Thursday, October 15, 2015

What are Commandments 5-10?

Thou shalt not kill
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Thou Shalt not Steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor's (twice)

There is difference of opinion on whether occides should be rendered "kill" or "murder"; if we insist on the superficial reading of the later judgments, it's easier to accord "murder" with "shall die the death [by stoning]", until some folk try to insist that all direct killing of men is murder (and indeed some do)... But, you know, the last six commandments are all neatly summarized by the first one: Thou shalt not kill. They are even better summarized and overleapt by the Second Greatest: love thy neighbor as thyself.

Of course, while having a shorter, simpler summary of the whole system is a powerful tool, the mathematician's art also relies on finding more (as it may seem) from less, and so it is a good exercise to work towards the later commandments from the earlier, rather than from the Great Two.

To begin the argument, note that custom subdivides the "not covet" into two commandments (in various ways): thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife; thou shalt not covet his goods (poetically elaborated). This is in exact parallel with the two commandments: thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal. The verb used is precise: to "covet" is not merely to behold as desireable, but to approve or wish knowledge of the person, possession of the thing. It is an act of the will already contrary to the earlier commandments.

"False witness against", again, is much more precise than "lying"; particularly as preface to the many crimes for which a death sentence may be allowed, false witness against a neighbor may be manslaughter and it may be murder, by perversion of justice.

Theft itself and adultery itself tend towards murder in many ways; King David, for instance, committed murder to enable his adultery (and this sort of thing is why adultery is, to the best of my knowledge, still a capital crime in the US Armed Forces Uniform Code and its analogues in other armies). Theft itself can directly harm another; theft in the desert (sandy, snow, or urban) can certainly end in a man's death. And so can adultery (cf. American Heart Association on "Broken Heart Syndrome").

I think that's enough sketch to show that "murder not" is sufficient to cover the human side of the Decalogue. Which ought to be a humbling thought: "murder not", on its own, sounds like a very timid admonition, doesn't it? Lacklustre, even. If we weren't such durned fallen passionate creatures, it should have gone without saying! And yet, it's actually hard to get everyone today to quite agree on it. Ah, but murder today is mostly veiled in mystery and hieratic language, the tendency of all perverted religious impulses...

Christ's Second Cardinal Law is both harder and more vivifying: LOVE thy neighbor as thyself. His own proper commandment even more: "Love one another as I have loved you".


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