I. The Ten Commandments have commonly been displayed in public places throughout U.S. history.
Many of the public Ten Commandments displays can be traced all the way back to over 50 years ago. That's when Cecil B. DeMille, seeking to promote his 1956 "Ten Commandments" film, teamed up with the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a men's service organization, to donate Ten Commandments monuments, with the text of the commandments, to be displayed on municipal grounds across the country.
II. The Bible tells a clear story about how Moses got the Ten Commandments.
You may think you know the story, but in the Old Testament, there are multiple versions of the story of God giving the law to the people of Israel including Exodus, chapter 20, chapter 24, and chapter 34, and Deuteronomy, chapter 5. And they don't agree on all the details.
III. According to the Bible, God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses, who took them down and revealed them to the Israelites.
Several of the Bible accounts put the Israelites much more directly into the scene. Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 say that all of the Israelites present at Mt. Sinai heard God speaking the commandments directly to them. Ex 20:18 says "And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, and when the people saw [it], they removed, and stood afar off." In Exodus 20:22, God tells Moses that he should convey to the Israelites, "You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven." Traditional Judaism teaches that every Jew was present at Mt. Sinai and received the commandments from God.
IV. Everyone at least agrees about the number: there were ten of them.
In two of the versions (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), there is no mention of a particular number of commandments, and God's instructions can be divided or tallied differently, depending upon how they are translated. If you add up the imperative statements listed in the different translations, you get more than ten--some scholars cite 14 separate rules in the versions in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, others come up with 20 or more distinct commandments. But in Exodus 34:28, the text says: "Moses was there with the Lord 40 days and 40 nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant-the Ten Commandments." In Deuteronomy 4:13, the text says: "And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone."
V. Jesus proclaimed the Ten Commandments, too.
Jesus taught respect for much of Jewish law but when asked which commandments to obey, he says, " `You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother. Also, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 19:17-19, New Revised Standard Version. A parallel telling of the Six Commandments exchange is found in Mark 10:17-23.) This led writer Gregg Easterbrook to propose posting the Six Commandments as a sensible compromise.
For many Christians, one of the most important crystallizations of Jesus' teachings came in response to a question about which is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). In that text, a man asked Jesus, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" and Jesus responded, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
VI. Christians and Jews agree on what the Ten Commandments say.
Jews, Protestants, and Catholics have different versions of the Ten Commandments that reflect their theological priorities. Both the Jewish and Protestant versions stress God's promise of the land of Israel to the Hebrew tribes in exchange for upholding of God's law, while the Catholic version is a pared-down set of moral precepts without theological trappings.
VII. Jews and Christians believe in the Ten Commandments, but Muslims and Hindus do not.
This rings true, given the common notion that the tablets form the basis of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition. But in his dissent in the Kentucky case, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam: "All of them, moreover, (Islam included), believe that the Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses, and are divine prescriptions for a virtuous life." Justice Scalia is 90 percent right. The Qur'an does teach that Moses was a prophet, and the Qur'an does at one point or another end up stating most of the same laws. But there's at least one exception: Islam does not accept the commandment about the Sabbath day, which they believe God meant specifically for the Jews.
VIII. One of the most unambiguous commandments says "Thou shalt not kill."
Over the centuries, there has been a lively debate over whether the proper translation, and meaning, of the original Hebrew, lo tirtsah, should be "kill" or "murder." Because the outcome of the interpretation--whether God forbids killing of any kind, or wanton murders of specific sorts--may lend moral weight to their beliefs, a wide variety of activists including death penalty opponents and proponents, anti-abortion activists, animal-rights activists, and pacifists have focused on this question. But even among Hebrew scholars, the meaning is still being debated.
IX. Christians and Jews support displaying the Ten Commandments in public, while atheists and polytheists don't.
Though the Ten Commandments loom large in both Christian and Jewish ethics and theology, not everyone agrees that the commandments should hang in public places. Jews and Christians break down more or less along political lines on this issue, with Jewish and Christian conservatives supporting the public displays and liberal Christians and Jews opposing it.
X. The tablets Moses brought down the mountain are preserved to this day as Judaism's most sacred relic.
That was true for a long time, while the tablets were kept in the Ark of the Covenant in the First Temple in Jerusalem, and before that, in the Tabernacle, which served as the central focus of Israelite worship from the days of wandering the desert until the Temple was built. However, when the temple was destroyed and the Jews exiled from the Land of Israel by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E., the ark--and the tablets--disappeared. Some believe the invading Babylonians destroyed them. Others believe the priests of the Temple hid the ark and tablets either in a cave underneath the Temple Mount or somewhere near the Dead Sea in the present-day West Bank. The search for the lost ark and the missing tablets was, of course, the subject of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."