Thursday, March 30, 2017
Are the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20 an interpolation?
There are three versions of the 10 Commandments in the Torah -- found in Exodus 20, Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5.
The version that people seem to use most is that in Exodus 20, though the version in Deuteronomy is very similar. Exodus 34 is only roughly similar. One of the commandments in Exodus 34 is: "Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk”, which has got just about everyone puzzled.
But let us leave Exodus 34 aside for a moment. It is only in Deuteronomy that we read: "And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments". There is no mention of stone tablets or 10 commandments in Exodus 20.
Most importantly, however, the Exodus 20 commandments are not embedded in the Mount Sainai story at all. They just somehow appear in the middle of the narrative without explanation. The narrative before and after the 10 commandments just carries on as if there were no 10 commandments.
So why was a list of 10 commandments jammed into the middle of another story? We don't know for sure. It is as mysterious as not cooking a kid in its mother's milk. But I have a suggestion that flows from my critique of the creation story in Genesis 1. In my comments about that I noted that it was only in Exodus 20 that the Sabbath was tied to creation. The Sabbath is not justified in that way in the other two versions of the commandments.
So in my previous comments I suggested that the mention of the creation in Exodus 20 was an interpolation -- something added in long after the original text was written. Looking at the strange disconnection of Exodus 20 from its surrounding narrtive, however, I am inclined to go further. I think that the whole ten commandments list in Exodus 20 is an interpolation. There was no such list there originally.
So how and why? I think it goes back to what is clearly another interpolation into the orginal Torah: The Genesis 1 creation story. The priestly authors of Genesis 1 needed to give it some authority in the original Torah so took the original Ten Commandments story recorded in Deuteronomy, added in the bit about creation, and positioned it fairly early in Exodus. It's like a shag on a rock there but as long as it is something that occurs in roughly the right place, it should pass muster.
The Deuteronomy version occurs fully in context and is presumably fairly true to the original stone tablets.
So what about Exodus 34, which has LOTS of commandments? It speaks of 10 commandments but I actually find 12. And a lot of the commandments that are there do not correspond to anything in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. For example:
“Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.[b]
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.
So the only list which explicitly describes itself as the Ten Commandments is quite different from what we call the Ten Commandments. How come?
I think we can see what has happened if we look back at Exodus 19 and 20. In 19:7 we read that the Israelits had ALREADY agreed to abide by the commands of YHVH. But that was not enough. YHVH went on to do a further thunder and lightning display. And after the interpolation we read in 20:18 that the people were terrified by that.
And from that point we get chapter after chapter of laws and regulations that YHVH laid down. It was a fairly complete code of community behaviour. Neither Exodus 34 nor Deuteronomy are like that
One thing that seems clear is that obedience to YHVH's commends was required as part of the covenant between YHVH and the Israelites. And we read in chapter 18 that Moses was already administering a set of such laws, BEFORE the arrival at Sinai. In 19:5 we read that obedience to the law of YHVH was essential to the covenant.
So the fact that Exodus 34 lists various different commandments would seem to suggest that it has simply made a different selection out of a whole body of laws that YHVH commanded. The 10 commandments were given under very impressive circumstances so the giving of them would be well remembered.. What was actually in the commandments, however, had fallen out of memory so a a guess at which laws were in the Commandments was made.
To use a modern analogy, the Ten Commandments were like an executive summary or a journal abstract. They were the foundation of divine law but far from the whole of it. And there are different ways of writing an executive summary or a journal abstract.
So my summary is that the Exodus writer was concerned about the whole body of the law and only picked out ten of them as special in an offhand sort of way. The Deuteronomy author, however, may have had a fair cvopy of the original commandments on stone and reproduced that.
And subsequent priestly scholars -- perhaps the ones who also wrote Genesis 1 -- saw the Deuteronomy record as superior so used it as the basis for an interpolation into Exodus. It follows that Deuteronomy is the "official" or original record of the 10 commandments and that the Exodus 20 version should be disregarded.
The three sets of Commandments are below:
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[a] me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image 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 parents 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 male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 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 male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
34 The Lord said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. 3 No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain.”
4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands.
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.[a]
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 any idols.
18 “Celebrate the Festival 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 Aviv, 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 Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.[b]
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 Festival 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.”
27 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.
6 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
7 “You shall have no other gods before[b] me.
8 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 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 parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
11 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 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 male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
16 “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
17 “You shall not murder.
18 “You shall not commit adultery.
19 “You shall not steal.
20 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
21 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
22 These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
The puzzle of Genesis 1:6-9
In my recent comments on Genesis chapter 1, I suggested that chapter 1 was not an original part of the Torah and should be recognized as deuterocanonical (apocryphal). I did however add the rider that what Genesis 1 had to relate was probably based on something relatively ancient, such as a myth or oral tradition.
And I think Genesis 1:6-9 fairly reliably identifies part of what that source was. It goes right back to the theology of ancient Sumer -- the first known human civilization, situated in what is now Southern Iraq.
Here is what 1:6-9 says in the New International Version:
"And God said, "Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water. So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning--the second day. And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so."
Wha? Was the Genesis writer saying that there was a body of water ABOVE the sky as well as on the surface of the earth? That is an extraordinary idea by modern scientific standards but it is precisely what the Sumerians believed. The rains came down from above, didn't they? So there must be another body of water way up above that the rains came from. It was a fairly reasonable deduction given their complete ignorance of modern science.
There is nothing else in Genesis 1 that is starkly contrary to what we know today -- though it's a bit odd that birds were created before land animals. It is more or less common sense and could have been made up by anyone. But 6-9 is very distinctive and clearly of Sumerian and later of Babylonian origin. The Babylonians borrowed a lot from Sumer, including the 7-day week.
The Sumerians and other early civilizations also had their own creation myths but there is absolutely no similarity to Genesis 1 in any of them. It would seem, therefore, that the 7 day account of creation is mainly of ancient Israelite origin with Sumerian "wisdom" added in to give it authority.
Genesis 1 does read in a very orderly way so I surmise that it was in fact the work of one man. When it was originally written is completely unknown. But its allusion to Sumerian/Babylonian thought could make it quite ancient. Textual criticism does however enable us to trace the version that appears in the Bible to about the third century BC --JR.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
John 1:1 -- one more foray
I suppose I am a bit obsessed with the meaning of the first verse of the gospel of John. I have written enough on it (e.g. here and here). But it bugs me that a simplistic bit of translation has totally distorted the meaning of the passage.
In English Bibles, John 1:1 is normally translated as: "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God".
But that's nuts. How can you both BE god and be WITH god? It's logically self-contradictory. By saying you are WITH someone you imply that you are NOT that someone. So what gives? Was the holy apostle John talking nonsense? He was not. What he wrote in the original Greek of the New Testament was quite different from what we read in most English Bibles.
But I can't altogether blame the translators. Translating it literally does make for ponderous English. So why not do it the simple way?
To show you what I mean, here is the closest I can get to an exact translation: "In a beginning was the word and the word was with the god and the word was of god-substance." You see what I mean. It sounds a bit weird. Note "THE god".
As I mentioned recently, it all goes back to the way holy Jews long ago stopped referring to the name of their god -- which was YHWH ("Jehovah" in English). So they referred to him by generic terms such as "Gods" or "Lord" ("elohim" or "adonay" in Hebrew).
YHWH tells us most emphatically that he is very proud of his name, wants it used reverently and wants it known worldwide that he is supreme. See the Ten Commandments and Psalm 83:18. He is so emphatic about it in Psalm 83:18 that even the King James Bible renders the name as "Jehovah" rather than with their usual practice of substituting "the LORD" for YHWH. So it is a huge irony that the worshippers of YHWH do exactly the opposite of what he clearly commands.
And that confusion carried on into New Testament times. Because the Jewish god had no name, the New Testament writers couldn't identify their god very clearly either. They referred to him as "the God" ("ho theos") -- which is how Greeks referred to the local god, whoever he may be. In the ancient world there were lots of gods and it depended on where you were to find out which god you most likely worshipped. So right from the beginning, John 1:1 was going to have some ambiguity
A non-Jewish speaker of Greek would have taken the text to be very vague indeed, amounting to a claim that a mysterious someone was with the local god of the writer at some beginning and that the mysterious someone was made out of the same stuff as the local god was. And that is EXACTLY what it means. We see more in it than that because we know its religious context
Most Christians go in for vagueness there too. They see it as justification for their theological "Trinity" doctrine -- and that's as vague as it gets -- saying that Jesus and God are the same yet different -- which is also logically self-contradictory.
I note that even the latest Zondervan Study Bible (using the latest version of the NIV) concedes in its notes that the meaning of "with god" is, "The word is distinct from God the father and enjoys a personal relationship with him". That is pretty right -- but how you get a Holy Trinity out of it is the mysterious part.
I am not going to start mentioning anarthrous predicates and the fine points of the Greek grammar involved. I have done that on several previous occasions. Suffice it to say that my rendering of what the passage actually means now seems to be mainstream among textual scholars. See e.g. here.
And nor is it a modern translation. Another Bible translation is the old Geneva Bible, a translation even older than the KJV. It was the translation that the Pilgrim Fathers mainly used. And in their footnotes they interpret the passage to mean that the Word was of "the selfsame essence or nature" as the creator, which is pretty fair.
Note: I might in passing recommend the latest Zondervan study Bible. It is a massive tome with huge amounts of information. It is a worthy successor to the old Companion Bible. They are going for $33.99 at the moment from Christian Book.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
The origin of Genesis chapter 1
I have the greatest respect for Christians and I certainly don't like upsetting Christians but I am after all an atheist so sometimes I feel that I should treat the Bible in a purely scholarly way rather than as a source of religious truth. It is an immensely important document so deserves all the scholarly examination it can get. And Genesis chapter 1 is one area where scholars find something very different from what Christians believe. So I recommend at this point that Christians read no further what I have to say here.
The need for Genesis chapter 1 arose from the fact that the ancient Israelites always used the Babylonian calendar, which divided the week into 7 days. That calendar was so widespread from about 4,000 years ago that it would have been disruptive to use anything else.
So how did the Babylonian calendar arise? It arose because the Babylonians were pretty keen astronomers, who closely observed the night sky. And the big discovery they made was that most of the stars were fixed relative to one-another but five of them were not. There were five "wandering" stars that kept moving around. We know them as Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Mercury and Venus.
We know that they are planets but the Babylonians had no inkling of that. It seemed to them that entities that moved among the stars must be gods and you had better respect them accordingly. But there were also two other bodies that moved about the sky: The sun and the moon.
So some very holy Babylonian had the bright idea that each of these seven gods should be regularly worshipped in a seven day cycle, so that you kept all the Gods onside. This was seen as a brilliant proposal in the ancient world and so we came to have a 7 day week. Each god got a bit of respect every 7 days. And the sun was obviously the big chief so his day was especially holy. And it still is. Most people still go to church on Sun-day.
But the Israelites were a rather rebellious and cantankerous people (as their own prophets often said) so they refused to have their main religious observations on Sunday. They chose Saturday instead -- to differentiate themselves from all the sun-worshippers around them. The pagans made Sun-day the first day of the week so the Israelites worshipped on the 7th day of the week. That was also Saturn's day but too bad about that. And Jews still worship on Saturday
The apostle Paul however didn't want to keep his followers separate from the heathens all about them. He wanted to attract heathens into his version of religious truth. So having your ceremonies on a different day from everybody else was an embarrassment to recent converts to Christianity. So Paul told the early Christians that what they did was more important than when they did it so you can have your celebrations on any day you like. So Christians gratefully went back to Sunday as their holiest day. It meant that they did not stick out so much from the pagans all around them. So Christians have gone back to a form of Sun worship.
But the Jews never did. But that left them with a problem. They vigorously rejected Sun worship so how come they used the 7 day pagan calendar that the sun worshippers did? They had to find some way of explaining their use of the 7 day calendar that did not go back to the Babylonian gods.
And Genesis chapter one was the answer. There was already a perfectly good creation story in Genesis. In our Bibles it starts from Genesis 2:4. And we know it is the original start of the Bible because it uses the divine name YHVH ("Yod He Vau He" in Hebrew) all the time, as does the rest of the Old Testament. Hebrew originally had no vowels so the original pronunciation of YHVH is a matter of debate but "Yahveh" with the "H" pronounced as in the German "Ach Laut" or the "ch" in the Scottish "loch") is most probable. Englishmen can't say that, however. Modern English has lost all its gutturals. So in English we say "Jehovah".
But tacked on in front of the original brief creation story we now have a much more elaborate creation story that tells us that the creation unfolded in 7 "days" or time periods. Voila! We now have a Jewish explanation for the use of a 7 day calendar! It was the creator himself who divided the days into a 7 day cycle. It was now nothing to do with Babylonian sun worship. Problem solved. The Babylonian explanation for a 7 days calendar had never been challenged before, though. Everybody thought it was obvious. But now there was an exception. The pesky Jews had another story.
So how do we know that Genesis chapter 1 was written as a late bit of Israelite propaganda? Easy. Genesis chapter 1 does NOT use the divine name. One would expect the creation story to be full of the name of the Hebrew god but it is in fact not to be found there. Instead of YHVH we find "elohim", which is just the name for gods generally. It is however the plural form of "god" so could naively be translated as "gods" (the singular is "Eloah", which is where Arabs get "Allah from). But it is common to use plurals as respectful forms of a word or name. The Queen of England, for instance, always refers to herself on formal occasions as "we". So the chapter 1 authors substituted a respectful form of "god" instead of the divine name.
So why is that significant? Because avoidance of the divine name is a bit of Jewish pietism that arose some time around the 3rd century B.C. In order not to use the divine name in vain, Pharisees and their like thought it safest not to use the name at all. So they didn't. And that usage was well ingrained by the time of Christ. So the New Testament does not mention YHVH. It uses "ho theos" (the god) instead, which is how the ancient Greeks referred to the local god being worshipped.
So chapter 1 clearly was written after use of YHVH became impious. It is later than the rest of the Bible, which routinely uses YHVH. And to this day, most Bible translations do not use YHVH where it occurs. The King James Bible uses "the LORD" (in all caps) where YHVH occurs in the original.
So if they were textual scholars, Christians could well argue that Genesis 1 is not really a part of the Bible. It is just a bit of Jewish propaganda. Since the creation story of Genesis 1 is often an embarrassment, that could be useful.
It is probable that the 7 day creation story was not entirely original when it was tacked on to the front of the Bible long after the rest of the Bible had been written. Tacking something new on like that would have been resisted by the priestly guardians of the text. That there was careful guardianship of the text is suggested by the similarity of the text of Isaiah found in the Dead Sea scrolls and the more modern Masoretic text (from about 800 AD).
So the 7 day creation story was likely a respected legend or oral tradition long before it was elaborated and written down for what we now know as Genesis chapter 1.
In support of that view is that we find the 7 day creation story stressed in the Exodus 20 version of the ten Commandments. Exodus is undoubtedly canonical and uses YHVH quite a lot. But could the mention in Exodus be an interpolation? Could it too have been added in later?
Alas! That is all too probable. The version of the 10 Commandments in Deuteronomy 5 does NOT contain mention of a 7 day creation. It commands a 7th day Sabbath only. That is also true of the "expanded" version of the Commandments in Exodus 34 (See verse 21).
So there is no doubt that the 7 day creation story was added on long after the rest of the Old Testament was written -- JR.