Debunked: 5 Tea Party Patriot Myths About the Constitution

The author of the Constitution? Not so much...

In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Garrett Epps wrote an article titled “All Patriots ‘Know’ that Moses Wrote the Constitution.”

Now this in itself is nothing new. We have heard Sarah Palin say the same thing:

“I think we should keep this clean, keep it simple,” she told Bill O’Reilly. “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant. They’re quite clear that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments. It’s pretty simple.”

This seems to have become a Tea Party mantra, and it is entirely wrong. The Constitution is not based on the Bible or the Ten Commandments. I’ve said this before but it obviously bears saying again: God and the Ten Commandments are entirely absent from the Constitution and from the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments). These are documents deriving directly from the men we know as our Founding Fathers, the men who wrote the Constitution and saw it ratified.

Indeed, it seems there is more influence from the Pagan Roman Republican than from the Kingdoms of Israel or Judah. But no God, no Jesus, no Ten Commandments.

Yet over and over again we see the claim: “Without the Judeo-Christian heritage there would be no morality and no true human rights.”

Wrong again. Morality preceded the Bible by thousands of years. Morality was not invented in Israel. There were many law codes before the Ten Commandments, and they were Pagan law codes, my friends. And human rights? There are no human rights in the Bible. None.

There are human rights in the Constitution, and these derive not from some “Judeo-Christian heritage,” which is itself nothing but a Christian ideological construct necessitated by a Christian reliance upon Jewish scripture; it is meant to show a continuity between the two bodies of texts that does not in fact exist.  No, human rights derive from the very secular European Enlightenment.

Believe it or not, as Garrett Epps reveals, there is a mad but tenuous link argued for by these wishful thinkers, and it is quite astounding. Let me see if I can type this out without laughter or tears (I am not sure which are more appropriate) disrupting my typing. According to the Constitutional seminar Epps attended at Our Savior’s Way Lutheran Church in Ashburn, Va, “The Making of America,” presented by the National Center for Constitutional Studies:

  • God writes Constitution
  • God passes Constitution on to Moses
  • Moses brings Constitution to Israel
  • Constitution brought to England in 450 C.E. by Saxon invaders Hengist and Horsa
  • The Founding Fathers (led by Thomas Jefferson) copied the Constitution from this ancient Anglo-Saxon version.

That’s it, folks. I’ll pause while you finish laughing…or crying. I’m doing a little of both.
Let’s take a look at this invention of history, and I can’t say re-writing because it doesn’t bear enough resemblance to history to qualify. No, this is out-and-out speculative fiction here, folks. I mean, just at the outset I feel compelled to mention that Israel was a monarchy, and then a theocracy. The United States, needless to say, is neither. So the link would seem to be obviously false based on that fact alone, but let’s look at the argument in detail.

Even the claim that God wrote the Ten Commandments, which is clearly what they are talking about here, is not supported by the evidence. Take the fact that the Ten Commandments are written in the form of a Hittite Vassal Treaty, which were common in the Bronze Age.  Hittite treaties were generally of six parts:

1.       Preamble (identifying the author of the covenant and his titles and attributes. Begins with the formula “thus saith…”)

2.       Historical prologue or review (Describes the previous relationship between the parties and reminding the subordinate party of their dependence on the suzerain. The “I/thou” form of address is characteristic of this section)

3.       The stipulations (States in detail the obligations imposed upon and accepted by the vassal)

4.       Provision for deposit (placing the treaty in a place of honor in the vassal’s city)

5.       List of gods as witnesses

6.       The curses and blessings formula (what will happen if the terms of the treaty are or are not followed. See Deut. 28).[1]

The Ten Commandments are arranged in a very similar pattern: preamble, historical review, list of stipulations (the main body of the commandments).

So not only did God not write the Constitution, he didn’t write the Ten Commandments, unless God was a Hittite king (and the Hittites did not invent the vassal treaty but themselves inherited it from Pagan precursors. Given that the Hittites were Indo-European Pagans, I’m not certain anyone on the right wants to go there.

And Moses…there is a historical problem with Moses. There is historical evidence neither for a character named Moses, nor of immigration from Egypt to Israel, nor really of any Israelites in Egypt in the first place. Scholars have dismissed the old “Dorian” migrations as a myth because there isn’t any evidence for them. If Christianity wants to lay claim to being a historical religion then it must be subject to the same historical standards as everyone else, and if the Dorian migrations didn’t take place on the grounds of lack of evidence, then the same must be said of the Israelite migration.

Hengist and Horsa...who had nothing to do with the Constitution

And…oh boy…Hengist and Horsa… Here the bodily effluence gets truly deep. Not only do scholars not know if Hengist and Horsa actually existed, but if they did, they were Pagans. That’s just the facts. The Saxons, Angles, and Jutes, the earlier Germanic settlers of Post-Roman Britain, didn’t have Christianity yet.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth (Historia Regum Britanniae, Book 6), Hengist told the British leader,

“We worship,” replied Hengist, “our country gods, Saturn and Jupiter, and the other deities that govern the world, but especially Mercury, whom in our language we call Woden and to whom our ancestors consecrated the fourth day of the week, still called after his name Wodensday. Next to him we worship the powerful goddess, Frea, to whom they also dedicated the sixth day, which after her name we call Friday.”

Now every good Heathen like yours truly recognizes Woden (Odin) and Frea (Freyja) and we all should be aware that as Geoffrey says, Wednesday and Friday are named after them (Tuesday is named after Tyr/Tiw, another Germanic god).

Seriously, folks, if there is a link here between the Constitution and an ancient religion, it ain’t Judeo-Christian but Pagan. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’…

So it’s given that God didn’t write it and Moses didn’t bring it out of Egypt and the guys who didn’t bring it to England were Pagans, and Thomas Jefferson was in France while the Constitution was being written and had nothing to do with its authorship, the whole laughable myth collapses under its own weight.

Fact: The Constitution has very mundane origins. It was inspired by the secular European Enlightenment and new ideas circulating about inalienable or natural rights, and in particular, individual human rights, something not considered by the God-centered authors of the Hebrew Bible, who were not interested in rights, but in restrictions, not on what you can do, but what you must not do.

No, my fellow Americans, we have a Constitution, and that Constitution has an earthly, non-Jewish, non-Christian origin, and we should be proud of it, because we humans wrote it, not God, not some mythical figure out of legend, but we fallible humans. And it’s pretty damn good as human work goes. Not perfect, as we have learned over the past two hundred years, but pretty damn good.

I’d say we should be proud of it, and celebrate it for what it is, and not try to attach any mythical status to it either on the left (100% perfect deist Founders) or on the right (God and Moses). It is what it is, as they say, ratified and legal, and we should take it for what it is and make the best of it. It is, after all, the fallible (and human) thing to do.

[1] George Mendenhall  “Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition” The Biblical Archaeologist 17 (1954), 58-60.

10 Replies to “Debunked: 5 Tea Party Patriot Myths About the Constitution”

  1. Great blog. I enjoy your insights and how you use rational, cogent arguments backed up with citations. Another outstanding example of the difference between someone that thinks, and people that believe.

    The more the believers hold onto how they’d like things to be, the more anger we will see as reality conflicts with their delusion.

  2. Steve, thank you. I have a problem with a supposed “Constitutional” group resorting to myth-telling rather than fact. It’s frightening that all across America people are gathering together to be taught these lies. And their response is “I was never told this!” Of course you were never told this; it’s not true. It’s a lie. You already HAD the truth and now you’re casting it aside for “Patriot” myths. Incredible.

  3. these constitutionalists are people who see the Constitution in one way and will change it to match their own patterns. Along with you I laugh at these people as well. Getting back to the Constitution in 2010 is the same as saying we must get back to Islamic law. It’s little more than a talking point that the backers of the tea party and radical Republicans want you to know but not understand

    I’m kind of surprised that you didn’t bring up the code of Hammurabi on which most of the laws of the 10 Commandments are based on. Or the Sumerian’s who wrote the first flood epic and that the Israelites borrowed from to spin their own tale.

    anyone who had basic history in school knows that the Constitution is based on English and European documents. everything in the Bible is based on previous civilizations including the idea of a father in heaven.

    you know Hraf but I think this is why the Republicans want control of education to go to the states. They could spin a very precise and persuasive ideology on the beginnings of this country having root in their religion. It’s already obvious that they want to change the beginnings of this country wherever they can. That was evident in Texas

  4. There ended up being a lot of details I had to leave out because of space, so I tried to cover it by simply stating “There were many law codes before the Ten Commandments, and they were Pagan law codes, my friends.” And there were codes older than Hammurabi’s as well. As you say, it is all derivative and based on something else, except for the idea of true and false in religion, which was entirely new with monotheism.

    It’s a pretty simple plan they have, Shiva. I agree that control of education would help them a lot. Look what the Nazis did, and the Communists. Teach the kids to believe the party mantra. But reality bites these folks in the ass, as it did the Russians when they decided that genetics was capitalist nonsense and that they must follow philosophically “correct” genetics – dialectical materialism, and millions starved.

    Ignorance in today’s world is a sure road to ruin. And their god won’t do a thing to save them – or more importantly, US.

  5. Great blog, as usual.
    Do they stick the “Judeo” in so they can lay claim to the Old Testament’s vicious ideas?

    I finally came up with the appropriate response to “Are the words ‘separation of church and state’ in the Constitution?”

    “No. We use that phrase for ESL and children’s texts.”

  6. Another fine example of why I read this blog! Nice job!

    It’s so ironic to constantly hear the blather of people who claim the constitution as their guiding light, while simultaneously decrying equal rights for gays, claiming the founders intended us to be a Christian theocracy and attacking Muslim Americans’ right to build what they wanna build wherever they wanna build it.

    Palin wants “simple”? How about: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” That’s pretty simple. Unless the Declaration of Independence doesn’t count… Maybe we need to check it’s birth certificate…

  7. Guess we should discount all that cultural anthropological evidence out too huh? Like many of the first states using the Bible as a public text book, state Constitutions forbidding atheist and non-Christians from obtaining office, all those “legacy” things like 10 commandments hanging in our court rooms (for now, though they coming down), various “deist” who attended weekly Bible studies, etc…

    The only folks you are fooling is yourselves. Just come out and say it. We don’t want to be constrained by Judeo-Christian values anymore, so we are going to change things. Be upfront about it, quit spinning history and rewriting the past, it is unbecoming.

    You are correct though, America was never a Christian nation. Ask the American Indians and the slaves about that. But The Bible and Christianity did have a huge impact on our nation, to deny this is to selectively filter the past so you can shape the present and well as the future. Did you know that at one point the Supreme Court actually declare America a Christian nation? Wrongly perhaps, but their is your legal precedent. Oh yeah, we are selective on those too…

  8. They ridicule, fear, and call other religions cults, I call Paylins religion with their holy laughter, dancing and fainting in the spirit and other rituals, city voodoo. What makes what they do much different than back woods voodoo, without the fancy building to meet in.

  9. The true origin of the Constitution was the many flaws of the Articles of Confederation. The philosophical ideas on which it’s based are those of Montesquieu, Hume, and maybe Aristotle. Locke provided the original rationale for American independence. The most that can be said for any Judeo-Christian influence is that Locke’s natural rights were a derivation from natural law theory which comes out of the religious cosmology of Medieval thought. Basically, God’s law tells me it’s wrong to steal from other people and this is apparent by merely perceiving the natural order of things. From this derives the natural right to property.

  10. before you blog about the tea party, why don’t you try attending one? I’m an athiest and there is very little discussion about religion or how it impacts our constitution. In fact, if you read the three tenants of the tea party, they have NOTHING to do with anything religious at all. Fiscal Responsibility – Constitutionally Limited Government – Free Markets
    You are repeating flaming liberal rhetoric in an attempt to illegitimize a movement that will remove power from people in the government, they are using you and your tax dollars to further these myths. Don’t be a fool.

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