This study revisits the main textual witnesses of the Decalogue, one of the most famous texts of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The comparison between the Masoretic text of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 provides a considerable number of textual differences. Supplementary variants are attested by the other witnesses in Hebrew (Samaritan Pentateuch, manuscripts from Qumran, Nash papyrus), Greek (Septuagint), and Syriac (Peshitta).
While some scholars want to ignore phylacteries, it is interesting to note that the closest witness to the Masoretic text in Deut 5, is a phylactery from Qumran (XQ3). Besides the Egyptian witnesses (Septuagint (and Philo) in Greek, and the Nash papyrus in Hebrew) share some readings against all the other witnesses. This observation seems to support the theory of local textual evolution.
All together, the textual witnesses show that the history of the transmission of the Decalogue provides some shady squares. It is not always possible for the scholar to explain the origin of and the reason for variants. No witness can claim to have the original text which has not been corrected during its history. As regards the Masoretic text, the possible textual corrections in Deut 5 seem to be later than those of Exod 20. On the textual and historical level, this study invites exegets not limit themselves to the Masoretc text only but also to take into consideration the other textual witnesses. This study of the text reaches the theological conclusion: not confining oneself to only one textual tradition can help forward a more dispassionate progress in the field of ecumenism.