THEO2310 The Ten Commandments

Reading List
  • Taught: Semester 2
  • Credits: 20
  • Class Size: 50
  • Module Manager: Johanna Stiebert
  • Email:
  • Pre-Requisite Qualifications: None - preference for/recommendation of Intro to Bible module at L1
  • This Module is approved as a Discovery Module
  • This module replaces The Hebrew Scriptures (THEO 2030)

Discovery module overview

Module Summary

Module Summary

The Ten Commandments (or The Decalogue) appear twice in the Hebrew Bible (= Tanakh, Old Testament): Exod 20:1-17 and Deut 5:4-21. They are among the best-known texts of the Bible and justly called 'iconic.' in a series of ten succinct prohibitions, the Ten Commandments proscribe certain conduct in relation to God, in relation to members of the family and with regard to the wider community. This module closely examines these commandments in their literary and social settings as well as investigating their reception and afterlives up to the present. Focus questions include the following: Why do these Commandments hold unique status in both Judaism and Christianity? How far does the Torah (= Pentateuch) imply and resist monotheism? Why is idolatry proscribed? Is God imagined in anthropomorphic terms? What is so significant about the name of God? How and why is the Sabbath so foundational? What do the latter six commandments imply about social life, social values and the status of women in Israelite antiquity? Do we see the Ten Commandments echoed and enforced in Torah? How important are the Ten Commandments today? Why are the Ten Commandments so prominent in the visual arts (e.g. paintings and film)? How do the Ten Commandments feature in contemporary political discourse?


This module aims to: explore closely a significant text of the Hebrew Bible and to integrate it into its wider literary and social contexts. It will explore why Torah is sometimes translated 'Law' and how apt this designation really is. What do laws tell us about the human societies that produced them? What do we know about Moses and how significant is his association with Torah and the Ten Commandments in particular? Close focus on and a full understanding of the Ten Commandments will go on to expand knowledge and understanding of the social and ritual background of Torah texts. The module will also explore the reception history of the Ten Commandments, focusing particularly on two contexts: representations of the Ten Commandments in visual arts (including film) up to the present and depictions and purpose in political discourse.


Introduction - A demonstration of the iconic status of the Ten Commandments, in the past and now
The remainder of the module will cover in the range of any 12 of the following:

  • 1. Torah: What is Torah? How apt are the translations 'Instruction', 'Law' and 'Pentateuch'? What is the role and significance of Torah in Jewish and Christian traditions? How might Torah have been formed and compiled?
  • 2. Moses: How is Moses depicted in Torah? What is his association with Torah? The enduring significance of Moses in biblical and extra-biblical literature.
  • 3. What are the features and purposes of legal writing? Laws in antiquity. Some social laws of the Torah.
  • 4. The Problem with Genesis. How is Genesis related to the remainder of Torah? Is Genesis prescriptive in the way Exodus or Deuteronomy is? Troubling stories in conflict with Torah law and how these were troubling already in antiquity (Genesis Apocryphon and Jubilees)
  • 5. The First Commandment: What does Torah reflect concerning monotheism? Does the Commandment suggest monotheism?
  • 6. The Second Commandment: Does God have a body? What does it mean to say God is jealous?
  • 7. The Third Commandment: What is significant about the Name of God?
  • 8. The Fourth Commandment: Why is Sabbath so significant? What is 'work' and why is it not to be done on Sabbath?
  • 9. The Fifth Commandment: Family relations as reflected in Torah
  • 10. The Sixth Commandment: What is the distinction between 'to kill' and 'to murder'? Does this commandment defy the death penalty elsewhere in Torah?
  • 11. The Seventh Commandment: Adultery in the Torah, the Sotah of Numbers 5, Sex, Men and Women
  • 12. The Eighth Commandment: Stealing or Kidnapping? The risks of social instability
  • 13. The Ninth Commandment: False testimony and the law court
  • 14. The Tenth Commandment: Coveting - property and social stability
  • 15. The Social World of the Ten Commandments
  • 16. The Ten Commandments Today: Reactions to removing the Ten Commandments from US court houses and schools, a new religious movement in Uganda
  • 17. Summary and Conclusions

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the module students are expected to be able to: navigate both narrative and legal texts of Torah; demonstrate thorough knowledge of several Torah texts and be able to explore the social values reflected in and by these texts; appreciate the resonance of ancient texts in modern contexts.
Students will acquire and develop research skills using a range of sources (e.g. primary and secondary texts, ancient and modern texts, visual media).
Assessments will develop the ability to construct and defend ethical arguments.
Upon completion of the module students are expected to be able to:

  • - identify and describe distinctive literary features of Torah
  • - understand the reasons for the internal literary diversity of Torah
  • - probe the social values and structures in the background of narrative and legal Torah texts
  • - fully understand the Ten Commandments and evaluate their impact in terms of Torah more widely, as well as their resonance in multiple modern settings

Assessment and teaching

Assessment and teaching


Assesment type Notes % of formal assesment
Essay 1000 word essay 20
Essay 2000 word essay 40
Total percentages (Assessment Coursework) 60


Exam type Exam duration % of formal assessment
Exam with advance information on questions 2 hr 0 mins 40
Total Percentage (Assesment Exams) 40

Private Study

Students will attend 20 hours of lectures - ten 2-hour lecture blocks over ten weeks. (One week will constitute a reading week, for focused preparation of course work and to enable one-to-one tutorials if desired.)
Each lecture-block will require 3 hours of preparation and reflection (e.g. conducting set readings) = 30 hours total.
There will be two course assessments - of 1000 words and 2000 words. The former will require 30 hours of time for preparation and execution. The latter will require 50 hours of time for preparation and execution.
The final examination of 2 hour duration will require 68 hours of revision and preparation.

Teaching methods

Delivery type Number Length hours Student hours
Lecture 20 1 20
Private Study Hours 180
Total Contact Hours 20
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits) 200

Reading List

Reading List
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