If Moses Existed, Did He Have Two Tablets On Sinai Or Only One?

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg of the Jerusalem-based Albright Institute of Archaeological Research asks what at first seems to be a stunning question – did Moses get stonne two tablets on Mount Sinai or only one? Rosenberg answers this question rather conclusively. But first, he points out a problem in out traditional understanding of the biblical text:

…[Two stone tablets] seems to be the easy way to read the biblical texts in Exodus and Deuteronomy, but were the Ten Commandments really engraved on two tablets, which together would have weighed one-quarter of a ton according to the dimensions given in the Talmud (Baba Bathra 14a)? Luckily the Gemara, which describes the tablets as each having been like a very large paving slab and six times as thick, does not have a monopoly on our history.

In any case, would it have made sense to engrave one of the shortest codes of Law on two pieces of stone, however large or small? If we look back into antiquity, we can see the actual pieces of stone of several codes of law. The most famous is the Code of Hammurabi of about 1750 BCE, which has 282 laws engraved in cuneiform on one mighty black stone, front and back. Also from Mesopotamia is the earlier code of 61 laws of Eshnunna of about 2000 BCE, and the 38 extant laws of Lipit-Ishtar of Sumer from a period a little later. These were all written on one piece of stone with a rounded head, as are major inscriptions from ancient Egypt, though we have no code of laws from that country.

To inscribe a set of laws, particularly such a succinct one as the Ten Commandments, on two pieces of stone seems to be asking for trouble. Is one stone the important one, and the other less so? Is one first class and the other second? What if one is lost, will its laws be forgotten and considered defunct?… [I would only half in jest note that we do have the more important, less important problem today, with the division going, more important: laws between God and man, less important: laws between man and man.–Shmarya]

So, we have stone tablets way to heavy for even the strongest human to carry. This is what our so-called mesora tells us to believe. Rosenberg now looks to the biblical text itself to clarify this:

…From the biblical texts it looks as if there were certainly two tablets, in Hebrew the word is luhot. Its original meaning is based on the root laha, meaning fresh or moist. In old age, Moses does not lose his freshness (leiho, Deut. 34:7). In a dispute between rival advisers to King Ahab, one prophet hits another on the cheek (haleihi, I Kings 22:24), a ruddy cheek being a sign of good health, of freshness. As leihi basically means the human cheek, then the two tablets or two luhot would be the two cheeks or sides of the one stone. This is further underlined by a passage in Ezekiel (27:5) which talks of the fine ships of the port of Tyre having their cedar wood made luhotayim, in the dual plural, meaning that the ships’ planks had two smooth faces, or cheeks, on the underside as well as the top. Only the best ships would have that refinement. It looks therefore as if the two luhot of the Ten Commandments could be the two cheeks or smooth faces of one piece of stone.

IF WE look again at the Bible texts, we should now read them in that light. In Deut. 9:15, Moses says "and the two luhot of the Covenant were on my two hands," meaning the two smooth sides of one heavy stone. More revealing is 9:10, "He gave me the two luhot of stone written with the finger of God." Although the word stone is in the plural in the Hebrew, it implies the material and not the pieces, and is always translated in the singular, meaning that the "cheeks" were of stone, that is, the two sides were of stone. This is made clear in Exodus 24:12 which is quite explicit, when God says to Moses, "I will give you the luhot of the stone (ha’even)." And Exodus 31:18 says that He, God, gave "the two luhot of the Testimony, luhot of stone [singular], written with the finger of God."…

So, let’s recap. We have a gemara that claims the impossible, a superhuman feat. We also have a rational explanation that fits well with the biblical text and with available historical evidence. Faced with this choice, what would you choose?

Before you answer that, look at this:

…[I]n 32:15, when Moses descended from the mountain, "the two luhot of the Testimony were in his hand, luhot written from their two sides (evreihem), from this side and that they were written."

If the tablets were two individual hunks of stone, no matter their size, how would this have worked? Rashi answers that question in a most bizarre fashion. The letters were engraved in a miraculous fashion, completely through the stone, so they were visable from both sides. What’s miraculous about that? According to Rashi, whatever side you looked at was perfectly legible. Also, neither side had reversed letters, and round, closed letters were magically suspended in the stone.

Rosenberg answers Rashi this way:

…[The biblical passage] refers to the single stone itself, which had two sides (everim) of smooth faces or cheeks, and that it was the single stone that was written, or better engraved, on both of its faces.

The conclusion is, then, that the Ten Commandments – like other ancient codes of law such as the Code of Hammurabi – were engraved on both faces of one stone.

Of course, the problem with all this rational information and historical data is that it contradicts the fantasies of generations of rabbis. Did Moses even exist? It’s an open question. But one thing seems sure; if he did, he carried one stone, smoothed and engraved on two sides.

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “If Moses Existed, Did He Have Two Tablets On Sinai Or Only One?

  1. C-G

    It’s a very new and controversial idea, but some have raised the possibility that Moshe Rabbeinu actually had a Blackberry up there on Har Sinai. There’s probably a gematria somewhere in Shemot that supports this assertion.

  2. Anonymous

    I find it funny that people can accept the ten plagues, and the manna falling from heaven, and the splitting of the sea and all other miracles iin the tanach. But when the talmud describes other miracles back then not explicitly mentioned in the text, people suddenly say, “Thats impossible!” If elijah can be taken up in a whirlwind of fire, moshe could have carried two very heavy luchot.

  3. JJ

    How silly!

    All I can say is stop being SHEEPLE! Do you not possess any cognitive ability.

    Don’t you see that there arte always explanations to explain previous unexplainable explanations, and so on, and so on…. besides anything can be rationalised, but that does not way make it factual in any way.

    As someone here likes to state occasionally; Get out while you can!

  4. mb

    This is an old piece perfectly consistant with Torah. Prof.Rosenberg is an Orthodox Jew.The question of Moses’s existance is brought by you and not Prof.Rosenberg, which makes your headline somewhat intellectually dishonest.

  5. Anonymous

    JJ, have you read the body of literature explaining in a logical, organized fashion how the torah is truth? If you haven’t researched the many astounding accomplishments of the jewish religion and people, as well as the fulfilled torah prophecies that none of the great minds have been able to explain away, then I’m afraid you are one of the sheeple of the secular world. Before you reject the torah, first do all the necessary research to know what a beautiful thing you are rejecting.

  6. Neo-Conservaguy

    By no means does one have to accept the literal understandings of all Torah writings to cling to the beauty of Torah. A rejection of a particular pshat doesn’t mean there can’t be tremendous metaphorical meaning to someone. Why agonize over trying to rationalize a tradition that can never be proved or disproved? Let the fundamentalist have their beliefs; they don’t control my beliefs, I don’t control theirs. What I know, however, is that Judaism has been progressing for thousands of years, sometimes in clear opposition of the Torah text. Time marches on.

  7. Yochanan Lavie

    One can still believe in divine revelation, even if there was only one stone. Why “hock a tchinik” over the details?

  8. za

    Well, one slab of stone with the size described in the Torah is still 125 Kg according to this guy’s calculation (half of 250 Kg had it been two slabs.) And don’t forget we are taking about an eighty years old man!

    All this article is BS as is the trend among Israeli Archaeologists. They all write BS and junk science!

    To people like me, who believe in the Torah, then it does not matter whether it was one or two Luhot. However many, Moshe carried them in a miracolous way – and the text says two and means to all Hebrew speakers (except of junk scientists) two.

    To people who do not believe then there are many obstacles such as: a) Moshe never existed, b) if he existed, he did not get any heavenly object, otherwise they would have to believe – this point is rather fundamental… but if we explain that somehow, then, c) the object or objects could not be that heavy, so it does not matter if it’s one or two – they would have to be much lighter… and so on – I am sure that the non-believer can come with more creative arguments from here to eternity.

    Now, about the trend among Israeli junk science Archaeologists. One have just to read the latest crop of articles that is coming from that school of thought. The deny almost anything that the Bible says, based on non-evidence or the presumption that any other source that they may find is more reliable then the Bible. My pet peeve is an article that was published in the Biblical Archaeological Review several years ago. In it, the Israeli pseudo-scientist admits that the Bible and the Assyrian Royal Library (found in Nineweh) agree with each other to the T, except of that the library does not describe the siege on Yerushalaim and that there is a 5years siscrapency between two correlating events (that happened close to 2700 years ago – may be his interpretation or understanding of the timing is wrong?). This allow that Archaeologist to dismis the story in the Bible about a plague that killed most of the Assyrian army. He does not even bother to check the other possibility that there was a plague (regular occurance in armies that perform siege in the ancient times because of poor sanitation,) and that the Assyrian king would not like to admit a failure (ancient time cover-up.)

    As I’d said, Israeli Archaeologists drove themselves into the corner of junk science and I would not give too much plausibility to anything they say.

  9. Neo-Conservaguy

    “My pet peeve is an article that was published in the Biblical Archaeological Review several years ago. In it, the Israeli pseudo-scientist admits that the Bible and the Assyrian Royal Library (found in Nineweh) agree with each other to the T, except of that the library does not describe the siege on Yerushalaim and that there is a 5years siscrapency between two correlating events (that happened close to 2700 years ago – may be his interpretation or understanding of the timing is wrong?).”

    What issue contains these statements? Inquiring minds want to know.

  10. Can God create a stone that God can not pick up? – Could Moses have written on a stone that he couldn’t have picked up?
    A few things to consider:

    1. According so a midrash somewhere – Moses was a GIANT!!! (it gives examples and messurments)

    2. If the Tablets where carved ALL THE WAY THROUGH – it would be considerably lighter

    3. The Ark was said to ‘carry itself’ – there might be corelation between the content of the Ark (namely the Tablet(s) of Stone) and its apparent weightlesness.

    4. The Ark containin the Ten Commandment (Tablet(s) of Stone) when in in the Holy of Holies is said to have been measurable and immeasurable – that it took up space and did not at the same time – it existed and did not exist. Maybe the Tablets of Stone also didn’t exist?

    5. The 1st Tablets of Stone where Crafted BY GOD ITSELF! who creates the laws of Nature?!?!

    6. We are talking of a mystical text not a history lesson

  11. Moses being a giant: Yess, there is such a midrash. 15 to 18 feet tall. But as a physics illui once told me, that in itself is very problematic, because the human skeleton cannot support such weight. If Moses was that tall, he would have been an invalid.

  12. ed

    >But as a physics illui once told me, that in itself is very problematic, because the human skeleton cannot support such weight.

    In proportion, his skeleton would be bigger and stronger. Why would it be a problem?

  13. Think design and engineering, not girth.

  14. Yochanan Lavie

    Jonathan Swift would be delighted by this midrash.

  15. The problem is Shmarya that if you give up believing in miracles, then I believe your not living in Reality – but a morbid, cynical dream of your own making.

    You might be right in arguing that believing in the possibility of miracles is ‘not reality…dream of (my) own making’ – but reality is actually Miraculous!

    That’s not to say that some Rabbi’s in the Talmud (and Kal Ve Comer) in Today’s generation are not a bunch of idiots.

    Neither do i support the use of superstition to control the masses, but to react against stupid rabbis and to say that miracles aren’t possible – is a limited view of reality, which I don’t feel captures the nature of things.

  16. Max –

    I’m not saying miracles are impossible. What I’m saying is the reliance on miracles (that are not stated in the Tanakh) to “explain” and enhance Judaism is foolish. In the case of the 18 foot tall Moses, past foolish.

  17. ed

    >Think design and engineering, not girth.

    What about it? What’s the problem?

  18. Look at the people who have giantism, for example. their bones fracture and they become bed-bound.

  19. Anonymous

    “The problem is Shmarya that if you give up believing in miracles, then I believe your not living in Reality”

    If by miracles you mean the beauty and wonder found in nature, Yes!

    If by miracles you mean having supernatural aspects, No! that would be childish thinking.

  20. Someone said: “If by miracles you mean having supernatural aspects, No! that would be childish thinking”.

    Nope! I mean that reality – ‘beauty and wonder found in nature’ is ACTUALLY Miraculous! Nature is actually Supernatural – that’s very different idea!

    Moreover, the term and definition of ‘Natural’ that you are working with is a very limited and narrow view and conception.

    To define the parameters of reality by what you learnt in School is actually ‘childish thinking’.

    To still use the reading mentality of a child is also relatively ‘childish’.

    If you read what i posted you’d not even bother answering – but rather say to yourself –

    “hmmmm – what a weird guy! what a funny view of things he has – i’m sure he must be smoking drugs!?”

    Please see points:

    1. According so a midrash somewhere – Moses was a GIANT!!! (it gives examples and measurements)

    6. We are talking of a mystical text not a history lesson

    Please put them together!!!

  21. Shmarya – one can not live in reaction for very long without becoming self-destructive and foolish ourselves.

  22. True. Maybe we should all become Buddhists?

  23. Shmarya – become a Buddhist if you really deeply and honestly fel that is your calling in life – but don’t do it just to escape being a messed up Jew. Peace*

  24. Perhaps agnostic would be a better choice, or skeptic.

  25. i thought that’s what you were already – but it’s still a reaction.

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