Decalogue Differences

Decalogue Differences

Shemot 20 & Devarim 5

Interactive Learning Module

Moses and the Tablets of Law / Guido Reni

1. Introduction

  • לגרסה בעברית של יחידת לימוד זו, לחצו כאן.‏
  • The language of the Decalogue (עשרת הדברות) found in the description of the Revelation at Sinai in Shemot 20 is not completely identical to that found in Devarim 5 when Moshe recounts the event.
  • Why are there two versions of the Decalogue? How should we understand the nature of the differences between them?
  • An in depth analysis of this issue can be found at Decalogue Differences Between Shemot and Devarim. As you use this module, you are invited to compare your own analysis with the analysis found there.

2. Identifying the Differences

  • Let's begin by comparing the two versions of the Decalogue and identifying where they differ. Press here to access the Tanakh Lab which will enable us to view the two units side by side.
  • The Lab highlights all linguistic parallels between the two versions of the Decalogue. If one prefers, one also has the option to search independently for parallels and differences.
  • To explore on your own, simply erase the highlighted parallels by pressing the garbage can icon in the top left of the Lab. Then, highlight the phrase of your choice, and from the dropdown menu either choose "Highlight Instances" so that any parallel phrases will be marked or press "Color" to mark unique phrases in the color of your choice

3. Why Two Versions?

  • Analyze your findings. Where do the two texts overlap verbatim? Where does Devarim substitute a synonym for a word found in Shemot? What words or phrases are found only in one version? Where is there a change in order?
  • For an interactive chart which highlights all the differences, see: Decalogue Differences Between Shemot and Devarim.
  • How can any of these discrepancies be explained?
  • Moreover, why do the two texts differ at all? If Hashem said both, what led Him to make changes from one to another? If Moshe introduced the changes found in Devarim, what motivated him and by what authority did he do so?
  • Which of the accounts was communicated by Hashem at Mt. Sinai? Which was written on the tablets? Do both versions have equal status, or does only one represent the ideal (and if so, which one)?
  • Let's move to the Mikraot Gedolot on Devarim 5 to see how commentators have addressed these questions.

4. Updated in Year 40

  • A first approach suggests that each version of the Decalogue was intended for a different time and/or audience. New circumstances necessitated modifications to the original version given in Shemot.
  • Let's look at R. D"Z Hoffmann's comments to Devarim 5:13. How does R. D"Z Hoffmann understand the addition of "ושורך וחמורך" to the original list of those who must rest on Shabbat? Scroll down to look also at the beginning of his comments to verse 17. Why, only in Devarim, is the word "שָׂדֵהו" added to the list of things one must not covet?
  • How might this approach be applied to the other differences between the two versions?
  • Why is the Egyptian bondage given as a reason for keeping Shabbat only in Devarim, when speaking to the generation entering the land, but not in Shemot, when addressing those who left Egypt?

5. Prophetic Authority

  • R. D"Z Hoffmann views many of the changes in Devarim as intentional updates introduced by Moshe in the fortieth year and implies that Moshe, on his own, took the liberty to change Hashem's words, clarifying and applying them to a new generation. What gave Moshe the right to do so?
  • Elsewhere in Sefer Devarim, too, Moshe appears to recast certain past events, adding or omitting details in his retelling so as to relay a certain message to the nation. [See, for instance, Moshe's recounting of the Story of the Spies or the Wars of the Fortieth Year.] Are these cases comparable, or is veering from the exact wording of the Decalogue fundamentally different from recasting a past event?
  • In general, how much authority does a prophet have to speak or act on his own, in particular when he invokes Hashem's name as he does so? [See: Invoking Hashem's Name Without Explicit Divine Sanction.]

6. Updated Already in Year 1

  • A variation of this approach agrees that the changes in Devarim were a fundamental update, but asserts that these changes were introduced by Hashem Himself rather than Moshe.
  • Let's access Pesikta Rabbati 23 from the library. We'll start with the paragraph that begins, "זכור את יום השבת לקדשו".
  • How does Resh Lakish explain why there was a need for two versions of the Decalogue? When were these changes made? According to him, what was written on each set of tablets?

7. Changes in the Aftermath of Sin

  • Resh Lakish is not explicit, but appears to suggest that the Sin of the Golden Calf nullified the first set of tablets, necessitating a new Decalogue which incorporated certain changes in reaction to the sin.
  • How might this approach explain why Hashem decided to set commemoration of the Exodus rather than Creation as the reason for Shabbat observance? Why might it have been a better motivator for a nation who had been questioning Hashem?
  • What other changes can similarly be explained as being a reaction to the people's sin?
  • What difficulties does this approach face?

8. No Fundamental Difference

  • Let's now turn to a very different approach to our question, one which dismisses most of the discrepancies as being insignificant.
  • One of the main proponents of this position is Ibn Ezra. Let's look at his Second Commentary to Shemot 20:1. As his comments are lengthy, we'll view them in the Dual Mode of the Mikraot Gedolot. Scroll towards the end of his comments, to the paragraph beginning "ועתה אדבר על זכור ושמור".
  • How does Ibn Ezra understand the differences between the two versions of the Decalogue? Which is the one written on the tablets? What accounts for the changes in Devarim?
  • According to Ibn Ezra, why was it not problematic for Moshe to veer from Hashem's words? What is the meaning of Ibn Ezra's explanation, "כי הטעמים הם שמורות לא המלות"?
  • To read more about this principle and how Ibn Ezra applies it to other stories in Tanakh, scroll up in his comments to the paragraph beginning "אמר אברהם המחבר". What other examples of the phenomenon does he bring there?

9. What about Shabbat?

  • According to Ibn Ezra, the version of the Decalogue in Devarim constitutes Moshe's paraphrase of Hashem's words. As is natural when repeating what another has said, Moshe preserved the meaning of the original, but not the exact language.
  • This approach, thus, easily explains the minor additions and substitutions, but how does it account for the difference between the reasonings provided for observing Shabbat? How can Moshe's mention of the Egyptian bondage be preserving the intent of the original Decalogue in Shemot which spoke of Creation?
  • What does Ramban suggest in his comments to Devarim 5:14 (beginning with the words "והראוי יותר לומר")?
  • According to Ramban, about what do both Shabbat and the Exodus testify? How is "השבת זכר ליציאת מצרים, ויציאת מצרים זכר לשבת"?

10. Dual Divine Communication

  • A final approach rejects the idea that variations in the text might be insignificant and suggests that both versions of the Decalogue were actually transmitted by Hashem simultaneously on Mt. Sinai
  • Scroll up to Rashi on Devarim 5:11 who is drawing off earlier sources such as the Mekhilta and Bavli Rosh HaShanah 27a. How does he explain why in one version Hashem uses the formulation "זכור" and in the other "שמור"?
  • Rashi and the Bavli appear to take the statement "זכור ושמור בדיבור אחד נאמרו" literally, suggesting that Hashem said the two versions of the Decalogue simultaneously since He wanted to convey dual messages to the nation, one through each formulation.
  • Which of the changes are easily explained using this approach? Which are somewhat difficult to explain using this logic?
  • According to this position, what might have been written on each slab of the tablets?

11. Summary

  • Commentators offer a variety of approaches as to how to account for the differences between the two versions of the Decalogue.
  • A first approach suggests that the Devarim rendition of the commandments constituted an intentional updating of the original Shemot version. R. D"Z Hoffmann suggests that the changes were introduced by Moshe as he applied Hashem's words to the new generation on the eve of their entry into the Land of Israel. Pesikta Rabbati, in contrast, implies that the changes were introduced by Hashem Himself in the aftermath of the Sin of the Golden Calf.
  • A second approach, taken by Ibn Ezra, maintains that the discrepancies are insignificant and simply a natural outcome of Moshe's paraphrasing of Hashem's words. Moshe preserved Hashem's meaning but not His language.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, many Midrashic sources, understanding the text to be omnisignificant, assume that the two versions of the Decalogue were both given simultaneously in the first year, and that both have legal relevance for all generations.
  • The various approaches raise important questions regarding the parameters of prophetic authority, the immutability of Divine plans, and the omnisignificance of every word in Torah.

12. Additional Reading