The Ten Commandments – The Decalogue


These are a list of religious and moral imperatives that, according to Judeo-Christian tradition, were authored by God and given to Moses on the mountain referred to as “Mount Sinai” (Exodus 19:23) or “Horeb” (Deuteronomy 5:2) in the form of two stone tablets. They feature prominently in Judaism and Christianity. In Biblical Hebrew language, the commandments are termed Aseret ha-Dvarîm) and in Rabbinical Hebrew, Aseret ha-Dibrot), both translatable as “the ten statements.” The name “Decalogue” is derived from the Greek name “dekalogos” (“ten statements”) found in the Septuagint (Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 10:4), which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name.
The phrase “Ten Commandments” is generally used to refer to similar passages in
Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21. Some scholars distinguish between this “Ethical Decalogue” and a different series of ten commandments in Exodus 34 that they call the “Ritual Decalogue“.

Although Exodus 34 contains ten imperative statements, the passages in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 contain more than ten, totaling fourteen or fifteen in all. However, the Bible assigns the count of ten to both lists. Various denominations divide these statements into ten in different ways, and may also translate the Commandments differently.

The passage in Exodus 20 contains more than ten imperative statements, totalling 14 or 15 in all. While the Bible itself assigns the count of “10”, using the Hebrew phrase aseret had’varim—translated as the 10 words, statements or things, this phrase does not appear in Exodus 20.Various religions parse the commandments differently. The table below highlights those different Biblical narrative.

According to Biblical text, the commandments represent the covenants agreed to on Mt. Horab. The description of the tablets in the story says they were carved in stone housed in an ark, and the ark placed in a sanctuary in the Egyptian manner. This creation of a written mosaic law and the idea that it should be held sacred and sovreign over all the commandments of other gods lead to the idea of an inflexible law carved in stone but this was later modified by the selection of judges who could interpret any ambiguities.

There are biblical passages that also refer to ten commandments being written by God on stone, and it is widely though not universally held that these were the Ten Commandments as detailed (see also: “Ritual Decalogue” for an alternative view). The commandments were inscribed on what is called “tablets of stone[also referred to as “tablets of testimony” or “tablets of the Covenant” that God gave to Moses. Moses then gave them to the people of Israel in the third month after their Exodus from Egypt. Israel’s receipt of the commandments occurred on the third day of preparations at the foot of the mount.


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