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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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A word, derived from the Greek, corresponding to the Biblical ; LXX. οἷ δέκα λόγοι(Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 10:4; compare Josephus, "Ant." 3:5, § 3) and τὰ δέκα ῥήματα (Deuteronomy 14:13); also τὰ δέκα λόγια, in the title of Philo's dissertation Περὶ τῶν Δέκα Λογίων; in later Hebrew (Shabbat 86b) or, without the numeral, (B. Ḳ. 54b). As a singular, ή δέκαλογος (scil. βίβλος) was first used by the Church Fathers (see Clement of Alexandria, "Pædagogus," 3:12, § 8, and "Stromata," 6:16, §§ 133, 137); the corresponding Latin "decalogus" is met with in Tertullian ("De Anima," ).

—Biblical Data:

The Decalogue is given in the Pentateuch in two versions (Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-18) that exhibit some variants (see below). According to the Biblical records, it represents the solemn utterances of Yhwh on Mt. Sinai, directly revealed by Him to Moses and the people of Israel in the third month after their deliverance from Egypt, amid wonderful manifestations of divine power marked by thunder and lightning and thick smoke (Exodus 19). As such, God wrote the Ten Words upon two tablets of stone—"tables of testimony" ( , Exodus 24:12, 31:18, 32:16) or "tables of the covenant" (, Deuteronomy 9:9,11,15)—and gave them to Moses. The people having gone astray, Moses, carried away by righteous indignation, broke the tables (Exodus 32:19), and God subsequently commanded him to hew two other tables like the first (Exodus 34:1), whereon to rewrite the Ten Words (Exodus 34:1). According to another passage (Exodus 34:27,28), Moses was bidden to rewrite, and did rewrite, the Commandments himself; but in Deuteronomy 4:13, 5:18, 9:10, 10:24, God appears as the writer. This second set, broughtdown from Mt. Sinai by Moses (Exodus 34:29), was placed in the Ark (Exodus 25:16,21; 20), hence designated as the "Ark of the Testimony" (Exodus 25:22; Numbers 4:5; compare also 1 Kings 8:9).


The Decalogue opens with the solemn affirmation, put in the first person, that the speaker is Yhwh, Israel's ("thy") God, who hath led Israel ("thee") out of Egypt. Therefore there shall be for Israel ("thee") no other gods before Yhwh's ("my") face. Prohibition of idolatry follows as a logical amplification of this impressive announcement, and then a caution against taking Yhwh's name in vain. The duty of remembering the Sabbath and that of honoring father and mother are emphasized. Murder, adultery, theft, and false testimony are forbidden, and the Decalogue concludes with an expanded declaration against, covetousness.

—Critical View:

The Decalogue in Deuteronomy does not differ materially from that in Exodus in regard to the affirmations and obligations contained therein. Verbal discrepancies, however, are comparatively numerous, while the reason adduced for the Sabbath is altogether different. In detail these variants may be grouped as follows:

  1. Differences in the consonantal (Masoretic) text, in identical words: For example, "miẓwotai" (, Exodus 20:6), which occurs as "miẓwotaw" (, Deuteronomy 5:10, in the "Ketib"; this variant is due to an anticipation of the transition from the first to the third person which ensues after this verse). Similarly, there are changes in the use and position of the auxiliary vowel letters; e.g., (Ex. xx 5) and (Deuteronomy 5:9); (Exodus 20:12) and , (Deuteronomy 5:16).
  2. Syntactical differences: E.g., the syndetic arrangement "children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren" (Exodus 20:5, Hebr.), over against the polysyndetic" children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren" (Deuteronomy 5:9, Hebr.); and the asyndetic succession "Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20:13-17), over against the polysyndetic "Thou shalt not kill, and thou shalt not, . . . and," etc. (Deuteronomy 5:17, Hebr.).
  3. Stylistic variations: "Covet," occurring twice in Exodus (20:17). is replaced in one instance by "desire" in Deuteronomy (5:18). "Graven image and any likeness" in Exodus 20:11 (Hebr.) appears as "[the] graven image of any likeness" in Deuteronomy 5:8 (Hebr.). "Remember () the Sabbath" in Exodus 20:9 corresponds to "Keep" () in Deuteronomy 5:12. ("false witness") in Exodus 20:16 corresponds to ("a witness of iniquity" or "falsehood") in Deuteronomy 5:17 (A.V. 20), the prohibition being furthermore prefixed by "and." The sequence "house and wife" in Exodus 20:17 is reversed to read "wife and house" in Deuteronomy 5:18 (A.V. 21).
  4. Additions and amplifications: Deuteronomy adds in two places (5:12,16) the formula "as Yhwh, thy God, hath commanded thee." Another addition is found in Deuteronomy in the text of the command to honor father and mother (5:16): "and that It may go well with thee." Exodus 20:10 summarizes "thy cattle," which in Deuteronomy 5:14 (Hebr.) is expanded to "thine ox and thine ass and all thy cattle," to which is added "that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest as well as thou." Deuteronomy 5:18 (Hebr.) has "his field," which in the corresponding passage of Exodus is wanting.

But of greatest interest is the variation in the reason given for the Sabbath. Exodus 20:10,11 connects it with creation (compare Genesis 2:2); Deuteronomy assigns to it a social purpose and connects it with Israel's liberation from Egyptian bondage. Thus the Sabbath may be said to rest in Exodus on a universal-theological, in Deuteronomy on a national-historical-economic, basis.

A careful analysis of these variants leads to the conclusion that Exodus, on the whole, presents an earlier text than Deuteronomy. The clearly marked effort at stylistic refinement (the substitution of "lo tit'awweh" for " lo taḥmod"; the mention of the "wife" be fore the "house"; even the polysyndetic phrasing, showing a straining after effect) points in this direction. The insertion of the formula "as Yhwh hath commanded" indicates that the appeal rests on a well-known and long-established law. The enumeration of the various kinds of cattle also betrays the hand of a later writer, and so does the explanatory and qualifying gloss "that it may go well with thee."

Relation of the Two Versions.

On the other hand, the variants in the command against idolatry point to the priority of the Deuteronomic reading. Exodus is more explicit and strenuous, as if afraid that the laxer wording ("graven image of any likeness") of Deuteronomy 5:8 might not be sufficiently comprehensive to bar every species ofidolatry. The Sabbath law in Deuteronomy, at least in part, appears to confirm this; while the expression "keep" is stronger than that in Exodus, "remember," and would thus indicate a later solicitude for a better observance. Also, its anxiety for the welfare of the servant exhibits a humane spirit not ordinarily to be looked for in documents of antiquity. The introduction of the theological motive in Exodus, where Deuteronomy has the historical-economic, is an element that favors the assumption of the higher antiquity of the Deuteronomic Decalogue.

These variants, however, have been explained as due to scribal carelessness, such as is easily established by a comparison of the texts of other parallel passages; the writers, contrary to the later rabbinic practise and injunction, failing to consult the written text while quoting from memory, and thus mixing with their lines reminiscences of similar but not identical verses (compare Bardowicz, "Studien zur Geschichte der Orthographie des Alt-Hebr." Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1894; Blau, "Studien zum Alt-Hebr. Bücherwesen," Budapest, 1902). But upon examination this plausible theory will be seen to create new difficulties in the matter in point. The Decalogue must be considered, on the basis of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, to have been fundamental; and as such its wording must have been so accurately fixed as to preclude the possibility of latitude for scribal caprice. The Rabbis, indeed, have felt this difficulty. They have solved it by assuming that both versions are of identical divine origin, and were spoken in a miraculously strange manner at one and the same time ("Bedibbur Eḥad"; see Mek., ed. Weiss, p. 77, Vienna, 1865; Shebu. 20b; R. H. 27b; Yer. Ned. 3:1; Yer. Shebu. 3:5; Cant. Rabbah; Sifre, Ki Tabo).

Ibn Ezra (to Exodus 20:1) recognizes the insufficiency of this explanation, but is equally dissatisfied with the solution proposed by Saadia. The latter, conforming to his rigorous theory of inspiration, would not admit that the Masoretic text was other than of divine origin. It is therefore his theory that literally the Deuteronomic Decalogue equally with that of Exodus was divinely inspired. While Exodus presents the reading of the first set of tables, Deuteronomy contains that engraved by divine direction on the second (see "Jour. Asiatique," Dec., 1861, in Neubauer, "Notice sur la Lexicographie," etc.; Geiger's "Jüd. Zeit." 1:292). With profuse professions of regard for Orthodox teachings, Ibn Ezra ventures to hold that these variants are in the nature of linguistic differences often noticeable in the Biblical books.

—Modern Views:

Modern conservative scholars, with few exceptions (G. Livingston Robinson, "The Decalogue and Criticism," 1899), in so far as they do not maintain that the version of Exodus is the original Mosaic, or at least the older, while that of Deuteronomy (also Mosaic) departs from the original text in conformity with the parenetic method and purpose of Deuteronomy, have concluded that both versions are amplifications—those in Deuteronomy on the whole being later than those in Exodus—of an anterior and old (Mosaic) but briefer list of ten statements written in the manner of the prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft, etc. (Strack, "Exodus," p. 241; Franz Delitzsch, in "Zeitschrift für Kirchliche Wissenschaft und Leben," 1882, p. 292; Holzinger, "Exodus," in "Kurzer Hand-Commentar zum A. T." pp. 79 et seq., Tübingen, 1900; Eduard König, "Einleitung," p. 187, and Index, s.; Wildeboer, "Die Literatur des A. T." p. 17).

Original Form.

Graphically considered, the writing of the letters (about 620) contained in the Decalogue on two tables of stone of moderately large dimensions does not present, as was long thought, an impossibility. The Mesha stone proves the contrary. The Decalogue written in the style of the latter would fill about twenty of its lines (Holzinger, c. p. 69). The unevenness in the length of the first and the second parts is a much stronger indication that the original version was without the amplifications noticeable in the commandments of the first and tenth groups. The tradition, according to which earlier tables were replaced by others, shows that for a long time the knowledge was current of changes in the text, and not, as Holzinger contends (c. p. 77), that a Mosaic law had never existed.

The original Ten Words probably opened with (1) "I am Yhwh, thy God," etc. Then followed:

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me [beside Me].
  2. Thou shalt not take the name of Yhwh thy God in vain.
  3. Remember the Sabbath-day.
  4. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  5. Thou shalt not murder.
  6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  7. Thou shalt not steal.
  8. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
  9. Thou shalt not covet (Wildeboer, c. p. 19).

Eduard König and others (see Lotz in Herzog-Hauck, "Real-Encyc." 3d ed., p. 563) place as the second of these original Ten Words the prohibition against the making and the worshiping of graven images. It is probable that the early Hebrews shared with the Arabs the repugnance to molten plastic idols (; see Wellhausen, "Reste Arabischen Heidentums," p. 102); but "maẓẓebot" (pillars or stones) were legitimate accessories of the Yhwh cult down to a much later period than that of such a Mosaic decalogue. Moreover, idolatry was tolerated in North Israel and even in Judea down to the later centuries. Upon these considerations, Kuenen, Wellhausen, Stade, Schultz, and Smend have argued against the ascription of any decalogue to Mosaic times; but with the omission from the original ten of the injunction against idolatry, the mainstay is taken from under the opposition to the authenticity of the tradition connecting Moses with such a lapidary code.

These simple brief statements were amplified in course of time; the fourth, for instance, reflecting in both versions agricultural conditions such as did not obtain in the Mosaic days. So also does the promised reward of the fifth. The reason given in Deuteronomy for keeping the Sabbath also appeals to circumstances of agricultural civilization; that adduced in Exodus is of a theological nature, and can not be much older than the priestly code (P), nor can it antedate the reception into the Pentateuch of Genesis 1and 2:1-4. Critics have assigned the Exodus version, with this exception, to the ninth century B.C.; the Deuteronomic text, to the seventh century.

Decalogue of Exodus

From the point of view of Pentateuchal analysis Wellhausen ("Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der Historischen Bücher des Alten Testaments," 1885, pp. 84, 85, and passim) maintains that the Jahvist (J) contains an altogether different decalogue; viz., that of Exodus 34:14-26. Goethe, in his "Zwo Fragen, 1773," was the first modern to suggest this. This decalogue is concerned with ritual affairs. Holzinger (Commentary on Exodus, p. 119) proposes the following brief sentences as its contents:

  1. Thou shalt not worship any strange god.
  2. Thou shalt not make thee any molten images.
  3. Thou shalt observe the Feast of Maẓẓot [Pesaḥ].
  4. The first-born are Mine [Yhwh's].
  5. Thou shalt observe the Feast of Weeks.
  6. Thou shalt observe the Feast of the Ingathering.
  7. Thou shalt not mix with leaven the blood of My offerings.
  8. The fat of My feast shall not remain with thee until the next morning.
  9. The choicest of the first-fruits of the land shalt thou bring to the house of Yhwh, thy God.
  10. Thou shalt not seethe the kid in the milk of its mother.

In order to extract these "ten words" from the passage, many other laws therein contained of seemingly equal importance have to be omitted, as also the reasons assigned for their observance. This attempt to reconstrue another decalogue may be said to be a failure, all the more as it is conceded that the decalogue in P (Exodus 20) is virtually anterior to that (Exodus 34) in J (Holzinger, c. p. 120). Still less satisfactory, because altogether unreasonable, is the venture to recover the Decalogue from fragments in Exodus 20:27,28, and 23:10-16 (Meissner, "Der Deḳalog," Halle, 1893; Staerk, "Das Deuteronomium," pp. 29 et seq., 40, Leipsic, 1894).

Division of the Decalogue.

Written on two stone tables (Deuteronomy 4:13, 5:19, 10:34), with script on both sides (Exodus 32:15), the Decalogue would most naturally have been divided into two groups, of five "words" each, each group appearing on one stone. In this way, according to Josephus ("Ant." 3:5, § 4) and Philo ("De Decalogo," § 12, δύο πεντάδας), the Decalogue was originally delivered, the first pentad containing the commandments of "pietas" (relating to God or His visible representatives on earth, the parents); the other, those of "probitas" (relating to conduct toward one's fellow men).

The Midrash mentions a similar division: (Ex. R. ), though, according to R. Nehemiah, each table contained the complete text of the Ten Words (compare Yer. Sheḳ. [quoted in "'En Ya'aḳob"]). The first table would thus have contained 146 of the 172 words of the Exodus Decalogue, but the other only 26. In view of this inequality in the distribution it has been suggested that the one table contained only the first three commandments; the other, the last seven. But if the amplifications were omitted, the grouping in sets of five would result in assigning to the one table 28 words and to the other 27 (Strack, "Exodus," p. 242).

Sequence and Numbering.

The order of the prohibitions against murder, adultery, and theft, as now given in the Masoretic text, in Josephus, and in the Syriac Hexapla, is not followed by the Septuagint, the Codex Alexandrinus, and Ambrosianus (which have "murder, theft, adultery"), nor by Philo (who has "adultery, murder, theft"), nor by the Codex Vaticanus (which reads adultery, theft, murder").

Differences obtain also in regard to the numbering of the various commandments. The traditional Jewish system makes Exodus 20:2 the first "word," and verses 3-6 are regarded as one; viz., the second (Mak. 24a; Mek., ed. Friedmann, p. 70b, Vienna, 1870; Pesiḳ. R., ed. Friedmann, p. 106b, ib. 1880). This arrangement is found also in the Codex Vaticanus of the LXX. and in the Deuteronomy of Ambrosianus. Still R. Ishma'el counts verse 3 as the first "word" (Sifre to Numbers 15:31; ed. Friedmann, p. 33a, Vienna, 1864). Philo and Josephus count verse 3 as commandment i; verses 4-6 as; verse 7 as; verses 8-11 as; verse 12 as; verse 13 as; verse 14 as; verse 15 as; verse 16 as; and verse 17 as

The numbering adopted by the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches combines verses 3-6 into a single commandment which is numbered , in consequence of which, up to the last, every commandment is advanced by one, the Jewish No. III. becoming II., and so on. In order to maintain the number ten, the Jewish No. X. is divided into IX. ("Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife") and X. ("Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house," etc.). This method of numbering is ascribed to Augustine ("quæst. 71 ad Exodum"), but the Codex Alexandrinus, as E. Nestle was the first to notice ("Theol. Studien aus Württemberg," 1886, pp. 319 et seq.), also exhibits it. Modern critics are inclined to accept this latter system of enumeration, partly because the Jewish No. I. is not a "commandment," in which they overlook the Hebrew designation ("word"), and partly because, as the Jewish enumeration has it, verses 3 and 4-6 certainly constitute one command.

Accentuation of the Commandments.

The "'aseret ha-dibrot" are accentuated in the Hebrew in two ways: one for private reading, when the verses are marked to begin at 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17 (13-16 as one verse); the other for solemn public recital, when the first two commandments and the introduction are read without interruption, because God is introduced as the speaker, and every other commandment as a separate verse (Pinsker, "Einleitung in das Babylonisch-Hebräische Punktationssystem," pp. 48-50). It may be possible, though it has been doubted, that this double accentuation preserves the traces of an old uncertainty concerning the numeration of the various "principles" or "words." These accents are respectively known as the "ṭa'am ha'elyon" (superlinear) and the "ṭa'am ha-taḥton" (sublinear). The Oriental Jews know only the division into ten words; e., that observed in private reading (W. Wickes, "Accentuation of the Twenty-one Socalled Prose Books of the O. T." p. 130). The superlinear accentuation is generally used for the cantillation of the Decalogue on the Feast of Weeksas the memorial day of the revelation—e., the giving of the Torah ()—while on the ordinary Sabbaths, when the Decalogue is read as a part of the pericope (Yitro and Wa'etḥannan), the sublinear is followed (Japhet, "Die Accente der Heiligen Schrift," 1896, p. 160; Geiger, "Wiss. Zeit. Jüd. Theol." 3:147 et seq.; also "Urschrift," p. 373, note).

  • Sountag, Ueber die Eintheilung der Zehn Gebote, in Theologische Studien und Kritiken, 1836, pp. 61 et. seq.;
  • Geffken, Ueber die Verschiedenen Eintheilungen des Dekalogs, Hamburg, 1838;
  • Bertheau, Die Sieben Gruppen Mosaischer Gesetzgeb. Göttingen, 1840;
  • Ewald, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, ib. 1843;
  • Graf, Die Geschichtlichen-Bücher des A. T., Leipsic, 1866;
  • Heilbut, Ueber die Ursprüngliche und Richtige Eintheilung des Dekalogs, Berlin, 1874;
  • Wellhausen, Die Composition des Hexateuchs, etc., in Jahrb. für Deutsche Theologie, 1876-77;
  • Lemme, Die Religionsgeschichtliche Bedeutung des Dekalogs, Breslau, 1880;
  • Reuss, Die Gesch. der Heiligen Schriften d. A. T. Brunswick, 1881;
  • Franz Delitzsch, Der Dekalog in Exodus und Deuteronomium, in Zeitschrift für Kirchliche Wissenschaft und Kirchliches Leben, 1882, pp. 281-293;
  • Kuenen, H. K. Onders, , Leyden, 1885 (German ed., Leipsic, 1887);
  • Lotz, Gesch. und Offenbarung, Leipsic, 1891;
  • Budda, Die Gesetzgebung der Mittleren Bücher, in Stade's Zeitschrift, 1891, pp. 193-234.
  • Baentsch, Das Bundesbuch, Halle, 1892;
  • Meissner, Der Dekalog, Halle, 1893;
  • König, Einleitung. Bonn, 1893;
  • Smend, Lehrbuch der Alttestamentlichen Religionsgesch. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1893;
  • Holzinger, Einleitung in den Hexateuch, ib. 1893;
  • Staerk, Das Deuteronomium, Leipsic, 1894;
  • Steuernagel, Der Rahmen des Deuteronomiums, Halle, 1894;
  • idem, Die Entstehung des Deut. Gesetzes, Halle, 1896;
  • Dillmann, Komm. various editions, Leipsic, from 1878 on;
  • idem, Alttestament. Theologie, ib. 1895;
  • Driver, Introduction, 10th ed., New York, 1902;
  • Kraetzschmar, Die Bundesvorstellung im A. T. Marburg, 1896;
  • Klostermann, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, Munich, 1896;
  • Holzinger, Exodus, in Marti's Kurzer Hand-Commentar, 1900;
  • Robinson, The Decalogue, Chicago, 1899;
  • the Bible dictionaries, s. Decalogue;
  • Stade, Gesch. des Volkes Israel,;
  • Baentsch, Exodus-Leviticus, Göttingen, 1900;
  • S. A. Cook, in Guardian, London, Dec. 17.1902; Jan. 14, 1903 (description of a recently discovered papyrus containing an early Hebrew recension of the Decalogue, alleged to be of the second century and represented as giving the text followed by the Septuagint).
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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Decalogue'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​d/decalogue.html. 1901.
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