Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ten Commandments


This is the view from Mount Nebo in the country of Jordan, looking towards the River Jordan and beyond to Israel/Palestine. Our tour group had come from the River, 1200 feet below sea level, to the Mountain, 2600 feet above sea level. From Mount Nebo God showed Moses the land of Canaan, and here Moses died before he could lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. (I hope Moses had a clearer day that we did.)
It had been on another mountain, Sinai, that God had given Moses the Ten Commandments.
On a recent trip in the car I was listening to an excellent set of CD's on the history of religion in America. In the section on a virulent anti-Catholic period, I was taken up short by this antidote. In New York City in 1859 an Irish Catholic boy in a public school refused to recite the King James Version of the Ten Commandments. The teacher beat him over his hands until they bled and forced him to recite them. His parents sued the teacher for cruelty in the civil courts and lost. They were told that the teacher had the right to uphold the teaching of the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments in school. How ironic that now we sue over whether they can be displayed in a public place.
What also struck me about the incident was that there was a significant enough difference between the Protestant and Catholic version that the boy would know about it.
The difference is not only in the translation itself but in the numbering. If I ever knew this, I had forgotten. So I went looking. While everyone has just Ten Commandments, they are counted differently by different Jewish groups, as well as different Christian groups. The King James Version follows a Jewish way of counting them that splits what Catholics consider the first commandment into two and then combines into one what Catholics consider the ninth and tenth.
So even if we were to display the Ten Commandments now, I guess we would have a fight among Jews, Protestants, and Catholics about which version to display.
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