Starting the Decalogue in Jewish and Christian Tradition

I started The Decalogue in Jewish and Christian Tradition, which was edited by Henning Graf Reventlow and Yair Hoffman.  I have two items.

1.  Is there any significance in the order of the Ten Commandments?  Edward Greenstein refers to two scholars who answer in the affirmative.  The first four commands are about people’s relationship with God, whereas the last six concern how people treat their neighbors.  Moshe Greenberg held that the worship of God comes before honoring God’s name and observance of the Sabbath.  And Patrick Miller said that the fourth commandment—-the Sabbath command—-was “a bridge from God to neighbor” (Miller’s words).  This makes sense, since the fourth command talks about allowing one’s manservant and maidservant to rest on the Sabbath.  The fifth commandment—-honor your parents—-concerns how people treat those who are closest to themselves, and then the rest of the commandments deal with how to treat the broader community, as well.  The LXX and the MT are slightly different in how they order the last five commandments, but that does not affect Miller’s idea.

2.  I mostly disagreed with Yair Hoffman’s characterization of David Aaron’s Etched In Stone.  Hoffman says on page 46 that Aaron “suggests that the Decalogue is a post-exilic document that was composed as a reaction to a previous priestly Decalogue, that had been supported by Ezra” (page 46).  By and large, that’s not my understanding of what Dr. Aaron argued.  As I talked about in my post here, Aaron argues that there was a secular Decalogue, which was the basis for what we see in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, and later some priests reacted against the secular Decalogue by developing a cultic Decalogue, the one in Exodus 34.  In short, whereas Hoffman characterizes Aaron as arguing that the secular Decalogue was a response to the priestly (or cultic) one, Aaron actually argues the opposite.

But does Aaron say that the secular Decalogue was post-exilic, as Hoffman states?  To be honest, I’m not entirely clear on this.  Aaron maintains that the proto-narrative that has the secular Decalogue addressed the Diaspora—-by showing that Israel could have a law code without a king, and covenant tablets (like the pillars of the covenant in Joshua 24:26-27, only portable) outside of the Promised Land (see here).  So you’d think that he believes that the secular Decalogue emerged in exile, right?  Well, not so fast!  In a class one time, he did raise the question of how a document could be written in exile, when Jewish scribes would need a sponsor to even write (but I do vaguely recall him saying at some point that there was Jewish scribal activity in the Diaspora—-as at Elephantine).  He also said that the Diaspora co-existed with the post-exilic period, after some point, for there were many Jews who were in the Diaspora even after some exiled Jews returned to Palestine.  And, in Etched in Stone, Aaron notes that the Book of Nehemiah lacks the Decalogue as we understand it.  So perhaps he does think that the Decalogue was post-exilic.

Hoffman raises an interesting point about Aaron’s argument that the Decalogue is late because it is absent in so much of the Hebrew Bible.  Hoffman essentially points out that it’s absent in the Dead Sea Scrolls, too, and it appears only rarely in the Mishnah.  Why?  Hoffman speculates that there was a “reluctance to create an unneeded hierarchy within the halakhah” (page 47).  Because the Ten Commandments were directly spoken by God, one could easily get the impression that they are more important than the other laws in the Torah.  But Judaism wanted to avoid giving that impression, and so it downplayed the Decalogue.  Aharon Oppenheimer later in the book contends that this was in response to Christians and Jewish-Christians, who emphasized the Decalogue at the expense of the other laws, and there are rabbinic passages that refer to minim (heretics) in explaining why the Decalogue is not read every day (B. Ber. 12a; Y. Ber. 1.3c, col 9).  But Hoffman notices that this trend goes back to pre-Christian days, and he interprets the minim to be Gentiles, not necessarily Christians.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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