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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(עֶשֶׂר, ser, or some modification of it; δέκα; the Heb. plur. עַשְׂרַים, esrim, means "twenty;" the root עָשִׂר, asá r, is thought by Fü rst and Mihlau to signify heaping, but Gesenius regards it as primitive), the number which lies at the basis of modern numeration, having its natural origin in the twice five fingers used for counting, and largely employed as such even by the Hebrews, notwithstanding their peculiar regard for seven as containing the notion of completeness. (See NUMBER).

In the civil and ecclesiastical usages of the Israelites this numerical idea especially appears in their word for "tithe" (מִעֲשֵׁר, Leviticus 27:30-32, etc.; Sept. δεκάτη, scil. μοῖρα, "a part;" Vulg. decimal), plainly derived from עשר, "ten," which also (in the form עשר ) means "to be rich;" hence ten is the rich number, perhaps because including all the units under it. The same idea has been rather hastily conceived as being retained in the Greek; thus, δέκω, δέχομαι, "to receive," "hold," etc., δέκα, "ten," because the ten fingers hold everything; and in the Latin, teneo; French, contenir; English, contain, ten. Pythagoras speaks of the Decade, which is the sum of all the preceding numbers 1+2+3+4, as comprehending all musical and arithmetical proportions. For a view of his doctrine of numbers and the probability of its Egyptian origin, see Wilkinson, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, 4:193-200. For Aristotle's similar ideas of the number ten, see Probl. 3, 15. This number seems significant of completeness or abundance in many passages of Scripture. Jacob said unto Laban, "Thou hast changed my wages these ten times" (Genesis 31:41); "Am not I better to thee than ten sons?" (1 Samuel 1:8); "These ten times have ye reproached me" (Job 19:3); "Thy pound hath gained ten pounds" (Luke 19:16), etc. This number, as the end of less numbers and beginning of greater, and as thus signifying perfection, sufficiency, etc., may have been selected for its suitableness to those eucharistic donations to religion, etc., which mankind were required to make, probably, in primeval times. Abraham gave to Melchisedek, "priest of the Most High God," a tenth of all the spoils he had taken from Chedorlaomer (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:4). The incidental way in which this fact is stated seems to indicate an established custom. Why should Abraham give tithes of the spoils of war and not of other things? For instances of the heathen dedicating to their gods the tenth of warlike spoils, see Wettstein, On Hebrews 7:4. Jacob's vow (Genesis 28:22) seems simply to relate to compliance with an established custom; his words are, literally, "And all that thou shalt give me I will assuredly tithe it unto thee," אעשרנו ל ִעשר . On the practice of the heathen, in various and distant countries, to dedicate tithes to their gods, see Spelman, On Tithes, ch. 26; Selden, ch. 3; Lesley, Divine Right of Tithes, § 7; Wettstein, On Hebrews 7:2. The Mosaic Law, therefore, in this respect, as well as in others, was simply a reconstitution of the patriarchal religion. Thus the tenth of military spoils is commanded (Numbers 31:31). For the law concerning tithes generally, see Leviticus 27:30, etc., where they are first spoken of as things already known. These tithes consisted of a tenth of all that remained after payment of the first-fruits of seeds and fruits, and of calves, lambs, and kids. This was called the first tithe, and belonged to God as the sovereign. (See TITHE).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ten'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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