And now for the eleventh commandment: Mea culpa

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The Independent Online
Fundamentalist believers in The Independent, who hold that every word of the newspaper's text is literally true, were shocked yesterday by the discovery that the newspaper had printed the 10 commandments wrong.

Faxes and e-mails arrived pointing out that the list of commandments printed with an article on page two had missed out the fourth: "Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy." It had also broken the tenth commandment into two. Most of the comments came from Anglican priests and were surprisingly good-natured considering that the faulty list of commandments had appeared in a story about the supposed ignorance of Anglican clergy.

A telephone poll had found that many of them could not recite all 10 commandments off the top of their heads.

Part of the problem derives from the fact that there are a lot more than 10 specific commandments in the list of prohibitions and exhortations which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, and there are two traditional ways of organising them.

The Roman Catholic Church runs the first two together, so that the prohibition against the worship of graven images becomes part of the first commandment ("You shall have no other gods before me").

Most Protestant churches, on the other hand, leave those two commandments separate, and run together the closing prohibitions against coveting various forms of your neighbour's property: his ox, his slaves, and his wife. This has the advantage of making it clear how important it is not to worship graven images. The Catholic arrangement, on the other hand, allows them to stress the fact that coveting your neighbour's wife is not quite the same sin as coveting his ass.

Both schemes, however, preserve a separate commandment, the sixth, against adultery; and both print the fourth: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy", as does the Jewish arrangement, from which all others derive.

The commandment disappeared from The Independent's list yesterday because of a less-than-authoritative reference book. However, in view of the obvious difficulties of squeezing all these prohibitions down into 10, it is clearly time to expand them a little; and we propose an eleventh: when you make a mistake, apologise, as gracefully as possible.

Letters, page 13