In one of the chapters of the Old Testament that refers to the Commandments (Exodus 20:24), God apparently added:

"Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it ... your sheep and goats and your cattle."

Undeniably, the adherence of the  Commandments  as a code of living, represented a "societal epiphany".

And the simple yet essential fact is that an increasing number of people followed thenceforth the Commandments such that they now form an inextricable part of the modern legal system of most free and democratic societies.

King Alfred the Great of England (849-899) used the Commandments as a preamble to his laws which, in turn, became an important station on the track of common law history. In an 1825 painting by French master Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse, Moses is seen receiving the Commandments from God with an array of historical statesmen, including Alfred, waiting behind him.

According to historical calculations, it was in approximately 1,300 BC that Moses received a list of ten laws directly from God. These laws were known as the Ten Commandments and were transcribed as part of the Book of Moses, which later became part of the Bible. The parable suggests that he received a first set and then broke it when his people ignored its tenets. He then went back up Mount Sinai and returned with the Ten Commandments that we known of.Divine Wisdom And The Law

What was on the first set of tablets? The Bible does not say.

The Bible is a collection of parables. The descriptions of the older Moses having an exclusive 40-day chat with "God" on the top of Mount Sinai, without food or drink, and receiving on behalf of humanity, this new law, is surreal and designed to put the people in awe of the law and thus give it instant respect amongst an illiterate and uneducated people.

Even today, without fear, there is no law.

Many of the Ten Commandments inspired and continue in the form of modern laws such as "thou shalt not kill" (modern society severely punishes the crime of murder), "thou shalt not commit adultery" (modern society allows a divorce on these grounds) and "thou shalt not steal" (modern society punishes theft as a crime).

The Bible chapter that contains the Ten Commandments (Exodus) follows the recitation of the formal receipt of the Commandments by Moses with a complete set of legal rules, which are based on the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" legal philosophy of Hammurabi's Code.

The first four Commandments are not related to justice per se but are purely religious statements.

But others represent basic principles of justice which have been adhered to by society since they were first published. For some societies, the Commandments were a turning point where essential points such as "thou shalt not kill" or "commit adultery" were accepted as law; behavior that was from that point on formally and officially condemned.

The Bible makes it quite clear that to transgress the Commandments was punishable: "the soul that sinneth, it shall die", "sin is the transgression of the law" and "If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments" (this "enter-Paradise" enticement to adherents was emulated by Muhammad 2,000 years later in his Koran).

Christians will be familiar with formal religious statements such as:

"The almighty God will punish all those who disobey the above ten commandments. Therefore let us love and fear God and take care that in no way we act contrary to the above commandments."

Legal history recalls the words of a British father explaining to friends that the first book he gave to his son who was aspiring to become a lawyer was "the Bible, the Holy Bible."

"The Bible ... for a lawyer?!" exclaimed his friends.

The father replied:

"Yes sir. The properest and most scientific book for an honest lawyer, as there you will find the foundation of all law as well as all morality."

Moses With the Ten CommandmentsTraditional lawyer gowns come with a distinct neck tie called "tabs" or "legal tabs" which hang down as two white strips over a black gown, the tabs representing the two tablets received by Moses on which were inscribed the law of laws, the Ten Commandments.


  1. I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  3. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's.

REFERENCES:

  • Painting of Divine Wisdom and the Law, 1825 painting by French artist Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse
  • Engraving of Moses with the Ten Commandments by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)
  • The Bible (New International Version), Exodus 20, Chapters 24-34, published at biblegateway.com