Student Teaching in the New Millenium

On The Agnostic’s View of the Ten(Twelve) Commandments

In Exodus, ReBlogged on January 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

I chanced on two interesting articles the other day at The Tattered Thread  and RemotelyNowhere, written by two friends, Rob Slaven and Grant Dawson, blogging their impressions of the Ten Commandments.  The first is agnostic, the second is Christian.  This is my contribution to their discussion, with some editing.

The name “Ten (Twelve)” commandments is from Rob, who aptly points out that the Ten Commandments, in the strictest sense, discuss more than ten specific things.  I’ve opted to stick to the Ten Commandments formula here.

On The Agnostic’s View of the Ten(Twelve) Commandments

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the Tablets, by Rembrandt

1. I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

The plain meaning of the pesuk (phrase) means as you have said, God says “I am God.” Now, what other gods exist in the world today? Money? Sex? Power? Certitude? What happens when people chase after them? Everyone gets hurt, and everyone is enslaved.

The purpose of this commandment is to encourage appreciation for the ineffable, as Abraham Joshua Heschel puts it, and discourage the worship of bad ideas. It also affirms God’s oneness. God appears in Torah in multiple guises including: love, justice, compassion, mercy, the elements, father, and (hey feminists!) mother. If God is a God of infinite possibility, imposing limits on God reduces Her splendor.

It also reminds us of something more important than ourselves. What is this?  An excellent question.

“And the LORD repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people.” (Exodus 32.14)

Human dignity is precious.


2. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image…thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them.

The previous commandment discourages the worship of bad ideas. This commandment discourages the worship of man-made things. So, I cannot say: my rock says I should kill you because your rock’s butt ugly and you smell.

In other words, bowing to a rock and giving it my lunch money equals bad ju-ju….even if it is damn funny. Bowing to the rock and going Son of Sam on people…not so much. Is this serving the rock, or savage impulse?

Man-made gods embody the ideas we give them. When this was written, children were sacrificed to fire…by their parents. Is this commandment redundant, or does the repetition teach that idolatry, in any form, is a really, really bad idea?

If we worship man-made things, does that mean we worship man?

God tired of sacrifice long, long ago.


3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.

Do not make false oaths in God’s name. Since we run the risk of not fulfilling every oath we make, don’t swear in God’s name at all. Why? To avoid an error.

It’s our responsibility to fulfill our oaths, not God’s.

Better yet: don’t make false oaths in YOUR name, or anyone else’s.


4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

We spend six days a week creating, acquiring, building, and molding existence to suit our needs. Shouldn’t we take some time for ourselves?

We should all take a break from chasing money.

A holiday every week. A beautiful thing.


5. Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

How do we live long and happy lives on our land? By honoring our parents. What do our parents want for themselves and their children? Peace. How do you make peace? By honoring everybody.

Or:  how do we live long and happy lives on our land?  By honoring our neighbors.  When we bring honor to our neighbors, we bring honor on ourselves, and thereby honor our parents.

What’s the alternative?  Theft.  War.  Death.

“Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Leviticus 19.18)


6. Thou shalt not murder.

The plain meaning of the pesuk is as you’ve described. Consider this: slander is a form of murder.

God tired of sacrifice long, long ago.


7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

The Sages in the Talmud say that marriage was established in three ways: exchange of money, the signing of the contract, or sex. Sacred prostitution was all the rage in biblical times.

Another interpretation: let’s borrow from the Catholic understanding of the married couple as a new life. Is this murder?


8. Thou shalt not steal.

Not only don’t steal, but don’t think of stealing. Why do we think of stealing? To acquire what others have that we do not: money, power, things. More idols.

When we conceive the theft, and follow through, where does the theft occur?  In the word, or the deed?


9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Don’t make false oaths in your own name, or anyone else’s. Honor everybody.


10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife…nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Intention is everything. The Sages ask why the Torah demands fourfold or fivefold reparations are required for certain crimes of theft. Some interpret the number of steps in the act into the reason. Conceiving the crime is the first step.

We are already told not to steal.  What does the repetition teach?  That theft is a really, really bad idea?  How about, don’t tempt yourself?


I leave you with a midrashic interpretation.

Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife
bearing false witness to have him put away
so you can steal his money
and have sex with his wife
motivating you to murder him
and make your parents feel shame
because you don’t make peace
and lie
and chase idols
and don’t know what is good in life

  1. […] On The Agnostic’s View of the Ten(Twelve) Commandments ( […]

  2. […] On The Agnostic’s View of the Ten(Twelve) Commandments ( Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Tags: Britain, Christian, Christianity, God, Lord thy God, Moses, Ten Commandments, You shall not steal Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment Trackback […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: