Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Religion & Culture | The Ten Commandments myth?

Published:Sunday | November 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Contributed Charlton Heston playing the biblical character Moses in the film The Ten Commandments.
File Nate Shepherd uses his finger to trace chiselled letters on the Ten Commandment monument in Poteau, Oklahoma

"The myths of Egypt will be found to have been copied and reproduced, and declared to have been given directly from the hand and mouth of the Lord, whereas there was no revelation or divine origin in the matter. The Hebrews took them from the Egyptians."

- Gerald Massey's A Book of the Beginnings

That teachings of the Old Testament are hardly original, that Moses was an Egyptian and not an Israelite, and that the God that terrifies and rewards, the God that chooses one people over all others are part of a well-crafted mythological construct is bound to anger followers of Judeo-Christian thought.

But such a bold, controversial thesis is not new. In his last book, Moses and Monotheism, the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, raised some provocative questions.

Freud explored ancient myths, etymology, and the origins of Jewish practices. What he concluded is nothing short of explosive. Himself a Jew, Freud grasped the implication of his presentation. But he was undeterred.

In this seminal work, Freud argues that Moses was possibly an Egyptian (an assertion long made by Manetho, a 3rd century BC Egyptian historian), who was mesmerised and sold on the concept of monotheism, a new religion that was revealed by Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaton to honour the all-pervasive Deity, the Creator of the universe.

Akhenaton built the city of Amarna in reverence to the universal Creator (the God of truth and justice) and moved swiftly and dramatically to smother the many gods of Egyptians, above all the cult of Amun.

There was relentless resistance by the priests of Amun to this new religion. Akhenaton's rule lasted a mere 17 years. After his sudden demise (1332 BC), his city was sacked, his name was excised from official names of Pharaohs, and Egypt's old religion was reintroduced,

Moses, an inveterate follower of the dethroned king, introduced monotheism to the Levites, Egypt's Israelites.

Freud posits that the Levites, many of whom bore Egyptian names, were introduced to the one God concept. Circumcision, an Egyptian practice that predated the Mesopotamians and the Sumerians, was also transferred.

He argues quite convincingly, " ... Let us adopt for a moment the usual assumption that Moses was a Jew who wanted to free his compatriots from the service of an Egyptian overlord and lead them out of the country, ... what sense could there be in his forcing upon them at the same time a burdensome custom which, so to speak, made them Egyptians and was bound to keep their 'dark' (emphasis mine) memory of Egypt?"

Freud goes further. On Moses' speech impediment, he offers a compelling explanation. Citing Exodus 4: 10, he writes, "Another trait imputed to him deserves our special interest. Moses was said to have been 'slow of speech'.

"[This], however has another and more important significance. The report may, in a slightly distorted way, recall the fact that Moses spoke another language and was not able to communicate with his Semitic Neo-Egyptians without the help of an interpreter - at least not at the beginning of their intercourse. Thus a fresh confirmation of the thesis: Moses was an Egyptian."

And although Freud makes no mention of the Ten Commandments in his work, noted scholars have proven that Moses commandments to the Levites were taken from the Egyptian precepts of Maat or the 42 Negative Confessions.

On this subject, the late scholar, Professor Ben Jochannan, stated, "We can find that there was no Moses on Mt Herop in Sinai to receive any 10 commandments that had not been given before or written before in Egypt because you could go in the Book of Coming Forth By Day and By Night, in what is called the Osirian Drama, not only those 10 commandments but 32 more for a total of 42 commandments for which you could go to Temple Ramses VI in the Valley of the Kings, across from what is called today Luxor, and in that tomb you would see the 42 commandments ... 2,000 years before the birth of Moses."

And Dr Kwame Nantambu, professor emeritus at Kent State University, wrote, "The fact is that as a High Priest during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaton, (xxvth Dynasty, 1370-1352 B.C), Moses was not only familiar and knowledgeable with '42 Negative Confessions' but also with the 10 categories of sins that existed. He was also familiar with the spiritual concept of Monotheism that Akhenaton introduced to the people."

On the fate of Moses, Freud refers to biblical scholar Ernst Sellin (1867-1946).

He writes, "Sellin made a discovery of decisive importance. He found in the book of the Prophet Hosea (second half of the eighth century [BCE]) unmistakable traces of a tradition to the effect that the founder of their religion, Moses, met a violent end in a rebellion of his stubborn and refractory people. The religion he had instituted was at that time abandoned."

Still, Moses' laws and practices survived, absorbed by the Kadesh tradition at the time of King David (1000 BCE).

According to Freud, the Levites "would not renounce memories ... of their liberation from Egypt and the magnificent figure of Moses, and indeed, he succeeded in finding a place in the new representation of Jewish early history".

Notably, the volcanic god Jahve (Yahweh) proved dominant, eventually, assuming the characteristics of Moses' ubiquitous, universal God - the God of Akhenaton. More importantly, Moses assumed a new identity in Jewish scriptures (written long after the his death) as one of their own. The myth, Freud argues, transforms this Egyptian into a Jew.

Judaism offers a template on the evolution of religions and the dynamic role of politics, migration, commerce and psychology. Moreover, it validates the indispensable role of myths to the creation of religions.

If Freud is somehow wrong and we are to believe the Old Testament hook, line and sinker, we must at least concede that religion does not emerge from a vacuum.

Religious beliefs are a melange of diverse cultural practices and belief systems formed by acculturation, enculturation and cultural hybridisation. This has always been the trajectory of civilisation.

- Dr Glenville Ashby latest book, 'The Mystical Qigong Handbook for Good Heath', is available at Amazon. Feedback: or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby