I’ve been blogging about pages 275-278 of Etched in Stone, in which David Aaron summarizes what he believes are the stages in the Decalogue tradition. Stage 1 was the Proto-Narrative, in which a group during the time of the Jewish Diaspora fashioned a Decalogue that was similar to ancient Near Eastern law codes—secular rather than cultic—in order to create a law for an Israel that did not have a king. (In the ancient Near East, kings were the ones who promulgated law as mediators between the god and the people.) Stage 2 marked a priestly reaction against the Proto-Narrative. There were priests who did not like the non-cultic and non-ethnic nature of the Proto-Narrative’s Decalogue, nor did they approve of how the Proto-Narrative adapted ancient Near Eastern legal models. These priests used the Golden Calf story to polemicize against the Proto-Narrative—in that the story lambasted idolatry (which was taken to represent the Proto-Narrative adapting foreign models in devising the Decalogue) as well as presented the shattering of the first set of tablets, before they were even read to the people. The priests devised a new Decalogue—one that emphasized cult and ethnicity. This is the Decalogue that appears in Exodus 34.
In Stage 3, the Deuteronomist enters the picture. When the Deuteronomist was fashioning his anthology, the Golden Calf story “had come to represent a major wilderness apostasy” (page 277). But the Deuteronomist preferred the Proto-Narrative to the priestly Decalogue of Exodus 34. And yet, the Deuteronomist modified the Proto-Narrative. First, he said that the Ark was “a receptacle for carrying the stones of the covenant” (page 278). The Deuteronomist did not care for the notion that the Ark was an icon that carried God’s presence, and so he made it into a box for the tablets. Second, the Deuteronomist focused on idolatry in the Golden Calf story, in accordance with his own anti-idolatrous viewpoint. Third, he made the “tablets into a symbol of covenant”—“the wisdom literature and traditional ‘law’ that occupies the rest of the book” (page 278).