There's one little problem with the Ten Commandments that Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has been fighting to keep in the lobby of the state judicial building in Montgomery.
The commandments aren't numbered on the two-and-a-half-ton, jukebox-size granite monument that Moore moved secretly into the building under the cover of night two years ago. But the stone tablets, which were removed from public display Aug. 27, have five verses on the left and six on the right.
That adds up to 11 a potential source of confusion that points out something that hasn't been much noted. There's more than one version of the Ten Commandments. Moore's might not be the one you're accustomed to.
This came up recently on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation," where religious scholar Bruce Feiler, author of Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths, noted there are many versions that are "actually quite different."
Moore, he said, "is using the first tablets of stone, before Moses smashed them on the ground. He is also using the King James version.
"What he's actually chiseled in are 11 commandments," Feiler said. "He's got 'I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.' That's actually closest to the Jewish version. The fact that he separates them is confusing, because the Protestant version actually skips 'I am the Lord thy God.'"
Not that there's one Protestant version. Others include a "mainstream" version and a Lutheran version in addition to the Jewish version and the Catholic version. To name four.
Wording, interpretations and content differ. Maybe because chiseling is expensive, Moore's monument reduces the Tenth Commandment to "Thou shalt not covet." The King James version is considerably longer. Catholics and Lutherans break it into two commandments, one against coveting your neighbor's wife and one against coveting your neighbor's property.
Don Lattin, religion editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, noted that even the Bible includes two versions of the commandments, one in Exodus and one in Deuteronomy. Neither is numbered. By some counts, Lattin reported, there are 29 commandments.
A big surprise with Moore's monument is that it does not include the 11th commandment as handed down by Ronald Reagan: "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican." Then again, there are many 11th commandments to pick from.
"Don't beef at the umpire" was the 11th commandment of Herb Pennock, who wrote the Ten Commandments for Pitchers during a major-league career that lasted from 1912 to 1934. "Thou shalt not spam" is the 11th commandment of computer programmers, according to one list.
Other 11th commandments that turned up in a quick Internet search include: Thou shalt not judge. Thou shalt be kind. Thou shalt laugh often. Thou shalt not raise taxes. Honor thy pet. Thou shalt not parent thy parent. Honor thy children. Call your mother more often. Thou shalt not state that the Bible is consistent and hath no contradictions.
Feiler was asked on NPR to identify the "universally accepted" version of the Ten Commandments the one that Charlton Heston carried in the movie.
"I'm guessing he probably had the Hollywood version," he said.
Unfortunately, that opens a whole new debate. There is no single version in Hollywood, which can't even agree on the number.
By some accounts, the Hollywood version has only seven commandments they skip the ones about idolatry, adultery and coveting. By others, Hollywood has 11. The 11th is: If you've got it, flaunt it.
Moore should have included that one. Playing to the cameras with his show in Alabama, he sure knows how to keep it.
Tom Feran is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. This essay was carried by the Religion News Service. 92003, Religion News Service.