This is a two-part question:

1: What are the earliest known examples of a group believing in a story that is based on or inspired by the story of The Sinai Event? (The Samaritans are a good example, and if anybody has good sources as to when they originated, I'd really appreciate that as well!)

2: What are the current theories on the origin of the story of the Sinai Event? Specifically, when was it started up and how did it come about? (was it inspired by a different myth? if so, by what myth? Was it based on a real event? if so, what event? etc.)

EDIT: By 'story of the Sinai Event' I mean the story of the Israelites standing at the base of Mount Sinai while god descended in fire and lightening etc to relay the story of the Ten Commandments, not the contents of the commandments themselves.


2 Answers 2


The Ten Commandments contain little that was new to the ancient world and reflect a morality common to the ancient Middle East. In 1901 archeologists uncovered fragments of a copy of the Law Code of King Hammurabi, considered one of the most significant legal documents from antiquity. (Hammurabi was the sixth king of the first dynasty of Babylon, whose dating is controversial but commonly given as 1792-1750 BCE).

There are undeniable parallels between Hammurabi’s statutes and those of the Book of the Covenant. For example, in citing the law for personal injury, Hammurabi’s statute 206 states:

“If a man wound another accidentally in a quarrel with a stone or his fist, and oblige him to take his bed, he shall pay for the loss of his time and for the doctors.”

The law of Moses, for the same offense, is remarkably similar (Exodus 21:18-19). Given the chronology of the OT, Most of the so-called Ten Commandments are based on earlier Mesopotamian laws and Egyptian ethics.

Bruce Wells, Professor, Saint Joseph's University, describes the origin of the commanments stemming from pre-existing Mesopotamian treaty format like this:

Most of the written records from the ancient Near East are contained on small clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform (wedge-shaped) writing. The vast majority of these come from Mesopotamia, inhabited by Assyria in the north and Babylonia in the south. Everywhere that the Ten Commandments are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, they are associated with the idea of a covenant. The word “covenant” is merely a fancy word for “agreement” or, better yet, “contract” or “treaty.”

Both marriage contracts and adoption contracts use language that is nearly identical to that of the Sinai covenant. In some Aramaic marriage contracts from the biblical period, the groom states, “She is my wife, and I am her husband,” and the bride responds in kind. Babylonian adoption contracts often record the father’s oath, “You are my son.” These statements are performative—they actualize the relationship that is stated. Thus, the biblical authors portray Yahweh saying, “you are my people,” using the same kind of language that these other contracts use to enact the covenant with the Israelite people. In fact, we can say that the statement ascribed to Yahweh at Sinai is contractual language.

Long lists of rules were not common in contracts between individuals, but they were in treaties (contracts between states). Ancient Near Eastern treaties tended to follow a general format consisting of at least four parts:

  1. a description of events leading up to the treaty;
  2. the essence of the treaty (typically a commitment of loyalty on the part of the weaker party to the stronger);
  3. a list of provisions and stipulations describing adherence to the treaty;
  4. a list of curses resulting from breaking the treaty.

Within the Sinai covenant, the Ten Commandments form part of the “provisions and stipulations” section. They show what the biblical authors believed loyalty to Yahweh was supposed to look like. Together with longer lists of rules that are also associated with the Sinai covenant in the Bible, they specify the Israelites’ contractual—or, as some might prefer, covenantal—obligations.

  • Thank you very much for that answer, but I'm afraid I must have been unclear. I really should have clarified that by 'story of the ten commandments, I meant the story of the Israelites standing at the base of the mountain while God descended with fire and lightning etc to give the ten commandments, not the commandments themselves. I'll update the question to reflect this. Again, terribly sorry for the misunderstanding.
    – Certusic
    Sep 29, 2020 at 13:38

These commandments were originally mentioned and first written down in Exodus 20:2-17, a text written around 600 BME (Before Modern Era) therefore at the time of the 26-th Dynasty of Egypt and is strictly tied with the Hebrew narration of the story which has absolutely no factual presence in other sources. Samaritans are supposedly descendants of Israeli lineages and deported and resettled by Assyrian Sargon II are unlikely authors of the commandments.

Hebrew people were by and large conquered, invaded, forcefully resettled and decimated by Assyrians and Egyptians and the multiple kingdoms of the Levant, including the leading Levantine one - Phoenicia from which the Greek alphabet came from were entering series of treaties, treasons, etc.

Highly recommended read:

Boardman, John, Iorwerth

  • E. S. Edwards, and David Malcolm Lewis. 2000. The Cambridge ancient history. 3,2, 3,2. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

With these unstable surroundings there was a small tribe that subscribed to 'iah, or 'el worship which was a fire-god similar to that of Phoenician Baal (Bel, or El means 'Lord, King'). In fact the original Hebrew version of the old testament posits that 'god sits on a throne of fire in a great abyss', not 'in heaven', as was later translated through Greek and Vulgata to be more pleasing to the celestial Gods of the Romans. Because of integrity issues and the defensive will to preserve the distinct character of Juda and what remained of Israel that fell to Neo-Assyrian Empire in the 8th century BME, people assuming local kingship had -'iah in their royal surnames (as differentiated from king Manosh, who reverted to polytheism, btw. monotheism, specifically Hebrew exlusivist monotheism is a product of 7-6th century Before Modern Era, earlier they worshipped the plurality of Elohim, primarily Solar Gods).

It is a natural conclusion that the exclusive, jealous god of Isaiah could not afford to be included in a pantheon with others, Hebrews have their own story how their god conquered all the others.

To sum it up: It had a socio-political function - namely that of preserving their idea of 'chosen people' and that of preserving cohesion of their tribe. As for the rest of your questions, since I touched only the first commandment - that would require some serious research in history of religious ideas, and most likely Jewish legal codes from which the cultural encoding took its roots. I've found this little book, maybe it will be of help:

  • Coogan, Michael. The Ten Commandments: A Short History of an Ancient Text. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2014


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