Mosaic (June 2013).
The biblical book of Genesis presents the story of how God’s new way for humankind finds its first adherent in a single individual-Abraham, a man out of Mesopotamia-and how that way survives through three generations in the troubled households of Abraham, his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob, who is renamed Israel. By the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus, the children of Israel are settled in Egypt, a land of good and plenty, where they are soon teeming and prospering-only, a brief time thereafter, to find themselves subjugated and enslaved. How this multitude becomes transformed into a people, out of and against Egypt, is the subject of Exodus and the following books.
The central event in the national founding of the Israelite people is the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. The “Ten Commandments” (Exodus 20: 1-14), pronounced there by the Lord God to the assembled and recently liberated children of Israel, constitute the most famous teaching of the book of Exodus, perhaps of the entire Hebrew Bible. Prescribing proper conduct toward God and man, the Decalogue embodies the core principles of the Israelite way of life and, later, of what would become known as the Judeo-Christian ethic. Even in our increasingly secular age, its influence on the prevailing morality of the West is enormous, albeit not always acknowledged or welcomed.