Tuesday, May 18, 2010

From Jack Reeves

The Ten Commandments

by Jack Reeves

Many Americans want the Ten Commandments exhibited. But which Ten Commandments? There are three versions: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant.

If one were chosen the other two religions would be insulted, implying their version is incorrect or inferior.

More important, do those who advocate exhibit understand what they’re advocating?

Scholars place the origin of the Ten Commandments around 1250 BCE. The first, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” is the same in the three versions.

Let’s consider that commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods BEFORE me.” What does it command?

God, called Yahweh, the ancient Hebrew name for this deity, acknowledges to Moses that there ARE other gods--gods you may even worship--but I am Number One, Top God.

This is NOT monotheism, the belief in one god, but henotheism: the worship of one god without denying the existence of other gods.

Do advocates of Ten Commandments display really want to proclaim that Yahweh is one of many who might be worshipped, except he is to be at the top of the totem of devotion?

In 1250 BCE the Hebrews were between totemism and monotheism. Totemism is worshipping some symbol--a rock, a tree, an animal, a graven image--as deity.

In between totemism and monotheism is henotheism. The ancient Greeks and Romans were henotheists. Zeus and Jupiter, respectively, were their Top Gods. But there was also Minerva, Mars, and a pantheon of other gods whom they honored, feared, and worshipped.

Do the advocates of Ten Commandments display know what they’re trying to assert into our 230-year-old separation-of-church-and-state experiment?

Clearly they don’t.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” That’s what it says in Hebrew, in English, and any other language. It’s not corrupted in translation; it is not interpretation.

Moreover, scholars conclude that monotheism did not dominate in the Hebrew’s religion until around 640 BCE, the time of the prophet Isaiah, 600 years later than Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Noteworthy, although Isaiah is one book, scholars say that, based on style, it has at least two authors.

What the champions of Ten Commandments display think they want is NOT what they want: the affirmation that there is only one god to believe in, to obey and worship.

Unknowingly, they are advocating polytheism--belief in many gods--and henotheism, one god at the head of the order.

If this is understood by Americans, I would not be unsettled seeing the Ten Commandments at the Barrow County, Georgia, courthouse or displayed in Times Square.

Until the media, though, has the will to disseminate these facts about the Ten Commandments, thereby holding up the truth before zealots, their erroneous cause will needlessly continue to divide Americans.

I like to believe that the Enlightenment idea that mankind, given facts, prefers truth to truth grounded in doctrine.

That’s my faith.

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