BY RICHARD L. FRICKER
The opening of the Oklahoma Legislature kicks off the yearly buffoon competition wherein various legislators vie for the opportunity to portray Oklahoma to the nation as filled with slack-jawed people in clown suits, Bible in one hand, gun in the other followed by a pit bull and a barefoot pregnant teenage wife wearing a Jim Inhofe t-shirt.
The frontrunner thus far? Rep. J. Michael Ritze, D.O., R-Broken Arrow, wants to erect an obelisk of the Ten Commandments on the Capitol lawn.
Perhaps Ritze feels Oklahomans are in such moral, legal and social disrepair that they need to be reminded not to lie, cheat, steal, kill or commit social offenses. Or it may be he feels the various religious institutions across the state have fallen down on the job of teaching the tenets of the decalogue, the common term for the Ten Commandments.
There is an average one religious-based school per county – difficult to believe all have abandoned teaching the Ten Commandments. The State Department of Education lists 69 accredited religious schools. The Association of Christian Schools International holds 47 Oklahoma schools on its rolls, another list of “Christian” schools cites 95 Oklahoma schools.
Alas, these lists are not complete. Many “Christian” schools are not accredited and operate independently, without oversight.
If the religious education of Oklahomans is intact, why the obelisk?
Whatever his reasoning, or lack thereof, RepDoc’s proposal has a couple of problems. His contention that the Ten Commandments form the basis of our current legal system is fraught with errors.
The “Law” is fluid – a concept that should be obvious to someone who has volunteered, begged and campaigned for the opportunity to make and pass laws governing his neighbors and fellow citizens. Law has always evolved and there is a plethora of historical and biblical information to debunk RepDoc’s position.
A quick stroll down Bible lane illustrates that there were lots of laws before Moses looted Pharaoh’s treasury and hightailed into the desert to conquer some unsuspecting people who had never harmed the Hebrews.
Joseph of multicolored dream coat comes to mind.
Joseph was thrown into the royal slam on the false testimony of Mrs. Pharaoh. She claimed he asked her to do the naked bump boogie. That was the story she told the big man. We’re left to assume there were laws against coveting thy neighbor’s wife, especially Mrs. Pharaoh.
When we find adult Moses he’s on the run for whacking an overseer – must have been some murder laws in place or he wouldn’t have tossed the good life. So, we’ve got some moral and social laws in place long before Moses journeyed up the mountain.
The earliest known set of laws is the Code of Ur-Nammo [2050BCE], next comes the Laws of Eshnunna [1930 BCE], Lipt-Ishtar of Isin [1870 BCE] followed by the most famous Code of Hammurabi [1760 BCE].
Interestingly, Hammurabi claimed, and this comes by way of a stele found in 1901 by Gustav Jequier and currently on display at the Louvre, his god gave him the law. His exact words, inscribed on the stele, “Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land.”
Hammurabi’s pronouncement predates Moses by about 400 years. But before dealing with Moses, there is the little matter of the Hittites.
The Hittites came after Hamm-boy but before Moses. Their Code of the Nesilim contained 200 laws. What is important here is that they had trade and political agreements with the Egyptians beginning with the rule of Thutmose III [1479-1425 BCE]; we’re still a hundred years from Moses.
The Egyptians and Hittites interacted for a couple of hundred years until they fell into disagreement ending at the battle of Kadesh [1273 BCE]. The Pharaoh claimed victory, history says otherwise. Nevertheless, the Hittites soon faded off the world stage.
Moses, raised at Pharaoh’s court, would most certainly been aware of the Hittites. It would follow he would have known about their code. The Hittite law, as with Hammurabi and its predecessors, looks a lot like what has become known as the decalogue.
The idea of Divine inspiration predates Moses by 400 years. What better way to get folks to go along than to say it’s not your law, it’s God’s, it worked for Hammurabi and he was famous.
About Moses – the whole account of the law-giving is in the Torah, which was not completed until some time between 539-334 BCE. The Rabbis at that time back-dated the Moses story to about 1380 BCE, which would have been during the Egyptian-Hittite happy times. Evidence of the entire Exodus story is still being debated by scholars of all faiths to this day.
It would have been reasonable to assume that before RepDoc made his proposal he would have done some simple research. RepDoc has a couple of college degrees, teaches at a college, is in the law-making business and has access to lots of academics.
Additionally, there are many universities, religious, private and secular within the state, all have history departments, RepDoc could have made the call.
At the very least he could have checked the Internet, assuming he knows how to Google. If not, perhaps someone he trusts, such as an insurance lobbyists or prosecutors, could provide instruction.
Perhaps this explains his fascination with pathology and forensic law enforcement. Has there ever been a cadaver sue a pathologist for being wrong?
About the obelisk, which version of the decalogue does RepDoc have in mind? Presently there four or five versions in circulation throughout the U.S. Christian community.
Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists and their respective divisions, Methodists, and numerous other denominations use a form, but not necessarily the same form of the decalogue. There are also differing translations within Judaism, not to mention Islam has its interpretations of the 10 laws.
While these interpretations “generally” agree the differences can sometime spark heated debate. So, which one would be the Oklahoma Standard Ten Commandments? If RepDoc has one in mind he’s keeping very quiet.
There are many pitfalls in selecting which interpretation to use, going all the way back to the original translations from Greek, then to Hebrew and Latin. Which translation is the most accurate? Good question. Not to mention the various renditions offered just in English which has changed so much over the last thousand years.
Needless to say, but should be noted, Moses did not have an English-speaking scribe scurrying about waiting for Henry VIII to come about and start that whole Church of England business.
So which one is the most correct? Because there is always the risk of offending one group or the other and then finding oneself, in this case the people of Oklahoma via the Attorney General’s office, in court. Maybe a committee of theologians, preachers, soothsayers, seers, a rabbi or two, a couple of monks and some fellow that just heard the call and founded the First Church of the Third Stop Light on Main Street would be the answer.
Needless to say, the Southern Baptist Convention would not agree to let the decision be made by a group of Jesuits, nor would the Episcopalians be willing to accept the decision of the Baptists, the Methodists most likely would disagree with the Episcopalian view and so on and so on, each with their own theological view not to mention the Rabbis and Imams.
While such an undertaking may sound historic, it’s not. This same exercise has been going on since the Emperor Constantine in the 300s and it hasn’t been settled yet. It’s just that everyone has agreed to follow their own path and leave the others alone – that is until RepDoc.
Another solution would be to let the Oklahoma Legislature decide the true word of the God. Of course there might be some resistance, not to mention lamentations.
A decision, if reached, would be open to court challenges, eventually ending at the Supreme Court. This would open up the prospect of nine lawyers deciding the true word of God.
The problem seems to keep compounding itself. Maybe the best solution is to not build the obelisk. It’s not needed, would only spread dissatisfaction and cost money. The entire idea is as full of biological waste as a holiday gobbler.
Doubtless some legislators, imbibed with their own evangelical zeal and disregard for logic and history, or in a moment of unbridled cowardice fearing the “evangelical backlash” – whatever that is – will vote to go forward with the RepDoc obelisk. Then there will the haggle over design, placement, contracting and issues yet unborn.
Ultimately the obelisk may well be built. However, its only real accomplishment will be the undying gratitude of every stray canine within walking distance.
– Richard L. Fricker lives in Tulsa, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer