The First Commandment: What did He say?

Does the First Commandment allow room for polytheism? Have any significant Jewish or Christian sects or biblical scholars interpreted it this way?

I’d always known it as: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

I have a hard time seeing that as an absolute prohibition against polytheism. “You shall have no other gods” would have communicated that, so why add “before me” unless you mean something different like: “You shall give no other gods higher precedence than me” or “You shall worship no other gods in my holy places”?

But today I saw that my NIV Bible has “or besides” in a footnote. “You shall have no other gods besides me” does not allow for ambiguity in the same way that the more familiar version does. Does this footnote represent a better translation of the original term, or an editorial interpolation?

Interesting point.

I have a similar question: when in the history of religion did the notion that there were no other gods arise?

Except that’s not the First Commandment. The First Commandment is thus:

Judaism has always interpreted it as a negative commadment (a “Thou shalt not…”) against believing in any other being as Divine. This includes an outright rejection of God in favor of the other being or a partnership/pantheon of God with other “deities.”
Zev Steinhardt

I’m presuming you are refering to the argument that Exodus 34:10-26 are the Ten Commandments. You’re certainly free to believe that, but it does not fall into traditional Jewish thought, nor (to the best of my knowledge) does it fall into the traditional thought of any Christian sect.

In any event, Deuteronomy 5:18 explictly states that the contents of the tablets are the “traditional” TC.

Zev Steinhardt

Two more minor points with regard to Jewish tradition and the TC:

Firstly, the Hebrew term for the “Ten Commandments” is Aseres HaDibros. As anyone familiar with Hebrew (and many who aren’t) knows, the word for “commandment” is mitzvah. Thus, if these were the “Ten Commandments” then they would be the Aseres HaMitzvos. The more proper translation of Aseres HaDibros would be “The Ten Sayings.”

Secondly, in Jewish tradition (and in a number of Christian sects as well) “Thou shalt have no other gods…” is the second “Commandment.” The first is the first portion of Exodus 20:2.

Zev Steinhardt

O, foo. I was yanking his chain on this one.

Um, OK. I guess you could argue the first commandment is “Let there be light!” But I chose to follow an age old convention that says the First Commandment is the one that prohibitis polytheism – or does it?

Eh. Apparently I’m the only who sees wiggle room there. Maybe I should start my own heresy.

Secondly, in Jewish tradition (and in a number of Christian sects as well) “Thou shalt have no other gods…” is the second “Commandment.” The first is the first portion of Exodus 20:2.[/zev_steinhardt]Now that’s interesting. I found a Web page that discusses some of the differences among traditions. Although the site’s creator is a Catholic, he prefers the Jewish version.

What I recall as the First commandment in the religion of my (atholic) mother is:

In French: Tu n’auras pas d’autre Dieu que moi.

Translation: You shall have no other God then Me.

In Flemish : Bovenal bemin Eén God

= Above all love One God

or in an even clearer Flemish version:

Gij zult geen afgoden vereren maar Mij alleen aanbidden en boven alles beminnen

= You shall not worship idols but only adore and love Me above all.
Salaam. A

oops, should have looked like this:

and in Martian =kjhkmj kjehf ksdwkiur khfwjyr hjkihyudlw

sheesh, the posters are clearly talking about English translations…

A. Salaami

Since I don’t happen to believe God spoke to Moses in English, I think it’s interesting that all the translations Aldebaran offered are less (IMHO) ambiguous than the familiar (to me) English version.

But the question remains: Is the ambiguity (a) all in my head, (b) the result of a poor translation, © an artifact of a shift in meaning in certain English words, or (d) something that appears in the original text but has been glossed over in subsequent translations?

It seems from my reading of the bible (granted a while ago) that they never say that no other Gods exits, but that Jehovah is better and worshiping him means you can worship no other. Take, for example, Moses and the Pharoah. When one of the Pharoah’s men turns a rod into a serpent to show the power of his god, Moses turns his staff into a serpent that eats the other one showing the greater power of his god (as I recall it). It seems that the denial of even the existence of other gods is more recent, but I could be wrong.

Dueteronomy 5:35 & 5:39 would seem to contradict that.

Zev Steinhardt

Not to be an ass, but just curious. The version of Deuteronomy that I have stops at 5:33

Am I missing several chapters? (I probably am just stupid, but it is an honest question)

I will presume you are intentionally pretending to be remarkably obtuse in an attempt a humor. That the discussion began with English translation in no way means that the English translation is the sole possible source of authoritative interpretation–that’s just daffy. Any worthwhile exegetic study must refer to a broad range of materials, and one way to elucidate the intended meaning of an original language passage is to see how it was translated in a variety of languages, ESPECIALLY if we are talking about English translations of Scripture, which have long had problems with being overly-tied to word-for-word renderings that do not necessarily reflect idiomatic meaning.

I’m sorry. My fault. That should be Dueteronomy 4, not 5. (where’s the “smack” smilie when you need it?)

Zev Steinhardt

Well **Dogface ** while I am often obtuse, I am never intentionally obtuse. I was not aware that this was a discussion of actual interpretation of the Bible. Even if it were I seriously doubt that Aldeberan’s comments would have been relevant. What possible relavence can a Flemmish translation have? Or French? If one wishes to discuss actual literacy of the scripture it seems that one should discuss aromaic [ I know, SP] or even early Greek, but certainly not flemmish or french, since they are both just translations as well. I was attempting to make fun of Aldeberan’s apparent habit of hit and run, alleged ability to speak 15 languages.

askeptic, I don’t know… But I have some idea that you think you contribute something that needs to be seen as valuable to this discussion.
I apologize for not detecting it … Really. But maybe I have a bit of sand in my eyes.
Salaam. A

Oh, forgot to ask: If you can not read the OP, then why do you try to interprete it? Or in case you can read it, then why can’t you inteprete it?

To help you a bit I shall give a hint:
The title alone makes it clear enough what the OP wants to discuss.
I don’t see there: What did He say…in English.
I don’t detect that intention in the Op itself either. But maybe you have an other reading.

Salaam. A

Well, this is funny as just today I was in a class at school debating this very issue. Needless to say, I have my sources with me. The issue isn’t only what’s on the first commandment, but whats on the ones following it, assuming you aren’t including everything in the first one. In the Bible itself, it doesn’t actually reference the 10 commandments by name, or even say that there are 10 at all! For all we know, there could be 14, or 9, or anything you make of it. As such, most cultures believe in different versions. I compiled a few for you right here, make of it what you will:

So now you see where the difficulties exist. According to my opinion the catholic version is edited as such in order to allow the idea of “The Trinity” to exist, which seems like some form of polytheism.

Make of this what you will. :slight_smile: