The Ten Commandments/Human weaknesses and divine aspirations

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A fasces image, with the axe in the middle of the bundle of rods

To err is Human, but to forgive - Divine - Imagine being a relatively large group of refugees fleeing from slavery. You are in the middle of a desert, and low on food and water. Panic is about to take hold. Something has to be done to maintain order, or everybody will die a horrible death. But what? Go up a mountain, have a good long think. Pray. Beg for divine intervention. How to forgive rule-breakers who are not really bad, just desperate? A bit of good luck! That moss or whatever had filled his stomach and did not make him ill!

Of course expulsion could be dangerous, if enough of them got together to make trouble. Worse, killing disobedient followers could be disastrous, not only by turning followers against their brutal leaders, but also because every single member would be important to gather enough food and ensure everybody got fed.

Then another divine revelation came to Moses: inscribe the half-dozen or so basic rules on two portable tablets, and threaten any would-be sinners with death dealt stealthily - mot by a leader but by a divine judge who had ordered his holy commandments to be chiseled by his faithful servant!

So the purpose of the commandments was first to bind the refugees into a spiritual religious group, then to impose a social order by some persuasive power other than the threat of death by a cruel or punitive leader.

Religion has two possible meanings: Cicero said it meant reading, re-reading, lecturing and persuading while Lactantius preferred the idea of a ligature binding and rebinding a group of individuals in different ways for but for a single a common objective.

The bundle of twigs around a slightly longer axe illustrated here is a Fasces, an ancient Etruscan symbol for a leader surrounded by followers who are cut to the proper length and available for sacrifice if needed to fuel the fire!

Leadership is a hot role to occupy, since everyone thinks they could do a better job! One needs a cool and fluid mind to get everyone following by joyful persuasion rather than abject fear. A good refuge from the demands of followers is up a mountain, where one can be seen to pray, but not disturbed.

About 12,000 years ago there was a dramatic change from the cold ice age to the present warmer Holocene epoch. At first that was good, and life flourished. But then the glaciers and icebergs thawed, and the fertile coastal areas became flooded. It is postulated that the Garden of Eden was one such coastal paradise, in a deep valley, south of Basra which filled with water and became the Persian Gulf, and this could explain the story of Noah's Ark. Taking to the high ground, which was less fertile would have been a problem, but fortunately the rain came and created new coastal areas with rivers and soft alluvial mud.

One such paradise that survived (or was revived) was perhaps the Indus Valley where a great civilization flourished, until overpopulation drove people east to China and the Americas, and west to North Africa and Europe (which is perhaps why English, Latin, Greek, Arabic and Hebrew can be seen as founded on the Proto-Indo-European language theory.

Great leaders always take the high ground, so perhaps that is why the most important Greek Gods were said to live on Mount Olympus.

We all start out as children, utterly dependent on our family for everything. The world of children is bipolar: everything is either right or wrong, true or false, good or bad. If we, as children, obey orders that is good, and if we do something adventurous that can be bad, and we then risk punishment. So the idea of us being the offspring of some distant and immortal ancestors might give us the hope of ourselves escaping the dreadful prospect of death, if only we obey their instructions, yes?

Well no. In truth, we, and everything else is changing and mortal, or, according to Heraclitus, it is impossible to step into the same river twice. A better model is that we humans have four elements: our visible bodes and good health, the half-hidden mind with conscious thoughts causing deeds, an invisible soul of emotion, and finally a spirit, which is the reputation we leave behind in the memory of others.

Before writing was invented about 6,000 years ago, the memory and story-telling was the only way of remembering. Stuck in a desert for years on end, writing, even on stone or clay tablets, would have been a serious enterprise, so a pithy, memorable ten commandments was a stroke of genius - or a divine inspiration? Of course since those early day of writing great leaders do grand deeds that are recorded in written in history, but before that we had to rely on the remembered words of poets and musicians performing the works attributed to ancestors such as Homer.

The problem with that is such grand cultural assets tend to make us over-confident as members of a special cultural group, and that can lead to war. Much better to persuade ourselves that there is indeed something «out there» that transcends our brief mortal lives, and that «eventually» everything will be put right by some sort of perental spirit, so let us try to avoid any posibility judgement and earn some praise by doing the «right thing» - not hurting people or damaging things.

Hint: It is not necessary to actually believe in divine judgement - just admit that, since we don't know for sure, let us invest, just in case. The rewards for doing the right thing is not just a clear conscience, it helps to keep the peace without the worry we might perhaps suffer the pain of punishment.