Anti-swearing law

James E. Clapp jeclapp at WANS.NET
Wed Feb 23 00:15:50 UTC 2000

Anne Gilbert wrote:
> I've seen various translations of the Bible, and I
> know what you're talking about.

I haven't, so I thought I'd take a gander at the Web and see what
translations--particularly of the Ten Commandments--might come readily
to hand.  It's not completely off-topic, since one of the commandments
(the second or third, depending on your belief system) prohibits
swearing, or at at any rate blasphemy.  The translations I found may
fall into a relatively narrow spectrum (most people who put up sites
devoted to the Bible seem to fall into a relatively narrow spectrum of
religious orientation), but it was still enlightening.

Seventeen different versions of the Ten Commandments--each on a
different colored background--are given at  One is a sort of precis; one
is a transliteration of Hebrew; there is one each from a French, German,
and Spanish Bible; and the rest are from various English-language
Bibles.  (Of course I can't vouch for the accuracy of the
transcriptions, and unfortunately the sources are identified only by
name with no other publication information.)  It makes for some fairly
interesting comparisons (e.g., "commit adultery" vs. "be false to the
married relation"; "kill" vs. "put anyone to death without cause")

I think those are mostly Protestant versions of the Bible.  I couldn't
find a site with Catholic translations, though a bunch of different
Catholic versions of the Bible exist as well.  Several are available at; one of these is billed as "the only
major modern translation of the Catholic Bible available in standard
English. All other major translations have been revised to conform to
feminist demands for 'inclusive language' (the same language Rome
rejected in the new Catechism)"--which arouses my curiosity about
whether some of the efforts at "inclusive language" have affected the
particularly one-sided commandment about coveting your neighbor's "wife"
and "his" other possessions.

The Catholic Encyclopedia touches on the choice between the Exodus and
the Deuteronomy versions of the commandments, and discusses at some
length the issue of numbering and which churches divide the commandments
up how.  It's at  (The basic
problem is that--judging from "Young's Literal Translation" on the site
first mentioned--there are actually twelve commands, so there has to be
some finagling to make them fit into the Procrustean format of *Ten*
commandments.  I guess you could say that some of them have to get into
the Procrustean bed together, and different religious authorities, such
as the Council of Trent, have paired them off in different ways.)

Versions of the Ten Commandments in Spanish and Hebrew, as well as
English, are also available at  One slight
disadvantage of these versions, however, is that they come carved in

Of course, with text as fraught with meaning as this, any single
translation is an oversimplification.  One reason for being leery of
posting the Ten Commandments in schools is that, regardless of whose
version is posted, it will basically be meaningless--indeed
deceptive--without an exegesis.  For example, that part about the
neighbor's manservant and maidservant and other things that are his:
Aren't we talking about bond-servants here--i.e. slaves (i.e. property,
like the wife and the ass)?  I never hear this discussed.  (Nor the fact
that there is no prohibition on a woman coveting her neighbor's
husband--nor, so far as I've heard, on a woman lying with another woman,
though that takes us outside the Ten Commandments.)  I've always
wondered about the servant issue, so it was interesting to see that one
of the Bibles on the site first mentioned above actually uses the word
"bondman," and two others come right out with it and call the manservant
and maidservant "slaves."  Most remarkably (and commendably), one of the
latter is a children's Bible.

In my glance at the Web I didn't find anything along the lines of a
thorough exegesis.  I did find a few explanatory notes, including this,
which was news to me:

"Adultery at this time was intermixing . . . a heritage with another
heritage. (interracial mixing)"

That's from  If there
is any basis at all to say that a more accurate translation would be
"Thou shalt not commit miscegenation," that certainly deserves
discussion.  (Maybe Newt Gingrich isn't a sinner after all!)  This
particular source, however, loses me when it goes on to explain:  "This
was forbidden by God to protect the seed of Christ (which had to be pure
and without blemish) in Israel from intermixing with foreign entities."
Now, I don't know anything about these things, but... The seed of
Christ?  In the Old Testament?  [Still, at least one of the translations
at the site first mentioned above lends credence to the notion that the
Ten Commandments embody a distinction between the clan and foreigners:
What most translations have as "neighbor," it translates as "fellow

I set out simply to see what there might be on the Internet about
different translations of the Ten Commandments.  But to tell the
truth--even though it is off-topic--it's hard to research the Ten
Commandments on the Internet without getting a little scared at the
mind-set of some of those who are most fervent about them.  To take the
most extreme example, a purported organization (i.e., at least one
person) billed as the "Society for the Practical Establishment and
Perpetuation of the Ten Commandments," at, in an "editorial" by a self-described
minister, has this to say about the murder of Matthew Shepard, who was
beaten, burned, and hung up on a fence like a scarecrow (not to say like
Christ) to die:

". . . although the two men are guilty of taking the law into their own
hands by beating the homosexual, yet by so doing, they did far better
than the government by helping get rid of one who should have been put
to death by the government.

"The crime those men committed is not a heinous one - certainly not as
heinous as homosexuality. The sentence they will receive should be a
very light one since they removed a small piece of the heinous
homosexual plague from the society that should have been removed by the

"It is not that these men severely beat an innocent person. But they
beat a high criminal in the sight of God as a result of this homosexual
criminal making a pass at one of them. The homosexual really got what he
deserved. Gays have rightfully lost their right to life by virtue of
their homosexuality.

"God, mankind's Creator, who knows what is best for mankind simply
because He is their Creator, says, 'If there is a man who lies with a
male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a
detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness
is upon them' (Leviticus 20:13)."

I guess this means that in the Ten Commandments the injunction to men
not to covet their neighbor's ass takes precedence trumps the one about
not killing.

By the way, this site--in common with most of the others I saw--does not
use the King James translation, and I'm guessing that the main reason is
that version's use of the word "kill," which is eschewed in the
translations that seem to be favored today.  So it appears that many of
those who want to post the Ten Commandments in schools probably would
*not* choose the King James version, which might confuse impressionable
schoolchildren into questioning war, the electric chair, shooting the
guy who is trying to steal your TV, etc.  I also wonder if the versions
they want to post include the longest two commandments in their
entirety.  These really, really important ones, judging from the amount
of explanatory material God included in them, are the one about not
making any image of anything in the sky or on the earth or in the water,
and the one about not working on the Sabbath--meaning you can't spend
the day at the mall.  Many versions of the Ten Commandments that I saw
on the Web--which were really summaries rather than translations--pared
those down to practically nothing.

James E. Clapp

More information about the Ads-l mailing list