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In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete walks us through the Ten Commandments and how Christians have misinterpreted Old Testament law codes as he explores the following questions:

  • What is the importance of the Code of Hammurabi?
  • What does “torah” really mean?
  • What is the Book of the Covenant?
  • How has our interpretation of the New Testament affected the way we read Old Testament laws?
  • What’s the difference between casuistic and apodictic laws?
  • Why are the laws of Moses hardly referenced in subsequent Old Testament books?
  • How do different traditions order the Ten Commandments?
  • What does “decalogue” mean?
  • Are the laws of the Ten Commandments new or unique to Israel?
  • What are some theories about the two tablets the commandments are given to Moses on?
  • Is there evidence for multiple traditions within the Ten Commandments?
  • What are some moral issues raised by the Book of the Covenant?
  • How do the law codes in Exodus compare to other ancient Near Eastern law codes?
  • What modern theological issues do the law codes bring up?
  • How do the subheadings in our English Bibles change the way we read the text?


Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Pete you can share. 

  • “Law is a response to deliverance.” @peteenns
  • “These books are more than just lists of laws… they are laws woven into a narrative framework.” @peteenns
  • “Israelites weren’t the only ones to receive commands from their God and they weren’t the first either.” @peteenns
  • “Law and legalism are not the same thing.” @peteenns
  • “The laws we see in Exodus weren’t just like timeless abstractions but, like everything else in the Bible, they have a context.” @peteenns
  • “It’s very hard to bring ancient case laws into today’s world, no matter how much we might want to be obedient to God.” @peteenns
  • “The commands are for those already in, they are not meant to be imposed on those who do not wish to be in.” @peteenns

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript


Pete:  You’re listening to the Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet.  Serious talk about the sacred book.  I’m Pete Enns.

Jared:  And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty Intro Music]

Pete:  Hey folks.  Welcome to our continuing series on the book of Exodus.  We’re at Episode 5 now.  Exodus Series Episode 5.  Hey, fun fact for today:  I’m home alone, which is, for a lot of reasons, not a good idea.  But I’m also with my dogs and my cat.  This could get interesting.  We’ll see where this goes.  Hope you’re not allergic.

Hey listen.  Before we begin, just a quick word, that the Revised Edition of Genesis for Normal People is out there just waiting for you.  This is a guide to the book of Genesis that breaks down big themes of the book and what Biblical scholarship has contributed to our understanding of Genesis.  It’s great for both personal reading and group study.  It even comes with a study guide.  You can check out some information about the book if you go to my website,  Of course, it’s available on Amazon on both Kindle and paperback.

Listen.  Today, we’re covering the law codes in Exodus and this takes us from Exodus Chapter 20 through 24.  This section includes the famous Ten Commandments in Chapter 20 and also, something called the Book of the Covenant in Chapters 22-24, which is what is referred to in Exodus 24:7.  It’s called the Book of the Covenant.  We’re not just making it up.

That’s the basic breakdown.  Technically speaking, Chapter 20, in addition to the Ten Commandments, also contains a word about the proper altar to sacrifice on.  The Book of the Covenant that I just mentioned, it seems to end in the middle of Chapter 23, specifically verse 29.  The rest of Chapter 23 and Chapter 24 seem to tidy up some things before we begin the Tabernacle section, which is in Chapter 25 and continues to the end of the book.

This is a good break right before the beginning of the Tabernacle section.  We’re going to take a quick look at all these things.


First, let’s talk about some general things about the idea of law before we get into the laws themselves.

First, if you don’t like reading laws, you are in big trouble, because from here on out, through the Pentateuch, that’s what we’ve got.  Exodus.  Leviticus.  Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Having said that, these books are more than just lists of laws, but they are laws woven into a narrative framework.  In fact, the narrative is primary.  It’s gives shape to these five books.

We’re moving from the creation story in Genesis all the way to the Israelites encamped on the brink of the Promised Land.  Stories are being told.  But integral to that story is law.

We have a number of other law codes from the ancient world and they do not appear woven into a long narrative, but they appear in lists.  In its earliest stages, Israelite laws might also have been bare-bones lists.  We don’t know that for sure.  But if that’s true, the writers of the Pentateuch make that law part of a story, a story of God’s deliverance of God’s people.

Narrative and law are connected, specifically they are connected in this way.  Law is a response to deliverance.  This is very important for understanding the Old Testament as a whole.  We’re going to come back to this idea in a few minutes when we look at the Ten Commandments specifically.

Second, I just mentioned other law codes of the ancient world surrounding Israel, typically referred to the ancient Near Eastern World, which is confusingly called today, the Middle East.  I don’t make up maps.

Law codes from these other cultures have been known to us today for over two centuries.  Thank you, archeology.  They date from as early as the Sumerian Period, the late 3rd millennium BCE all the way to the Babylonian period which is as late as the 7th century BCE.  Most famous, and maybe you’ve seen this somewhere, either in your own studies or the History Channel, the most famous of these ancient law codes outside of the Bible is the Code of Hammurabi.  Hammurabi was a Babylonian king.  He lived in the 18th century BCE and this law code contains about 300 laws, some of which are strikingly similar to laws we find in Exodus.

The bottom line: Israelites weren’t the only ones to receive commands from their god.  They weren’t the first either.  The similarities between these law codes and the biblical codes suggest that the laws we see in Exodus are not just timeless abstractions, but like everything else in the Bible, they have a context.  They have a historical time and place where they fit.

Third, let’s get straight on the meaning of the word Torah, which is a Hebrew word, meaning not just “laws” or something like that, but more generally, “instruction” or “direction.”  Why am I bringing this up?  Because not all of the Pentateuch, which is the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).  Not all of the Pentateuch is legal material, but all of it is Torah.

In other words, the narratives, the stories are also there to provide some instruction, some direction.  Not by turning them into laws, like lessons to live by or something like that, but by gleaning wisdom from them and maybe even a glimpse of God from these stories.

Christians have tended to have a hang up with this part of the Bible, in part, because it smacks of legalism, which is a view of the Old Testament shaped by centuries of misunderstanding some things that we read in the New Testament, especially with Paul, where Paul seems to be anti-law, which he isn’t. 

We’re not going to get into all that here.  I just want to note that the history of Judaism has taken a very non-legalistic approach to the laws and the Torah.  Again, we’re going to touch on this below as well.

A fourth point.  Generally, these laws in Exodus cover both social and religious matters.  We see that in the famous Ten Commandments, where the first four are religious in nature.  Don’t have other gods.  No idols.  Don’t misuse God’s name.  Sabbath rest.  Those are the four.

The next six are social.  Honor your parents.  Don’t murder.  Don’t commit adultery.  Don’t steal.  Don’t bear false witness.  Don’t covet.

The Book of the Covenant, the second part of this section we’re talking about—in the Book of the Covenant these two types of laws, social and religious, they’re woven together.  All of which is to suggest that these religious and social laws were not meant to be separated, as if one is sacred and the other secular.

The worship of God in ancient Israel and the treatment of others are inseparable.  After all, God is just and so God’s people, especially kings, but reflect that justice to each other.  That’s part of what it means to be created in God’s image. 

A fifth point.  Another way of categorizing the laws in addition to social and religious are two words that we don’t use every day, but they come in handy when you’re looking at biblical law. Those two words are:  apodictic and casuistic. 

Casuistic means case laws.  If such and such is the case, if such and such happens, then this is the punishment, then this is the consequence.  It’s if-then laws.

Apodictic means straight commands.  Thou shalt not.

I raise this because it’s helpful to know, and also to point out it’s very hard to bring ancient case laws into today’s world, no matter how much we might to be obedient to God.  Last time I checked, for example, I don’t have cattle that wander onto my neighbor’s property and graze their vineyard.

Even the straight commands, the apodictic laws, they aren’t the clearest things to work out.  Do not covet.  Where does admiring end and coveting begin?

This is why, and I suppose we’re moving to the sixth point now—that’s why these laws have been interpreted differently at different times and under different circumstances.  As times change, as Judaism moved beyond the borders of Israel, some of the laws became either irrelevant or obscure, so the law needed to be engaged creatively.


This is why Judaism developed what is called hallachic tradition.   Halacha is the noun.  Hallach the verb in Hebrew means “to walk.”  Think about that.  Engaging the law is like walking a path, rather than simply reading a law and doing what it obviously says.  It’s engaging it.  It’s taking the time to meditate on it.  It’s learning from it.  It’s not obvious.  There’s nothing obvious about it.  This hallachic tradition in Judaism is one of discussion and debate about what laws mean and how they are to be enacted in a world these laws never really envisioned when they were first given.

I’m dragging this out a little bit, but the lesson for Christians is not to proof-text laws in our own current moment in time in the western world, including the Ten Commandments.  Some of these ancient laws are really disturbing when read today.  They all have at least some ambiguity that makes their meaning less than certain.

For example, keeping the Sabbath and honoring your parents.  These are the fourth and fifth commandments.  They seem clear enough until you start getting into the details.  Keeping the Sabbath means not working.  What exactly constitutes work?  Well, that’s not spelled out.

How does one honor one’s parents, especially if a parent is borderline abusive?  The law doesn’t provide for these contingencies.  But that does not mean we shouldn’t.  In fact, we have to.  This is largely the history of Judaism I’m just describing here in terms of the law.

I guess the point I’m really trying to get across here is that law and legalism are not the same thing, even if many of us were raised to think so.

Two more quick points before we get into the laws themselves.

It’s interesting—number seven—it’s interesting how infrequently the Law of Moses plays a role in the Old Testament as a whole.  You can certainly find some of the Ten Commandments implicitly or explicitly in some places in the Old Testament, but references to the Law of Moses outside of the Pentateuch, they’re infrequent.

This raises the question, at least it has raised the question in the minds of many scholars, why is it if Sinai is so central to Israel’s identity, the place where Moses got the law from God, on Mount Sinai, why is so little made of it in subsequent books?

Why don’t we see, for example, with a lot of regularity, “as the Lord revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai” or some comment like that every time somebody sins or screws up?  The common answer given in modern scholarship is that there is no Torah during the time of the kings.  There is no Torah before the Babylonian exile.

Yes.  Israel has laws and legal traditions.  But these traditions, which are often in conflict with each other, they don’t exist as a collection under the name Moses until after the time of Israel’s kings, probably not until after the return from the Babylonian exile, which is usually called the Persian period.

What I’ve just described is more or less taken for granted among biblical scholars.  Don’t try this at home.  Part of what we do here at the Bible for Normal People is simply to pass that on.  We want distill and bring biblical scholarship into the lives of people who don’t normally look at these sorts of things, but are still interested.

It also helps make a little more sense of some of what we read not only in these laws, but in the Pentateuch as a whole, some of which we’ve touched on in earlier episodes.  In other words, understanding the existence of these traditions and the compilations and the bringing together of these traditions at a much later time.  It helps make sense of some of what we read in the Pentateuch itself.

Eighth and final point.  We need to avoid—I’m speaking to Christians here—the law versus grace thing between the Old and New Testaments.  The law in the Old Testament is not a burden that’s dumped on Israel by an angry god meant to test them to see if they’re worthy.  Remember that Israel was delivered from Egypt before they’re given the law.

To put that in Christian terms, grace always precedes law in the Old Testament.  You are saved first and then given instructions about how to live in a matter consistent with that grace.  You’re not given law in order to be saved.  You are saved.  Then come the instructions for obedience.

In my experience, this gets quickly and regularly muddled by Christians.  This is only one of several reasons why I think Christians insisting that the Ten Commandments be placed in public places is just off-base. 

The commands are for those already “in.”  They are not meant to be imposed on those who do not wish to be “in.”  It really baffles me why anyone who sees America as a Christian country—I don’t, by the way—would want to front the Ten Commandments rather than the fruit of the spirit in Galatians or the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. 


Let’s move to the Ten Commandments.  This is in Chapter 20, verses 1 to 21.  Or as they are also known, the Decalogue, which means “ten words,” which, by the way, is what the Hebrew says.  Exodus 20, verse 1, where it’s introduced, it says, “Then God spoke all these words.”  It does not say “commands.”  They are commands, but they’re called the “ten words” in Hebrew.

We’re not going to look at each one.  That’s a ten-part podcast series in and of itself.  We’ll do the best we can to giving some highlights again of this section that might help orient us a little bit differently to these laws.

First, here’s something annoying about the decalogue.  Not every religious tradition numbers them the same way.  I don’t know why.  For Protestants, the first two commands are combined into one command in Judaism, which leaves nine.  But they consider the prologue to be the first command, which isn’t exactly a command, but a statement.  The prologue is “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

For Protestants, this is what introduces the laws.  It’s not a law itself.  It’s a statement.  It’s not casuistic or apodictic.  It’s just a statement.

But Roman Catholics and Lutherans have still another way of doing it, which we’re not going to get into.  I’ll be going with the Protestant numbering, because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and that’s probably the one that gets the most attention.

Also, as I hinted earlier, these commands are not all new, nor are they all unique to Israel.  It’s not like the Israelites would have said, “Wow.  Shocker.  You mean it’s wrong to murder somebody?  Who knew?  Or do we think that the other nations thought killing whoever, whenever was just fine?”

What makes these commands what they are for the ancient Israelites isn’t that they are new, but that these are the commands that were for establishing Israelite society as it was moving forward.  They are not necessarily new or unique to Israel. 

Also, another point about the Ten Commandments:  the law is written on two tablets.  Often, it’s thought that half are on one tablet and half on the other.  Five and five.  That’s a very neat, German thing to do.  But that’s arbitrary.  That’s guess work.  We actually don’t know at the end of the day why there are two tablets.

Some say, you put religious commands on one.  That’s the first four.  And then the other six are the social commands, you put them on the other.  But again, that’s this dichotomy between sacred and secular that really doesn’t work in ancient societies in general and certainly not in the Old Testament.

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Some of argued, and this is what I think makes some sense—at least it’s worth keeping in mind—some have argued that the two tablets are actually two identical copies of the ten commands.  Each party gets a copy.  Sort of like a contract today.  One for God and one for the people.  God’s copy would presumably go in the Ark of the Covenant.  The people’s copy would go—I don’t think the Bible actually says anything about that, so maybe be a little cautious about this idea.  But still, the argument is made on the basis of ancient near-Eastern treaties that archeologists have dug up, specifically from the ancient Hittites.  This is the second millennium BCE and the Assyrians in the first millennium BCE.  Here the king and his vassals, his underlings, the people he rules over or conquered—the king and his vassals, they form a pact, and this agreement is put into writing and each party gets a copy.  It’s just food for thought.

That’s not a goofy theory, especially when we notice that the decalogue reflects these ancient treaties in another way and that is this way:  the prologue to the Ten Commandments—remember, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery—that prologue is followed by the commands themselves.  That’s what we saw already in the Ten Commandments.

Similarly, ancient kings before alerting the people of their obligations to him, the laws, would remind the people of what he had done for them, like deliver them from an enemy.  Now that that’s settled, the people hear their end of the bargain if they want to remain protected and safe.  You won’t join with other kings.  You won’t wage war against me.  You’ll be loyal to me.  All that kind of stuff.

This treaty between God and Israel works in a similar way.  “Here’s what I did.  I delivered you from Egypt.  Now, here are your obligations to me.  Don’t have any other gods, etc. etc.”

Also, this prologue tells us something—it fleshes out a little bit more something I mentioned earlier, that is very huge, important about the Old Testament.  Salvation, deliverance comes before the commands.  Deliverance first.  Commands second.

“Since I have delivered you, you shall”—first commandment—“have no other gods before me.”

Incidentally, as we saw in earlier episodes, this “you shall have no other gods before me” is a classic statement of monolatry, not monotheism.   Monotheism is the belief that only one god actually exists.  Monolatry is the acknowledgement that many gods exist, but only one is to be worshipped.  The Israelites were monolatrists, not monotheistic.

“You shall have no other gods before me”—that presumes that other gods exist.  The Israelites are to make sure not to put any of these gods ahead of Yahweh, because Yahweh is the one who delivered them from Egypt.  Likewise, the second commandment, “you shall not worship me the same way other nations worship their gods by means of idols, representations of the gods in wood or stone or clay.  I delivered you and now you will worship Me as I want to be worshipped, which is not through idols.”

That’s a pretty radical statement in the ancient world.  In case they need more motivation, we read in the second commandment that they will be “blessed for thousands of generations” for obeying that command but “punished for three or four generations” if they don’t.  Pretty serious stuff.

Another thing worth noting about the decalogue in Exodus 21 is that it differs from the decalogue we see in Deuteronomy 5:5-21.  Based on earlier episodes, maybe you already know where this is going, but scholars see this difference in the two forms of the Ten Commandments as evidence of multiple traditions.  The commands are essentially the same, but the explanations for a few of the commands are different.

The biggest difference we see is in the fourth commandment, keeping the Sabbath.  In Exodus, the reason given for the whole community, including animals, to rest on the seventh day is that God rested on the seventh day when God created the cosmos in Genesis 1.

In Deuteronomy, the reason for rest is the memory of themselves having been slaves in Egypt.  You don’t make your male and female slaves work.  The focus is more humanitarian in Deuteronomy than it is in Exodus.  At least, that’s how many scholars understand these things.  It makes a lot of sense to me.

There’s obviously so much more we could talk about with the Decalogue and maybe we need to, given how it is sometimes held up by Christians as the timeless essence as to what it means to obey God.  But these laws, like all biblical laws, look the way they do because they have a contextual dimension that cannot be avoided.

The Christian context is more defined by the gospel than by the Decalogue, which doesn’t mean the Decalogue can be tossed out, but it is certainly secondary.  I hope I’m not going to be misunderstood when I put it that way.

Speaking of the contextual dimension of laws, let’s now move on and look at some high points of the Book of the Covenant, which is Exodus 21:1 to 23:9, so-called because that’s what it’s called in Exodus 24:7.

Sometimes these laws are said to be—they come right after the Decalogue so they’re said to be specific applications of the Decalogue, like fleshed out examples of what the Decalogue says rather quickly.  That doesn’t really work, namely because not all of the Decalogue is reflected here and some of the laws in the Book of the Covenant don’t seem to echo anything specific in the Decalogue.

I think that seeing the Book of the Covenant as an extension of the Decalogue might stem from the notion that the Decalogue is the essence of obedience, the essence of what it means to know the heart of God.  But the Book of the Covenant is more its own thing as far as I’m concerned.

What does the Book of the Covenant cover?  In this sense, as I mentioned earlier, it is generally similar to the Decalogue in that it covers both religious matters (worship) and social responsibility.  In fact, these two aspects alternate in the Book of the Covenant.  Beginning already in Chapter 20, verses 22 to 26, which is a bridge between the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant. 

Here God gives Moses commands about worship.  They are to make no idols of silver or gold.  The altar for sacrifice is to be made of earth and not hewn stone, and with no steps less the nakedness of the priest might be exposed.  Apparently, you could catch a peek under his robe as he climbs the steps.  That’s a little weird, but this and the altar construction could reflect some issue with Canaanite worship practices.  This is all about making sure the Israelites are distinct in their worship from their Canaanite neighbors. 

Moving on, in Chapter 21:1 to 22:17, we come to laws about social responsibility.  Here we see some famous laws like “eye for an eye,” which is not about retaliation, but making sure the punishment fits the crime.  This section also raises some long-known moral issues for readers of the law today and actually, throughout history.

For example, slaves are the property of the owner and therefore, they don’t benefit from the “eye for an eye” law.  If a slave is injured, the owner isn’t injured, but the owner receives some compensation.  An owner can beat the slave with a rod and if the slave dies immediately, the owner is punished.  We’re not told how.  He doesn’t die.  If the slave dies a couple of days later, not immediately, but a couple of days later, there is no punishment.  That will make you think.

By the way, this law is a good example of the overlap we see between Israelite law and law codes of other nations.  I mentioned earlier the Code of Hammurabi, the Babylonian king, where the treatment of slaves parallels nicely what we see in Exodus 21:20-27.  The Babylonian law is certainly older.  I don’t think this is plagiarism, but both these slave laws reflect what was in the air at the time, so to speak, what was generally understood about the status of slaves.  It’s really hard to discount the contextual nature of Israel’s laws once you begin to see it.

For some people, theologically, it’s a bit easier to think of these rather difficult laws as examples of ancient near-Eastern thinking, rather than as something that God commands as if God thinks that some people are of lesser value than others.  That’s a lot to wrap our heads around theologically.

There are challenges to looking at the context and there are also some benefits to looking at the context. 

Another example of an off-putting law for us is in 22:16-17.  This is where the virgin daughter is treated as a father’s property.  If she’s seduced by a man, here’s what happens:  he must marry her and he must pay the father the bride price.  But, if for some reason, the father refuses to give her to him, the guy still has to pay the bride price.

On one level, this bride price helps support the virgin daughter, who is now basically damaged goods.  She won’t be able to marry probably.  Now she has some means of being provided for.  However, note that the father gets paid regardless.  That’s still interesting.  If you compare this law to the one right before it where the owner receives restitution of one of his animals that’s borrowed and is injured or dies, we can move effortlessly to the law about cattle to a similar law about virgin daughters. 

Many English Bibles, no doubt trying to avoid that awkwardness, they insert a subheading between these two laws as if the previous laws are about property, but now we’re moving to a new category.  But again, when read back-to-back, they are casuistic laws, case laws, about damaged property.

When you’re able to and you have a minute, take a look at your Bibles and see how your Bible handles this transition from Exodus 22:15 to 16.  Do they insert there a subheading that says something like “social laws” at the beginning of verse 16?  They may very well do that.  In a way, they sort of are, but that really misses the offense of this law, at least for modern ears, that the virgin daughter is essentially the property of the father.

These laws have presented challenges to readers for quite some time.

In the final section of the Book of the Covenant, 22:18 to 23:19, worship and social responsibility laws are woven together.  Here we see a law prohibiting sacrifice to other gods, religious worship law, next to a law prohibiting oppressing resident aliens, who are basically non-Israelites who live peacefully among them.

We also see laws about fairness and justice for everyone, followed by laws (unless you’re a slave—remember that) for governing the Sabbath and the Sabbatical year, like every seventh year, the land is to rest.  Press reset. 


You also have the annual feasts that are mentioned here and other places in the Old Testament as well.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which later becomes the Passover.  The Feast of First Fruits, or also called the Feast of Weeks.  This is the grain harvest.  This is the period of Pentecost in Greek.  The Feast of Ingathering, also known as the Feast of Booths.  Sukkot is the Hebrew name and also sometimes referred to as Tabernacles.

Now without opening up a huge can of worms, these feasts are possibly adapted from older Canaanite practices, and then later, become identified with Exodus Passover, sort of like connecting Christmas to a pre-existing pagan holiday, like the Winter Solstice or the German Yule.  We’re not innocent of this sort of thing.

As we saw with the two versions of the Decalogue before, some laws in the Book of the Covenant are not consistent with other law codes in the Pentateuch.  For example, in Exodus 21, a male Hebrew slave can go free after seven years if he wishes, but not a female slave.  She doesn’t have that choice. 

In Deuteronomy 15, both Hebrew male and female slaves are given that option.  Then in Leviticus 25, Hebrew slaves are not permitted at all, since the Exodus was about liberating Hebrews from slavery.

The law we saw about building altars only of earth with no steps—that presumes that this altar can be put anywhere.  In fact, it need not even be limited to one.  But in Deuteronomy 12 and Leviticus 17, the altar is only located in the temple in Jerusalem and it’s not made of earth.  In fact, already in Exodus 27, which we’ll get to next time, the altar for the tabernacle, which is the prototype for the temple, the altar of the tabernacle is made of bronze.

Again, we’re looking at different traditions here that come together in this book by the hands of an editor, probably living during the Persian period, after the return from Babylonian exile.

Speaking of traditions, and moving now to my last and brief point, careful readers have noted that it’s very hard in this section to keep track of when Moses is actually going up and down the mountain to speak with God. 

In 24:1, God tells Moses to come up the mountain, but this time bringing Aaron, Aaron’s sons and the 70 elders up with him, but to keep them at a distance. 

Throwing this in for free, if you’ve been hanging with this series since the beginning, in Episode 4, we talked about the three-part division of the mountain, reflecting the divisions of the tabernacle and the temple itself.  We’re seeing that here.  These other people are coming along with Moses, but they have to keep a distance, but they’re going up the mountain at least part of the way.

This happens in 24:9.  The only question here is when did Moses ever come down?  If you begin reading in Chapter 19, God is speaking with Moses, but it’s not entirely clear where that speaking is happening.  In fact, the Decalogue seems to have been spoken to Moses, rather incredibly, while he was down off the mountain.

Read the end of Chapter 19 and the beginning of Chapter 20 in succession.  It seems like Moses went down and then God spoke to him the ten words.

A few verses later, in 20:21, Moses is said to “draw near to the darkness where God was.”  Now if that means to go up the mountain, that means he had been down all that time.  In other words, the Decalogue was given on flat earth.  Unless, we insert into the story a decent in between.  This is getting confusing.  And then Moses goes up in 24:9.

But according to the flow of the story, Moses is still up there.

Scholars have typically chalked this up to different traditions, sources, as they’re often called, that were woven together by a later editor.  As is so typical of ancient editors, not really being all that concerned about avoiding problems like this which keep some of us up at night.

This is another example.  This example of going up and down the mountain—that’s a rather drawn-out example.  Maybe I shouldn’t even have raised it.  I just want you to know that it’s there.  Maybe if you read Exodus starting in 19 and going through 24, try to get a sense of where Moses is and realizing that he comes down from the mountain in Chapter 32 and 33, 34.  That’s where he smashes the tablets of the commandments.

He’s clearly up there at that point, but at what point is he up and what point is he down?  You could almost make a chart of that.  You can see where the problems are.  It seems like these different traditions were woven together here, again, without any concern about, “Oh no.  Is this going to work?”  They didn’t care.

Don’t do it.  I take it all about.  Don’t care.  Don’t worry about it.  Unless you’re really curious.  Then do it.

We’re going to stop there.  As I said before, even if these podcasts are a little bit longer than we usually have them, I’m just trying to give an overview, we’re really just scratching the surface and the complexities of this wonderful book of Exodus. 

Having looked at Israel’s laws of worship and social responsibility, in the next episode to the section on the Tabernacle, Israel’s worship center, complete with a café and bowling alleys—wait, no that’s—that’s not that.  Different kind of worship center.

It is a long section.  It might not be the most exciting, but it raises interesting historical and theological issues.  That’s what we’ll get into next time.


[Outro Music Begins]

All right, folks, listen.  Thanks again for listening and if this podcast is for you, and I hope that it is, spread the words to friends, enemies, anybody.

Take a moment a rate us on iTunes and maybe check out our website at for my blog and, of course, for other episodes of the podcast.  For books.  We have some online courses there that you’re welcome to.  Even some awesome, can-do-without, totally FOMO merch.  I’m told merch is what professionals say when they mean merchandise. 

All right, folks, that’s it for this week.  See you again.  Thanks again.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.