How did the Ten Commandments become THE Ten Commandments?
Disturbed by the role the Bible, and particularly the Ten Commandments, have played in political and cultural debates, Biblical scholar Michael Coogan set out to trace the history of the text of the Decalogue. Coogan explains that the Bible is not an unchanging text, and understanding how it developed throughout history can play an essential role in those debates. Coogan tackles the essential questions about the text’s origins in The Ten Commandments: A Short History of an Ancient Text: 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? Exploring the evolution of the text of the Ten Commandments begs the provocative question, how do we relate to a text that enshrines dated cultural values? In the video below, Coogan uses the tenth Commandment, in which slavery is tacitly endorsed and women are listed as property, as an example to begin a dialog around these questions:
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.