Saturday, January 29, 2011

What did the Stone Tablets look like?

I am doing some research into the interpretation of the stone tablets which Moses brought down from Sinai, and came across an interesting tangent. Try imagining Moses at and advanced age (or Even Charleton Heston in his prime) walking down a steep mountainside with those two stone whoppers! He then throws them down with enough force to smash them.
We could say that God gave Moses superhuman strength (the text does not indicate such), or we could look for a reasonable interpretation, even if it means relinquishing some of our favourite images.
Writing on stone was very common in Egypt of the late Bronze Age. Hundreds of examples have been found. Papyrus was very expensive, so for scrap paper or scribal excersizes, pottery shards and stone flakes were used instead. Here is but one example, recovered at the Valley of the Kings (Deir el-Medina).

Stone flakes of this size could contain around twenty lines of text on both sides, could be easily carried, and easily broken.

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    I. Thou shalt not kill, nor bid anyone kill.
    II. Thou shalt not commit adultery or rape.
    III. Thou shalt not avenge thyself nor burn with rage.
    IV. Thou shalt not cause terror.
    V. Thou shalt not assault anyone nor cause anyone pain.
    VI. Thou shalt not cause misery.
    VII. Thou shalt not do any harm to man or to animals.
    VIII. Thou shalt not cause the shedding of tears.
    IX. Thou shalt not wrong the people nor bear them any evil intent.
    X. Thou shalt not steal nor take that which does not belong to you.
    XI. Thou shalt not take more than thy fair share of food.
    XII. Thou shalt not damage the crops, the fields, or the trees.
    XIII. Thou shalt not deprive anyone of what is rightfully theirs.
    XIV. Thou shalt not bear false witness, nor support false allegations.
    XV. Thou shalt not lie, nor speak falsely to the hurt of another.
    XVI. Thou shalt not use fiery words nor stir up any strife.
    XVII. Thou shalt not speak or act deceitfully to the hurt of another.
    XVIII. Thou shalt not speak scornfully against others.
    XIX. Thou shalt not eavesdrop.
    XX. Thou shalt not ignore the truth or words of righteousness.
    XXI. Thou shalt not judge anyone hastily or harshly.
    XXII. Thou shalt not disrespect sacred places.
    XXIII. Thou shalt cause no wrong to be done to any workers or prisoners.
    XXIV. Thou shalt not be angry without good reason.
    XXV. Thou shalt not hinder the flow of running water.
    XXVI. Thou shalt not waste the running water.
    XXVII. Thou shalt not pollute the water or the land.
    XXVIII. Thou shalt not take God's name in vain.
    XXIX. Thou shalt not despise nor anger God.
    XXX. Thou shalt not steal from God.
    XXXI. Thou shalt not give excessive offerings nor less than what is due.
    XXXII. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.
    XXXIII. Thou shalt not steal from nor disrespect the dead.
    XXXIV. Thou shalt remember and observe the appointed holy days.
    XXXV. Thou shalt not hold back the offerings due God.
    XXXVI. Thou shalt not interfere with sacred rites.
    XXXVII. Thou shalt not slaughter with evil intent any sacred animals.
    XXXVIII. Thou shalt not act with guile or insolence.
    XXXIX. Thou shalt not be unduly proud nor act with arrogance.
    XL. Thou shalt not magnify your condition beyond what is appropriate.
    XLI. Thou shalt do no less than your daily obligations require.
    XLII. Thou shalt obey the law and commit no treason.

    The 42 Principles of Ma'at, the Goddess who personified the ideals of Truth and Righteousness, were known to all the ancient Egyptians. They have been rephrased here in Biblical Commandment form to make them more intelligible and familiar to moderns. In the original form they were preceded with "I have not" as in "I have not stolen." The Egyptians believed that when they died, their souls would be judged by these principles. Moses and the Israelites, who were originally Egyptians, would have been familiar with these principles, but after wandering for forty years they seem to have only remembered 8 of them (those highlighted in red). Moses added three new non-secular commandments; the one about not honoring the other gods, the honoring of their parents, and the one that included their neighbor's wives and slaves as coveted chattel. The remarkable thing about the principles of Ma'at is not only how much more advanced they are in comparison with the Hebrew Commandments, but how most of them are strikingly relevant to this day.
    Various translations of the Declarations of Ma'at exist and they do not all agree in phrasing, order, or even the total number of principles (since some have multiple statements and some are redundant). Versions are available at the following websites, where readers may compare interpretations.