The Ten Commandments
How Our Most Ancient Moral Text Can Renew Modern Life
Part memoir, part scholarship, part manifesto for a vital approach to life, David Hazony’s book tackles some of the most painful human questions that stand at the heart of who we are as modern, thinking people and offers answers that are sure to start a new discussion about the meaning of one of our most enduring, yet least understood, traditions.
Across the Western World, the Ten Commandments have become a source of both inspiration and controversy, whether in Supreme Court rulings, in film and literature, or as a religious icon gracing houses of worship of every Christian and Jewish denomination. But what do the commandments really stand for?
According to polls, less than half of all Americans can even name more than four of them. Fewer still can name all ten or have a clear idea of the ideals they were meant to promote. For most of us, agnostics and faithful alike, they have been relegated to the level of a symbol, and the teachings they contain are all but forgotten. In Western life today, the Ten Commandments are everywhere— except where we need them most.
In The Ten Commandments, David Hazony offers a powerful new look at our most venerable moral text. Combining a fresh reading of the Old Testament’s most riveting stories and ancient rabbinic legends with a fearless exploration of what ails society today, Hazony shows that the Ten Commandments are not just a set of obscure laws but encapsulate a deeply valuable approach to life—one that is as relevant now as it was when they first appeared more than two millennia ago.
Born in the United States, Hazony now lives in Israel, where he formerly edited Azure, a journal of Jewish thought. In this, his first book, Hazony uses the biblical text as a point of departure for 10 wide-ranging essays, examining each commandment as a contribution to constructing the good society. He calls this effort the "spirit of redemption," which requires individuals to help make the world better. While he sticks to the text, he also imaginatively roams far afield, broadening our comprehension of the commandments. For example, the Second Commandment ban of graven images is seen as prohibiting idolatry and fostering the search "for honesty, truth, and personal integrity." Similarly, the Fifth Commandment, to honor one's parents, provides Hazony with the opportunity to recount the story of Solomon's wise solution to the problem of two women who claim the same child. His major message, however, is that honoring and loving one's parents needs to be broadened to all humanity. Hazony has succeeded in extending the Ten Commandments to an impressive vision of how to attain the good society.