The Ten Commandments

Why the Decalogue Matters

Moses Smashing the Tables of the Law Rembrandt van Rijn, 1659. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

Moses Smashing the Tables of the Law Rembrandt van Rijn, 1659. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

Essay
June 1 2013
About the author

Leon R. Kass is Professor Emeritus in the College and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago and Scholar Emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute. A physician, scientist, educator, and public intellectual, he served in 2001-2005 as chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics. His books include The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis.


The biblical book of Genesis presents the story of how God’s new way for humankind finds its first adherent in a single individual—Abraham, a man out of Mesopotamia—and how that way survives through three generations in the troubled households of Abraham, his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob, who is renamed Israel. By the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus, the children of Israel are settled in Egypt, a land of good and plenty, where they are soon teeming and prospering—only, a brief time thereafter, to find themselves subjugated and enslaved. How this multitude becomes transformed into a people, out of and against Egypt, is the subject of Exodus and the following books.

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More about: Anthropomorphism, Bible, Biblical criticism, Decalogue, Leon Kass, Ten Commandments, Theology, Torah MiSinai