“The Decalogue” by David L. Baker

The Decalogue: Living as the People of GodThe Decalogue: Living as the People of God by David L. Baker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book examines the “Ten Commandments,” or the “Decalogue,” from a Christian point of view. This disclosure is needed so that when one reads the work, they understand that Jewish tradition is not taken into account. For example, the notion that the ten commands are on two tablets as the first five and the second five is attributed to Philo and Josephus, but is not actually evaluated in terms of Jewish history and tradition. For example, the arrangement and summary of the laws is only looked at a Christian perspective and the Jewish reason for “obey thy mother and father” being on the first tablet is overlooked entirely. Additionally, the author relies heavily on Christian tradition and archaeological records, defaulting to the author’s own theological perspective on the matter.

Baker’s address of the Decalogue thus goes to focus on two major sections: loving G-d and loving neighbor. Each chapter is the next command on the list: (i) first of all, (ii) worship, (iii) reverence, (iv) rest, (v) family, (vi) life, (vii) marriage, (viii) property, (ix) truth, and (x) last but not least. The author concludes with a consideration of the role of the Decalogue today. Within these chapters is further evidence of an approach that is based only on Christian tradition and secular works. Whereas my Chumash has the earliest Jewish tradition that “theft” is really “kidnapping,” (Rashi), Baker misses the mark altogether.

Having looked at the foremost issues with this work, readers thus need to know about the application of the work. It is there that the author’s real work shines…”[t]he covenant does not come into effect on the basis of Israel’s obedience. On the contrary, Israel has already become the people of [G-d]…and on this basis they are called to keep his commandments.” Regardless of the author’s evaluation of the commands, Baker acknowledges at the final call that the purpose of Torah is not to establish a covenant, but rather provide the guidebook to the covenant that was already established. The letdown is shortly afterward, however, when Baker suggests that this covenant is no longer viable because there is no longer “the Old Testament people.” I am disappointed with this statement because I myself am one of those people, and I know of hundreds of others. The Jewish people may not be a majority people the world (quite the opposite as less than .2% of the population of the world today), but the Jewish people nonetheless still exist as a nation, people, and active religion.

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