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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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  • 4
    -Please provide a notable source for your claim in the question! Jan 25, 2016 at 13:05
  • 5
    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... Jan 25, 2016 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, 2016 at 16:02
  • We don't allow pseudo answers and discussions in comments, please move any further discussion to Skeptics Chat.
    – Sklivvz
    Jan 26, 2016 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, 2016 at 11:18

4 Answers 4

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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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  • Your last para could also be interpreted as the "Ten Commandment" being an evolution of thoughts and ideas. History supports the idea that there was indeed a clash between the old polytheistic belief system vs the new monotheistic ideas like the ones advocated by Moses.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 6, 2023 at 11:41
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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.
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    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, 2016 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. Jan 26, 2016 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.
    – user18604
    Jan 26, 2016 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.
    – user18604
    Jan 26, 2016 at 16:32
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    "that God "> this assumes the existence of an invisible magical being with superpowers, followed by an assumption based on this none existing fable. It is pretty clear this list is the base of the ten commandments especially taking the other parts of the book of the death into account e.g. the "our father" etc So taking this in the context of all texts adds to the checkmarks that the book of the deaths was a predecessor of certain texts that were collected and ended up in some form or another in the book of papyrus (from the export port Byblos where papyrus was exported).
    – edelwater
    Jul 29, 2022 at 21:41
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As others have pointed out it is realistically not possible to assert with complete confidence whether the "Ten Commandments" were inspired by the "Book of Dead".

However, there is a reasonable historical background behind this kind of idea - it's a clash between historians and religious institutes on Moses.

There are two streams of thoughts behind this:

  1. Moses was an Egyptian who advocated for a new monotheistic Egyptian religion against the prevailing polytheistic Egyptian religion (from which certain ideas would be retained, and others discarded).

  2. Moses was a Hebrew who refined and advocated for a non-Egyptian monotheistic religion among his people that (in the fine tradition of the Church) appropriated religious aspects from older pagan Egyptian religions too.

In both cases, it is not hard to suppose that Moses (as an Egyptian priest or someone high-born with a knowledge of Egyptian religion) would know about the Book of Dead and may have drawn inspiration from it for the "Ten Commandments" he would later preach about as part of his "new religion". The core idea behind this is the argument by some historians that most of the ideas for the new Egyptian religion (or anti-Egyptian religion which evolved to Judaism), were sourced from older Egyptian religions.

Some examples will illustrate this better:

  1. '4 Completely Different Versions of the Story of Moses' cites two sources that claim Moses was an Egyptian:

Moses, according to Manetho, was an Egyptian priest named Osarsiph who tried to take over Egypt. The pharaoh had quarantined everyone with leprosy into a city called Avaris, and Osarsiph used them to stage a revolt. He made himself the ruler of the lepers, changed his named to Moses, and turned them against the pharaoh ... According to the Greek historian Strabo, Moses wasn’t a miracle worker and he didn’t speak to God. He was just a philosopher who sat down, thought about it, and decided that monotheism made the most sense. Moses, at the time, was the ruler of Lower Egypt, but he was “dissatisfied with the established institutions” in his own country.

  1. 'In Egyptian God, Amon(amen) the Invisible Creative Power - Hidden From View: Akhnaton, Moses and the Origins of Monotheism' a reasonable discourse is offered on the origin of the word 'Amen' that is prevalent in Judaeo-Christian religions and its link with Egypt's ancient religion:

Per Ankh put it his way: "Yet another hint of an Egyptian influence in Christianity is the fact that even today, we still end prayers with the Word "Amen". Amen-Ra was the Chief God of the Egyptians. The Church's main tool for the conversion of the "pagans" was always the appropriation of the local religion's most Holy Days and Rituals ... According to Sir Lawrence Gardner in The Genesis of the Grail Kings": "The Israelites exiles from Egypt knew that Jehovah was not the same as the Egyptian God Aten, and so they presumed he must be the equivalent of the great State-god of Egypt to all prayers thereafter, and the name of that Egyptian God was "Amen". To this day, the name Amen is still recited at the end of prayers in both Jewish and Christian religions."

  1. In his book, Moses and Monotheism, Sigmund Freud argued that the Jewish religion traces its roots to Egypt. He cites the practice of circumcision by Egyptians to support his argument:

Freud starts his hypothesis by claiming that Moses was an Egyptian and not a Hebrew ... Freud then moves on to the subject of circumcision, in Judaism the symbol of God’s covenant with Abraham. We know from archaeological evidence that circumcision was a tradition practised by the ancient Egyptians. It would seem strange therefore that the Hebrews would adopt, as a symbol of their specialness, a practice in common with the most powerful nation on Earth at the time. Rather, Freud postulates, it was a tradition that started as a reminder of the Egyptian origins of Moses’ followers.

  1. The story of 'The Golden Lotus' is an ancient Egyptian mythology that describes the parting of the Nile river by a magician, similar to the tale of the Red Sea parting by Moses.

(To be clear, my answer is just explaining the origins of such meme and why some people believe it).

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  • Welcome to Skeptics! Please add some references to support your claim that there are "two streams of thoughts". This answer is mainly speculation. It assumes Moses lived, that Moses might have been Egyptian, that Moses wrote the Ten Commandments. It references speculations by notorious pseudo-scientist, Freud [great ideas, terrible scientist].
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 6, 2023 at 10:33
  • Ultimately the question of why people believe the claim isn't relevant to answer the question of whether it is true. The "why" could be a far more simple "Wow, those two texts have a lot in common."
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 6, 2023 at 10:35
  • @Oddthinking (1) The examples I've cited include these 2 main ideas. (2) The why is interesting when there isn't a clear cut answer - I've outlined the belief system behind it.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 6, 2023 at 11:17
  • I am doubtful that there are only two such ideas. Why do you stop there? Whether something is "interesting" isn't the issue. It isn't relevant.
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 6, 2023 at 11:29
  • @Oddthinking These two are the core ideas that certain historians and the religious institutes disagree on. If you are aware of any other similar ideas, let me know. I found the historiography interesting and relevant as it provides more context to a vague true or false answer.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 6, 2023 at 11:57
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Correlation is not causation.

Reuters and Associated press frequently report very similar news stories, but that doesn't mean that one news agency takes the details from the other.

From a historical perspective, the "Law of Moses" was put into written form by Moses, but there is no claim that he originated it. In fact, his great great great great grandfather was noted for following the commandments long before the Israelites even existed:

Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
— Genesis 26:5

All of the Ten Commandments are presented in the books of Genesis and Job as sins, and the events of both books long precede Moses and Israel.

From a religious perspective, one could consider that the commandments had always existed, mankind had been kept aware of them, and the Egyptians and Moses each individually codified them in written form.

However one looks at it, there's no reason to believe that one copied from the other, and every reason to believe that they had a common source.

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