The Ten Commandments: A Short History of an Ancient Text

Michael Coogan. Yale Univ., $25 (176p) ISBN 978-0-300-17871-5
Few people question what is meant in The Ten Commandments. Displays of the tablets in courtrooms and on religious structures promote a vision of two tablets, written by the finger of God, eternal and unchangeable. But Coogan (A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament), a Hebrew Bible specialist and director of publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum, begs to differ. In this brief but potent treatise, the author explains how religious and secular scholarship has served to challenge a simplistic understanding of the Decalogue, causing us to rethink popular presuppositions. Talmudic scholars have contended for centuries over the meaning of the commandments. Coogan juxtaposes the various traditionally understood readings (three interpretations in all) and shows how, even in Scripture, Israel's understanding of the commandments morphed and matured. In fact, Coogan insists that they weren't written by God at all, but rather developed as Israel's covenant with Yahweh evolved. The author insists that public posting of the commandments does an injustice to the dynamic nature of this fundamental set of moral laws, enshrining them in stone rather than letting them breathe new life to every generation. A thoughtful, challenging study. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/24/2014
Release date: 04/01/2014
Genre: Religion
Open Ebook - 191 pages - 978-0-300-20700-2
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-0-300-21250-1
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