who says that our Decalogue stands to that of Ex. xxxiv. as Amos stood to his contemporaries, whose whole religion lay in the observance of sacred feasts. To those accustomed to look on the Ten Words written on the tables of stone as the very foundation of the Mosaic law, it is hard to realize that in ancient Israel there were two opinions as to what these “Words” were. The hypothesis that Ex. xxxiv. 10-26 originally stood in a different connexion, and was misplaced at some stage in the redaction of the Hexateuch, does not help us, since it would still have to be admitted that the editor to whom we owed the present form of the chapter identified this little code of religious observances with the Ten Words. Were this the case the editor, to quote Wellhausen, “introduced the most serious internal contradiction found in the Old Testament.”
The Decalogue in Christian Theology.—Following the New Testament, in which the “commandments” summed up in the law of love are identified with the precepts of the Decalogue (Mark x. 19; Rom. xiii. 9; cf. Mark xii. 28 ff.), the ancient Church emphasized the permanent obligation of the ten commandments as a summary of natural in contradistinction to ceremonial precepts, though the observance of the Sabbath was to be taken in a spiritual sense (Augustine, De spiritu et litera, xiv.; Jerome, De celebration Paschae). The medieval theologians followed in the same line, recognizing all the precepts of the Decalogue as moral precepts de lege naturae, though the law of the Sabbath is not of the law of nature, in so far as it prescribes a determinate day of rest (Thomas, summa, Ima IIdae, qu. c. art. 3; Duns, Super sententias, lib. iii. dist. 37). The most important medieval exposition of the Decalogue is that of Nicolaus de Lyra; and the 15th century, in which the Decalogue acquired special importance in the confessional, was prolific in treatises on the subject (Antoninus of Florence, Gerson, &c.).
Important theological controversies on the Decalogue begin with the Reformation. The question between the Lutheran (Augustinian) and Reformed (Philonic) division of the ten commandments was mixed up with controversy as to the legitimacy of sacred images not designed to be worshipped. The Reformed theologians took the stricter view. The identity of the Decalogue with the eternal law of nature was maintained in both churches, but it was an open question whether the Decalogue, as such (that is, as a law given by Moses to the Israelites), is of perpetual obligation. The Socinians, on the other hand, regarded the Decalogue as abrogated by the more perfect law of Christ; and this view, especially in the shape that the Decalogue is a civil and not a moral law (J. D. Michaelis), was the current one in the period of 18th-century rationalism. The distinction of a permanent and a transitory element in the law of the Sabbath is found, not only in Luther and Melanchthon, but in Calvin and other theologians of the Reformed church. The main controversy which arose on the basis of this distinction was whether the prescription of one day in seven is of permanent obligation. It was admitted that such obligation must be not natural but positive; but it was argued by the stricter Calvinistic divines that the proportion of one in seven is agreeable to nature, based on the order of creation in six days, and in no way specially connected with anything Jewish. Hence it was regarded as a universal positive law of God. But those who maintained the opposite view were not excluded from the number of the orthodox. The laxer conception found a place in the Cocceian school.
- A Hebrew fragment probably of the 2nd century A.D., in the University Library, Cambridge, containing the Decalogue with several variant readings; see S. A. Cook, Proceed. Soc. Bibl. Archaeology (1903), pp. 34-56; F. C. Burkitt, Jewish Quarterly Review (1903), pp. 392-408; N. Peters, D. älteste Abschrift d. zehn Gebote (1905).
- So, for example, Augustine, l.c., Thomas, Summa (Prima Secundae, qu. c. art. 4), and recently Sonntag and Kurtz. Purely arbitrary is the idea of Lutheran writers (Gerhard, Loc. xiii. § 46) that the ninth commandment forbids concupiscentia actualis, the tenth conc. originalis.
- It is generally assumed that the addition in Exodus is from a hand akin to Gen. ii. 2 sqq.; Ex. xxxi. 17 (P.).
- So Hitzig (Ostern und Pfingsten im zweiten Dekalog, Heidelberg, 1838), independently of a previous suggestion of Goethe in 1783, who in turn appears to have been anticipated by an early Greek writer (Nestle, Zeit. für alt-test. Wissenschaft (1904), pp. 134 sqq.).
- See also W. E. Barnes, Journ. Theol. Stud. (1905), pp. 557-563.
- The last three sentences of this paragraph are taken almost bodily from Robertson Smith’s later views (Old Testament in the Jewish Church2, pp. 335 seq.).