The breaking of the tablets: A comparison of the Egyptian execration ritual to Exodus 32:19 and Jeremiah 19

Michael S Donahou, Marquette University


This dissertation compares the action of Moses in Exodus 32 with the Egyptian execration ritual for cursing enemies of the Pharaoh. The act of Moses in breaking the tablets of the Ten Commandments is interpreted as an attempt on Moses' part to curse the people for their idolatry. Egyptian priests/magicians were known to use pottery and clay figurines to ritually break in order to curse their enemies for disturbing the proper order of the cosmos and for threatening the reign of the pharaoh. The breaking of the pottery or figurine was intended to magically annihilate the enemies of the Egyptian state. Other biblical scholars have connected the execration ritual to the actions of the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 19. In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet is cursing the people for their idolatry and warns of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem. Most interpreters of Exodus 32 connect the breaking of the tablets to an Akkadian practice of breaking a tablet to signify that an agreement has been broken between two parties. However, this dissertation seeks to show that the breaking action in Exodus 32 is not symbolic of what the people have done with their idol worship, but rather, what Moses wants to do to the people. Moses wants to break the people for getting out of control and disturbing the proper order of things. This dissertation also discusses the roles of magic and religion in ancient Near Eastern societies showing the similarity between ritual acts in different cultures variously labeled as either magical or religious. This examination also includes a study of other uses of magically inspired rituals or acts in other parts of the Hebrew Bible as a means of comparison between Exodus 32 and the Egyptian execration ritual.

Recommended Citation

Donahou, Michael S, "The breaking of the tablets: A comparison of the Egyptian execration ritual to Exodus 32:19 and Jeremiah 19" (2008). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3326756.