Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Ten Commandments: revealed or stolen?

Published:Tuesday | November 28, 2017 | 12:00 AMClinton Chisholm


Concerning the Ten Commandments, and the allegation that they were stolen or plagiarised/borrowed, much common sense should prevail. The Bible states that God revealed to Moses the law code that would regulate the life of the Israelites coming out of Egypt (Ex. 19-24).

The now popular thesis of 'stolen legacy' and the attempt to see almost everything of worth as stolen or borrowed from ancient Egypt is hopelessly naive. One needs to remember that there were commonalities in the Ancient Near East in cultural realities, legal codes, and marriage/divorce customs, but there were also national peculiarities.

Additionally, the fact that Document A is prior to B and looks similar to B does not mean that B was copied from A.

The usual allegation under the 'stolen legacy' rubric is that Moses copied the Ten Commandments from the earlier negative confessions in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. So by this claim, confessions ("I have not ...") become commands ("Thou shalt not ..."). Downright silly claim, if you ask me!

What those like Ashby and Massey, who make the allegation, fail to do is show the clear similarity or identity in content or structure - beyond generalities that one would expect in any culture - between the two documents that provide the basis for the alleged dependence of the one on the other. Nor have such critics been able to explain the peculiarities of the Ten Commandments that have no likeness in the negative confessions, like the critical taboo on graven images of God and the centrality of the Sabbath.




The more serious allegation from another quarter is that Moses plagiarised the Babylonian code of Hammurabi (written between 2000 and 1700 BC) to come up with the Ten Commandments and other laws in the Pentateuch. Though there are structural and thematic similarities between Hammurabi's code (and other law codes of the time) and sections of the laws in the Pentateuch, the differences are very striking, and there is nothing in Hammurabi that closely matches the Ten Commandments.

As renowned Semitic languages specialist and biblical scholar the late Gleason Archer says, "... It should be understood, of course, that the differences between the Torah and the Code of Hammurabi are far more striking than the resemblances. But the differences proceed largely from the entirely different ideology to which each of the two cultures adhered ... . In the Hebrew laws, a greater value is set upon human life, a stricter regard for the honour of womanhood is discernible, and a more humane treatment of slaves is enjoined. Moreover, the Babylonian Code has nothing in it corresponding to that twofold golden thread running through the Mosaic legislation - love to God and love to one's neighbour ... ." (Cited in Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Vol. 2, 1998, 65)

A little reading, improperly digested Dr Ashby, is a dangerous thing!