copy of an illuminated manuscript page

Theory on Cultural Changes with Respect to Mnemonics and the Ten Commandments in Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and specifically within Judaism

And God spoke:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens above, on the earth beneath, or in the waters below.
–Exodus 20:1-4

I have a hypothesis that the admonition in the ten commandments to have no other gods nor to worship idols was the result of a power struggle among early peoples on the border of nomadic lives and settling down into agricultural lifeways. These peoples may likely have been associating their memories not only to standing stones, portable items (the Ark of the Covenant as an example which was historically said to be carried into war), or small idols and graven images.

By removing peoples’ valuable cultural and societal memories over several generations, a ruling priestly class, particularly in a society with not evenly distributed writing and literacy, would have been more easily able to aggregate power within the culture to itself. From a cultural perspective it would also have put an extreme emphasis on writing, literacy, and learning with them. Is this part of an explanation for why Jewish culture still has such an emphasis on these tools thousands of years later?

This obviously needs to be thought out further with supporting evidence from the historical and archaeological record, but on first blush, I feel like the evidence for this hypothesis generally exists.

If I’m right, then these few sentences have had a far more dramatic influence on Western and even human culture than we have previously thought.

Featured Image: The Crusader Bible, MS M.638, fol. 39v, Paris, France, ca. 1244–1254, 390 x 300 mm, via the Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased by J.P. Morgan (1867–1943) in 1916
David’s Greatest Triumph, The Ark Enshrined in Jerusalem, David Blesses Israel
Old Testament Miniatures with Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian inscriptions
David retrieves the Ark of the Covenant from Obed-Edom’s house, and a jubilant celebration ensues as the triumphant king, playing upon his harp, leads it into Jerusalem. Once the Ark has come six paces into the city, a sacrifice is made of an ox and a ram. No one is more overjoyed than the king himself, who dances and leaps before the procession. David’s wild behavior embarrasses Michal, who points accusingly at him from her window. But the king is unconcerned, wishing only to give thanks and humble himself before God. (2 Kings 6:12–16)

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Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

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