Decalogue Differences Between Shemot and Devarim

Introduction

Diverging Decalogues?

The Decalogue appears in both the Torah's original account of the Revelation at Sinai in Shemot 20 and in Moshe's later retelling of the event in Devarim 5. The two versions contain many differences, including additions, omissions, and substitutions. These can be readily identified in the accompanying table:

  • Reason for Shabbat – The reason given for keeping Shabbat is different in each set of commandments. Shemot 20:10 speaks of the creation of the world, while Devarim 5:14 mentions the enslavement and Exodus from Egypt. This is the only distinction which encompasses a full verse.
  • Additional phrases – "כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ" (Devarim 5:11, 15), "וְשׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרְךָ וְכָל" (Devarim 5:13), "לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ כָּמוֹךָ" (Devarim 5:13), "וּלְמַעַן יִיטַב לָךְ" (Devarim 5:15), and "שָׂדֵהוּ" (Devarim 5:17).
  • Word substitutions – "שָׁמוֹר" / "זָכוֹר" (Shemot 20:7, Devarim 5:11), "עֵד שָׁוְא" / "עֵד שָׁקֶר" (Shemot 20:12, Devarim 5:16), and "וְלֹא תִתְאַוֶּה" / "לֹא תַחְמֹד" (Shemot 20:13, Devarim 5:17).
  • Ordering – The order of the list of objects not to be coveted varies between the two versions (Shemot 20:13, Devarim 5:17).
  • Single letter variations – There are thirteen small discrepancies related to extra / missing וי"ו conjunctions or defective (חסר) / plene (מלא) spelling.
  • Masoretic divisions – In two places (after "שְׁמוֹ לַשָּׁוְא" and "אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ"), Masoretic manuscripts like Codex Leningrad display an open section in Shemot 20 but a closed section in Devarim 5.

Questions

While some of the differences between the accounts are minor and might be deemed insignificant, others affect not just the form but also content and meaning. The reader is thus left with several questions:

  • How is one to understand the variations? Do all of the differences, even the missing וי"ו conjunctions, have meaning?
  • Which of the accounts was communicated by Hashem at Mt. Sinai? Which was written on the tablets?
  • Do both versions have equal status, or does only one represent the ideal (and if so, which one)?
  • Finally, why are there two differing versions of the Decalogue at all?1 If Hashem said both, what led Him to make changes from one to another? If Moshe introduced the changes found in Devarim, what motivated him and by what authority did he do so?
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