Week 15: The Ten Commandments

Reading

Exodus 18–24 (The Ten Commandments)

Questions

  • Are there Ten Commandments? If not, how many are there?
  • What is Law?

Hard to believe that before this in the Bible, there were no commandments! Well, actually, that’s not true. There were a few. Don’t shed human blood — that’s part of the Noahic covenant. But this week, we got treated to the first of a few of God’s tablet ceremonies.

So, what are the Ten Commandments? According to our reading, they would probably be:

  1. No other gods before Yahweh.
  2. No idols.
  3. No taking Yahweh’s name in vain.
  4. Observe the Sabbath.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. Don’t murder.
  7. Don’t commit adultery.
  8. Don’t steal.
  9. Don’t lie.
  10. Don’t covet (cows, wives, etc.).

The discussion ranged from equality to early Israelite courts to the divine right of kings. It included:

  • What separates the power to RULE from the power to JUDGE?
  • Are the Ten Commandments actually equitable?
  • What does precedent mean when laws are completely new?
    • This is interesting in the case of the Ten Commandments, since the historical approach to reading them indicates that they were actually written later than much of the other Israelite law—they’re a summary of sorts, but one that narratively predates the rest of the Law.
  • What are idols? Can the tablets be idols?
    • We talked a lot about Islam and its prohibition on human figures. Lucifer and Mephistopheles are on their way to visit the Great Mosque of Córdoba, which is one of the medieval architectural wonders of the world, and a great place to look at the use of text as decoration and as aesthetic object.
    • (In Ornament of the World, Maria Rosa Menocal has argued that one reason the Islamic prohibition on figures ended up being expressed by the veneration of the written word is because it drew on even older Arabic traditions surrounding the love of poetry and language.)
  • How are the histories of literacy and image related? Debunking the myth (and the truth) of the cathedral as a medieval ‘image Bible’.

Takeaways:

When does the Word itself become an idol?

Gems from the Convo

idols are fun!

Phenuel

Any object of worship is teetering on the edge of idolatry

Gabriel

Are hieroglyphics idols or text?

Mephistopheles

Image: The Ten Commandments, pxfuel. Keywords included “oh those” and “forgot,” which seems about right for a site called “pxfuel.”

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