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The Greatest Commandments, Part 10

This is part of a series of posts that studies each of the commandments in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Jewish and Christian bibles), then maps them in a massive visual hierarchy that details their interconnected nature.

Have a look at:

Wow, folks, we’re up to installment 10 of ~60! 1/6th complete with our massive commandment hierarchy project! Wahooo!

Let’s get started.

Don’t prophesy falsely in God’s name

But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.

-Deuteronomy 18:20

Maimonides interprets this commandment as “Do not prophesize falsely in the name of God”.

Curious that Maimonides excludes the death penalty as part of the commandment. A plain English interpretation could read, “Put to death the person who falsely prophesies in God’s name.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Maimonides omitting of the death penalty from his summaries: in the last installment on idolatry, I noted:

One curious bit was that stoning the idolatrous prophet and killing the idolatrous citizens by sword are not listed as an explicit commandments by Maimonides, even though they’re directly spelled out in the text.

For now, I am left to believe Maimonides was skimming over unpopular parts of the Torah, perhaps to make it (and by extension, Judaism) appear more acceptable to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, or perhaps to make Judaism appear a more forgiving religion. I dunno.

I’m tempted to place this commandment under the “don’t listen to the idolatrous prophet” commandment, however, I have settled on deriving from the “listen to the prophet that God sends” commandment:


Don’t fear the false prophet

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

-Deuteronomy 18:22

Don’t fear the reaper, and don’t fear that false prophet. ;-)

This commandment raises again the old theological question of what it means to “fear” a person, or God. Personally, I’d put my vote in the “respect, reverence” box. With that interpretation, one could translate this in plain English as, “If that prophet speaks falsely in my name, you owe him zero respect.”

I deem this one deriving from the “no false prophesying in God’s name” commandment that we just mapped:


No invoking names of other gods

Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

-Exodus 23:13

Here’s an interesting one. Maimonides actually interprets this one as “no swearing in the name of an idol”.

But I’ve heard some crazy things about this commandment.

I’ve been shushed when casually mentioning the Greek pantheon in history.

Me: “You know, the Greeks looked at Hades as the god of the underwor-”

Them: “Oh, ish! We’re not to even speak the name of false gods!”

Say “Zeus”, and woops, you just broke a commandment.

I’ve even heard some Messianics say, “don’t use the name Jesus, since it’s a derivative of Zeus, and we’re commanded not to speak the name of false gods”. However, this view is not historically or linguistically accurate.

But it does beg the question: does this commandment mean you should never speak the name of false gods?

This could be problematic, considering all the days of the week are named after false gods. Also, most of the months in the Gregorian calendar are named after false gods: Janus, Mars, Aphrillis, Maia, Juno, to name a few.

And it’s not just the Gregorian calendar; indeed, even a month in the modern Jewish calendar is named after a false god. Oh, and we have cars named after false gods, and movies, and TV shows, and…you get the picture. Idolatry ‘Я’ Us.

So, it’s kind of important to figure out what this commandment means for practical purposes.

The context of the commandment doesn’t help. In fact, this commandment is awkwardly positioned between commandments about the sabbath (verses 10-12) and commandments about the festivals (verses 14-18).

It appears Maimonides did not interpret it to mean “never say false god names”. He predicated this commandment on swearing, or taking oaths: “do not swear by idols”. Thus, he would seemingly allow for the speaking of the name of a false god.

The text does imply something special here; in the English we see the commandment predicated on invocation: do not invoke the name of a false god.

Thus, I’ve left the interpretation open: “don’t invoke the names of other gods”. I feel that’s faithful to at least the English translation, if not the Hebrew text as well, and is yet general enough to allow for nuances in personal interpretation.

I’ve derived it from “no idolatrous prophesying”:


No consulting mediums


No consulting spiritists

Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.

-Leviticus 19:31

Maimonides derives 2 commandments from this verse:

  1. Do not perform ov (medium).
  2. Do not perform yidoni (magical seer).

Our culture today is familiar with mediums, people who claim to communicate with the dead, thanks in part to television shows like Medium and Ghost Whisperer.


But “yidoni”, or magical seers, are less common. It piques my interest.

One might imagine yidoni were not unlike the Egyptian magicians described in the Exodus story: pagan priests of sorts that performed miracles, possibly feigned. Thus, they may have been charlatans, ala Uri Geller, only with a religious twist. Or perhaps some of the charismatic healers, many of whom are now proven frauds, would be the modern parallel of the yidoni, albeit prophesying falsely in God’s name, instead of the assumedly pagan yidoni.

I did a bit of research into the Hebrew for these 2 commandments, and it appears the text is ambiguous. One commentary writes,

A yidoni is similar to an ’owb. In fact, the two words always appear in parallel in scripture. Yidoni is alternately translated wizard, familiar spirit, fortune teller, magician, or sorcerer. As with ’owb, there is some ambiguity as to whether the word refers to the spirit or the one who conjures it up.

Another commentary labels these as a single commandment: do not perform witchcraft. I like this view, because a medium is just a certain kind of magical seer, or spiritist. Same difference.

Even so, I’ve kept with Maimonides’ usage of 2 commandments here, but have interpreted it in the more generalized “no consulting with mediums or spiritists”.

I’ve derived these related commandments like so:


The Big Picture

Behold, in all it’s glory, the new snapshot of the Greatest Commandments Project:

commandmentsHierarchy10Thumb (click to enlarge)

Ah, it’s shaping up beautifully!

And here are the stats so far:

  • 56 commandments have been mapped.
  • The project is 9% completed.
  • 82% are related to loving God.
  • 18% are related to loving your neighbor.
  • 96% can be carried out in modern times.
  • 8% can be carried out only in Israel.
  • 35% are positive commandments.
  • 64% are negative commandments.
  • 75% are observed by Christians:
    • Of which, 41% obeyed, 25% attempted, 9% recognized.
  • 92% are observed by Messianics:
    • Of which, 55% obeyed, 28% attempted, 9% recognized.
  • 94% are observed by observant Jews:
    • Of which, 57% obeyed, 30% attempted, 7% recognized.
  • 8% have alternate readings.
  • 17% are from Exodus.
  • 30% are from Leviticus.
  • 3% are from Numbers.
  • 48% are from Deuteronomy.
  • The average commandment length is 137 characters.
  • The average summary length is 28 characters.

That’s a wrap!

Hope you fine blog readers enjoyed this installment of the Greatest Commandments Project. Only 50 more installments to go! :-D


  1. As far as I know, you're the only other person besides me doing a project like this, but mine is formatted completely differently. I teach a class twice a month where we hash over each of the 613 commandments (anywhere from 2 to 8 or so a night), using a standardized "evaluation sheet". In 15 months, we've covered about about 125 of the commandments. There are a couple of hundred or so you can't do right now because there's no Temple, but depending on your perspective on Gentiles being "grafted in", you can obey a surprising number of them.

  2. Hey that's cool, James! At 125, you guys are way ahead of me.

    I figure I could speed things up by just mapping them without blogging about each, but it's been a great way to learn and study the commandments. Forces me to have some basic working knowledge about each commandment.

    Regarding commandments you cannot keep, I've only encountered 2, both related to bringing sacrifices. They're the red commandments in the hierarchy.

  3. Nice work Judah, I personally enjoy all the statistics. You should put this into a book when you've finished.

  4. This is the first time i have seen this blog so it is perhaps too soon to comment but the rambam is very rigorous. Anything he puts in or out is always thought out to the nth degree. The only real rival in rigorous thinking is tosphot. I have just spent about six months trying to understand one rambam on kilayim 3:1. With no success. (What is bothering me is how he fits into the yerushamli talmud in that particular halacaha).


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