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To finish off Exodus 31, God finally gives Moses the tablets of law he talked about back in Exodus 24:12 (even though Moses already wrote them down the first time he descended the mountain), but thereís just one teensy problem. There have been over 6,500 words since then. Now, either those two stone tablets were the size of Buicks, or Godís finger is capable of laser etching!

Most movies depict this scene as God blasting the Ten Commandments into the tablets, but Exodus never says specifically what was written on the two tablets. In fact, God never even mentions the Ten Commandments on Mosesí second trip up the mountain, he focuses almost entirely on design tips and fashion advice. Itís not until Deuteronomy 5:22, that weíre told the Ten Commandments were on the tablets, but Deuteronomy was written by different authors, in a different century, in a different culture. Interestingly, because there are two trips up the mountain, it probably means that weíre looking at the same story from the Yahwist and Elohist sources. In one source Moses gets the Ten Commandments, in the other source he gets the stone tablets. However, neither story gives him both at the same time!

While weíre pointing out inconsistencies, letís have a look at another one. Why is God putting his most important commandments on tablets made of stone? Is he a Paleolithic cave man? I donít expect God to make the tablets out of polyether ether ketone (though it would be helpful toward demonstrating his omnipotence), but would it kill the guy to use a more impressive material? Humans have been working with metals since around 5500 BCE, (which, according to Young-Earth Creationists, was 1,500 years before the Earth was created). God just got done commanding his priests to dress in pure gold in front of altars made of pure gold, next to an ark of pure gold, and now heís getting cheap on the most important piece?

Hereís an idea for you to ponder. Exodus was written around 600 BCE, and received numerous modifications until around 400 BCE before it was finalized. The text about the tabernacle and its gold furniture probably comes from the Priestly source, written around 500 BCE. However, the story of Moses receiving the stone tablets of law from God comes from either the Yahwist or Elohist source. These sources were written around 900 BCE, but probably began as an oral story long before that, letís assume 1500 BCE. Not quite as old as the Code of Ur-Nammu of 2100 BCE, but still very ancient. In 500 BCE, the Israelites were making everything important out of gold, and the stone tablets donít fit their motif, but stone tablets were still en vogue a thousand years prior when that part of the story was conceived.

And this is the satisfaction of reading the bible through the lenses of literature and mythology. Questions get answered, confusing passages are revealed, holes are filled, and we receive illumination. Yet, all of this understanding is lost the moment you start treating the bible as divine truth.

Godís finger courtesy Michelangelo.



Ladyofthemasque writes:


Stone, as it turns out, was considered a "pure" material. You could do whatever you liked to it, and it remained "pure"...which is why so many of the priestly household dishes found in archaeological digs in that region were carved from stone. Rainwater was "pure", so they mixed it with ground water to "purify" the rest of the water via "contamination" (*pauses while you recover from the logic-induced brainstrain*) ...and stone was pure for eating and other needs.

...In an interesting anecdote, the recommendation from the Health Department to smash and discard any dish with a crack in it comes from the ancient Abrahamic days; a crack was unclean, therefore the dish had to be destroyed so that no one else could use it. (Yes, even stone dishes, but stone was otherwise always "clean" even if animal blood touched it, or a dead body, or...well, any of the wacky things they used to believe made something or someone "unclean.")

Oddly enough, there IS a logical, science-based health reason for smashing & discarding dishes with a crack in 'em. Food particles can get wedged in the cracks, leading to the growth of molds, bacteria, and so forth, which can contaminate the food that gets on the plate. Standard dish washing may not always clean that deeply into the crack.

I seriously doubt the ancient Israelites understood bacterial contamination...but it's possible they may have noticed that using the same cracked dish repeatedly caused someone to get sick, so they very well could have used that as the reason to declare cracked dishes "unclean". *shrug* Without a time machine, though, we'll never know for sure.

Baughbe writes:


I always loved the Mel Brookes scene of Moses coming down the mountian with three stone tablets, saying God has given them these 15 commandments, then one tablet falls and breaks. Suddenly it is now 10 commandments.

Sharkie writes:


I wonder how many months it took "God" to carve all those words into stone.

Dixieland Delight writes:


I just thought of something. You always hear of people finding Jesus' shroud and such, but you never hear of a search for the 10 commandments on the stone tablets. Now that would be a hell of a historical find!!!

Richard writes:


Sharkie and Dixie, I can answer both of those with one statement. The tablets were smashed before anyone saw them. Therefor, there was never anything written on them, and there is nothing to look for.

Reminds me of McCarthy holding up the sheet of paper (that no one ever saw) with the names of communists in the USA. You can claim just about anything if your claims rely only on the belief of others, and not actual proof.

I am a purple bunny, for example. No, I can not send you proof. You would burst into flames.

TheAlmightyGuru writes:


@Dixieland Delight: Well, other than Indiana Jones, anyway! :-D

@Richard: Don't worry, there is a second set of tablets later on!

Sharkie writes:


Richard, seeing as you have told me something extremely stupid and impossible, with no real proof what so ever, it makes prefect sense you are what you say you are. You get all the purple carrots, all of them, don't kill me please.

Richard writes:


The terrible anger of the infinitely kind and benevolent Purple Bunny is appeased.

Dixieland Delight writes:


Lol... Yes, there was a second set of tablets. I remember hearing on the news years ago about someone in Asia (can't remember the country) claiming to have the Ark of the Covenant or something like that, but no one was allowed near it.

Maju writes:


Dixieland Delight: you mean Ethiopia, which is in Africa in fact. They claim to have the ark (in Lalibela?) but it's the first time I heard of the tablets.

But indeed, just in case, they do not show it to the public. Surely one of those double meanings: "the ark" for the public, some dirty pederastic (??) secret for the initiates.

Belg writes:



"Stone, as it turns out, was considered a "pure" material. You could do whatever you liked to it, and it remained "pure""

Wasn't it said previously in Bible, that you should make altars of uncut stones, as working on them would make them un"pure"?

TheAlmightyGuru writes:


I seem to remember the shrines begin made out of uncut stones, but I don't think the bible has yet explained -why- they have to be uncut.

Belg writes:


I think it was perposed in one of the comments that cutting them (probably with borrowed egyptian tools) wo7uld make them unclean and thous unfit to be made in to an altar...


Oh the irony!