There are several variations in the Ten Commandments within Scripture (Exodus 20 & 34, Deuteronomy 5) as well as within Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant circles. In what ways did these 10 stand out? How have key phrases been interpreted? What caused differing emphases? And why have all 10 not always been strictly observed? 192 pages, softcover. Yale University.
The complex and surprising history of one of the worlds most famous texts
In this lively and provocative book, Michael Coogan guides readers into the ancient past to examine the iconic Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue. How, among all the laws reportedly given on Mount Sinai, did the Ten Commandments become the Ten Commandments? When did that happen? There are several versions of the Decalogue in the Old Testament, so how have different groups determined which is the most authoritative? Why were different versions created?
Coogan discusses the meanings the Ten Commandments had for audiences in biblical times and observes that the form of the ten proscriptions and prohibitions was not fixedas one would expect since they were purported to have come directly from Godnor were the Commandments always strictly observed. In later times as well, Jews and especially Christians ignored and even rejected some of the prohibitions, although the New Testament clearly acknowledges the special status of the Ten Commandments. Today it is plain that some of the values enshrined in the Decalogue are no longer defensible, such as the ownership of slaves and the labeling of women as mens property. Yet in line with biblical precedents, the author concludes that while a literal observance of the Ten Commandments is misguided, some of their underlying ideals remain valid in a modern context.
Michael Coogan is director of publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum, lecturer on Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at Harvard Divinity School, editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, and author of God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says. He lives in Concord, MA.