The Law of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi

The Law of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi

by Stanley A. Cook

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The chief aim of the present study is to provide a full account of the contents of the recently discovered Babylonian Code of laws promulgated in the twenty-third century before Christ by Hammurabi, the king whose name has been identified with Amraphel, the contemporary of Abraham. The fact that it is the oldest collection of laws in existence, and the advanced state of culture which Babylonia had reached even at that remote period, make the Code one of the most notable discoveries in the history of cuneiform research, and the great interest which it has succeeded in arousing is evinced by the rapidly growing number of monographs, pamphlets, and articles which have already appeared in print.

The "Law of Moses" in Ancient Israel is distinguished from other legal codes in the ancient Near East by its reference to offense against a deity rather than against society. This compares with the Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu (2100-2050 BCE), then the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1760 BCE), of which almost half concerns contract law. However the influence of the ancient Near Eastern legal tradition on the Law of Ancient Israel is recognised and well documented. Ancient Near East legal codes, or in more recently unearthed Ugaritic texts, an important, and ultimate, role was assigned to the king, whereas in the Law of Ancient Israel, Israel was intended to be a theocracy, not a monarchy.

The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian law code, dating back to about 1772 BC. It is one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. The sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi, enacted the code, and partial copies exist on a human-sized stone stele and various clay tablets. The Code consists of 282 laws, with scaled punishments, adjusting "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" as graded depending on social status, of slave versus free man.

Nearly one-half of the Code deals with matters of contract, establishing for example the wages to be paid to an ox driver or a surgeon. Other provisions set the terms of a transaction, establishing the liability of a builder for a house that collapses, for example, or property that is damaged while left in the care of another. A third of the code addresses issues concerning household and family relationships such as inheritance, divorce, paternity and sexual behavior. Only one provision appears to impose obligations on an official; this provision establishes that a judge who reaches an incorrect decision is to be fined and removed from the bench permanently. A handful of provisions address issues related to military service.

One nearly complete example of the Code survives today, on a diorite stele in the shape of a huge index finger, 2.25-metre (7.4 ft) tall. The Code is inscribed in the Akkadian language, using cuneiform script carved into the stele. It is currently on display in The Louvre, with exact replicas in the Oriental Institute in the University of Chicago, the library of the Theological University of the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands and the Pergamon Museum of Berlin.

Hammurabi ruled for 42 years, 1792 to 1750 BC, according to the Middle chronology. In the preface to the law code, he states, "Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, to bring about the rule in the land." On the stone slab there are 44 columns and 28 paragraphs that contained over 282 laws.

In 1901, Egyptologist Gustave Jéquier, a member of an expedition headed by Jacques de Morgan, found the stele containing the Code of Hammurabi in what is now Khūzestān, Iran (ancient Susa, Elam), where it had been taken as plunder by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte in the 12th century BC.

The Code of Hammurabi was one of several sets of laws in the ancient Near East. The code of laws was arranged in orderly groups, so that everyone who read the laws, would know what was required of them.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940015629538
Publisher: Balefire Publishing
Publication date: 09/22/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 330
File size: 16 MB
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About the Author

Hammurabi (died 1750 BC) was the sixth king of Babylon (that is, of the First Babylonian Dynasty) from 1792 BC to 1750 BC. He became the first king of the Babylonian Empire following the abdication of his father, Sin-Muballit, extending Babylon's control over Mesopotamia by winning a series of wars against neighboring kingdoms. Although his empire controlled all of Mesopotamia at the time of his death, his successors were unable to maintain his empire.

Hammurabi is known for the set of laws called Hammurabi's Code, one of the first written codes of law in recorded history.[citation needed] These laws were inscribed on stone tablets (stelae) standing over eight feet tall (2.4 meters), of unknown provenance, found in Persia in 1901. Owing to his reputation in modern times as an ancient law-giver, Hammurabi's portrait is in many government buildings throughout the world.

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