What Language Were the Ten Commandments Written In?

This might seem like an odd question to ask! And before going any further, I want to point out that I am a Pastor of a fairly conservative Christian Church, and would NEVER do anything to shake anyone's confidence in their Christian Faith! A Faith should be strong enough to allow asking most any question, KNOWING that Christianity will certainly be compatible with whatever answers might be found!

The question is one I have never seen aggressively addressed anywhere else! I suppose that knowledgeable Christian or Jewish scholars have intentionally avoided the subject, for fear of stirring up trouble! But our Church believes that the Lord EXPECTS us to each USE the minds that He has provided us with, and that He expects us to logically reason through all questions, even ones that seem odd or difficult!

In the book "The Bible Has The Answer" by Henry Morris and Martin E. Clark (1987), Chapter 6 and Question 3, somewhat discusses a related subject, from an extremely Christian point-of-view. And really with an extreme ignorance regarding actual known facts! Their answer begins as follows (they assume that Moses personally both composed the text and wrote it all down, without seeming to realize that Moses had far more urgent and important things to do in leading his people across the desert and the rest. In addition, they seem to assume that Moses had many tons of stones dragged across the desert so that he could spend countless hours chiseling symbols into the stones, apparently neglecting that there were serious issues regarding anyone even surviving that very difficult trip across the desert.):

Answer: This is an ancient criticism which is still voiced frequently today. The answer is, first, that writing was known and widely used long before Moses' time and, second, that he quite possibly compiled and edited the Book of Genesis, rather than writing it himself.

There is no doubt whatever that writing was practiced long before Moses was born. For example, archaeologists have unearthed an ancient library in the city of Ur containing thousands of stone "books."

But the following discussion and information shows that such an answer is not an answer at all. Morris is certainly a foam-mouthed Christian, but he is certainly quite ignorant about many basic facts!

There is immense difference between simple pictograph symbols carved into pieces of stone and the rich texture of a written or oral LANGUAGE. The following information confirms and somewhat documents that various hieroglyphic and cuneiform systems had existed long before Moses, but that such systems of symbols did not and could not have anywhere near the sophistication needed for expressing the Ten Commandments. And that the actual WRITTEN languages necessary to provide such sophistication did not even begin to get invented until hundreds of years after Moses lived and died.

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The Bible refers to the Pharaoh, and historical records establish when that Pharaoh reigned, around 1275 BC. So Moses lived about then. Comprehensive evidence exists that the first seven actual written languages only first were invented around two hundred years later, around 1100 BC. There had earlier been Alphabets invented. It appears that it was a hundred years before Moses, around the Middle Bronze Age, that the first actual alphabets, more correctly called abjads began to develop. All seem to have been derived from the far earlier Proto-Sinaitic alphabet. THIS was actually around the time that Moses lived, but it did NOT yet include any actual written languages.

A system of alphabetic symbols necessarily was created first, before such symbols might be later used to compose the words and sentences of any language. It can happen that the two occur in close time proximity, but there can also be a considerable delay between them. Reliable archaeology and history indicates that between 1300 BC and 1000 BC, there appear to have been around seven distinct written languages that began to develop, three of which are not even deciphered yet!

The information similarly implies that even though Moses was the SOURCE of all the text of the First Five Books of the Bible, he could not possibly have "written it all down". It is very well established historically that Moses lived around 1275 BC. In that era, any WRITTEN records would have been extremely unusual anyway, as ALL cultures then passed all important information down from generation to generation by verbal presentation and memorization, so-called Oral Tradition.

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The Books of the Bible clearly describe that Moses was quite occupied in just trying to keep his people alive, and especially while trying to cross a difficult desert. Can anyone really believe that Moses set aside several hours every day to chisel grooves into the many tons of stones that he would have had to haul along with the struggling Jews?

In the case of those First Five Books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, it appears that such Oral Tradition WAS the method of passing the information from generation to generation for at least fifteen generations, at least a couple centuries, before it was finally able to be written down in the newly-created Paleo-Hebrew language around 1000 BC. Oral Tradition is established as having been an impressively accurate and precise method of maintaining all the important history of hundreds of different societies.

Recent archaeological findings of an Ostrocon confirm these facts. It is dated to around 1050 BC. It is a rather crude early attempt at written language, which does not actually have complete sentences, but it has far more sophistication than the previous Egyptian hieroglyphics of PICTURE SYMBOLS. Hieroglyphics had chiseled drawings of chickens or lions or people, and never any actual sentence structure.

The Ostrocon showed early signs of actual sentence structure, but it also shows evidence of being very early efforts. The language structure is relatively similar to the Ancient Hebrew which was about to arise around 1000 BC, but the symbols were not Hebrew symbols, they were from an earlier set of picture symbols of the Hittites.

In any case, there was NO chance that any written language of any form existed ten or fifteen generations earlier at the time of Moses.

The core point of all this is that there was NO existing written language which existed prior to around 1100 BC at the earliest, and that means that there was NO existing written language which could have existed at the time of Moses. There WERE hieroglyphs, a system of picture symbols, but such symbols had no way of presenting an esoteric concept such as "Honor the Sabbath". How could you present the concept of the Sabbath in picture drawings? And then express a core demand to honor it? For a number of years, I have presented an open challenge to all hieroglyphics experts. I ask that one of them should assemble however many hieroglyph drawings he/she feels is necessary to express "Honor the Sabbath" and then send that set of picture symbols to some other expert. IF that second expert can decode the picture symbols to correctly understand the meaning of "Honor the Sabbath", I would be satisfied that hieroglyphics were then a credible answer. Otherwise, no.

As a Christian, I have profound trust and belief in the Bible. In some areas, people think they find some references that they say conflict with "modern science", with the "Six Day Creation" being one of the ones often mentioned. I personally do not see a conflict there, but the discussion is fairly complex (part of which was published in the Ziggurat publication of December 2005). But I see something else that I have no clue about, and which I have never seen ANYONE even ever mention!

It is fairly well established that Moses lived somewhere around 1275 BC, because the Pharaoh Ramses II in Egypt is accurately known to have lived about that time. God gave Moses two "tables" (stone tablets) with the Ten Commandments written on them. Everyone knows that! What confuses me is that we humans had not then yet invented any alphabet (which only began in following centuries) and so there was no organized written language yet (written Ancient Hebrew (Palaeo-Hebrew) was only developed around 300 years after Moses).

There were certainly stone symbols developed in Mesopotamia and Egypt (pictoglyphs, petroglyphs, hieroglyphs, cuneiform) (essentially stylized picture drawings) but they were definitely not sophisticated enough to present any advanced concepts such as the sexual implications of one of the Commandments, or the specific Teachings regarding our Honoring the Lord. Researchers have so far discovered seven separate systems where picture writing evolved into word writing (Sumerian, Egyptian, proto-Elamite, proto-Indic, Cretan, Hittite, and Chinese). Chinese was developed after Moses lived, and is the only one of them still in use today, and three of the others have not yet been deciphered. Hittite was also developed after Moses lived, which seems to suggest that only Sumerian(/Old Akkadian) and Egyptian symbol systems were the only available candidates! (Akkadian later developed into its subsequent dialects of Babylonian and Assyrian. Both of those dialects existed (as oral languages) at the time of Moses, but each developed into sophisticated WRITTEN languages until after Moses lived.)

But evidence suggests that both of those systems (cuneiform and hieroglyphics) did not yet have the required sophistication to adequately present the concepts of the Ten Commandments.

A scholar of such picture symbol systems could obviously prove this wrong simply by creating a series of hieroglyphs that express the text of the Ten Commandments! Obviously, the test would be to send that set of symbols to a DIFFERENT scholar, and see if that other expert could discern the subtlety of the implications of "Honor the Sabbath". And such a series of hieroglyphs (either Sumerian or Egyptian) would actually certainly have to then be virtually identical to what was actually written on the Stone Tablets that Moses brought down the mountain! Once such a series of picture images is re-created, then it would be possible to better analyze how many picture images were necessary and/or whether the picture images actually carried all the sophistication that we attach to them. I would wonder how such a scholar could express the Commandment against murder, or the one against adultery, or especially the one honoring the Sabbath, without requiring hundreds of picture images for each if any level of sophisticated meaning was to be included. I realize that modern Chinese is still somewhat of a picture language, but that it includes countless thousands of "letters" rather than the 26 that we use. The hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt and Sumeria tend to be rather simplistic and crude in contrast.

The very large number of hieroglyphic symbols is in tremendous contrast to the few Ancient Hebrew words required. Only four Ancient Hebrew words were involved in the Sabbath Commandment: zakar (Strongs 02142, remember); Shabbath (Strongs 07676); yowm (Strongs 03117, day); qadash (Strongs 06942, keep it holy).

Christians and Jews rarely note that Moses lived around 1275 BC but that the texts he Taught were only ORALLY transmitted for about 300 years (15 generations) before they were finally written down (by Scribes, in Ancient Hebrew) around 1000 BC. So it is never really even noted that there was NO "written record" of ANYTHING Moses Taught, until around 300 years after he died. So I suppose it is natural that no one would have had specific concern regarding whatever was written down on the stone tablets!

As a side note, many Christians (and even Christian leaders) insist that Moses himself actually wrote down the entire texts of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They certainly neglect the fact that writing instruments and writing papyrus were not yet invented! The ONLY available method then in existence was to use a chisel and carve hieroglyphic symbols into stones, and given all the text of Moses, that would have involved MANY tons of stones that they would have had to haul with them! Or that Moses was very busy leading many people through many hardships and he didn't have time to devote to writing extensive records! But in pointing out that there was really not yet any written language in which he COULD have written it all down, it seems clear that he could not have done so. His words were accurately memorized and repeated through the generations, for at least 15 generations of people (until around 1000 BC) before it was finally possible to write it all down! So the arguments about the JEDP controversy might have cause to disappear! J and E might easily have been Scribes (around 1000 BC) who each finally wrote down those oral traditions of Moses. In 15 generations of telling, it seems reasonable that even very careful memorization might have developed some slight differences. And later Scribes wanted to make sure they did not choose the wrong one, so they inter-threaded the two primary texts, as the JEDP proponents claim. At no point does that then challenge that Moses was the actual source of all that information!

As a Devout Christian, I have NO doubt that there is some logical explanation for this! I just find it strange that no one seems to have ever even considered the issue!

Maybe it is time for some scholars to spend some time in figuring out the explanation! KNOWING that there is one!

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in April 2006.

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C Johnson, Pastor
A Christ Walk Church