Sometimes, There Is No Simple Answer; Shavuot: A Ten Commandments’ Tale

as a lawyer, i am besieged with questions upon which there is no simple answer. likewise, there is the conundrum of giving an abbreviated answer. with short answers, there is the fear that i will be accused of providing something inaccurate or misleading. at times, when there is no simple answer, i often tell the questioner, “do you really want to hear the whole story?” if the answer is in the affirmative, they can be subjected to a law school lecture on the topic.

“what are the ten commandments?” is one of these confounding questions. to give a simple answer, the torah portion shavuot provides the best solution.

from a scholarly view, the hebrew ten commandments, arguably, has four versions. the torah contains two [complete] versions, one in exodus, and the other in deuteronomy. despite being in the same book- the torah- they are not identical. there are textual differences. one example is the reason for the sabbath. the exodus, and first version, indicates sabbath was created as the master of the universe rested on the seventh day upon completing the world. the deuteronomy version provides the exodus from egypt as the reason behind the sabbath.

one of the greatest archeological finds- the dead sea scrolls- however, brought controversy with respect to the ten commandments. while the dead sea scrolls are depicted as accurately transmitting the torah, the ten commandments’ fragment found is the passage from deuteronomy. this version, however, differs from the accepted torah version. namely, the dead sea version harmonized the reasons for the sabbath. they combine both reasons into the text by referencing both the creation and the exodus. grisda finally, if one wishes to enter the realm of speculation, there is also the moses scroll. this controversial scroll of questionable authenticity contained its own unique version of the ten commandments.

with all this in mind, the portion shavuot can make life much simpler when asked the question. the portion shavout is the first utterance of ten commandments from the torah and it is the one which is read on the holiday-shavuot-which celebrates the deliverance of the ten commandments to the children of israel. thus, one can say, with confidence, that the most authoritative version of the ten commandments is the one from exodus.

the exodus version, from the portion shavuot, is as follows: “i am the lord, your god, who took you out of the land of egypt, out of the house of bondage. you shall not have the gods of others in my presence. you shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness which is in the heavens above, which is on the earth below, or which is in the water beneath the earth. you shall neither prostrate yourself before them nor worship them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a zealous God, Who visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons, upon the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, and [i] perform loving kindness to thousands [of generations], to those who love me and to those who keep my commandments. you shall not take the name of the lord, your god, in vain, for the lord will not hold blameless anyone who takes his name in vain. remember the sabbath day to sanctify it. six days may you work and perform all your labor,but the seventh day is a sabbath to the lord, your god; you shall perform no labor, neither you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, your beast, nor your stranger who is in your cities. for [in] six days the lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day. therefore, the lord blessed the sabbath day and sanctified it. honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the lord, your god, is giving you. you shall not murder. you shall not commit adultery. you shall not steal. you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. you shall not covet your neighbor’s house. you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor.”

for those celebrating, chag sameach. for everyone, be well!!

Published by biblelifestudies

I am a practicing lawyer and long term admirer of the bible

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