Attention Judaic scholars: Why TEN Commandments?

I have just finished reading an interesting book called “Reformation - Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700” by Diarmaid MacCulloch.

One fascinating thing I learned is that there are two ways to number the 10 commandments.

Method 1 consists of making the first commanment (I am shortening them here for the sake of brevity)“No other Gods before me”. The part about “no graven images” is simply considered as an illustration of the first commandment, not a commandment by itself. The second commandment is then “Name of the lord your God in vain.”

They then continue in the same order: 3) Sabbath day;4) father and mother; 5)kill; 6) adultery; 7) steal; 8) false witness.

Now then, this brings us to the last 2 which are 9) coveting neighbour’s house and 10) Coveting neighbour’s wife or property.

This system was invented by Augustine of Hippo in the late Roman Empire and used by the Western Latin Christian Church up until the Reformation.

Method 2 was promoted by Protestant reformers because they were against all statues and holy images, so they made the comment about graven images the second commandment. This bumps all the others by one (killing becomes 6, adultery becomes 7) until you get to the “coveting” passage, where ALL forms of coveting (house, wife, goods) are rolled into a tenth commandment.

Now what is really funny is that this is not a straight Catholic/Protestant split. Roman Catholics AND Lutherans use method 1. All other Protestants plus Anglicans (who are really Anglo-Catholics) PLUS JEWS, plus the Orthodox Churches use method 2.

So after that looooong intro, here is my question to Judaic scholars. Where did you folks get your numbering system?

How do you know there are TEN commandments? Also, did you know that the Commandments are enumerated TWICE? Once in Exodus 20 and once in Deuteronomy 5. Now, if you read the end of the list in Deuteronomy, you might get the feeling that coveting your neighbour’s wife (who is a person after all) is meant to stand separately. Why should coveting the house be one distinct commandment and then coveting the wife and all other property lumped together?

Indeed, I seem to remember a Catholic list in which number 9 was coveting the wife and 10 was coveting all property.

Has any Jewish scholar ever advanced the idea that there are 11 commandments?

Or if you lump graven images with the first and lump all coveting together at the end, then you have nine.

The Christian Bible, including the Old Testament, was not divided into verses until the 1500s. Many of the verse divisions are arbitrary decisions of printers. When did Jews start dividing their Torah into verses?

Is there are known Jewish scholar who did the division into 10 commandments that I just described in method 2?

And finally, does it actually say ANYWHERE in Jewish scripture that there are 10 commandments?

Exodus 34:28.
Deuteronomy 4:13, 10:4.

Judaism reads the “Ten sayings” as categories, though, not as individual, specific injunctions. There are actually hundreds of “commandments.”

There are 613 commandments in the Torah, plus many Rabbinical regulations built around them.

The text of the Torah was finalized no later than the Yavne conference ca. first century CE. The Massorite sect in the Middle Ages codified the format of the Torah, including adding trope marks in study guides to provide chanting and punctuation – most importantly, the end of verse mark (sof pasuk).

More likely, you’re thinking of chapters in this context. The division of the Bible into chapters was definitely a Christian development; otherwise, the Jewish Torah readings would’ve begun exactly on the chapter divisions.

Now I’ve got to go back and reread the wonderful 5-part SDSAB series, Who Wrote the Bible?

You are right Diogenes. I notice in the Revised Standard King James Bible has a footnote at each of the three references you cite, explaining that he word “commandments” in this case is the Hebrew word meaning “words” which I suppose in this context means “sayings” or “declarations” of some kind.

But I would still like to know: if seems obvious there are 10 “commandments” or “sayings”, who decided they would be divided as they are? I mean, the graven images one could be a subset of the first commandment and not a comandment by itself. And the end of the listing in Deuteronomy strongly suggests that coveting the wife and coveting property are meant to be distinct. But the end of the list in Exodus 20 strongly suggests that coveting the house is separate from coveting wife, servants and property.

Then again, a logical mind would say that coveting is coveting, so all coveting forms one “saying”. Who decided the numbering for Jews? After all, the Torah does NOT number them, does it?

Wow. I’m sure that no Jews knew this, and they’ll certainly be glad you brought it to their attention.

This changes everything! :rolleyes:

My implication was not that NO Jews knew this. That is really not the issue, one way or the other. What I am getting at is that if you read both versions, you will see that their slight differences suggest a slightly different numbering system at the end.

Exodus appears to put coveting your neighbour’s house in ninth place, in a different category from coveting his wife, servants, ox, ass etc.

Deuteronomy seems to put wife-coveting in ninth position, with coveting of house, ox ass, etc. in tenth.

By the way, I remember as a teen-ager being kicked out of class because I asked the priest “What if your neighbour has a real cute ass, though, can you just look a little?”

According to a Rabbi I once knew – may he rest in peace – the Eleventh Commandment was, “Thou shalt not schtupp a shiksa.”

I bring you these 15…


These ten… Ten Commandments!

Coveting is only one category in the way they’re divided in Judaism… Here is some info on how they’re divided.

The “who” is rabbinic commentary and Talmudic tradition.

Are they listed anywhere together?

There are a lot of lists of what the 613 commandments are. Here’s one list, based on Maimonides:

The various ways of counting the 613 commandments are listed in numerous places. One would be the Sefer HaChinuch, meaning “Book of Education,” written by an anonymous scholar in 13th century Spain. Some believe he wrote it as a way of teaching his son about Jewish Law.

Another list is Maimonides’ Sefer HaMitzvot, meaning “Book of the Commandments.” It dates back to the late 15th century.

Not everyone agrees on what the 613 Mitzvot are: Is X a commandment in and of itself, a subset of another commandment, or an implied commandment because it’s necessitated by other commandments? We may not agree on how to classify it, but we know you have to do it.

By the way, commentaries don’t all even agree on how many commandments are actually included in the 10 “Commandments,” but it’s probably about 13, though it could be as much as 15. Regardless, the repetition of the commandments in Deuteronomy is, as you pointed out, not quite a repetition-- There are changes, and classical biblical commentators spent quite a lot of ink analyzing those differences for what they tell us about the law.

By the way, Deuteronomy is known in Jewish commentaries as Mishneh Torah, meaning “repetition of the Torah.” Large portions of it are spent revisiting topics already covered in the previous 4 books. This is, needless to say, also discussed to death by commentators, but it’s worthwhile to note that big chunks of it are quotes of Moses’ last speech to the people before his death, and he was reminding them of some of the things they’d heard, done, and seen in the previous four years. Things that are repeated in Deuteronomy are likely the things that Moses thought the people needed to keep in ming when engtering the land of Israel without him.

Sorry about the typos, by the way; I accidentally hit the submit button on the preview and not on the corrected version beneath.

Well, that clarifies some issues for me and I thank all those who took the trouble to answer. I am NOT sent by a publisher to promote this book on the internet :smiley: but I repeat that anyone interested in the religious history of Europe and (white) North America really should read “Reformation - Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700” by Diarmaid MacCulloch. It is a wonderful read. Don’t let its size (700+ pages) scare you. It reads very easily.

That should read forty years. :smack:

The differences between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions of the Ten Commandments are very slight – one says “remember the sabbath” and the other says “honor the sabbath”, for instance. There’s certainly no difference large enough to warrant a different enumeration.

Quick note: in the Bible, they are called in Hebrew “Aseret Ha-d’varim” – the 10 Matters, Things, Speech Statements.

In Rabbinic literature, they are referred to as Aseret Ha-dibrot. Dibrot would be the plural of “dibrah”, but that word does not exist as a noun form in rabbinic literature. The word “dibbur” does exist, and it means “speech-revelation” of God.

One might translate the biblical term as “The 10 Matters” and the rabbinic term as “The 10 Revelatory Speech- statements.”

Well, just using your example, the accepted explanation in Orthodox commentaries is that Zachor, remember, and Shamor, guard or observe, refer to two different aspects of the Sabbath. One mandates all the negative commandments of the day, and one refers to all the positive commandments. Another example is that The Exodus version commands that you honor your father and mother, while the Deuteronomy version tells you to fear your mother and father. They’re considered in the Talmud to be two entirely separate commandments regarding the treatment of one’s parents: You honor your parents by escorting them to the door when they visit, by helping them with their jacket, etc. You “fear” your parents by not contradicting them in conversation,interrupting them, or sitting in their chair. The “fear” actions prevent you from lowering the parent to your own level and treating him as an equal; the “honor” actions are ways that you actively raise him to a higher level of status. They’re related, but not the same.

It’s pretty minute, I agree, but we’re told that there are no extra words in the Torah. If all that had happened was that Moses repeated the same things that had been said at Mount Sinai, the verse would have just said, “And Moses repeated the commandments that had peen given to the children of Israel at Mount Sinai.” The enumeration of what he said means, by definition, that it’s relevant.

Orthodox Judaism can be so exhausting.

Dont forget there seem to be two lots of “ten commandments” written on stone. After the first tablets were broken the second lot (exodus 34) were a bit odder e.g. “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.” and “Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck”.
My WAG is that the second lot were an attempt to reconcile two different oral traditions (perhaps Israel and Judah). Any biblical scholars?