The 10 Commandments

The 10 Commandments are the law of the Old Covenant given to the Israelites through the hand of Moses. The Israelites, after hundreds of years in Egyptian bondage, were finally returning to the land God promised to Abraham. Moses received the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone written by the finger of God. The traditional catechetical formula in the Catechism phrases them like this:

  1. I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.
  2. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.
  4. Honor your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not kill.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

The list of ten commandments is found in two places in the Catholic Bible, the Old Testament books of Exodus (20:1-17) where it's first given, and Deuteronomy (5:4-21) where it is repeated. In Exodus the mountain on which the Law was given to Moses is called Mt. Sinai, in the book of Deuteronomy it's called Mt. Horeb. St. Jerome believed the terms to be synonymous. Another way to reconcile the two names is that Horeb refers to the mountainous region, while Sinai refers to the specific mountain.

Interestingly, there is also some controversy as to where the real Mt. Sinai is located. This is because the exact route of the Exodus isn't known with certainty. Some believe Mt. Sinai to be in the Sinai Peninsula, and some believe it to be within the borders of Israel itself. There is also uncertainty as to the exact date the ten commandments were given to Moses, due to various dating of the Israel Exodus from Egypt given by Bible scholars, archeologists, and historians. One thing we do know for sure is that it was a really, really long time ago, perhaps as far back as 1440 B.C.