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Boris Johnson, Moses and the Tablets of Stone

Bobby McDonagh / Nov 2021

Photo: Shutterstock

 

In his infamous speech this week to the Confederation of British Industry, Boris Johnson likened himself to Moses and compared his ten-point environmental plan to the Ten Commandments. It would be a pity if this insightful and convincing Biblical comparison were to be lost sight of behind the Churchillian gravitas and soaring oratory of the Peppa Pig passages of his speech.

So let us imagine for a moment the British Prime Minister, the self-styled Moses, ambling down from the summit of Mount Sinai, staggering under the unaccustomed weight of the tablets of stone. He is greeted at the foot of the mountain by his understandably anxious followers. He assures them that the new oven-ready commandments represent a magnificent deal. In his negotiations with God, he tells them, he held all the cards. The new commandments will involve no new controls, no constraints of any kind. His followers can have their manna and eat it. Any paperwork can be sent to him.

But let us imagine for a moment that a few wiser heads amongst his followers read what is actually written on the tablets. Bravely, they point out to their leader that the commandments seem clear enough and that Yahweh has a pretty impressive track record of enforcement. At this point, Moses decides it may be worthwhile, after all, to glance at the detail of the deal he has negotiated for his people. He skims quickly through the commandments, losing his place a few times due to pagination issues. However, even on this cursory reading, he is surprised and shocked when he begins to realise what he has signed up to.

He summons his trusty courtier David, not of course the great King David who defeated Goliath, but his namesake, Lord David, who suffers from a Goliath-slaying fixation. Moses instructs his acolyte that under no circumstances is the new Covenant with God to be properly implemented. He insists there must be some way round it.

As a first step, he tells Lord David to pursue a fundamental renegotiation of the Ten Commandments.

Start, he says, with “I am the Lord thy God” and “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me”. The wording of these must be amended to make clear that they refer not to God, but rather to Moses himself and his relationship with his disciples. All true followers of Moses must humbly vote according his instructions, on pain of exclusion from the Promised Land, even if those instructions undermine ethical principles to which most deities have been attached since the beginning of time.

Moreover, Moses insists, there must be no reference whatever to neighbours in the new rules. We have to continue to pretend that our neighbours don’t exist, he tells Lord David. The references to coveting our neighbours’ goods and wives must be removed. The last thing we want is to remind anyone that we have any reason to be envious of the neighbours from whom we cut ourselves off. If God absolutely insists on making some reference to neighbours, Moses tells his chief negotiator, you must insist that “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours’ goods” be changed to “Thou shalt not import thy neighbours’ goods”. He points out that the plan to undermine the Chosen People’s own trade is already working better than they expected.

Then Moses spots, at Number Seven, the commandment not to commit adultery. I don’t suppose, he asks his negotiator, there’s any chance God would agree to make it Nine Commandments and call it quits? At the very least, if God is playing hard-ball on adultery, you must insist on inserting a “best endeavours” clause.

Moses suddenly becomes solemn and looks Lord David in the eye. He tells him that by far the most important amendment of all is to delete any reference to judicial oversight of the tablets of stone. The heavenly court of justice has to go. We can’t have God, or any higher authority, ruling on whether the commandments have been broken. That, he insists, would defeat the whole purpose of the Flight from Egypt.

God, meanwhile, is listening with great patience to the debate far below on the foothills of Mount Sinai. He is very sad to have fallen out with Moses and his people and hopes the relationship will improve over time. He has listened carefully to the more sensible followers of Moses and to their reasonable concerns about the practical difficulties of implementing the new commandments. He is determined to implement them as flexibly as possible, within reason.

However, he knows that the new covenant represents a balanced agreement that has been welcomed by Moses himself. Indeed God recalls Moses bearing the tablets of stone down from the mountain in triumph. He knows they are the only game in town. He is delighted and encouraged that Lord David’s bluster about undermining the commandments has been toned down somewhat. However, he lightly fingers his thunderbolts and lightning rods. He would be extremely reluctant to be forced to use them.

 

Bobby McDonagh

Bobby McDonagh

November 2021

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