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).
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.
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.
 George Mendenhall “Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition” The Biblical Archaeologist 17 (1954), 58-60.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.