The Oldest Papyri That Mentions the Ten Commandments
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
A papyrus is a form of paper made from a plant in Egypt. It was commonly used for personal or business writings. The Nash Papyrus was found in Egypt and dates to the mid to late second century BC (150-100 BC). This was in the waning period of the Ptolemaic dynasty. It is a short papyri containing a list of the Ten Commandments followed by the Shema prayer (Deut. 6:4).
It is important for several reasons – chiefly because it is the oldest surviving papyri which listed the Ten Commandments (outside of the Bible). It is also a confirmation of the priestly order mentioned in the Mishnah, which states that the Ten Commandments were read and then the Shema (Mishnah 5.1). A picture of the Nash Papyrus is located at the end of this article.
Below, we have an English translation of the papyrus from Burkitt:
“1 [ . I am Jalhwe thy God that [brought] thee out of the land of E[gypt:]
2 [thou shalt not hav]e other gods be[fore] me. Thou shalt not make [for thyself an image]
3 [or any form] that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth [beneath,]
4 [or that is in the waters beneath the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them [nor]
5 [serve them, for] I am Jahwe thy God, a jealous God visiting the iniquity]
6 [of fathers upon sons to the third and to the fourth generation unto them that hate me, [and doing]
7 [kindness unto thousands] unto them that love me and keep my commandments. Thou shalt [not]
8 [take up the name of Jahwe] thy God in vain, for Jahwe will not hold guiltless [him that]
9 [taketh up his name in vain. Remember the day of the Sabbath [to hallow it:]
10 [six days thou shalt work and do all thy business, and on the [seventh day,]
11 a Sabbath for Jahwe] thy God, thou shalt not do therein any business, [thou]
12 [and thy son and thy daughter,] thy slave and thy handmaid, thy ox and thy ass and all thy [cattle,]
13 [and thy stranger that is] in thy gates. For six days did Ja[hwe make]
14 [the heaven]s and the earth, the sea and all th[at is therein,]
15 and he rested [on the] seventh day; therefore Jahwe blessed [the]
16 seventh day and hallowed it. Honour thy father and thy mother, that]
17 it may be well with thee and that thy days may be long upon the ground [that]
18 Jahwe thy God giveth thee. Thou shalt not do adultery. Thou shalt not do murder. Thou shalt [not]
19 [st]eal. Thou shalt not [bear] against thy neighbour vain witness. Thou shalt not covet [the]
20 [wife of thy neighbour. Thou shalt] not desire the house of thy neighbour, his field, or his slave,]
21 [or his handmaid, or his o]x, or his ass, or anything that is thy neighbour’s. [Blank]
22 [(?) And these are the statutes and the judgements that Moses commanded the [sons of]
23 [Israel] in the wilderness, when they went forth from the land of Egypt. Hea[r]
24 [0 Isra]el: Jahwe our God, Jahwe is one; and thou shalt love]
25 [Jahwe thy G]o[d with al]1 t[hy heart … . ].”
Translation from: Burkitt, F.C. “The Hebrew Papyrus of the Ten Commandments”. The Jewish Quarterly Review, 15, 1903, pp 392-408.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org
A Picture of the Nash Papyrus (public domain):