Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

NOTE: This is actually in response to a letter that was published in the Feedback section on the Internet Infidels web site. I publish it here since I couldn't ignore the challenge that was presented within.

(R) To all you heathen atheists, and non believers in God, particularly the so-called "educated." I hereby present a challenge to you. The challenge is this: There is no denying that the TEN COMMANDMENTS exist. Right?
(MB) That depends upon what you mean by "exist". There is no doubt that the Bible tells a story about Moses receiving God's laws on Mt. Sinai and that these laws have come to be known as the "Ten Commandments". So, in that respect, they can be said to exist in a literary or philosophical sense.
    However, the story says that the laws were written by Moses upon two tablets of stone. These two tablets no longer exist, nor is there any independent evidence of their ever having existed outside of the Biblical story. Even if somebody was to suddenly put two stone tablets on display and claim that they were the originals, there would be no evidence to verify that claim, nor would there be anything to prove who originally carved them. Therefore, in the absence of evidence, the Ten Commandments cannot be said to exist in a physical sense.
    So, the only proper answer to your question is that the Ten Commandments exist only in the same sense that the Starship Enterprise exists.

(R) Since they exist, they had to have had an origin. Right?
(MB) Correct. Again, we must remember the manner in which they exist. If they exist only in the literary or philosophical sense, their origin was in the individual who first devised them. This may or may not be the same individual who first wrote them down.

(R) Therefore, tell me, what human authored the TEN COMMANDMENTS? What is his name?
(MB) We don't know, nor is it very likely that we ever will know. The author did not sign his name to his work. Moses, so the story goes, was only the scribe. More likely, the priests who first committed the Book of Exodus into written form were transcribing an oral tradition of the time. The original author is lost to history.

(R) What year did he author them?
(MB) Again, we don't know. We have an estimate of when the Book of Exodus was written, but the traditions which inspired its contents certainly predate it by an amount of time we can only guess at -- unless we assume that the Ten Commandments were devised shortly after the Israelites are said to have left Egypt. In any case, I don't see how the year of authorship could be relevant.

(R) If a human authored the TEN COMMANDMENTS, why is it that there has never been anyone who has known who did so?
(MB) Certainly, that person's contemporaries would have known who did so. But, since neither they nor the author himself recorded the event, its memory would soon be lost to time. We don't know who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls either, but they were most assuredly written by somebody since we have the physical evidence. Since we don't have any physical evidence of the existence of the stone tablets containing the original Ten Commandments, we can't even be certain that they ever did exist. If they never existed, the question of authorship is moot.

(R) You know the names of the heathens who authored the heathen american constitution - you now the year in which it was authored.
(MB) Of course. That was only barely over 200 years ago, we have the physical document itself, the document is signed, and the event has been recorded. We have no such luxuries to help us know similar things about the Ten Commandments.

(R) Other nations know the same about their charters. But there is no one on earth who can rightly name a human as the author of the TEN COMMANDMENTS. You know why don't you? Because no human authored them!
(MB) That conclusion can not be drawn from the available evidence and can only be considered to be mere conjecture. How do you justify such a claim? Be careful not to engage in the circular reasoning fallacy of invoking the Bible itself as proof of the stories it contains.

(R) I challenge you to intelligently dispute that fact.
(MB) I trust that I have met your challenge. Can you show my refutation to be flawed in any way?

(R) As you grope to do so, you will find that you cannot intelligently do so.
(MB) I'll leave the judgment of the success or failure of my efforts to those who read them.

(R) Any disagreement with this fact, and any effort to try to disprove it will reveal that you are fools.
(MB) Didn't Jesus warn his followers about labeling others as "fools"?

(R) And you will prove to yourselves that God does indeed exist. Try to disprove it and see.
(MB) How your argument proves that God exists is a mystery to me. But, it doesn't matter. I have a different question for you. Which version of the Ten Commandments will you try to claim is the "real" one? The Book of Exodus gives two different versions, one in Chapter 20 and another in Chapter 34, and each differs significantly from the other. Most Christians, if they've even read Exodus at all, are only familiar with the account presented in Chapter 20. The one in Chapter 34 goes largely ignored.
    Why should this be so? If one reads them, the answer becomes obvious -- they give two different sets of Ten Commandments! Let's put the stories together and examine them so the differences will become clear. (Verses are quoted from the KJV.)

    Exodus 20:2-3 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.
    Exodus 34:14-16 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name [is] Jealous, [is] a jealous God: Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and [one] call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice; And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.
    Comment: It should be expected that a statement of the supremacy of Yahweh should be placed up front, although these verses hint that Yahweh is not the only god which exists. He just wants to be #1.

    Exodus 20:4-6 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] 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: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
    Exodus 34:17 Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
    Comment: One wonders if the images of Jesus that are commonly found in churches are actually a violation of the first version of this commandment.

    Exodus 20:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
    Exodus 34:18 The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.
    Comment: Here begins the significant differences. Apparently, it's OK to take his name in vain under the second version, while the Passover is not important under the first.

    Exodus 20:8-11 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day [is] the sabbath of the LORD thy God: [in it] thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that [is] within thy gates: For [in] six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them [is], and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
    Exodus 34:19-20 All that openeth the matrix [is] mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, [whether] ox or sheep, [that is male]. But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem [him] not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.
    Comment: The first version's fourth commandment is the second version's fifth. Christians and Jews disagree on which day is the holy Sabbath. One group must, therefore, be violating that commandment since both can't be right.

    Exodus 20:12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
    Exodus 34:21 Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.
    Comment: No mention of honoring one's parents in the second version.

    Exodus 20:13 Thou shalt not kill.
    Exodus 34:22 And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
    Comment: Killing seems to be OK in the second version.

    Exodus 20:14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
    Exodus 34:23-24 Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.
    Comment: No proscription against adultery in the second version, while the first contains no regular duties to God.

    Exodus 20:15 Thou shalt not steal.
    Exodus 34:25 Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
    Comment: Even stealing draws no mention in the second version, while the first pays no mind to important ceremonies in God's honor.

    Exodus 20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
    Exodus 34:26 (first sentence) The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.
    Comment: What if one lies about which fruits are the first? Only one of those is a sin, apparently.

    Exodus 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbour's.
    Exodus 34:26 (second sentence) Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.
    Comment: If you don't covet your neighbor's stuff, I guess it's OK to boil a kid in goat's milk. Or, is it the other way around?

    So, the two versions are rather difficult to reconcile with one another and only one can be the true "Ten Commandments". Which is which? For anybody who tries to claim that the story in Exodus 34 is "something else", consider the next two verses:

    Exodus 34:27 And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.
    Exodus 34:28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

    There is no such "ten commandments" language in Exodus 20. So, I hereby present a challenge to you: Which "Ten Commandments" is the real one and why? If you believe that the stone tablets exist (or ever existed), there can only be one set of commandments written upon them . Which is it? Can the two sets of commandments be accounted for by suggesting that God changed his mind? If not, why are there two sets given in the same book? If we believe the legend that Moses wrote the Book of Exodus, why would he include two different stories?
    Or, is it more reasonable to believe that the story of the Ten Commandments is just that -- a story? Perhaps, it was devised by the priests and the tribal elders to give a measure of authority to a codified set of laws meant to govern the tribes of Israel and to reinforce their common faith. If one bothers to read the entire Bible instead of the carefully-selected (and sometimes edited) verses used in Bible study classes and religious sermons, the results can be rather enlightening.

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