Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ten Commandments

This week a Judaic studies professor asked on the listserv, H-Judaic about the earliest usage of the term, "Ten Commandments" as compared to the Greek, "dekalog" or Hebrew עשרת הדברות. This is a great question for a librarian because all I needed to do was to search for term using Google Scholar. Google Scholar also searches for alternative spellings.

I got some hits and then went to the data base of early English books to read the actual page. This opened more questions. Did the professor mean modern English, middle English, or Anglo-Saxon? Did a Latin term match what he wanted? Here is what I answered --

I found several books published in Middle English before 1500 with the subject heading of Ten Commandments. Below are two books from the 16th century with Ten commandments (in an early spelling) in their titles. There are many books from the 1600's with the expression "Ten Commandments" spelled as in modern English.

Author: Hooper, John, d. 1555.
Title: A declaratyon of the ten holy commaundementes of almyghtye God [electronic resource] : wryten Exo. xx. Deu. 5. Collected out of the scrypture canonycall, by Iohn Houper, with certeyne newe addisions made by the same maister Houper.

Published: [Imprynted at London : In Paules churche yarde at the sygne of ye Byble by [T. Gaultier? for] Rycharde Iugge], Anno. M.D.L. [1550]

Title: Ihesus. The floure of the commaundementes of god [electronic resource] : with many examples and auctorytees extracte and drawen as well of holy scryptures as of other doctours and good auncient faders, the whiche is moche vtyle and prouffytable vnto all people. The. x. commaundementes of the lawe. Thou shalt worshyp one god onely. And loue hym with thy herte perfytely ... The fyue commaundementes of the chyrche. The sondayes here thou masse and the festes of co[m]maundement. ... The foure ymbres vigyles thou shalte faste, [and] the lente entyerly.

Published: [Enprynted at London : In Flete strete at the sygne of the sonne by Wynkyn de Worde. The seco[n]de yere of ye reygne of oure moost naturell souerayne lorde kynge Henry ye eyght of that name, Fynysshed the yere of oure lorde. M.CCCCC.x. [1510] the. xiiii. daye of Septembre]
Here is a quote from: Laurent, Dominican, fl. 1279.

Title: This book was compyled [and] made atte requeste of kyng Phelyp of Fraunce ... whyche book is callyd in frensshe. le liure Royal· that is to say the ryal book. or a book for a kyng. ...
Date: 1485

¶Here after ben conteyned & declared the x comandementes of the lawe which god wrote with his propre fyngre / & delyuerd them to Moyses the prophete for to preche to the peple for to holde & kepe capitulo primo

Based on this published evidence, the expression existed in Middle English, but the current spelling is from the early 17th century. [book is not paged, this is from image 2]

Notice the author lived in the 13th century even though the book was not printed until 1485.

Based on this print evidence, the term in English "x comandementes of the lawe" existed in the Middle Ages, but the modern spelling, "ten commandments" was first used in early 1600's. It is possible the term existed in St. Augustine's Questiones in Exodum, (5th century) but he did not write in English. The professor thanked me, but he didn't say if he was only interested in modern English answers.

No comments: