I’ve been asked to comment on this article:
In his magisterial commentary on Exodus, Douglas Stuart does an excellent job of delineating the legal and literary relationship between the Ten Commandments and the case law. I’ll quote from the pertinent portions:
“What the chapter [Exod 20] contains—in particular, the Ten “words” (debarim)—is more like the content of a national constitution than merely the content of one section of codified law or another. If the American legal corpus is used as an analogy, it could be said that the ten ‘words’ of Exod 20 are somewhat like the Constitution of the United States (legally binding in a most basic, foundational way but more than a mere set of individual laws) and the laws that follow (cf. 21:1, ‘These are the laws you are two set before them’) somewhat analogous to the various sections of federal law dealing with all sorts of particular matters that have been enacted legislatively over time. The one group is absolutely ‘constitutional’ or ‘foundational;’ the other is specifically regulatory, following from the principles articulated in the more basic ‘constitution’,” Exodus (B&H 2006), 440-41.
“The biblical commandments occur in three levels of specificity. At the most comprehensive level are the ‘two great commandments’ of Deut 6:5 (‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart…’) and Lev 19:18b (‘love your neighbor as yourself’). The first of these commands requires in broad terms a loyal, covenantal obedience to God, who is put first above all other relationships. The second requires loving (loyal) treatment of other human beings,” ibid. 441.
“The first four of the Ten Commandments hang on the command to love God since they describe ways to show covenant loyalty directly to him. The final six hang on the command to love neighbor as self…Thus the first four ‘vertical’ commandments are balanced by the final six ‘horizontal commandments.’ Then, in order of hierarchy, follow all the others. The order is, then, the two, the ten, and the six hundred and one,” ibid. 442.
“Modern societies generally have opted for exhaustive law codes. That is, every action modern society wishes to regular or prohibit must be specifically mentioned in a separate law. Under the expectations of this exhaustive law system, state and/or federal law codes run to thousands of pages and address thousands of individual actions by way of a requirement or restriction or control or outright banning of those actions. By this approach, all actions are permitted that are not expressly forbidden or regulated. Thus it is not uncommon that criminals in modern Western societies evade prosecution because of a ‘technicality’ or a ‘loophole’ in the law—their undesirable actions are not *exactly* prohibited or regulated by a written law, so they cannot be convicted even though an objective observer may be convinced that what they did surely deserved punishment,” ibid. 442.
“Ancient laws did not work this way. They were paradigmatic, giving models of behaviors and models of prohibitions/punishments relative to those behaviors, but they made no attempt to be exhaustive. Ancient laws gave guiding principles, or samples, rather than complete descriptions of all things regulated. Ancient people were expected to be able to extrapolate from what the sampling of laws did say to the *general* behavior the laws in their totality pointed toward. Ancient judges were expected to extrapolate from the wording provided in the laws that did exist to *all other* circumstances and not to be foiled in their jurisprudence by any such concepts as ‘technicalities’ or ‘loopholes.’ When common sense told judges that a crime had been committed, they reasoned their way from whatever the most nearly applicable law specified to a decision as to how to administer proper justice in the case before them,” 442-43.
“The way paradigmatic law works: through a somewhat randomly presented admixture of rather specific examples of more general behaviors and very general regulations of broad categories of behavior, the reader/listener comes to understand that all sorts of situations not exactly specified (either because a law is to broad or so narrow) are also implicitly covered,” 444.
“Perhaps the best way to translate this verse [24:12] would be: ‘Come up to me on the mountain and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone—as well as the law and the commandment—which I have written for their instruction.’ In other words, the verse intends to convey that it was the ‘tablets of stone’ that God himself wrote, not all the laws of the covenant. Consistently in Exodus, it was only the tablets of the Ten Words/Commandments that God actually wrote (see comments on 32:15-16; 34:1). All other commandments were written by Moses according to God’s dictation (e.g. Exod 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; cf. Deut 27:3,8; 31:9). Indeed, Deuteronomy is even more specific as to God’s personal writing being limited to the Ten Words/Commandments (Deut 4:13; 5:22; 10:2-4),” ibid. 558.
“These verses [31:7-11] review succinctly everything mentioned in chaps. 25-30…There are both similarities and differences between the relatively lengthy commandment in Exod 20:8-11 and the restatement here in 31:12-17…the present commands reflect all the essentials of the Ten Words/Commandments Sabbath law, while adding reminders of its perpetual observance and the penalty of being cut off/put to death for dishonoring the Sabbath,” ibid. 652-53.
“The text of Exod 24:12 reads: ‘The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.’ From the moment he ascended the mountain, Moses was to anticipate receiving the special tablets of stone that would represent a permanent record of the Ten Words/Commandment of God as spoken directly by him to the people, and as recorded in chap. 20, in addition to the other laws that he himself would write down on paper or parchment, a temporary surface compared to the stone. But nothing in 24:12 speaks of the tablets being written by God’s finger…It is at *this* point [31:18], not earlier, that the reader first learns that God would personally inscribe on a permanent medium the words he audibly spoke to the people earlier from atop the mountain,” ibid. 655-56.