Every Jot and Tittle: All the commandments in the Bible||
Every Jot and Tittle: All of the Bible’s Commandments
Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law. Matthew 5:18If Jesus really said these words, he wasn’t much of a prophet. Because nearly every jot and tittle of biblical law is ignored by his followers today, as it has been throughout the history of Christianity. Even the Jews stopped obeying most of the commandments after the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.1 And yet despite Jesus's prophecy, the earth is still here. (It's hard to say about heaven, though. Maybe it has passed away.)
But let’s pretend that Jesus was right about the Old Testament’s laws. What would that mean?
Well, here’s how he put it in the next verse:
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19According to Jesus, then, Christians should teach and obey all of the Bible’s commandments. Whoever does that will be great in the kingdom of heaven; whoever does not will be least. (If they make it there at all.)
So say you decide to follow Jesus on this and become great in the kingdom of heaven. What would you do?
Well, the first thing you’d do is list all of the Bible’s laws. You can’t follow laws that you don’t know exist.
As far as I know, no Christian has ever done this. But the Jews have. The first to do so was Rabbi Simlai in the third century CE, who claimed there were 613 commandments in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) -- 365 negative commandments, one for every day in the year; and 248 positive ones, one for every bone in the human body (there are actually 206, but oh well).2 The rabbi’s magic numbers made it into the Talmud3 and have become (more or less) Jewish dogma since then.
Besides the nifty 365/248 split of the 613 commandments, there are other reasons why the number just had to be 613. The Talmud refers to the commandments as "Taryag Mitzvot." The Hebrew word "mitzvot" means commandments (singular: "mitzvah") and "Taryag" is a Hebrew acronym that is numerically equivalent to 613, since the Hebrew letter tav = 400, resh = 200, yud = 10, and gimel = 3, for a grand total of 613. And (as if that wasn't enough) the word "Torah" is numerically equivalent to 611,4 which when added to the two special commandments that were supposedly given directly by God (without Moses's intervention)5 gives 613. QED.
Previously I said that Rabbi Simlai was the first person to list the commandments. But that's not quite true. He didn't actually list the commandments; he just stated that there are 613 of them, 365 negative and 248 positive. How he determined these numbers without a list is unclear. It must have been a miracle or a revelation or something.
The commandments weren't actually listed until the eighth century, five hundred years after the Talmud fixed their number at 613. Simon Kayyara created the first list, which of course totaled 613, with the 365/248 split between positive and negative commandments -- with one rather embarrassing difference: Kayyara listed 365 positive and 248 negative commandments, the exact opposite of of the numbers proposed by Simlai and codified in the Talmud.6
In the next few centuries there were other lists, each with the canonical number of 613. But by far the most famous was that of Moses Maimonides in the 12th century. Maimonides claimed that all previous attempts were filled with errors and any future listing would be unnecessary, because his list is absolutely perfect in every way, as he explained in his introduction:7
When by using this work, the total comes out correct, clearly proven and without any doubts, the reader will be able to detect the errors of all who use a method other than this to count the Mitzvot. ... For I shall explain all of the Mitzvot and list them individually, bring proof in any case of doubt or where there is the possibility that someone without deep knowledge of Torah could err. I will eliminate his error and explain all his doubts.
Other lists have been made in the last 850 or so years since Maimonides, with additions, deletions and rewordings, but always preserving the magical number 613 and the positive/negative subcounts of 245/365. But none of these could compete with Maimonides's list, which has since become standard throughout Judaism.
Maimonides's ListAs Maimonides recognized, it isn’t easy to list the Bible’s commandments. There's a tremendous amount of repetition, with enough variation to make it hard to know if similar-sounding commandments are different enough to be listed separately. It’s also often difficult to decide if a commandment is specific to a particular person at a particular time, or whether it's general enough to apply to everyone. And how should verses that include several commandments be treated: as one compound commandment or as several simple ones?
One thing is obvious, though: no two independent and honest listers are likely include many of the same commandments on their lists -- and they certainly will not agree on the total number of commandments or on the number of positive and negative ones.
So how did it happen that every attempt in the last twelve hundred years always came up with the same number of commandments (613), with the same 248/365 positive/negative split (albeit sometimes reversed)?
There's only one possible answer to that question. They cheated.
The magic numbers were written in the the Talmud, so the required numbers were always achieved in the lists.
Maimonides's list is no exception, as is obvious to anyone who compares his list to the Torah itself. Here's how he (and the others) did it.
Some examples from Maimonides's listMaimonides eliminated many of the commandments that seem especially cruel to us today, probably because they seemed cruel even then (ca. 1170 CE).
Here are some commandments that were not included on Maimonides's list
And here are some commandments that Maimonides liked so much that he repeated them several times.
Using these two rules (omitting and repeating), it was easy for Maimonides and the other rabbis to achieve the magic numbers.
But that's not what bothers me most about their lists. It's their blatant dishonesty when stating the commandments.
Here, for example, are some of the commandments on Maimonides's list, with the corresponding verse from the Torah (and my snide parenthetical remark).
From all this, then, it should be obvious that Maimonides's list is not as perfect as he claimed it to be. He freely omitted or repeated commandments in order to obtain the desired numbers, and he misstated many commandments, as well. It is time to make a honest list.
Every Jot and TittleSo this is my attempt to list all of the commandments -- not just in the Torah, but in the entire Bible.
I must say, however, that unlike Maimonides, I don't claim that my list is perfect. In fact, I am sure it's not. Although I have tried to include every commandment, I probably have left some out. And I may have inadvertently repeated a few, as well. I can only say that I have tried to make a complete, honest, and accurate list of all of the commandments in the Bible -- which is something that I suspect has never been attempted before.
The commandments are presented in a series of eighteen chapters, most of which are, I hope, self-explanatory. But the last four may require a bit of explanation.
Chapter 15 presents all of Jesus's commandments that are recorded in the gospels and are not found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Many of these could have been placed in other chapters, but I've included them here since they should be of special importance to Christians. The next chapter, "Just for Christians," includes the commandments that are likely to make little sense to anyone outside of the Christian faith.
Chapter 17 includes all of the commandments that seem (to me anyway) to be rules that we all should try to follow. I've included the these good commandments in a separate chapter since there are relatively few of them.
The final chapter is called "Fortune Cookie Commandments" in honor of Antonin Scalia's famous footnote (#22) in his dissent to the Obergefell v. Hodges opinion, which reads:
The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.
Each chapter or section presents the commandments in biblical order. Whenever a commandment is listed by Maimonides, I've included his statement for that commandment, as well. To avoid repetition, cross-references are included at the end of each section for commandments that are listed in other chapters.
So how many commandments are in the Bible?
My list has a total of 1608 commandments, 778 in the Torah. Of the Torah's commandments, 490 are positive and 288 negative.8
I know of no significance for any of these numbers. But if you think of some, let me know. Maybe we can get them into the Talmud.
1. After the temple's destruction, the Jews had nowhere to perform their animal sacrifices; and without temple or sacrifice, the priesthood was discontinued. So all of the commandments about the temple, priests, and animal sacrifice are ignored in modern Judaism. The Sanhedrin (the Jewish high court) was also attached to the temple, so when the temple was was destroyed, the Sanhedrin could no longer enforce the Torah's laws (by, for example, stoning and burning people to death). The few remaining laws deal mostly with the Sabbath, religious festivals, and kosher foods. These are the ones that are still obeyed by Orthodox Jews; they include only a small fraction of the commandments in the Torah.
2. The "positive" commandments are the "Thou shalt ..." ones and the "negative" commandments are the "Thou shal not"s. The distinction, however, is a bit fuzzy, since many can be considered positive or negative depending on how they are phrased.
3. "Six hundred and thirteen commandments were revealed to Moses; 365 being prohibitions equal in number to the days of the year, and 248 being mandates corresponding in number to the bones of the human body." Talmud (Makkot 23a) - The 613 Commandments, Jewish Encyclopedia
4. tav = 400, resh = 200, vav = 6, and hei = 5.
6. Eisendberg, Ronald L., The 613 Mitzvot: A contemporary guide to the commandments of Judaism.
8. Classifying commandments as positive or negative is mostly arbitrary, since most commandments can be expressed either way. For example, the negative commandment, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18) could also be expressed as a positive one: “Kill witches.”
Chapter 1: Commandments About Commandments