#133. Who speaks the Ten Commandments to the people: Moses OR Yahweh? (Ex 19:25 vs Ex 20:1)


The storyline at the end of Exodus chapter 19 is disconnected to what is immediately presented at the opening of chapter 20.

19:25And Moses went down to the people and he said to them. 20:1And God spoke all these words: “I am Yahweh your god… You shall have no other gods before me.”

What continues from here to verse 18 is the Ten Commandments. Verses 1-17 are an insert. The Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17) was inserted here, into the present narrative.

First, we are abruptly introduced to Yahweh speaking in 20:1, instead of Moses as the previous verse implies (19:25). Likewise, the text of the Ten Commandments abruptly stops at verse 17, where Yahweh also stops speaking, and the previous storyline continues in its own narrative voice at verse 18.

Second, the end of Exodus 19 has Yahweh commanding Moses and Aaron to ascend the mountain, but this never happens, or happens later on very different terms (24:1). The end of chapter 19 also speaks of Moses’ descent and his intention to speak to the people. But this too doesn’t happen. The next verse presents Yahweh speaking the Ten Commandments in the first person.

What this data suggests is that the Ten Commandments was a separate tradition and was inserted here in the narrative by a later scribe. From his perspective this was logical.

Through prior work on these chapters, scholars have identified the Elohist tradition in large part here. The Elohist text around which this Ten Commandment insertion was made looks to be a continuous and whole narrative on its own. This is what scholars have identified as part of the Elohist.

19:16bAnd it was thundering and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and a sound of a horn, very strong. And the entire people that was in the camp trembled. 17And Moses brought out the people toward God from the camp, and they stood up at the bottom of the mountain. . . 19And the sound of the horn was getting much stronger. Moses would speak and God would answer him with a sound. . . 20:18And all the people were seeing the thunders and the flashes and the sound of the horn and the mountain smoking. And the people saw, and they moved and stood at a distance, 19and they spoke to Moses: “You speak with us so we may listen, but let God not speak with us else we’ll die.”

Removing the Ten Commandments insertion (Ex 20:1-17) as well as the Yahwist version (Ex 19:18 & 19:20-25) reveals the above storyline.

If this is all part of the Elohist text, then originally the Elohist went from the theophany, as described above, to delivering the law code, from Yahweh to Moses, the people off at a distance. This law code is Exodus 20:23–23:19. The Redactor obviously saw this as the perfect place to insert the Ten Commandment tradition—before the Elohist law code.

Only a small fraction of this law code has contradictions with the other two law codes in the Pentateuch: the Priestly cultic legislation (Leviticus) and the Deuteronomic law (Deut 12-26). But this is not the only Ten Commandments in the Torah either….

One thought on “#133. Who speaks the Ten Commandments to the people: Moses OR Yahweh? (Ex 19:25 vs Ex 20:1)

  1. Who speaks the Ten Commandments to the people: Moses OR Yahweh? (Ex 19:25 vs Ex 20:1)




    I. Thou shalt not kill, nor bid anyone kill.
    II. Thou shalt not commit adultery or rape.
    X. Thou shalt not steal nor take that which does not belong to you.
    XI. Thou shalt not take more than thy fair share of food.
    XII. Thou shalt not damage the crops, the fields, or the trees.
    XIII. Thou shalt not deprive anyone of what is rightfully theirs.
    XIV. Thou shalt not bear false witness, nor support false allegations.
    XV. Thou shalt not lie, nor speak falsely to the hurt of another.
    XVI. Thou shalt not use fiery words nor stir up any strife.
    XXVIII. Thou shalt not take God’s name in vain.
    XXIX. Thou shalt not despise nor anger God.
    XXX. Thou shalt not steal from God.
    XXXI. Thou shalt not give excessive offerings nor less than what is due.
    XXXII. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.
    XXXIII. Thou shalt not steal from nor disrespect the dead.
    XXXIV. Thou shalt remember and observe the appointed holy days.
    XXXV. Thou shalt not hold back the offerings due God.

    The 42 Principles of Ma’at, the Goddess who personified the ideals of Truth and Righteousness, were known to all the ancient Egyptians. They have been rephrased here in Biblical Commandment form to make them more intelligible and familiar to moderns. In the original form they were preceded with “I have not” as in “I have not stolen.” The Egyptians believed that when they died, their souls would be judged by these principles. Moses and the Israelites, who were originally Egyptians, would have been familiar with these principles, but after wandering for forty years they seem to have only remembered 8 of them (those highlighted in red). Moses added three new non-secular commandments; the one about not honoring the other gods, the honoring of their parents, and the one that included their neighbor’s wives and slaves as coveted chattel. The remarkable thing about the principles of Ma’at is not only how much more advanced they are in comparison with the Hebrew Commandments, but how most of them are strikingly relevant to this day.
    Various translations of the Declarations of Ma’at exist and they do not all agree in phrasing, order, or even the total number of principles (since some have multiple statements and some are redundant).

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