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The Decalogue

Written by: Philo    Posted on: 09/25/2006

Category: Misc.

Emil Schürer writes: "The third chief group of Philo's works on the Pentateuch is a Delineation of the Mosaic Legislation for non-Jews. In this whole group indeed, the allegorical explanation is still occasionally employed. In the main however we have here actual historical delineations, a systematic statement of the great legislative work of Moses, the contents, excellence and importance of which, the author desires to make evident to non-Jewish readers, and indeed to as large a circle of them as possible. For the delineation is more a popular one, while the large allegorical commentary is an esoteric, and according to Philo's notions a strictly scientific work. The contents of the several compositions forming this group differ indeed considerably, and are apparently independent of each other. Their connection however, and consequently the composition of the whole work, cannot, according to Philo's own intimations, be doubtful. As to plan it is divided into three parts. (a) The beginning and as it were the introduction to the whole is formed by a description of the creation of the world (??sµ?p???a), which is placed first by Moses for the purpose of showing, that his legislation and its precepts are in conformity with the will of nature (p??? t? ß????µa t?? f?se??), and that consequently he who obeys it is truly a citizen of the world (??sµ?p???t??) (de mundi opif. § 1). This introduction is followed by (b) biographies of virtuous men. These are, as it were, the living, unwritten laws (eµ????? ?a? ??????? ??µ?? de Abrahamo, § 1, ??µ?? a??af?? de decalogo, § 1), which represent, in distinction from the written and specific commands, universl moral norms (t??? ?a??????te???? ?a? ?sa? a??et?p??? ??µ??? de Abrahamo, § 1). Lastly, the third part embraces (c) the delineation of the legislation proper, which is divided into two parts: (1) that of the ten chief commandments of the law, and (2) that of the special laws belonging to each of these ten commandments. Then follow by way of appendix a few treatises on certain cardinal virtues, and on the rewards of the good and the punishment of the wicked. This survey of the contents shows at once, that it was Philo's intention to place before his readers a clear description of the entire contents of the Pentateuch, which should be in essential matters complete. His view however is in this respect the genuinely Jewish one, that these entire contents fall under the notion of the ??µ??." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 338-339

Emil Schürer comments: "?e?? t?? de?a ?????? a ?efa?a?a ??µ?? e?s?. De decalogo (Mangey, ii. 180-209).—After the life of Joseph is generally inserted the life of Moses, which certainly would, according to its literary character, be in place in this group. It is however nowhere intimated that this composition, which comes forward quite independently, is organically connected with the entire work now under discussion. Nay it would be an interruption to it. For in it Moses as a lawgiver stands alone, he is thus no universally valid type of moral conduct, nor is he depicted as such.—Hence the composition de decalogo with which the representation of the legislation proper (t?? a?a??afe?t?? ??µ??, de decal. § 1) begins, reciting indeed first of all the ten commandments, given by God Himself without the intervention of Moses, must necessarily follow the life of Joseph.—The title of this copmosition vacillates very much in the manuscripts (Mangey, ii. 180, note). The usual form pe?? t?? de?a ??????, resting on the cod. Augustanus, is confirmed by Euseb. H. E. ii. 18. 5. Jerome, in consequence of a careless abbreviation in the text of Eusebius, has de tabernaculo et decalogo libri quattor." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 342-343)

J. H. A. Hart writes (The Jewish Quarterly Review Original Series 17, pp. 726-731):

    The Decalogue is the natural sequel to the "lives of the patriarchs," which constitute the unwritten laws of the Jewish nation. Accordingly, it must be carefully expounded and no allegorical meaning, which can be discerned lurking in it, passed over.

    The first question to be considered is, "Why was the Law given in the desert?" The answer is plain. Cities are full of untold evils, offences both against God and against man. Further, the soul of the man who is about to receive holy laws must needs be purged of those deep stains which a motley crowd of men has produced long retirement is needed before spiritual nourishment can be taken with any advantage, just as in the case of bodily sickness. In the third place it was necessary for the people to receive and grow familiar with their new constitution before they settled in their new home and had to put it in practice. Some allege yet another reason, which is very near the truth: the people needed some proof that these laws were divine oracles and not human inventions, and found it in the miraculous support, which God bestowed upon them in the barren wilderness. But all these are only reasonable conjectures: God alone knows the truth.

    The laws in question are of two kinds—according as they are declared by God himself or through the prophet Moses. The first are general principles, the second particular applications. Naturally then we must first consider the first class, that is the Decalogue.

    The people—men, women, and children—were assembled together, and God spake to them ten words or oracles. The number ten, de?a?, is the most comprehensive of all numbers, and owes its name to the fact that it contains (de?es?a?: de?a?) within itself every kind of number and progression of numbers—arithmetical, geometrical, and harmonic—and represents the whole universe, inasmuch as it is the sum of 1 (the point) + 2 (the line) + 3 (the plane) + 4 (the solid). Moreover, there are ten so-called categories:—substance, quality, quantity, relation, action, passion, possession, situation, time, and place. But such considerations belong to a mathematical (or logical) treatise, and the question of God's voice is more germane to our present purpose. Let no one suppose that God is as a man and spake as a man. This voice is miraculous—a special creation which gathered strength on its way, so that those afar off heard as well as those close at hand, but all with their souls and not with their ears.

    But why are the commandments formulated in the singular (Thou), when a multitude was present? Readers of the Holy Scriptures may learn from this that each individual who keeps the law and obeys God is as precious as the whole Nation, nay more, as the whole world. Another reason is that commands and prohibitions are more impressive if addressed to each individual in the audience. Again, every human king and tyrant may learn from this to despise none of his subjects, not even the meanest, since God the king of kings deigned to address himself to every one of the mortals assembled before him. So I will be affable to all who differ from me only in fortune not in nature.

    The attendant circumstances, the thunder, lightning, voice, cloud, and fire are all wonderful, for it was right that, when God's Power approached, none of the parts of the universe should rest, but all be moved together to render service. Notice, too, that the people saw the voice (Exod. xx. 18), since what God says is not word but deed.

    After this preface we reach the Decalogue itself, and find it divided into two groups of five oracles each. The first and primary group begins with God the creator of the universe and ends with parents the procreators of individuals. The second and secondary contains all the prohibitions. Each oracle must be considered by itself.

    Now the best and the beginning of all things is God, and the best and the beginning of virtues is piety. But a grave error has taken possession of the majority of mankind in respect of a matter which might reasonably be supposed to be implanted beyond the reach of error in the minds of each one. Thus some have deified the four elements earth (Kore, Demeter, Pluto), water (Poseidon), air (Hera), and fire (Hephaestus); others the sun (Apollo), moon (Artemis), and the stars fixed and the planets (e. g. Aphrodite and Hermes); others only the heaven; others the whole universe. This is to put the slave in the place of the master, to honour the temporal as if it were the Eternal, the created as the Creator. Let us reject these follies of the impious and all their words by which they who might be saved are destroyed, and engrave in our hearts the first and holiest of the commandments to acknowledge and honour one, the most high God. These polytheists and idolaters are like ships without ballast that can never make their port, worse and more miserable than those whose bodily eyes are blinded. Why are the craftsmen who make the idols left to live and die without money or honour, while the idols are tended and worshipped by the noblest of the land? Why not revere the hand that fashioned them, or the tools? The best of prayers and the end of happiness is assimilation to the divine. Yet the idolaters would reckon such a prayer a curse. The Egyptians go further. Not content with images they deify animals. If they stopped at the worship of the ox, the ram, and the goat they might plead, with some show of reason, that these animals are most serviceable to man. But when they worship lions, crocodiles, and poisonous asps they pass all bounds. And can anything be more ridiculous than their cult of the dog, cat, wolf, ibis, hawk, and fish. So much for the second commandment, the prohibition of idolatry, which Philo does not clearly distinguish from the first which proscribes polytheism.

    The position of the third commandment will be understood by the clear-sighted. A name is always second to the thing it denotes, just as the shadow follows a body. Multifarious are the sins of men in this respect. It is best and most rational to refrain from swearing, every word being as good as an oath. Next best is to swear truly. Avoid the necessity of taking an oath if possible; if it cannot be avoided then be very cautious. An oath is no light matter though conventionally regarded as such: it is the taking God to witness in respect of a disputed point. Remember that conscience is at once accuser and judge, and if unsatisfied will plague a man till he break off his miserable life. Even the worst of men would hesitate to go to a friend and call upon him to testify to something which he did not witness as if he actually had witnessed it. The friend would refuse and repent of his friendship, you say. But what else does the perjurer when he calls upon God to witness to a lie? Soon or late justice exacts the penalty of such a crime.

    The fourth commandment enforces the holy observance of the sacred Sabbath. Some nations keep the seventh day from the new moon as a feast, but the Jews keep it every week. In the week of Creation God himself observed it, and in this as in all else man must follow God. On the seventh day man also must rest from his work and devote himself to philosophy, considering all his actions during the previous six days in order to the correction of all faults already committed and the prevention of such in the future. What else is the meaning of the Scripture that God rested on the seventh day, having accomplished the work of creation in the six, since God is independent of time?

    The fifth is the border-line between the two groups. It is the last of the sacred duties inculcated in the first, and links on with the duties toward men contained in the second. Procreation is akin to creation. Some men are content with performing their duties towards God, others with accomplishing their duties towards man. In either case they are convicted in one court of justice, human or divine. To our parents we owe what we can never repay. Men who disregard this natural obligation should imitate the beasts, who repay the services bestowed upon them. House-dogs protect and die for their masters when any danger suddenly overtakes them. Shall a man be less grateful than a dog? Storks put to shanie sons who honour not their parents. A man who is impious towards his immediate and visible parents cannot be pious towards his invisible Father.

    So much for the first and diviner pentad. The second group, of prohibitions, begins with the sin of adultery as the greatest of crimes. Its source is the love of pleasure, and it necessitates a partnership of teacher and disciple in sin. Not only the body but also the soul of the adulteress is alienated from her husband. By this sin, all the more deadly because it is secret, untold evils are produced. The innocent children of such illicit unions are absolutely destitute of parent or parents.

    The second commandment of this group forbids murder. Man is pre-eminently a sociable and gregarious animal, and the manslayer therefore breaks the law of nature. Further, the murderer is guilty of sacrilege as having despoiled the most sacred of God's possessions, since man in virtue of his soul is akin to the heaven and, as most believe, to the Father of all.

    The third (i.e. the eighth) commandment is directed against the thief, who is the public enemy of any city. Some, the greater thieves, dignify their crimes with the titles of sovereignty. Such a tendency should be nipped in the bud, for a habit long indulged is stronger than nature.

    False witnesses are condemned in the fourth (i.e. the ninth) as guilty of many grievous offences. First, they corrupt truth, man's most sacred possession. Secondly, they co-operate with wrongdoers. Thirdly, they defeat the ends of justice and mislead the judges.

    Last of all, covetousness is forbidden. This is the most grievous disease which the soul can suffer; for the covetous man endures the tortures of Tantalus, ever yearning for the unattainable; and it is the source of all the ills of mankind.

    These ten words are summaries of all the laws. For example, the fourth commandment, which deals with the observance of the seventh day, sets forth the principle which regulates all the feasts, including the so-called Passover, when the whole nation dispenses with the priests and on one day in the year celebrates its own sacrifice.

    Such, then, are the laws which God himself proclaimed in person; whereas the particular applications of these general principles were delivered through the perfect prophet who was inspired to that end. No penalties are attached thereto, since the Lord is good and is to be considered as causing no evil but only good. Yet sinners are not thus promised immunity: God knew that his assessor, Justice, who watches human affairs, would not rest, being naturally a hater of evil, but would welcome as a kindred function the punishment of offenders. The great King is charged with the common well-being, while his underlings take vengeance of sinners. Indeed God is the prince of peace, his servants chieftains of war.

F. H. Colson writes (Philo, vol. 7, pp. 3-5):

    The first part of this treatise deals with some questions raised by the law-giving on Sinai. First, why was it given in the desert? Four reasons are suggested: (a) because of the vanity and idolatry rampant in cities (2-9), (b) because solitude promotes repentance (10-13), (c) because it was well that laws needed for civic life should begin before the era of that life began (14), (d) that the divine origin of the laws should be attested by the miraculous supply of food in the barren wilderness (15-17). Secondly, observing that the Commandments given by God Himself were ten, we ask why that number, and the answer is given by a disquisition on its perfection as a number (18-31). Thirdly, what was the nature of the voice which announced the commandments?—not God's, for He is not a man, but an invisible land of speech created for the occasion (32-35). Fourthly, why was the singular number "thou" used? (a) Because it emphasizes the value of the individual soul (36-38), (b) the personal appeal better secures obedience (39), (c) it is a lesson to the great not to despise the humblest (40-44). This part concludes with some words on the grandeur of the scene, particularly the fire from which the voice issued (45-49).

    Coming to the Commandments themselves, after noting that they divide into two sets of five (50-51), we pass to the First. Polytheism is denounced, particularly as taking the form of worship given to the elements or heavenly bodies (52-65). Worse than this is the worship of lifeless images forbidden by the Second Commandment. Its absurdity is exposed (66-76) and with it the worse absurdity of Egyptian animal-worship (77-81). The Third Commandment is taken as forbidding principally perjury (82-91), but also reckless swearing (92-95). The Fourth teaches us to set apart a time for philosophy as opposed to practical life (96-101), and reasons are given for the sanctity of seven and the seventh day in particular (102-105). The Fifth stands on the border-line, because parenthood assimilates man to God and to dishonour parents is to dishonour God (106-111). Children owe all to their parents, and in the duty of repaying kindness they may take a lesson from the lower animals (112-120).

    The second set of five opens with the prohibition of Adultery (121). Adultery is denounced as (a) voluptuous (122), (b) involving the sin of another (123-124), (c) destructive of family ties (125-127), (d) cruel to the children (128-131). The second of the set forbids murder as both unnatural and sacrilegious, since man is the most sacred of God's possessions (132-134). Stealing is forbidden by the third, because theft on the smallest scale may develop into wholesale robbery and usurpation (135-137). The fourth forbids false witness, as opposed in itself to truth and justice, and also in law-courts causing judges to give wrong verdicts and thus break their own oaths (138-141). The last Commandment against "desire" gives Philo an opportunity of discoursing in Stoical terms on the four passions, pleasure, grief, fear, desire, of which the last is the deadliest (142-153).

    Sections 154-175 are really a rough synopsis ot Books II., III., and IV. 1-131, shewing the nature of the particular laws which will be placed under each commandment. And the concluding sections 176-178 justify the absence of any penalties attached to the commandments on the grounds that God who is the cause of good leaves the punishment for transgression to his subordinates.


{**Yonge's title, A Treatise Concerning the Ten Commandments, Which Are the Heads of the Law.}

I. (1) I have in my former treatises set forth the lives of Moses and the other wise men down to his time, whom the sacred scriptures point out as the founders and leaders of our nation, and as its unwritten laws; I will now, as seems pointed out by the natural order of my subject, proceed to describe accurately the character of those laws which are recorded in writing, not omitting any allegorical meaning which may perchance be concealed beneath the plain language, from that natural love of more recondite and laborious knowledge which is accustomed to seek for what is obscure before, and in preference to, what is evident. (2) And to those who raise the question why the lawgiver gave his laws not in cities but in the deep desert, we must say, in the first place, that the generality of cities are full of unspeakable evils, and of acts of audacious impiety towards the Deity, and of injustice on the part of the citizens to one another; (3) for there is nothing which is wholly free from alloy, what is spurious getting the better of what is genuine, and what is plausible of what is true; which things in their nature are false, but which suggest plausible imaginations to the engendering of deceit in cities; (4) from whence also that most designing of all things, namely pride, is implanted, which some persons admire and worship, dignifying and making much of vain opinions, with golden crowns and purple robes, and numbers of servants and chariots, on which those men who are looked upon as fortunate and happy are borne aloft, sometimes harnessing mules or horses to their chariots, and sometimes even men, who bear their burdens on their necks, through the excess of the insolence of their masters, weighed down in soul even before they faint in body.

II. (5) Pride is also the cause of many other evils, such as insolence, arrogance, and impiety. And these are the beginnings of foreign and civil wars, allowing nothing whatever to rest in peace in any part, whether it be public or private, by sea or by land. (6) And why need I mention the offences of such men against one another? For even divine things are neglected by pride, even though they are generally thought to be entitled to the highest honour. And what honour can there be where there is not truth also which has an honourable name and reality, since falsehood, on the other hand, is by nature devoid of honour; (7) and the neglect of divine things is evident to those who see clearly; for they, having fashioned an infinite variety of appearances by the arts of painting and sculpture, have surrounded them with temples and shrines, and have erected altars, and adorned them with images and statues, and erections of that kind, giving celestial honours to all sorts of inanimate things, (8) and these men the sacred scriptures very felicitously liken to men born of a harlot. For as these men are inscribed as the children of all the lovers whom their mothers have had and call their fathers, from ignorance of the one who is by nature their real father, so also these men in cities, not knowing the truly and really existing and true God, have made deities of an innumerable host of false gods. (9) Then, as different beings were treated with divine honours by different nations, the diversity of opinions respecting the Supreme Being, begot also disputes about all kinds of other subjects; and it was from having a regard to these facts in the first place that Moses decided on giving his laws outside of the city. (10) He also considered this point, in the second place, that it is indispensable that the soul of the man who is about to receive sacred laws should be thoroughly cleansed and purified from all stains, however difficult to be washed out, which the promiscuous multitude of mixed men from all quarters has impregnated cities with; (11) and this is impossible to be effected unless the man dwells apart; and even then it cannot be done in a moment, but only at a much later period, when the impressions of ancient transgressions, originally deeply imprinted, have become by little and little fainter, and gradually become more and more dim, and at last totally effaced; (12) in this manner those who are skilful in the art of medicine, save their patients; for they do not think it advisable to give food before they have removed the causes of their diseases; for while the diseases remain, food is useless, being the pernicious materials of their sufferings.

III. (13) Very naturally therefore, having led his people from the injurious associations prevailing in the cities, into the desert, that he might purify their souls from their offences he begun to bring them food for their minds; and what could this food be but divine laws and reasonings? (14) The third cause is this; as men who set out on a long voyage do not when they have embarked on board ship, and started from the harbour, then begin for the first time to prepare their masts, and cables, and rudders, but, while still remaining on the land, they make ready everything which can conduce to the success of their voyage; so in the same manner Moses did not think it fit that his people, after they had received their inheritances, and settled as inhabitants of their cities, should then seek laws in accordance with which they were to regulate their cities, but that, having previously prepared laws and constitutions, and being trained in those regulations, by which nations can be governed with safety, they should then be settled in their cities, being prepared at once to use the just regulations which were already prepared for them, in unanimity and a complete participation in and proper distribution of those things which were fitting for each person.

IV. (15) And some persons say that there is also a fourth cause which is not inconsistent with, but as near as possible to the truth; for that, as it was necessary that a conviction should be implanted in the minds of men that these laws were not the inventions of men, but the most indubitable oracles of God, he on that account, led the people as far as possible from the cities into the deep wilderness, which was barren not only of all fruits that admitted of cultivation, (16) but even of wholesome water, in order that, when after having found themselves in want of necessary food, and expecting to be destroyed by hunger and thirst, they should on a sudden find themselves amid abundance of all necessary things, spontaneously springing up around them; the heaven itself raining down upon them food called manna, and as a seasoning delicacy to that meat an abundance of quails from the air; and the bitter water being sweetened so as to become drinkable, and the precipitous rock pouring forth springs of sweet water; then they might no longer look back upon the Nile with wonder, nor be in doubt as to whether those laws were the laws of God, having received a most manifest proof of the fact from the supplies by which they now found their scarcity relieved beyond all their previous expectations; (17) for they would see that he, who had given them a sufficiency of the means of life was now also giving them a means which should contribute to their living well; accordingly, to live at all required meat and drink which they found, though they had never prepared them; and towards living well, and in accordance with nature and decorum, they required laws and enactments, by which they were likely to be improved in their minds.

V. (18) These are the causes which may be advanced by probable conjecture, to explain the question which is raised on this point; for the true causes God alone knows. But having said what is fitting concerning these matters, I shall now proceed in regular order to discuss the laws themselves with accuracy and precision: first of all of necessity, mentioning this point, that of his laws God himself, without having need of any one else, thought fit to promulgate some by himself alone, and some he promulgated by the agency of his prophet Moses, whom he selected, by reason of his pre-eminent excellence, out of all men, as the most suitable man to be the interpreter of his will. (19) Now those which he delivered in his own person by himself alone, are both laws in general, and also the heads of particular laws; and those which he promulgated by the agency of his prophet are all referred to those others; (20) and I will explain each kind as well as I can.

VI. And first of all, I will speak of those which rather resemble heads of laws, of which in the first place one must at once admire the number, inasmuch as they are completed in the perfect number of the decade, which contains every variety of number, both those which are even, and those which are odd, and those which are even-odd; {1}{liddell and Scott explain this as meaning such even numbers as become odd when divided, as 2, 6, 10, 14, etc.} the even numbers being such as two, the odd numbers such as three, the even-odd such as five, it also comprehends all the varieties of the multiplication of numbers, and of those numbers which contain a whole number and a fraction, and of those which contain several fractional parts; (21) it comprehends likewise all the proportions; the arithmetical, which exceeds and it exceeded by an equal number: as in the case of the numbers one, and two, and three; and the geometrical, according to which, as the proportion of the first number is to the second, the same is the ratio of the second to the third, as is the case in the numbers one, two and four; and also in multiplication, which double, or treble, or in short multiply figures to any extent; also in those which are half as much again as the numbers first spoken of, or one third greater, and so on. It also contains the harmonic proportion, in accordance with which that number which is in the middle between two extremities, is exceeded by the one, and exceeds the other by an equal part; as is the case with the numbers three, four, and six. (22) The decade also contains the visible peculiar properties of the triangles, and squares, and other polygonal figures; also the peculiar properties of symphonic ratios, that of the diatessaron in proportion exceeding by one fourth, as is the ratio of four to three; that of fifths exceeding in the ratio of half as much again, as is the case with the proportion of three to two. Also, that of the diapason, where the proportion is precisely twofold, as is the ratio of two to one, or that of the double diapason, where the proportion is fourfold, as in the ratio of eight to two. (23) And it is in reference to this fact that the first philosophers appear to me to have affixed the names to things which they have given them. For they were wise men, and therefore they very speciously called the number ten the decade (teµn dekada), as being that which received every thing (hoµsanei dechada ousan), from receiving (tou dechesthai) and containing every kind of number, and ratio connected with number, and every proportion, and harmony, and symphony.

VII. (24) Moreover, at all events, in addition to what has been already said, any one may reasonably admire the decade for the following reason, that it contains within itself a nature which is at the same time devoid of intervals and capable of containing them. Now that nature which has no connection with intervals is beheld in a point alone; but that which is capable of containing intervals is beheld under three appearances, a line, and a superficies, and a solid. (25) For that which is bounded by two points is a line; and that which has two dimensions or intervals is a superficies, the line being extended by the addition of breadth; and that which has three intervals is a solid, length and breadth having taken to themselves the addition of depth. And with these three nature is content; for she has not engendered more intervals or dimensions than these three. (26) And the archetypal numbers, which are the models of these three are, of the point the limit, of the line the number two, and of the superficies the number three, and of the solid the number four; the combination of which, that is to say of one, and two, and three, and four completes the decade, which displays other beauties also in addition to those which are visible. (27) For one may almost say that the whole infinity of numbers is measured by this one, because the boundaries which make it up are four, namely, one, two, three, and four; and an equal number of boundaries, corresponding to them in equal proportions, make up the number of a hundred out of decades; for ten, and twenty, and thirty, and forty produce a hundred. And in the same way one may produce the number of a thousand from hundreds, and that of a myriad from thousands. (28) And the unit, and the decade, and the century, and the thousand, are

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