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The Ten Commandments (a.k.a. The Decalogue)

A possible origin of the Ten Commandments

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Overview:

According to Wikipedia:

"Some historians....have argued that the Ten Commandments originated from ancient Egyptian religion, and postulate that the Biblical Jews borrowed the concept after their Exodus from Egypt. Chapter 125 of the [Egyptian] Book of the Dead (a.k.a. the Papyrus of Ani) includes a list of things to which a man must swear in order to enter the afterlife. These sworn statements bear a remarkable resemblance to the Ten Commandments in their nature and their phrasing.....The Book of the Dead has additional requirements, and, of course, doesn't require worship of Yahweh." 1

The Book of the Dead was written circa 1800 BCE. 2 The Schofield Reference Bible estimates that the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt and the provision of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai occurred in 1491 BCE., some three centuries later. Many religious liberals, historians, and secularists have concluded that the Hebrew Scripture's Ten Commandments were based on this earlier document, rather than vice-versa.

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About the Egyptian "Book of the Dead:"

The ancient Egyptian religion taught that person had to undergo trials after death as they proceeded towards the underworld.

One major test was that the weight of their heart was compared to that of a feather. This appears to be a test that everyone would fail. Egyptians believed that If the person had committed sin during his or her lifetime, then their heart would become heavier. The heart does naturally gain weight with age. The Egyptians might have noticed this and assumed that the weight gain was caused by the commission of sins. Unfortunately, there appears to be no chance that the deceased person can pass that test. Adult hearts weigh over a half pound (227 grams). A male heart typically weighs 280 to 340 grams. Female hearts weigh from 230 to 280 grams. 3 A feather weighs a small fraction of a pound.The Book of the Dead states that: "The god Thoth would record the results and the monster Ammit would wait nearby to eat the heart should it prove unworthy." 4 Presumably, failing this test and having one's heart eaten would not be an encouraging sign for one's future well being.

A second second trial was that the deceased would have to recite a negative confession "when [she or] he descends to the hall of the Two Truths." In the statement, he or she swore that they had not engaged in specific behaviors while alive. According to Egyptologist Ahmed Osman, one translation of the statement reads:

"Hail to thee, great God, Lord of the Two Truths. I have come unto thee, my Lord, that thou mayest bring me to see thy beauty. I know thee, I know thy name, I know the names of the 42 Gods who are with thee in this broad hall of the Two Truths . . . Behold, I am come unto thee. I have brought thee truth; I have done away with sin for thee. I have not sinned against anyone. I have not mistreated people. I have not done evil instead of righteousness . . .
I have not reviled the God.
I have not laid violent hands on an orphan.
I have not done what the God abominates . . .
I have not killed; I have not turned anyone over to a killer.
I have not caused anyone's suffering . . .
I have not copulated (illicitly); I have not been unchaste.
I have not increased nor diminished the measure, I have not diminished the palm; I have not encroached upon the fields.
I have not added to the balance weights; I have not tempered with the plumb bob of the balance.
I have not taken milk from a child's mouth; I have not driven small cattle from their herbage...
I have not stopped (the flow of) water in its seasons; I have not built a dam against flowing water.
I have not quenched a fire in its time . . .
I have not kept cattle away from the God's property.
I have not blocked the God at his processions. 5

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Comparison of ancient Egyptian and Hebrew texts:

A comparison of the Book of the Dead text with the version of the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20:2-17 is striking. Both consist of a series of negative statements.

Comparing another translation of the Book with the King James Version of Exodus:

bullet Book of the Dead: "I have done away sin for thee and not acted fraudulently or deceitfully. I have not belittled God. I have not inflicted pain or caused another to weep. I have not murdered or given such an order. I have not used false balances or scales. I have not purloined (held back) the offerings to the gods. I have not stolen. I have not uttered lies or curses."
bullet Exodus 20:7-16: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain....Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery...Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbor..." 6,7

One major difference between the two documents is that statues of the Gods and Goddesses formed a major part of the ancient Egyptian religion. The religion of the ancient Hebrews forbade any image or statue of Yahweh. Another difference was the Decalogue's emphasis on the Sabbath -- one day of rest each week. It is not found in the Book of the Dead or in ancient Egyptian culture.

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Ten Commandments: Origins," Wikipedia, 2006-JAN-04, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. "Time-table (chronological)," Knops Boekrestauratie, at: http://www.xs4all.nl/
  3. Henry Gray, "Anatomy of the Human Body: 4b. The Heart," 1918, at: http://www.bartleby.com
  4. "Book of the Dead," Wikipedia, 2006-JAN-05, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. Ahmed Osman, "The Ten Commandments and the Book of the Dead," Out of Egypt, at: http://dwij.org/
  6. Didaskalex, "So you'd like to... Implement the True meaning of the Decalogue," Amazon.com, at: http://www.amazon.com/
  7. "Egyptian & Old Testament Scriptural Correspondences," at: http://www.mystae.com/

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A paperback about the Book of the Dead:

Raymond Faulkner, "The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day," Chronicle Books, (2000). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Copyright © 2006 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Original posting: 2006-JAN-05
Latest update: 2010-NOV-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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