left biblioblography: Shattering Of The Tablets Of Myth

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Shattering Of The Tablets Of Myth

Cross posted @ God Is For Suckers!bizarro-moses-ten-commandements

I have mentioned the roots of the Ten Commandments elsewhere - but I stumbled across this excellent article by Richard Carrier recently, and he gives persuasive argument for the root of the laws by which our society actually bides by:

I keep hearing this chant, variously phrased: "The Ten Commandments are the foundation of Western morality and the American Constitution and government." In saying this, people are essentially crediting Moses with the invention of ethics, democracy and civil rights, a claim that is of course absurd. But its absurdity is eclipsed by its injustice, for there is another lawmaker who is far more important to us, whose ideas and actions lie far more at the foundation of American government, and whose own Ten Commandments were distributed at large and influencing the greatest civilizations of the West--Greece and Rome--for well over half a millennia before the laws of Moses were anything near a universal social influence. In fact, by the time the Ten Commandments of Moses had any real chance of being the foundation of anything in Western society, democracy and civil rights had all but died out, never to rise again until the ideals of our true hero, the real man to whom we owe all reverence, were rediscovered and implemented in what we now call "modern democratic principles."

The man I am talking about is Solon the Athenian. Solon was born, we believe, around 638 B.C.E., and lived until approximately 558, but the date in his life of greatest importance to us is the year he was elected to create a constitution for Athens, 594 B.C.E. How important is this man? Let's examine what we owe to him, in comparison with the legendary author (or at last, in legend, the transmitter) of the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments. Solon is the founder of Western democracy and the first man in history to articulate ideas of equal rights for all citizens, and though he did not go nearly as far in the latter as we have come today, Moses can claim no connection to either. Solon was the first man in Western history to publicly record a civil constitution in writing. No one in Hebrew history did anything of the kind, least of all Moses. Solon advocated not only the right but even the duty of every citizen to bear arms in the defense of the state--to him we owe the 2nd Amendment. Nothing about that is to be found in the Ten Commandments of Moses. Solon set up laws defending the principles and importance of private property, state encouragement of economic trades and crafts, and a strong middle class--the ideals which lie at the heart of American prosperity, yet which cannot be credited at all to Moses.

Solon is one of two statues in the Jefferson Reading room - and while we're (slightly) on the topic here, Jefferson's commentary on Fortescue:

In truth, the alliance between Church and State in England has ever made their judges accomplices in the frauds of the clergy; and even bolder than they are. For instead of being contented with these four surreptitious chapters of Exodus, they have taken the whole leap, and declared at once that the whole Bible and Testament in a lump, make a part of the common law; ante 873: the first judicial declaration of which was by this same Sir Matthew Hale. And thus they incorporate into the English code laws made for the Jews alone, and the precepts of the gospel, intended by their benevolent author as obligatory only in foro concientiæ; and they arm the whole with the coercions of municipal law. In doing this, too, they have not even used the Connecticut caution of declaring, as is done in their blue laws, that the laws of God shall be the laws of their land, except where their own contradict them; but they swallow the yea and nay together. Finally, in answer to Fortescue Aland's question why the ten commandments should not now be a part of the common law of England? we may say they are not because they never were made so by legislative authority, the document which has imposed that doubt on him being a manifest forgery.

And this matters, why? Because English law is the basis and backbone of our judiciary system, that's why.

And so a trite refrain rebutted, another fairy tale bites the dust, and reality again - it is far more potent than the gossamer wings of fables, and by far more intriguing.

Till the next post, then.

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