path: Home / The West Wing World Numbering the Ten Commandments
In the pilot episode of the series, someone claimed that "Honor Thy Father" was the First Commandment. Toby corrected him by saying it is the Third! It turns out neither of them was right:
Information below comes from
also called DECALOGUE (Greek deka logoi, '10 words'), list of religious precepts that, according to various passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy, were divinely revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai and were engraved on two tablets of stone. The Commandments are recorded virtually identically in Ex. 20: 2-17 and Deut. 5: 6-21. The rendering in Exodus appears as follows" (depending a little on the translation). Numbering is mine according to the three different traditions listed below - Offset Numbers are "Reform Protestant", Roman Numerals are Judaism, Green Numbers are Medieval Roman accepted by Luther):
I) 1) I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of
the house of bondage.
II) Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
- Thou shalt not make for thyself a graven image, or any likeness of
anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that
is in the water under the earth; Thou shalt not bow down to them or serve
them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the
fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those
who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love
me and keep my commandments.
- III) 2) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will
not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
- IV) 3) Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and
do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord thy God;
in it thou shall not do any work, thy, or thy son, or thy daughter, thy
manservant, or thy maidservant, or thy cattle, or the sojourner who is
within thy gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the
sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the
Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
- V) 4) Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the
land which the Lord thy God gives thee.
- VI) 5) Thou shalt not kill.
- VII) 6) Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- VIII) 7) Thou shalt not steal.
- IX) 8) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
- X) 9) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, 10) or his manservant, or his
maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is thy neighbor's.
- Further details from the Britannica:
- "Traditions differ in numbering the Ten Commandments. In Judaism, the prologue ("I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage") constitutes the first element, and the prohibitions against false gods and idols the second. Medieval Roman tradition, accepted by Luther, regards all these elements as one and preserves the number 10 by separating the prohibitions against coveting another's wife and coveting another's possessions. In the Greek Orthodox and Protestant Reformed traditions, the prologue and the prohibition against false gods are one commandment and the prohibition against images is the second."
The offset number listing above uses the last version mentioned by the Britannica and in it the one about honoring your parents is the Fifth. According to Toby's tradition (Jewish) that commandment would also be the Fifth (see Roman Numeral Numbering).
Either way Toby is wrong when he claims it is the Third. There is no tradition in which it is the Third.
We wouldn't have thought to look this up except for the prodding of a number of people. First to tell us there was a rumor about the numbering being wrong was the webmaster of the former Inside the Bartlet White House. She knows a professor in the religion department at a major university and he first brought up the fact that there were two ways of numbering. We were unwilling to believe in different numbering systems until the Britannica backed up his contention! (Other people, such as Nikki Goldberg, also sent information on Toby being wrong but that was after we had first gotten information from Susannah and no one else mentioned the conflicting numbering systems.)
Possible Justification/Explanation (other than the fact that no one bothered to look up the facts before filming): Toby is very knowledgeable about all kinds of things. He knows that the "usual" numbering system is different than the way his own tradition numbers these commandments. But in an effort to renumber the commandments in his head, he miscounts. The one thing he is absolutely right about is that "Honor thy Father" is not the First Commandment. But then it was weird for the writer to suggest that those from the "Christian Right" ever thought it was.
- So how many words are there in the Ten Commandments?
- The above version from Exodus has 313 words. To get the words down to the 170s, one would have to be talking about an abbreviated version like the following one which is similar to one listed on the MightyBigTV forum:
- I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
- Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.
- Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work
- Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's.