Tablets of Stone

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The two tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. The book of Exodus (31: 18; 32: 15–16) tells of Moses receiving from God the ‘tablets of the testimony’ inscribed by ‘the finger of God’. When Moses came down from the mount and saw his people worshipping the golden calf he cast the tablets from his hands and broke them (Exodus 32: 19). Moses pleads with God to pardon the people and God tells him to hew out two further tablets upon which God will write the words that were on the first tablets (Exodus 34: 1). In an interesting homily the Rabbis observe that the theophany at Sinai which resulted in the inscribing of the first tablets was attended by thunder and lightning (Exodus 20: 15), whereas the inscribing of the second tablets was a quiet affair, from which they conclude that the Torah, symbolized by the tablets, is more likely to find lodgement in an atmosphere of quietude and serenity than among the more spectacular events of human life. Nevertheless, the tablets of stone do not appear in Jewish art as a symbol of the Torah until the Middle Ages. Moreover, the conventional picture of the two tablets as joined together with a copula at the top is not a traditional Jewish picture but was adopted from representations in Christian illuminated manuscripts (see DECALOGUE).

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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