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The Other Ten Commandments

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So you've got past the stage where whenever you think of the Biblical Ten Commandments you have visions of a bearded Charlton Heston receiving a pair of stone tablets on Mount Sinai. Perhaps you're a trivia buff and are able to reel off the whole list of Ten1 Commandments. Now you're looking for something even more impressive to wow your pub quizmates.

The names of the Magnificent Seven2 are passé and the names of the Seven Samurai3 are just too darned hard - so how about a completely different list of Ten4 Commandments?

This list (sometimes called the 'Ritual Decalogue' to distinguish it from the more common 'Ethical Decalogue') is given in Exodus Chapter 34, where it is stated to be the Commandments given to Moses (a claim never explicitly made for the Ethical Decalogue). The list in full goes like this:

Preamble: Behold, I make a covenant: before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which you are shall see the work of the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with you. Observe that which I command this day: behold, I drive out before you the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

  1. Take heed, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you go, lest it be a snare among you: but you shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: for thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and sacrifice to their gods, and one call you, and you eat of his sacrifice; and you take their daughters unto your sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make your sons go a whoring after their gods.
  2. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
  3. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib you came out from Egypt.
  4. All that opens the womb is mine; and every firstborn among your cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male. But the firstborn of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb: and if you do not redeem him, then you shall break his neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.
  5. Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in ploughing time and in harvest you shall rest.
  6. And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end. Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before you, and enlarge your borders: neither shall any man desire your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times a year.
  7. Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven;
  8. Neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
  9. The first of the firstfruits of your land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.
  10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

- Exodus 34

Only Commandments one, two and five also feature in the Ethical Decalogue, and they are three of the least widely accepted. Commandment three refers to Passover; Commandment six to Shavuot and Tabernacles. The final Commandment is more cryptic; in many parts of the world, it was believed that boiling a calf in its mother's milk could have an effect on the mother, making her milk dry up or killing her. This may be the basis for differentiating between meat, milk, and pareve5 in Jewish dietary laws.

It has to be said that to the eyes of most modern readers, this Ritual Decalogue makes a bizarre standard for moral behaviour, and there is some argument over which Decalogue is the real Ten Commandments. It is difficult to think of a campaign to have the Ritual Decalogue displayed in US courtrooms, for example, as some would like the Ethical Decalogue to be. It is, however, very easy to think how much your status on the pub quiz team will improve if you can reel all this off with confidence.

1Or so - depending on whether false idols and covetousness each count as one Commandment or two.2Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Horst Buchholz and Brad Dexter, but you knew that.3Takashi Shimura, Daisuke Kato, Yoshio Inaba, Minoru Chiaki, Isao Kimura, Seiji Miyaguchi and Toshiro Mifune.4Or so - depending on whether driving out foreigners is the same as having no foreign gods.5Food containing no meat or milk products, which may therefore be eaten with either meat or milk under Jewish dietary laws.

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