Thursday, July 07, 2005

Which Ten Commandments?

This is an interesting article, from The big, unasked question concerns whether a public display of one "version" of the Commandments -- if "version" is the correct interpretation -- effectively or implicitly grants government sanction to one religious denomination or faith.

Posted on Wed, Jul. 06, 2005

Which faith's Ten Commandments is court talking about, and does it matter?

Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT) - Which Ten Commandments are at issue?

After all, there is not one version of God's historic instructions to Israel, but at least four.

This multiplicity of texts, noted in the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on posting the Ten Commandments in public places, gives rise to a theological and biblical dilemma at least as ambiguous as the high court's legal ruling.

The version of the Ten Commandments usually cited is in Exodus 20 in the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament.

It was written after 586 B.C., after the destruction of Solomon's Temple and when Israel was in its Babylonian exile, said Jerry Sumney, professor of the Old Testament at Lexington Theological Seminary, operated by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

There are similar versions of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5 and in Exodus 34, although the latter is mentioned less often.

From this have developed versions of the Ten Commandments for the Jewish, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Lutheran traditions.

Probably the biggest difference is in the First Commandment. The Judaic version reads: "I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."

The Catholic version says: "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me," while the Protestant text says: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

The difference is crucial, said Rabbi Sharon Cohen of Lexington's Ohavay Zion Synagogue, a congregation of Conservative Judaism.

The First Commandment is the "ultimate statement of faith" about God's "unimpeachable, sovereign authority," Cohen said.

"You cannot have these other rules until you acknowledge that God is the force behind it," she said. "Then, everything that follows in the Ten Commandments makes sense."

Bill T. Arnold, director of Hebrew studies and professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, agreed that the First Commandment in Judaism was needed "to combat the polytheism" of the ancient world and to connect Jews to God's deliverance of them from bondage in Egypt.

But Arnold, who earned his doctorate from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, said the omission of "I am the Lord thy God" by Protestants was not intended as a slight to Judaism.

"We assume that is in the prologue" in the Protestant text, Arnold said.

Another big difference is in the interpretation of the Sabbath.

Sumney noted, as did Walter Brueggemann, a retired professor of the Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., and one of the world's foremost scholars in his field, that for Judaism, the Sabbath means Saturday, or technically from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

"Christians celebrate the saving act of God in the resurrection of Jesus, which was on Sunday," Sumney said.

This difference is puzzling and ironic, Sumney said, because the people most in favor of posting the Ten Commandments believe in a literal reading of Scripture.

The debate about the Ten Commandments is not likely end soon.

Said Brueggemann: "The Ten Commandments are non-negotiable and endlessly negotiated," he said.



Art Jester is a reporter for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader.

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