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What Did The Ten Commandments Look Like?

The Ten Commandments were written by God on two tables of stone (the English word table is commonly used to translate the original Hebrew word of the Scriptures, pronounced loo-akh, meaning a sheet of polished stone). But what did they actually look like? How big were they? What language were they written in? Where are they now?

What Did The Tables Of Stone Look Like?

The Ten Commandments Although not specifically stated, the Ten Commandments were obviously written in ancient Hebrew (English wouldn't exist for about another 3,000 years). Hebrew was the language of the Israelites; it was the language that the Hebrew Scriptures, or "Old" Testament, was written in.

The Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb:

"The Lord said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tables of stone, with the Law and the Commandment, which I have written for their instruction." (Exodus 24:12 RSV)

"And He gave to Moses, when He had made an end of speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God." (Exodus 31:18 RSV)

The Ten Commandments were, as rarely illustrated or known, written on both sides of the two stones:

"And Moses turned, and went down from the mountain with the two tables of the testimony in his hands, tables that were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other were they written." (Exodus 32:15 RSV)

There were two sets of the two tables of stone made. The first set was smashed by Moses immediately after his return from the mountaintop, when he discovered that Aaron had let the people run amok:

"And Moses turned, and went down from the mountain with the two tables of the testimony in his hands, tables that were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables." (Exodus 32:15-16 RSV)

"And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses' anger burned hot, and he threw the tables out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain." (Exodus 32:19 RSV)

Although they are often portrayed as being much larger, the Scriptures describe Moses as carrying them in his hands - Moses, an ordinary human, could not have picked up and carried them if they were as large and thick as "tomb stones" (as they are often impossibly portrayed - depending on the variety, stone weighs about 150 pounds per cubic foot):

The Ten Commandments

"So I took hold of the two tables, and cast them out of my two hands, and broke them before your eyes." (Deuteronomy 9:17 RSV)

As with the first set, it was Moses who actually made the tables of stone, while it was God who wrote upon them:

"The Lord said to Moses, "Cut two tables of stone like the first; and I will write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables, which you broke ... So Moses cut two tables of stone like the first; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as The Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tables of stone." (Exodus 34:1,4 RSV)

While receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights, a recorded feat accomplished by only two other people - Elijah and Jesus Christ (see The Forty Day Fasts)

"And he was there with The Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God." (Exodus 34:28-29 RSV)

For an unstated reason, or reasons (which may have included to give them a little more protection from Moses' temper), God commanded Moses to make a container, an ark, for the second set:

"At that time The Lord said to me, 'Hew two tables of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables which you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.' So I made an ark of acacia wood, and hewed two tables of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tables in my hand. And He wrote on the tables, as at the first writing, the Ten Commandments which The Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and The Lord gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they are, as The Lord commanded me." (Deuteronomy 10:1-5 RSV)

The ark made by Moses for the tables of stone was later replaced, during the construction of The Tabernacle In The Wilderness, by a much more elaborate Ark Of The Covenant:

"According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

"They shall make an ark of acacia wood; two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, within and without shall you overlay it, and you shall make upon it a molding of gold round about. And you shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you." (Exodus 25:9-16 RSV)

Fact Finder: Where might the tables of stone, on which were written the Ten Commandments, be now?
See Temple Mount Treasures

This Week's Bible Quiz

1. What is the First Commandment?

2. What is the Second Commandment?

3. What is the Third Commandment?

4. What is the Fourth Commandment?

5. What is the Fifth Commandment?

6. What is the Sixth Commandment?

7. What is the Seventh Commandment?

8. What is the Eighth Commandment?

9. What is the Ninth Commandment?

10. What is the Tenth Commandment?

For the answers to this January 28 2003 quiz, see the Bible Quiz Answers Page

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