The Ten Commandments, eight of them at least, very closely resemble several of the Egyptian Principles of Ma’at written at least 2000 years earlier. I had previously written that the Commandments were “taken from” the Principles, but this claim of mine was not based on any historical evidence other than the close resemblance of the text and the timelines. It was my guess. Those who believe that God gave the commandments to Moses can also easily believe and understand that God likely directed some of the Principles of Ma’at as well. Should this be surprising?
I find the historical fact of this coincidence totally fascinating. I apologize for any consternation or religious squabbles this article may have caused. At some point in human development, I still believe we will have to reach agreements about which historical claims are factual in order to live in peace. For now, though, there is still plenty of room to agree to disagree as you can see by reading the comments after this article.
Written at least 2,000 years before the Ten Commandments of Moses, the 42 Principles of Ma’at are one of Africa’s, and the world’s, oldest sources of moral and spiritual instruction. Ma’at, the Ancient Egyptian divine Principle of Truth, Justice, and Righteousness, is the foundation of natural and social order and unity. Ancient Africans developed a humane system of thought and conduct which has been recorded in volumes of African wisdom literature, such as, these declarations from the Book of Coming Forth By Day (the so-called Book of the Dead), The Teachings of Ptah-Hotep, the writings of Ani, Amenemope, Merikare, and others.
One aspect of ancient Egyptian funerary literature which often is mistaken for a codified ethic of Ma’at is Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead, often called the 42 Declarations of Purity or the Negative Confession. These declarations varied somewhat from tomb to tomb, and so can not be considered a canonical definition of Ma’at. Rather, they appear to express each tomb owner’s individual conception of Ma’at, as well as working as a magical absolution (misdeeds or mistakes made by the tomb owner in life could be declared as not having been done, and through the power of the written word, wipe that particular misdeed from the afterlife record of the deceased).
Many of the lines are similar, however, and they can help to give the student a “flavor” for the sorts of things which Ma’at governed–essentially everything from the most formal to the most mundane aspect of life.
Many versions are given on-line, unfortunately seldom do they note the tomb from which they came or, whether they are a collection from various different tombs. – wiki
Here is one collection to give you the general idea:
I have not done iniquity.
I have not robbed with violence.
I have not stolen.
I have not made any to suffer pain.
I have not defrauded offerings.
I have done no murder nor bid anyone to slay on my behalf.
I have not trimmed the measure.
I have not spoken lies I have not robbed God.
I have not caused the shedding of tears.
I have not dealt deceitfully.
I have not acted guilefully.
I have not laid waste to the land.
I have not set my lips against anyone.
I have not been angry or wrathful without a just cause.
I have not lusted nor defiled the wife of any man.
I have not polluted myself.
I have not caused terror.
I have not done that which is abominable.
I have not multiplied words exceedingly.
I have never uttered fiery words.
I have not judged hastily.
I have not transgressed nor have I vexed or angered God.
I have not stopped my ears against the words of Right and Truth .
I have not burned with rage.
I have not worked grief.
I have not acted with insolence.
I have not avenged myself.
I have not stirred up strife.
I have not been an eavesdropper.
I have not wronged the people
I have done no harm nor have I done evil
I have not worked treason.
I have never fouled the water.
I have not spoken scornfully.
I have never cursed God.
I have not behaved with arrogance.
I have not envied or craved for that which belongs to another.
I have not filched food from the mouth of the infant.
I have done no hurt unto man, nor wrought harm unto beasts.
I have never magnified my condition beyond what was fitting.
Here is a different translation showing how they correlate with the 10 commandments. Moses, if he existed, (there is no undisputed historical/archaeological evidence that he did, other than the Bible), was an Egyptian. According to stories, he was adopted by an Egyptian royal family. He would have been familiar with these principles, and when given the tablets by God, therefore, he would not have been very surprised to read most of them.
|THE 42 COMMANDMENTS OF ANCIENT EGYPT|
|I.||Thou shalt not kill, nor bid anyone kill.|
|II.||Thou shalt not commit adultery or rape.|
|III.||Thou shalt not avenge thyself nor burn with rage.|
|IV.||Thou shalt not cause terror.|
|V.||Thou shalt not assault anyone nor cause anyone pain.|
|VI.||Thou shalt not cause misery.|
|VII.||Thou shalt not do any harm to man or to animals.|
|VIII.||Thou shalt not cause the shedding of tears.|
|IX.||Thou shalt not wrong the people nor bear them any evil intent.|
|X.||Thou shalt not steal nor take that which does not belong to you.|
|XI.||Thou shalt not take more than thy fair share of food.|
|XII.||Thou shalt not damage the crops, the fields, or the trees.|
|XIII.||Thou shalt not deprive anyone of what is rightfully theirs.|
|XIV.||Thou shalt not bear false witness, nor support false allegations.|
|XV.||Thou shalt not lie, nor speak falsely to the hurt of another.|
|XVI.||Thou shalt not use fiery words nor stir up any strife.|
|XVII.||Thou shalt not speak or act deceitfully to the hurt of another.|
|XVIII.||Thou shalt not speak scornfully against others.|
|XIX.||Thou shalt not eavesdrop.|
|XX.||Thou shalt not ignore the truth or words of righteousness.|
|XXI.||Thou shalt not judge anyone hastily or harshly.|
|XXII.||Thou shalt not disrespect sacred places.|
|XXIII.||Thou shalt cause no wrong to be done to any workers or prisoners.|
|XXIV.||Thou shalt not be angry without good reason.|
|XXV.||Thou shalt not hinder the flow of running water.|
|XXVI.||Thou shalt not waste the running water.|
|XXVII.||Thou shalt not pollute the water or the land.|
|XXVIII.||Thou shalt not take God’s name in vain.|
|XXIX.||Thou shalt not despise nor anger God.|
|XXX.||Thou shalt not steal from God.|
|XXXI.||Thou shalt not give excessive offerings nor less than what is due.|
|XXXII.||Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.|
|XXXIII.||Thou shalt not steal from nor disrespect the dead.|
|XXXIV.||Thou shalt remember and observe the appointed holy days.|
|XXXV.||Thou shalt not hold back the offerings due God.|
|XXXVI.||Thou shalt not interfere with sacred rites.|
|XXXVII.||Thou shalt not slaughter with evil intent any sacred animals.|
|XXXVIII.||Thou shalt not act with guile or insolence.|
|XXXIX.||Thou shalt not be unduly proud nor act with arrogance.|
|XL.||Thou shalt not magnify your condition beyond what is appropriate.|
|XLI.||Thou shalt do no less than your daily obligations require.|
|XLII.||Thou shalt obey the law and commit no treason.|