Covenant Shmovenant

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24 Feb 2007

The Ten Commandments are concise and plainly worded—because the Israelites were smart enough to lawyer-up before finalizing the contract. Excerpts from an early draft archaeologists dug up last week.

Biblical scholars have long recognized the language of the Ten Commandments as different from the rest of the writings found in the Old Testament. Similar in style to standard legal contracts of the era, the Ten Commandments were penned by Hebrew scribes to reflect the seriousness with which their people took their contract with their God.

Last week, archaeologists working in the caves near Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found half a century ago, discovered a redlined re-draft of the contract. By comparing this early version of the Covenant to the one that ultimately made its way into Exodus, scholars now surmise the Israelites not only wrestled with their God on many of the issues, but most likely had lawyers present, as well.

A partial translation follows:

This Covenant (“Covenant”) is entered into as of this day, the first day of the third month after the Exodus from Egypt, between Yahweh (hereinafter referred to as “Party of the First Part,” and legally defined as “The Lord, God”) and the People of Israel (hereinafter referred to as “Party of the Second Part,” and legally defined as “The Chosen People”).

Whereas the Party of the First Part has outlined a set of laws, whereby the Party of the Second Part must adhere.

And whereas the period of the Covenant shall last for all of Eternity (or one billion trillion years, whichever comes first), commencing as of the date hereof (“Term”).


1. The Party of the Second Part hereby waives the right to enter into any Covenant with another God, including, but not limited to: Dharmic deities, pantheistic and henotheistic Gods, or any God that would be so frivolous as to play dice with the universe.

2. The Party of the Second Part may not produce or distribute a sculpted image, idol, or icon, in whole or in part, of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth, without the prior written consent of a consulting firm that specializes in branding or brand strategy pre-approved by the Party of the First Part (n.b., Ogilvy & Mather; see Exhibit A for complete list).

3. The Party of the Second Part shall not swear falsely by the name of the Party of the First Part except under the following two (2) proviso(s):

4. The Party of the Second Part shall remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy except under the following one (1) proviso:

i) There’s a sale at Barneys

5. The Party of the Second Part shall honor mothers and fathers one day a year with the presentation of a greeting card (e.g., A talking strawberry proclaiming, “You’re one berry, berry special mom!”)

6. The Party of the Second Part shall not commit murder except under the following seventeen thousand and forty-one (17,041) proviso(s) [partial list only—see Exhibit B for complete list]:

7. Whereas the Party of the First Part created the heavens and the Earth in six (6) days, and rested on day seven (7) (See Genesis 2:1) The Party of the Second Part shall not commit adultery before the Seven (7)-Year Itch. (Forty-nine (49) years for canines.)

8. The Party of the Second Part shall not steal, burgle, loot, plagiarize, pilfer, shoplift, embezzle, rip off, blackmail, or defraud. However, stealing another’s thunder is permissible, especially when with child; also: the sampling of single grapes at Stop’n’Shop shall not be considered theft.

9. The Party of the Second Part shall not bear false witness against a neighbor except under the following two (2) proviso(s):

10. The Party of the Second Part shall not covet a neighbor’s wife; nor a maidservant; nor a manservant (especially if the Party of the Second Part is a man; see Genesis 18:1); nor an ox; nor an ass; nor a neighbor’s house, even if the neighbor has a Sub-Zero refrigerator, granite countertops, and great closet space.

This agreement shall constitute the entire understanding with regard to the subject matter hereof and shall supersede and replace any prior understanding, whether oral or carved in stone, and may not be amended or modified. Any notices hereunder shall be in writing and shall be given either by personal delivery, facsimile, or by post (postage prepaid, please) to the appropriate party at the following address: The Burning Bush, Sinai Desert, Egypt.

Originally published at

Writer David K. Israel graduated from college in 1991 and immediately moved to New York City where he worked for Leonard Bernstein’s estate, helping to edit and publish definitive editions of scores like West Side Story. After penning several of his own musical works, in 2005 David published a novel called Behind Everyman. Critics have said the novel is funny, but then again, no one has ever erected a statue for a critic. He is a frequent contributor to The Los Angeles Times Magazine, West, and is a regular blogger over at mental_floss. He also runs The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles magazine, Mosaic. If you must bother him, he can be reached via his web site:

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.