Sunday, June 05, 2022


Editio Princeps of the Ten Commandments?

Maurice Bowra, "Marcus Niebuhr Tod," New Bats in Old Belfries, or Some Loose Tiles (Oxford: Robert Dugdale, 2005), pp. 3-5:
I sing of Marcus Niebuhr Tod
Who found the autograph of God.

Carved on a Sinaitic cliff
He found Jehovah's hieroglyph.
A casual glance assured the date
As BC 1698.
Convinced that no epigraphist
Has entered it on any list,
The worthy Marcus looked around
And found in fragments on the ground
An interesting Hebrew text
Concerning this world and the next.
With scrupulous and loving care
He joined the pieces lying there,
And with a scholar's zeal restored
Words written by the living Lord:

"Go, worship other gods than me:
I feel the need of company.

"And copy bird or beast or fish
In wood or stone, if that's your wish.

"Rightly or wrongly, take my name:
To me it's very much the same.

"If toil of week-days you must shirk,
Then keep the Sabbath for your work.

"If what you want's a good long life,
With parents keep continual strife.

"Kill anyone who worries you:
It's easier and safer too.

"And if your neighbour's wife is free,
Of course commit adultery.

"If others have what you have not,
Why not take steps to steal the lot?

"False evidence against a friend
Brings much advantage in the end.

"If someone has what takes your eye,
Ask, and you'll get it by-and-by."

These mystic words did Marcus find,
And laid them carefully to mind,
But not before, upon his knees,
He knelt and took a loving squeeze.
When in the "Epigraphic Year"
The learned saw his work appear,
They pressed the ill-considered view
That here at last was found the true
Editio princeps of the Ten
Commandments given to the men,
Which Moses cast upon the ground.
This text, they claimed, had Marcus found.
But Marcus did not welcome this
Improbable hypothesis,
And thought that it was far too bold
For any prudent man to hold...
Perambulating Oriel Quad
I thought of Marcus Niebuhr Tod.
I don't have access to New Bats in Old Belfries. The text above comes from, with a few minor changes from Google Books' snippet view. The verses have been incorrectly attributed to Ronald Syme.

Related post: Parodies of the Decalogue.

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