“Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments” by Jenna Weissman Joselit— The Ten Commandments and America

Joselit, Jenna Weissman. “Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments”, Oxford University Press, 2017.

The Ten Commandments and America

Amos Lassen

In “Set in Stone”, Jenna Weissman Joselit looks at the Ten Commandments within the American history. She has researched many stories such as the 1860 story of a man who claimed to have discovered ancient holy stones inside a burial mound in Ohio to the San Francisco congregation of Sherith Israel, which commissioned a luminous piece of stained glass depicting Moses in Yosemite for its sanctuary; the Kansas politician Charles Walter, who in the late nineteenth century proposed codifying each commandment into state law and the radio commentator Laura Schlessinger, who popularized the Ten Commandments as a psychotherapeutic tool in the 1990s.

The Ten Commandments were not just a theological presence and imperative in the New World; they also provoked heated discussions around key issues such as national identity, inclusion, and pluralism. They offered common ground and held out the promise of order and stability and became an important aspect of American identity. While archaeologists, theologians, and devotees across the world still wonder what became of the tablets that Moses received on Mount Sinai, Weissman Joselit suggests that they came in the United States by being a part of the American religious imagination. Americans have had a long-running captivation with the ten in everything from archaeological relics to Hollywood spectacles to municipal monuments to self-help regimens to synagogue works of art.



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