The Ten Commandments: A Short History Of An Ancient Text

Paperback | April 28, 2015

byMichael Coogan

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In this lively and provocative book, Michael Coogan guides readers into the ancient past to examine the iconic Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue. How, among all the laws reportedly given on Mount Sinai, did the Ten Commandments become the Ten Commandments? When did that happen? There are several versions of the Decalogue in the Old Testament, so how have different groups determined which is the most authoritative? Why were different versions created?
 
Coogan discusses the meanings the Ten Commandments had for audiences in biblical times and observes that the form of the ten proscriptions and prohibitions was not fixed—as one would expect since they were purported to have come directly from God—nor were the Commandments always strictly observed. In later times as well, Jews and especially Christians ignored and even rejected some of the prohibitions, although the New Testament clearly acknowledges the special status of the Ten Commandments. Today it is plain that some of the values enshrined in the Decalogue are no longer defensible, such as the ownership of slaves and the labeling of women as men’s property. Yet in line with biblical precedents, the author concludes that while a literal observance of the Ten Commandments is misguided, some of their underlying ideals remain valid in a modern context.

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From the Publisher

In this lively and provocative book, Michael Coogan guides readers into the ancient past to examine the iconic Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue. How, among all the laws reportedly given on Mount Sinai, did the Ten Commandments become the Ten Commandments? When did that happen? There are several versions of the Decalogue in...

Michael Coogan is director of publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum, lecturer on Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at Harvard Divinity School, editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, and author of God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says. He lives in Concord, MA.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:192 pages, 8 × 5.13 × 0.68 inPublished:April 28, 2015Publisher:Yale University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:030021250X

ISBN - 13:9780300212501

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From the Author

Michael Coogan on the Ten Commandments: The Ten Commandments have become a focal point in the culture wars that divide society. Held to be a concise summary of what God wants everyone to do—and mostly not to do—they have been displayed in public spaces to remind all of their supposedly unchangeable message.   But if the Ten Commandments were given directly by God, then why does the Bible have different versions of these supposedly divinely given rules? Why do modern displays abridge and alter them? Why have both Jews and Christians throughout history sometimes ignored and even disobeyed them? Are all of the values these ancient and historically conditioned laws express still valid today?    As a biblical scholar I have been both amused and troubled by how the Ten Commandments have been wrenched from their original context and made into a kind of graven image, not to be examined or challenged. In this book I trace the history of the Ten Commandments from Moses to Cecil B. DeMille and the United States Supreme Court. I do so without presuppositions or dogmatic constraints, paying close attention to what they actually say. Contrary to many pastors and politicians who view the Ten Commandments as a timeless code, I conclude that some of the specific prohibitions and some of the values underlying them are no longer appropriate or acceptable in a modern, pluralistic society. Others, however, enshrine more universal ideals, that should be honored, although not by public display.