The number ten and the iniquity of the fathers: A new interpretation of the Decalogue

Bernhard Lang

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Originally, the passage known as the (Deuteronomic) Decalogue comprised only five commandments: to worship God exclusively, not to make idols, not to serve deities, not to misuse the name of God, and to honour one's parents. Subsequently, this pentalogue was enlarged by civil, commandments to form a series of ten items. Eventually, the injunction to keep the Sabbath holy was also added. The present form of Deuteronomy 5,6-21 is legitimately called the >> ten words << by the significant, tenfold use of the divine name. Addressed to the generation returning (or expecting to return) from Babylonian exile, the pentalogue tells its audience to dissociate themselves from the >> iniquity of the fathers <<. The fathers' sin of worshipping gods other than Yahweh led to the downfall of the Judean state, the loss of the land, and, as a consequence, to the collapse of the authority of the past generation. Turned to in an act of spiritual reorientation and worshipped exclusively, however, the father-figure of God will compensate for the terrible and traumatic loss of parental authority.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-238
Number of pages21
JournalZeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2006


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