The Ten Commandments of Moses – c. 1300 BCE

The Ten Commandments of Moses

The Ten Commandments of Moses
The Ten Commandments of Moses

Controversy frequently arises where law and religion collide, although they are inexorably linked. The Ten Commandments are the best example of this philosophy. Other rules controlling human behavior may have existed before them, but the Commandments serve as a foundation for all future law for many, notably in Judeo-Christian countries. The portico on the east (courtyard-facing) side of the United States Supreme Court Building, for example, depicts Moses holding the Ten Commandments; the massive oak doors to the courtroom individually display them; and Moses, among seventeen other significant lawgivers, is carved within the South Courtroom itself.

Moses, a Hebrew leader who is said to have interacted directly with Israel’s God, is said to have ascended Mount Sinai and received 10 divinely sanctioned regulations written on two stone tablets, according to religious belief. He was also told to teach these laws to his people, who were to utilize them as guidelines for living a decent and just life. Moses was dubbed “the first reporter or writer of law in the world” by Sir Edward Coke, a prominent English lawyer, chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and chief justice of the King’s Bench.

Each of the Ten Commandments is divided into two categories: those that are strictly religious and those that have secular value. The commandments prohibiting stealing (a cornerstone of contemporary property law), killing (typically construed to prohibit unjustifiable killing, which is still punishable today), and perjury fall into the latter category. Just these few examples demonstrate the millennia-old ideals enshrined in the Ten Commandments.

Ironically, the Supreme Court has struggled with the legal dilemma of whether the Ten Commandments should be displayed in public spaces. The Supreme Court reached opposite results (each time in 5–4 rulings) in two cases decided on the same day in 2005 on the circumstances under which a state may lawfully display a representation of the Ten Commandments without violating the Constitution’s establishment clause.

The most common form of the Ten Commandments is given in Exodus chapter 20 and Deuteronomy chapter 5.

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
  4. Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy
  5. Honour thy father and thy mother
  6. Thou shalt not kill
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery
  8. Thou shalt not steal
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour
  10. Thou shalt not covet any thing that is thy neighbour’s


The Talmud (c.180);

The Quran (652).



The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)