Tablets of Stone

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According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tablets of the Law (also Tablets of Stone, Stone Tablets, or Tablets of Testimony; Biblical Hebrew: לוּחֹת הַבְּרִית lūḥōt habbǝrīt "tablets of the covenant", לֻחֹת הָאֶבֶן luḥōt hāʾeḇen or לֻחֹת אֶבֶן luḥōt ʾeḇen or לֻחֹת אֲבָנִים luḥōt ʾăbānīm "stone tablets", and לֻחֹת הָעֵדֻת luḥōt hāʿēdut "tablets of testimony"; Arabic: أَلْوَاحُ مُوسَى āl-wāḥ Mūsā "the tablets of Moses") were the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments when Moses ascended Mount Sinai as written in the Book of Exodus.[1]

According to the biblical narrative, the first set of tablets, inscribed by the finger of God, (Exodus 31:18) were smashed by Moses when he was enraged by the sight of the Children of Israel worshiping a golden calf (Exodus 32:19) and the second were later chiseled out by Moses and rewritten by God (Exodus 34:1).

According to traditional teachings of Judaism in the Talmud, the stones were made of blue sapphire as a symbolic reminder of the sky, the heavens, and ultimately of God's throne. Many Torah scholars, however, have opined that the biblical sapir was, in fact, lapis lazuli (see Exodus 24:10, lapis lazuli is a possible alternate rendering of "sapphire" the stone pavement under God's feet when the intention to craft the tablets of the covenant is disclosed Exodus 24:12).[2]

According to Exodus 25:10–22, the tablets were stored in the Ark of the Covenant. Alan Millard and Daniel I. Block note parallels between this aspect of Israelite religion with the practice of other Ancient Near Eastern cultures whose treaty texts were preserved in their temples.[3][4] Alternatively, Thomas Römer argued in 2015 that “clearly… the tablets of the law are a substitute for something else.”[5] He holds that “the original Ark contained a statue [i.e. a cult image] of Yhwh”,[6]: 4  which he specifically identifies as “two betyles (sacred stones), or two cult image statues symbolizing Yhwh and his female companion Ashera or a statue representing Yhwh alone.”[5]

Appearance of the tablets[edit]

A popular image of the tablets as rounded-off rectangles bears little relationship with religious traditions about their appearance. In this case, the Ten Commandments are represented by the first ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which in Hebrew usage may be used interchangeably with the numbers 1–10.

In recent centuries, the tablets have been popularly described and depicted as round-topped rectangles, but this has little basis in religious tradition. According to rabbinic tradition, they were rectangles, with sharp corners,[7] and indeed they are so depicted in the 3rd-century paintings at the Dura-Europos Synagogue and in Christian art throughout the 1st millennium CE,[8] drawing on Jewish traditions of iconography.

Rectangular tablets passed down by the Hand of God in the 10th century Byzantine Leo Bible.

Depictions of round-topped tablets appear in the Middle Ages, following in size and shape contemporary hinged writing-tablets for taking notes (with a stylus pressing on a layer of wax on the insides). For Michelangelo (1475–1564) and Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506) they still have sharp corners (see gallery), and are about the size found in rabbinic tradition. Later artists, such as Rembrandt (1606–1669), tended to combine the rounded shape with a larger size. While, as mentioned above, rabbinic tradition teaches that the tablets were squared, according to some authorities, the Rabbis themselves approved of rounded depictions of the tablets in replicas – so that the replicas would not exactly match the historical tablets.[9]

According to the Talmud, each tablet was square, six tefachim (approximately 50 centimeters, or 20 inches) wide and high, and more a thicker block than a tablet, at three tefachim (25 centimeters, 10 inches) thick,[10][11] though they tend to be shown larger in art. (Other Rabbinic sources say they were rectangular rather than square, six tefachim high and three wide and deep.[citation needed]) Also according to tradition, the words were not engraved on the surface, but rather were bored fully through the stone.[citation needed]

Christian replicas[edit]

Replicas of the tablets, known as tabots or sellats, are a vital part of the practice of Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which claims that the original Ark of the Covenant is kept in the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum.[12]

In the Quran[edit]

The Quran states that tablets were given to Moses, without quoting their contents explicitly:

"And We wrote for him on the tablets [something] of all things – instruction and explanation for all things, [saying], 'Take them with determination and order your people to take the best of it. I will show you the home of the defiantly disobedient.'" (Quran 7:145)

These tablets are not broken in the Quran, but picked up later:

"And when Moses returned to his people, angry and grieved, he said, 'How wretched is that by which you have replaced me after [my departure]. Were you impatient over the matter of your Lord?' And he threw down the tablets and seized his brother by [the hair of] his head, pulling him toward him. [Aaron] said, 'O son of my mother, indeed the people overpowered me and were about to kill me, so let not the enemies rejoice over me and do not place me among the wrongdoing people.'" (Quran 7:150).
"And when the anger subsided in Moses, he took up the tablets; and in their inscription was guidance and mercy for those who are fearful of their Lord." (Quran 7:154).


See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Schniedewind has proposed that the original contents of the tablets as described in Exodus were the instructions for building the Tabernacle. See William M. Schniedwind (2004). "7: How the Torah Became a Text". How the Bible Became a Book: The Textualization of Ancient Israel. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-82946-1.
  2. ^ See: Staples, W. E., "Lapis Lazuli", in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 72
  3. ^ Millard, Alan R. (2007). "The Tablets in the Ark". In McConville, J. G.; Möller, Karl (eds.). Reading the Law: Studies in Honour of Gordon J. Wenham. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 264–265. ISBN 978-0-567-45454-6.
  4. ^ Block, Daniel I. (2020). "For Whose Eyes? The Divine Origin and Function of the Two Tablets of the Israelite Covenant". In Block, Daniel I.; Deuel, David C.; Collins, C. John; Lawrence, Paul J. N. (eds.). Write That They May Read: Studies in Literacy and Textualization in the Ancient Near East and in the Hebrew Scriptures: Essays in Honour of Professor Alan R. Millard. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-7252-5210-3.
  5. ^ a b Thomas Römer, The Invention of God (Harvard University Press, 2015), p. 92.
  6. ^ Römer, Thomas (2023). "The mysteries of the Ark of the Covenant". Studia Theologica - Nordic Journal of Theology. 77 (2): 169–185. doi:10.1080/0039338X.2023.2167861.
  7. ^ Bava Batra 14a.
  8. ^ Except for a variant tradition where a scroll is shown, only known from Christian examples. [1]
  9. ^ See HaQoton, Reb Chaim "Squared vs. Rounded Tablets" (also available on
  10. ^ Bava Batra 14a.
  11. ^ "Michelangelo was right about tablets". The Times of Israel. As detailed in the Talmud, the two tablets were eight tefahim wide and high—perfect squares, [...] — equal to about 24 centimeters or eight inches, and four tefahim deep, with sharp, not curved, corners.
  12. ^ Paul Raffaele, "Keepers of the Lost Ark?" Smithsonian Magazine, December 2007 (accessed 9 April 2011)