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This meme image from Pinterest suggests the Old Testament's Ten Commandments were derived from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Does this sound familiar?

Do not curse god
Do not scorn god
Do not abandon your parents
Do not defile the wife of a man
Do not steal
Do not bear false witness
Do not defraud the humble man of his property.

These "Commandments" are taken from the Egyptian "Book of the Dead" written centuries before the story of Moses and his encounter with "God"

This is one of many examples of the claim. Is the Negative Confession in the Egyptian Book of the Dead the source for seven of the ten mosaic commandments?

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    -Please provide a notable source for your claim in the question! – pericles316 Jan 25 '16 at 13:05
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    It seems like there is good evidence that the text you quote appears in (some version of) the Book of the Dead. Whether this text inspired the Ten Commandments doesn't seem like something that can be proved or disproved scientifically, short of someone finding a manuscript of Exodus with a "Works Cited" section... – Nate Eldredge Jan 25 '16 at 15:34
  • I think that we can answer this by citing some expert opinion on the matter (e.g. a historian of philosophy) instead of simply looking up the book of the dead. – Sklivvz Jan 25 '16 at 16:02
  • We don't allow pseudo answers and discussions in comments, please move any further discussion to Skeptics Chat. – Sklivvz Jan 26 '16 at 11:02
  • I've rolled back the question as the information you added belongs in an answer and not in the question. Feel free to answer your own question if you prefer. – Sklivvz Jan 26 '16 at 11:18
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Grabbing the following conclusions from Jared C. Hood, "The Decalogue and the Egyptian Book of the Dead", Australian Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol. 23 (2009).

Does it take literary dependence for two cultures to arrive at similar statements regarding something as fundamental as the injustice of murder? Leaving aside thoughts of the evolution of morality, what parents in the history of humanity have not said to their child, “Do not do it,” or “Do what I say”?

[...]

From that emerges what is probably one of the major differences between the two documents. Both have the concern of self-interest—the concept of blessing upon obedience and a curse upon disobedience—and both have a theocentric focus, with the idea of pleasing God/the gods (in the protestations of the second recitation, the claim is that “I have done what people say and that on account of which the gods are pleased”). The Egyptian text, though, is more focused on magic and merit (or having maintained order or balance), whilst the situation with the Israelite text is more complicated. The Decalogue comes to a people who have already been redeemed. The justice of God is preceded by the covenant love of God. The Spell is concerned to find a way for “absolution” for sin, whereas the Decalogue is to be kept from the security of being in a special relationship with the Lord. In fact, the overall tenor of the relationship between the individual and the deity in Egyptian and Israelite religion is different, since in the latter, all are priests of God and are in a Father-son relationship (the democratising of religion, as it has been put).

Short version: What the two documents share is basically being a list of bad things, which is hardly a brilliant and unique creative product. What is unique and innovative to the Bible is that the Ten Commandments come as an explanation of part of a covenant by which an entire tribe has been divinely selected. The Egyptian text doesn't have this at all, being part of a magic spell for the individual.

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The 42 "negative confessions" or "declarations of purity" were made by the deceased soul in order to gain eternal life. They were a list of the sins not committed during life, and hence can be taken as an effective list of commandments. The list has a lot of redundancy because the declarations were made to various different gods, so (I guess) theft of grain, theft of land and theft of other possessions were under the purview of different gods. If you eliminate the minor variations and the multiple gods you arrive at those 7 commandments you listed.

However this is not proof that Moses cribbed the Commandments from his upbringing in Egypt. Rules about property, killing and sex are probably necessary for any civilization, so it is hardly surprising that both the Egyptians and the Israelites had similar rules. This means it is still possible that God handed Moses an ideal set of divine rules that the Egyptians had previously approximated by trial and error. In this context its important to note that both sets of rules forbid theft, murder and adultery, but don't define them. It might well be that under specific circumstances killing or appropriation of property or women would be legal (and therefore not sinful) in one culture but not in the other. Also there are some interesting items in the Egyptian list that are not in the Decalogue: the Egyptians banned anger (19, 25, 38), remorse (13), refusing to listen to "truth" (26) and being nosy (17, 31). None of those are found in the Decalogue (although they may be found elsewhere in Mosaic law; I don't know).

Here is the Egyptian list (from Wikipedia):

  1. I have not committed sin.
  2. I have not committed robbery with violence.
  3. I have not stolen.
  4. I have not slain men and women.
  5. I have not stolen grain.
  6. I have not purloined offerings.
  7. I have not stolen the property of the gods.
  8. I have not uttered lies.
  9. I have not carried away food.
  10. I have not uttered curses.
  11. I have not committed adultery, I have not lain with men
  12. . I have made none to weep.
  13. I have not eaten the heart [i.e., I have not grieved uselessly, or felt remorse].
  14. I have not attacked any man.
  15. I am not a man of deceit.
  16. I have not stolen cultivated land.
  17. I have not been an eavesdropper.
  18. I have slandered [no man].
  19. I have not been angry without just cause.
  20. I have not debauched the wife of any man.
  21. I have not debauched the wife of [any] man. (repeats the previous affirmation but addressed to a different god).
  22. I have not polluted myself
  23. I have terrorized none.
  24. I have not transgressed [the Law].
  25. I have not been wroth.
  26. I have not shut my ears to the words of truth.
  27. I have not blasphemed.
  28. I am not a man of violence.
  29. I am not a stirrer up of strife (or a disturber of the peace).
  30. I have not acted (or judged) with undue haste.
  31. I have not pried into matters.
  32. I have not multiplied my words in speaking.
  33. I have wronged none, I have done no evil.
  34. I have not worked witchcraft against the King (or blasphemed against the King).
  35. I have never stopped [the flow of] water.
  36. I have never raised my voice (spoken arrogantly, or in anger).
  37. I have not cursed (or blasphemed) God.
  38. I have not acted with evil rage.
  39. I have not stolen the bread of the gods.
  40. I have not carried away the khenfu cakes from the spirits of the dead.
  41. I have not snatched away the bread of the child, nor treated with contempt the god of my city.
  42. I have not slain the cattle belonging to the god.
  • 4
    Can you add a section which "eliminate[s] the minor variations and the multiple gods" to arrive at the 7? Perhaps something like Do not steal: 3, 5, 6, 7, 16, 39. Or bold the ones that are most directly equivalent to the 7 in the question. As-is, this is good information, but the relevance is buried. – Bobson Jan 26 '16 at 12:53
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    This is an interesting list, but to show this list was the source of seven of the ten mosaic commandments, you must also show it came first and, ideally, that it influenced the mosaic commandments. – ChrisInEdmonton Jan 26 '16 at 14:10
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    So to which of the 7 does "I have not been an eavesdropper" map on to, or "I have not eaten the heart" or "I have not been angry without just cause." or " have not shut my ears to the words of truth." or "I am not a stirrer up of strife " or " I have not acted (or judged) with undue haste." or "I have not pried into matters." or "I have not multiplied my words in speaking." or "I have never stopped [the flow of] water." or " have never raised my voice (spoken arrogantly, or in anger)." none of which seem to map onto any of the 10 commandments. – Dikran Marsupial Jan 26 '16 at 15:56
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    This answer doesn't address whether one document is the source of the other, many of the concepts are common to most ethical frameworks, so they will be found in the commandments of many religions without their being any direct lineage, simply because humans tend to have similar ethical underpinnings. – Dikran Marsupial Jan 26 '16 at 16:32
  • jolly good edit! +1 – Dikran Marsupial Jan 27 '16 at 10:22

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