Bible Myth Debunked: The 10 Commandments Were Lifted From the Egyptian Book of the Dead

While most myths about the Bible have to do with the New Testament, there are some that have to do with the Old Testament, such as one that we are going to look at in this post. I’ve dealt with a few Jesus mythicists before (here and here) but I don’t think that I have dealt with anything particularly like this one.

What we have to recognize in dealing with objections like these is that they are meant to undermine the originality of the Bible as well as its authority. The fundamental assertion is that God does not exist and that the biblical authors were simply piecing together myths to cobble together a religion. The problem with these assertions is that the reasoning used to make the assertion is circular: it begins in unbelief and ends in unbelief. It is an argument based upon some common factors that are seen across various religions that refuse to go deeper than a superficial glance. Much like Jesus-myther arguments, this one is based upon a misrepresentation of the of the original sources.

If you have been following my study on the book of Deuteronomy, you walked through the exposition on the Decalogue (see here and here). What the Lexham Bible Dictionary notes about them is that,

These commandments represent the minimum moral and religious requirements for those in covenant relationship with God. These laws are directed at individuals as members of the covenant. Furthermore, these laws do not present particular consequences or rewards.(1)

The objector assumes that God would somehow give something other than what was already expected from human beings in regard to moral obligations towards one another. The differences come when one goes deeper than a superficial glance. Probably where most see any such comparison is in work put forward by an amateur Egyptologist named Ahmed Osman.

Osman asserts,

There seems to be a similarity between the moral codes of the ancient Egyptians and the early Israelites. The Ten Commandments given by God to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai are clearly set in an Egyptian tradition and would seem to have common roots with the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Except for the first two commandments, we find the same moral rules in the Hebrew Bible that are also found in the Egyptian hieroglyphic writings.

He cites Spell 125 (which can be found here) saying of it,

[It] contains a moral code represented in a form of Negative Confession that the dead person has to recite when he descends to the hall of the Two Truths.

The Negative Confession that he calls a “moral code” is simply a confession that the, “THE STEWARD OF THE KEEPER OF THE SEAL” must make so that, “HE MAY BE SEPARATED FROM EVERY SIN WHICH HE HATH COMMITTED, AND MAY BEHOLD THE FACES OF THE GODS.”

So, 1), he misrepresents who is making the confession and, 2), what the confession is for. This is not for a “dead person”, it is for someone who apparently has an occupation in the cultic worship, a “steward”, who is not “descending” into anything but rather entering to serve, “the Lord of [Truth]…. [and] the Forty-two Gods who live with thee…” because, in Egyptian thought, these gods served to punish sinners in the final judgment. In the “negative confession” the steward names each of the gods and confesses that there has been no violation of any particular moral standard that is, apparently, under the purview of that God. This also commits the correlation/causation fallacy: just because there’s a correlating similarity that doesn’t mean that they are related.

So, what exactly does that confession mean?

Nothing really.

I mean, do these critics actually suppose that theft, fraud, adultery, etc. were permitted in Egyptian culture? That Christians, and the Jews that came before them, believed that there was no commonly accepted moral code before Yahweh made his covenant with Israel?

That’s what they’re implying, and it’s a straw man. The Lexham Bible Dictionary notes,

The significance of the similarities between the ancient Near Eastern laws and the Old Testament law is debated. Some argue that these similarities indicate that Moses was not inspired—just well read. Others argue that it is fitting that the laws given to Moses would be culturally relevant to his setting (and therefore similar, but not identical, to the laws of the neighboring nations). One value of these other law codes is that they highlight (by way of contrast) the unique covenantal and relational aspects of the biblical law. (Emphasis added)

It goes on to note,

[…]new studies in ancient Near Eastern law have discredited the 19th century critical view that codes of laws like the Pentateuch must be anachronistic. Since other nations had advanced legal and ethical law codes like these, it is reasonable to assume that Israel might have as well.

That’s the scholarly consensus on such a point, but what does the Bible say at this point?

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them…(Romans 2:12-15, ESV; emphasis added)

Paul’s point is that men are either condemned or justified by their conscience. Men know right and wrong because they are moral beings created in the image of God. It is only by the revelation of God made in his law that we are able to verify the truth of any moral claims. God has placed within his image bearer the capacity for moral judgments and the responsibility to live in light of them regardless of how much revelation a person has.

The Egyptians had a moral code…so what? There’s nothing, apart from the revelation of God, that says anything about their claims are true. Always remember the adage: correlation does not equal causation. Any claims of “copying” are simply fallacious.

Note:

(1) Johnson, Brian. “Law in the Hebrew Bible”. The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. 2016.

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8 comments

      • You got it. And since we’ve forgotten about our national debt which is over 23 trillion, it is a good time to embrace the notion that the upcoming, inevitable, total destruction of the world economy is around the corner. We used to freak out when in was in the hundreds of billions.

        It is $21,456,483,108,262.84 or about $68,000 per person. Christians, be sure you are placing your confidence in Him, not the perishable things of this world. He satisfied the impoverished and the martyrs when they were in crises. He’ll do the same for us.

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