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Moses holding the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments preparing to smash them to the ground.

The Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, are a two sets of stone tablets that contain the biblical principles relating to ethics and worship that play a fundamental role in Judaism and Christianity.

According to the biblical narrative the first set of tablets, inscribed by the finger of God, were smashed by Moses when he was enraged by the sight of the Children of Israel worshipping a golden calf and the second were later chiseled out by Moses and rewritten by God. Exodus 34:28 says the second set were written by Moses. Much later on, the Ten Commandments were placed within the Ark of the Covenant.

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, and indeed they are so depicted in the 3rd century paintings at the Dura-Europos Synagogue and in Christian art throughout the 1st millennium, drawing on Jewish traditions of iconography.

According to the Talmud, the length and width of each of the Tablets was six Tefachim, and each was three Tefachim thick – roughly 50 and 25 centimetres (20 and 10 in) respectively, though they tend to be shown larger in art. Also according to tradition, the words were not engraved on the surface, but rather were bored fully through the stone.

In Exodus, it is said that on the morning of the third day of their encampment, "there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud", and the people assembled at the base of the mount. After "the LORD came down upon mount Sinai", Moses went up briefly and returned with stone tablets and prepared the people, and then in Exodus 20 "God spoke" to all the people the words of the covenant, that is, the "ten commandments" as it is written.

The people were afraid to hear more and moved "afar off", and Moses responded with "Fear not." Nevertheless, he drew near the "thick darkness" where "the presence of the Lord" was to hear the additional statutes and "judgments", all which he "wrote" in the "book of the covenant" which he read to the people the next morning, and they agreed to be obedient and do all that the LORD had said. Moses escorted a select group consisting of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and "seventy of the elders of Israel" to a location on the mount where they worshipped "afar off" and they "saw the God of Israel" above a "paved work" like clear sapphire stone.

The mount was covered by the cloud for six days, and on the seventh day Moses went into the midst of the cloud and was "in the mount forty days and forty nights." And Moses said, "the LORD delivered unto me two tablets of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly." Before the full forty days expired, the children of Israel collectively decided that something had happened to Moses, and compelled Aaron to fashion a Golden Calf, and he "built an altar before it" and the people "worshipped" the calf. Enraged, Moses smashed the first set of the tablets to the ground.