The Ten Commandments/The Commandments: Then And Now

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This book is written in English, which is just one of many languages in a vast family of Indio-European tongues. it is very odd in that w:Otto Jespersen claimed it lacks any proper grammar, there is no gender and therefore a huge vocabulary to compensate.

We tent to think English is a new language, but of course it was greatly influenced by Christianity, which tried to impose Latin, even though much of its scripture was written first in Hebrew and then Greek. Thanks to the Islamic invasion of Iberia, many Christian universities built on Arabic academic principles - without centers of excellence such as Baghdad, Fez and Granada we Europeans would know little of the ancient Greek and Roman literature or culture.

So the ten commandments have come down to us Anglophones through many different routes, and do get a bit distorted in translation, but fortunately, in England in the 17th Century there was a massive review of ancient scripture in its oldest available form known as the w:King James Version which can be difficult to read so now there are several interpretations including the w:Modern English Version.

In the oldest Hebrew book of w:Exodus there are already two slightly different versions with a few extra commandments, but for convenience, let's stick to the basics shown on the first page. They come in three sections: the first religious bit about the relationship between God and mankind, and then like a sandwich between the divine and mortal there is the social section (keep one day sacred, for prayer, work six days, honor elders) the last bit deals with relationships between us humans (don't cheat, nor steal, nor kill etc).

Exodus really marks a transition from ancient religions which were all about empire building, and more modern attempts to live in harmony with people who are not like us. Instead of US and THEM it introduced the idea that the tribe whose adventures it described were part of a larger scheme that included all of Creation which was made by an omnipotent divinity which we humans can not understand and must not either name or describe - but of course that does not stop us from trying: God of Love, Most Gracious, Most Merciful....

The great thing about the ten commandments is its simplicity and elegance - we can learn it almost as soon as we can talk, and understand its meaning long before we are old enough to deliberately commit the sins it forbids!

In 1948 the United Nations tried to update this Decalogue for the modern world, which is now published as the w:Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is just an aspiration but in Europe has been made into a series of legal codes such as [the [w:Fourth Geneva Convention]] and the w:European Convention on Human Rights, but those are really for lawyers and courts to enforce. The ten commandments are a personal (and hopefully permanent) commitment available to everybody who wants a decent life, no matter which language, religion or any other distinction we may have imposed on us by our governments or any other powerful people who may tempt or force us to do otherwise!