I have argued in the past that the list of ten rules handed from God to Moses, in the Abrahamic traditions are rather oddly thought out rules, if not a little lazy. Exodus shows that the first few laws from the Ten Commandments are just those of a jealous God asserting his authority. A bit like a Boss telling you you must remain loyal to him at all times. The next few are obvious. Do not kill. Given that Homosapien had – against all odds – out lasted Homoerectus, Homoneanderthalensis and a whole host of other lines in the Homo genus, it is a bit patronising to think that we didn’t realise we shouln’t kill each other, for the few million years prior to God deciding to intervene. And to my surprise, God doesn’t ask us not to rape, or not to molest children, in his most important set of rules to date, instead he wastes one of his rules telling us not to take his name in vain. It is a disturbingly weak and ill-thought out set of rules from his Holiness.
That being said, the common argument from Christians in the West is that our laws are based on the Ten Commandments. That the genius of the Old Testament is that the Decalogue is still relevant today, because all Western law is derived from it. The problem is, if one has even a slight grasp of human history, one finds a glaring weakness in this argument; The Ten Commandments were not original to Moses.
According to Saint Jerome, Moses was born around 1592 BC. So that would put the Christianity perspective on the time of the handing down of the Ten Commandments to around 1540BC maybe? Anyway, that’s irrelevant, because around 3200BC there existed a tribe of people who lived in Egypt called the Kemet. They seem to have been a civilisation of black Africans who lived a rather advanced existence, just slightly before the Early Dynastic period, and so predating Pharoah Narmer who is identified as the man responsible for uniting the different tribes of Egypt, thus becoming known as the first Pharoah of Egypt. The unified Egypt incorporated ideas and beliefs from the tribes that it unified, one of which was the Kemet concept of “Ma’at“. Ma’at was the principle used as a guide on law, morality, truth, and spirituality that was needed to help unify Egypt. The principle was depicted as a Goddess – also called Ma’at – who was said to be in control of the stars, the sky, law, and men. The deified the concept of Ma’at. She was essentially the main God. The Kemet people could therefore be described as a Monotheistic people. The guiding principles of Ma’at were set out in what is known as the 42 Declarations of Purity. They are as follows:
I have not committed sin.
I have not committed robbery with violence.
I have not stolen.
I have not slain men and women.
I have not stolen grain.
I have not purloined offerings.
I have not stolen the property of the god.
I have not uttered lies.
I have not carried away food.
I have not uttered curses.
I have not committed adultery, I have not lain with men.
I have made none to weep.
I have not eaten the heart [i.e I have not grieved uselessly, or felt remorse].
I have not attacked any man.
I am not a man of deceit.
I have not stolen cultivated land.
I have not been an eavesdropper.
I have slandered [no man].
I have not been angry without just cause.
I have not debauched the wife of any man.
I have not debauched the wife of [any] man. (repeats the previous affirmation but addressed to a different god)
I have not polluted myself.
I have terrorised none.
I have not transgressed [the Law].
I have not been wroth.
I have not shut my ears to the words of truth.
I have not blasphemed.
I am not a man of violence.
I am not a stirrer up of strife (or a disturber of the peace).
I have not acted (or judged) with undue haste.
I have not pried into matters.
I have not multiplied my words in speaking.
I have not polluted the water or the land.
I have not worked witchcraft against the King (or blasphemed against the King).
I have never stopped [the flow of] water.
I have never raised my voice (spoken arrogantly, or in anger).
I have not cursed (or blasphemed) God.
I have not acted with arrogance.
I have not stolen the bread of the gods.
I have not carried away the khenfu cakes from the Spirits of the dead.
I have not snatched away the bread of the child, nor treated with contempt the god of my city.
I have not slain the cattle belonging to the god.
– They are prefixed with either “I have not” or “I am not” in their original form, because the Kemet people believed when you died you would be judged, and you must be able to recite all 42 of the above. They were often scribed onto tombs of the dead. The 42 differ slightly in the way they are worded and the order in which they are applied from tomb to tomb depending on how each individual related their life to Ma’at, but they are essentially the same.
It is a far more elaborate list, with many declarations that should most definitely appeal today, much more so than the 10 Commandments. For example, we do not need “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain“, though we would absolutely have benefited from “I have not polluted the water or the land“.
The 42 Declarations of Purity contain eight of the ten commandments. They were known all over Egypt at the time of Moses, because they were the guiding principles of the entire State. The picture at the top of this blog entry shows a scene from the Book of the Dead, depicting a human heart weighed against the feather of truth and justice which is from the hat of the Goddess Ma’at. Egyptians believed they were to be judged against their conformity to Ma’at. Moses and his people supposedly came out of Egypt, they had lived their lives in Egypt, they would have been in constant contact with those principles. It is therefore unwise to suppose, based on Faith alone, that Moses received these laws from God, rather than reworking and shortening the original list of laws that would have governed his life up until that point.
The Kemetic people believed that the heavens and Earth were governed by the same principle (Ma’at) and you are likely to see “As above; So below” written on Kemetic tombs from the Predynastic period. The term refers to a reflection of the material World within the spiritual World; if one follows the Ma’at principles, one will lead a positive life both materially and spiritually. Similarly the Ten Commandments were expressed as both a spiritual and material way of life. It would appear however, that the author/s of the Old Testament, and Exodus in particular chose among their Ten commandments, the most possessive and power hungry laws to force their people to abide by, for reasons I presume can only be for the fact that fear, and particularly fear of the unknown – God – is the key ingredient for power.
So it would appear that the basis of our civilisation is not the Ten Commandments set out in Exodus (historians are pretty unanimous in their insistence that the Book of Exodus is entirely historically inaccurate). We are living by the Kemet principles; a small tribe in North East Africa, on the Nile Valley, 3100 years ago.