Hammurabi’s Code and the Law of Moses

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Here is a photo of the top part of a stele of Hammurabi’s Code (c. 1750 BCE), now in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Hammurabi receives his right to rule from God (Shamash, seated) and places his hand over his mouth as a sign of reverent prayer.

The Torah Compared With Previous Ancient Law Codes

by MJKruebbe

Long before the Hebrews/Jews developed the stories preserved in the Old Testament, ancient Sumerians and Babylonians had developed their own law codes, for which they too had claimed divine inspiration.  Indeed, the Hebrew writers borrowed many ideas from their neighbors, but they put these ideas into the mouths of literary characters like Moses and Yahweh in order to lend authority to their laws, inspiring people to obey them.  This technique, this “pious fraud,” was quite common in the ancient world.  Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, and others all claimed to derive their laws from divine sources and inspiration, but it should be obvious to modern investigators that these codes were all actually man-made

The most famous ancient law code, in existence long before the biblical setting for the character of Moses, was the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1750 BCE).  To compare the dates, even if there really had been a historical Moses (which could not have resembled the biblical story too much), the Bible does not say he existed until the 1400’s BCE, 300 years after Hammurabi.  Furthermore, unlike the alleged stone tablets of the 10 commandments, at least one stele (giant stone monument) of Hammurabi’s Code still survives and can be viewed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. The Code of Hammurabi was written in Akkadian, the language of the Babylonians, on an eight-foot stone stele and was set up in a public place so that all could see it (unlike the alleged 10 commandments, which were supposedly stored in the ark of the covenant). The stele at the Louvre was once in Babylon, but was later plundered by the Elamites who took it to their capital, Susa, where it stayed until it was rediscovered in 1901. The code of Hammurabi contained 282 laws, written by scribes on 12 tablets.

Anyone can look up the Code of Hammurabi and read it for free on-line.  Here is a copy of Hammurabi’s Code posted by Yale Law School: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ancient/hamframe.asp.

Both Hammurabi’s Code and the Torah/”Law of Moses” contain the following:

  • They claim that the law is ultimately divine, not derived merely from the human lawgiver.

o    Hammurabi’s Prologue:  “When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”

o    Prologue:  Hammurabi is “the prince called of Bel,” who “rejoiced the heart of Marduk, his lord;”  he “daily pays his devotions;” he is “heard of Shamash, the mighty,” (i.e. the gods hear his prayers), and he has “Shamash as his helper;” he is “the Sublime, who humbles himself before the great gods.”

o    Prologue: “When Marduk sent me to rule over men, to give the protection of right to the land, I did right and righteousness in . . . , and brought about the well-being of the oppressed.”

o    Epilogue:  Hammurabi credits the gods with all his accomplishments:  ” I have not withdrawn myself from the men, whom Bel gave to me, the rule over whom Marduk gave to me, I was not negligent, but I made them a peaceful abiding-place. I expounded all great difficulties, I made the light shine upon them. With the mighty weapons which Zamama and Ishtar entrusted to me, with the keen vision with which Ea endowed me, with the wisdom that Marduk gave me, I have uprooted the enemy above and below (in north and south), subdued the earth, brought prosperity to the land, guaranteed security to the inhabitants in their homes; a disturber was not permitted.”

o    Epilogue:  “The great gods have called me, I am the salvation-bearing shepherd, whose staff is straight.”

o    Epilogue: “By the command of Shamash, the great judge of heaven and earth, let righteousness go forth in the land.”

o    Epilogue:  “Hammurabi is a ruler, who is as a father to his subjects, who holds the words of Marduk in reverence, who has achieved conquest for Marduk over the north and south, who rejoices the heart of Marduk, his lord, who has bestowed benefits for ever and ever on his subjects, and has established order in the land.”

o    Epilogue:  Calls upon all of the following: Marduk, my lord, … who fixes destiny, whose command can not be altered; Bel, King Bel; Belit, the great Mother, whose command is potent; Ea, the great ruler, whose fated decrees come to pass, the thinker of the gods, the omniscient, who makes long the days of my life; Shamash, the great Judge of heaven and earth, who supports all means of livelihood, Lord of life-courage; Sin, the Lord of Heaven, the divine father, whose crescent gives light among the gods; Adad, the lord of fruitfulness, ruler of heaven and earth, my helper, giver of rain; Zamama, the great warrior, the first-born son of E-Kur, who goes at my right hand; Ishtar, the goddess of fighting and war, who unfetters my weapons, my gracious protecting spirit, who loves my dominion; Nergal, the might among the gods, irresistible, who grants me victory; Nin-tu, the sublime mistress of the lands, the fruitful mother; Nin-karak, the daughter of Anu, who adjudges grace to me; the Anunaki, great gods of heaven and earth.

o    Exodus is full of the phrase “YHWH said to Moses.”  YHWH talks to Moses from a burning bush and from a cloud, amid thunder, lightning, darkness, quaking, and loud trumpet.

  • Hammurabi and Moses are both said to be “called by name” by the god(s).

o    Prologue: Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared Godto bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”

o    Ex 33.12 ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’

o    Ex 33.17 And YHWH said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

  • Fulfillment of Prophecy is claimed.

o    H Prologue:  Hammurabi is “the Elect of the oracle who fulfilled the prediction of Hallab.”

o    “When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth;”

o    Ex. 2.24 Elohim heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

o    Ex. 33.1 Then YHWH said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’

o    Gen 12.7; 13.15-17; 15.13-16 (400 year enslavement),18-21; 17.3-8,19; 22.15-18; Ex 32.13; Dt 1.8.

  • The laws and/or benefits of the law are to last forever.

o    Prologue:  Babylon is to be an “everlasting kingdom.”  Hammurabi has “made his kingdom everlastingly great.” 

o    Epilogue:  “”Hammurabi is a ruler, who is as a father to his subjects, who holds the words of Marduk in reverence, who has achieved conquest for Marduk over the north and south, who rejoices the heart of Marduk, his lord, who has bestowed benefits for ever and ever on his subjects, and has established order in the land.”.”

o    Ex 31.16-17 “It [the Sabbath] will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever.”

o    Ex 12.24 “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants.”  Ex 27.21 “This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.”  Ex 28.43 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants.”  Ex 12.14,17; 13.3; 29.9,28; 30.21; 31.16-17; 40.15; Leviticus 3.17; 6.18,22; 7.34,36; 10.9,15; 16.29,31,34; 17.7; 23.14,21,31,41; 24.3,8,9;  25.34; Numbers 15.15; 18.8,11,19,23; 19.21; 37.26;  Deuteronomy 28.46;

o    Such “eternal” language is typical of the prophets, too.  e.g. Ezekiel 37.26 (re: post-exilic Israel)

  • Blessings and Curses are set out (for obedience/disobedience).

o   Blessings of Hammurabi’s Law:

§  Prologue:  Babylon was founded by the gods to be an “everlasting kingdom,” “whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth,” and Anu and Bel called Hammurabi by name “to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers,” to “enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”  Marduk sent Hammurabi “to give the protection of right to the land” and to bring about “the well-being of the oppressed.” 

§  Epilogue: “I made the light shine upon them.” With the help of Zamama, Ishtar, Ea, Marduk,  Hammurabi has “uprooted the enemy above and below, subdued the earth, brought prosperity to the land, guaranteed security to the inhabitants in their homes.”  He is “the salvation-bearing shepherd,” in whose shelter the people are to “repose in peace,” enclosed in his “deep wisdom,” with the weak protected from the strong, widows and orphans safe, and “justice in the land.” Hammurabi’s law is “to settle all disputes, and heal all injuries.”  The heart of the oppressed “will be glad.” The benefits bestowed are to last “for ever and ever on his subjects,” with “order” in the land.

o   Blessings in the Torah.

§  Ex 23.25-27  Worship YHWH your Elohim, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.  I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run.”

§  Deuteronomy 28.1-14  If you fully obey … YHWH your Elohim will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you …  You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.  The fruit of your womb …  crops … the young of your livestock … basket … kneading trough will be blessed.  You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.  … enemies … will be defeated …  blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. …  all the peoples on earth will … fear you. … abundant prosperity … rain … in season … to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. YHWH will make you the head, not the tail. …  you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.”

o   Curses at the End of Hammurabi’s Law:  the Gods are called upon to bring:

§  “wind of the overthrow of his habitation;” “[years of] groaning, years of scarcity, years of faminedarkness without light, death;” the destruction of his city, the dispersion of his subjects, the cutting off of his rule, the removal of his name and memory from the land.” … “turn his affairs evil before Bel,” “devastation of his land, the destruction of his subjects, the pouring out of his life like water;” … “withdraw understanding and wisdom from him, lead him to forgetfulness, shut up his rivers at their sources, and not allow grain or sustenance for man to grow in his land.”  … “shatter his dominion, annul his law, destroy his way, make vain the march of his troops, … forecasts of the uprooting of the foundations of his throne and of the destruction of his land. May the condemnation of Shamash overtake him; may he be deprived of water above among the living, and his spirit below in the earth.”  … “take away the crown and regal throne from him; … heavy guilt, great decay; … days, months and years of … sighing and tears.”  … “withhold from him rain from heaven, … destroying his land by famine and want; … shatter his weapons on the field of battle, turn day into night for him, and let his foe triumph over him.  … curse his kingdom, … change his grace into evil, and shatter his weapons … disorder and sedition for him, strike down his warriors … piles of corpses … deliver him into the hands of his enemies, and imprison him in the land of his enemies. … burn up his subjects …, cut off his limbs …, and shatter him …, deny him a son, vouchsafe him no name, give him no successor … cause to come upon his members … high fever, severe wounds that can not be healed, … and may the great gods of heaven and earth, the Anunaki, altogether inflict a curse and evil upon the confines of the temple, … upon his dominion, his land, his warriors, his subjects, and his troops. May Bel curse him with the potent curses of his mouth that can not be altered …”

o   Curses for Disobeying the Law, laid out in Deuteronomy 28.15-68:

§    “all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough … the fruit of your womb … the crops of your land … calves … lambs … [will be cursed] … cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. YHWH will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. YHWH will plague you with diseases … wasting disease, … fever and inflammation, … scorching heat and drought, … blight and mildew, … until you perish. … YHWH will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; … defeated before your enemies. … you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. Your carcasses will be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, … boils … tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. … madness, blindness and confusion of mind. At midday you will grope about like a blind man in the dark. … unsuccessful in everything … oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you. … another will take her and ravish [your betrothed]. … Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, … nothing but cruel oppression all your days. … will drive you mad. … painful boils that cannot be cured, … from the soles of your feet to the top of your head. … YHWH will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your fathers. … You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule to all the nations where YHWH will drive you. … locusts … worms …, sons and daughters … will go into captivity. All these curses will come upon you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, … They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. YHWH … will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you. YHWH will bring a nation against you from far away, … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land … during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, … sons and daughters … . YHWH will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. … every kind of sickness and disaster … until you are destroyed. You … will be left but few in number, … Just as it pleased YHWH to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land … YHWH will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. … you will find no repose, no resting place … an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. … constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. … YHWH will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.”

§  Modern scholarship holds that certain portions of Deuteronomy are post-exilic, including these specific, retrojected references to the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.  For a standard explanation, see:

·       Richard Elliot Freedman, Who Wrote the Bible?, 1989, pp. 136-149, 255 (or more broadly, pp. 101-149).

·       Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 2002, pp. 301-305 (or more broadly, pp. 285-305).

  • “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,” etc.

o    H 196 “If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.” 197 “If he break another man’s bonehis bone shall be broken.”  H 200 “If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.”

o    Lev 24.19-20 “If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.”

o    Exodus 21.23-25:  But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

o    Dt 19.21 “Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

  • Concern for “widows and orphans.” (This concept actually goes back even long before Hammurabi, to the Code of Ur-Nammu of Ur, Sumeria, 2100 BCE, and even further to the Law Code of Urukagina, 2300’s BCE, Lagash, Sumer.)

o    Hammurabi’s Epilogue:  “That the strong might not injure the weak, in order to protect the widows and orphans, I have … set up these my precious words …”

o    Hammurabi’s Epilogue ends with a long string of curses/disasters that will come upon the land if the people do not follow what is just/right.

o    Ex. 22.22-24, “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan.  If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.  My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.”

  • Concern for the oppressed.

o    H Prologue: Hammurabi is “the shepherd of the oppressed and of the slaves;”

o    Prologue: “When Marduk sent me to rule over men, to give the protection of right to the land, I did right and righteousness in . . . , and brought about the well-being of the oppressed.”

o    H Epilogue:  “That the strong might not injure the weak, … I have … set up these my precious words …”

o    H Epilogue:  “let the oppressed, who have a case at law, come and stand before this my image as king of righteousness; let him read the inscription, and understand my precious words: the inscription will explain his case to him; he will find out what is just, and his heart will be glad, so that he will say:  “Hammurabi is a ruler, who is as a father to his subjects, who holds the words of Marduk in reverence, who has achieved conquest for Marduk over the north and south, who rejoices the heart of Marduk, his lord, who has bestowed benefits for ever and ever on his subjects, and has established order in the land.”

o    Ex. 23.9 “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”

  • Oaths before God as part of court system.

o   Innocence by oath:

§  Exodus 22.11 “taking of an oath before YHWH that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property. … no restitution is required.”

§  H 103 If, while on the journey, an enemy take away from him anything that he had, the broker shall swear by God and be free of obligation.

§  H 249 If any one hire an ox, and God strike it that it die, the man who hired it shall swear by God and be considered guiltless.

§  H 266 If the animal be killed in the stable by God ( an accident), or if a lion kill it, the herdsman shall declare his innocence before God, and the owner bears the accident in the stable.

§  H 131 If a man bring a charge against one’s wife, but she is not surprised with another man, she must take an oath and then may return to her house.

o    Oaths: 106,

  • Seeking justice in the court system is still referred to as “seeking justice before God.”

o    H 106 If the agent accept money from the merchant, but have a quarrel with the merchant (denying the receipt), then shall the merchant swear before God and witnesses that he has given this money to the agent, and the agent shall pay him three times the sum.  107 If the merchant cheat the agent, in that as the latter has returned to him all that had been given him, but the merchant denies the receipt of what had been returned to him, then shall this agent convict the merchant before God and the judges, and if he still deny receiving what the agent had given him shall pay six times the sum to the agent.

o    126 If any one who has not lost his goods state that they have been lost, and make false claims: if he claim his goods and amount of injury before God, even though he has not lost them, he shall be fully compensated for all his loss claimed. (I.e., the oath is all that is needed.)

o    240 If a merchantman run against a ferryboat, and wreck it, the master of the ship that was wrecked shall seek justice before God; the master of the merchantman, which wrecked the ferryboat, must compensate the owner for the boat and all that he ruined.

o    Exodus 21.5-6, “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before Elohim. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.”

o    Ex. 22.7-8, “If a man gives his neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor’s house, the thief, if he is caught, must pay back double. But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before Elohim to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man’s property.

  • Witnesses (and contracts in H):

o    H 122 If any one give another silver, gold, or anything else to keep, he shall show everything to some witness, draw up a contract, and then hand it over for safe keeping.  123 If he turn it over for safe keeping without witness or contract, and if he to whom it was given deny it, then he has no legitimate claim.

o    H 7 Death penalty for purchasing things from a man’s son or slave without witnesses [plural] or contract.

o    Deuteronomy 19.15 One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

  • Strict respect for parents.

o    H 195 If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.

o    Exodus 21.15 “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.”

o    Exodus 21.17 “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.”

  • Laws concerning animals: asses, oxen,

o   H 224-5, 241-56, 261-71

o   Goring Ox:

§  251 “If an ox be a goring ox, and it shown that he is a gorer, and he do not bind his horns, or fasten the ox up, and the ox gore a free-born man and kill him, the owner shall pay one-half a mina in money. 252  If he kill a man’s slave, he shall pay one-third of a mina.”

§  Exodus 21.28-32 “If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death. However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded. This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter. If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.

o   Oxen and asses referred to together.

§  Exodus 21.33-34 “If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or an ass falls into it, the owner of the pit must pay for the loss; he must pay its owner, and the dead animal will be his.”

§  244 “If anyone hire an ox or an ass …”

o   Borrowed/Rented animals:

§  Ex 22.14-15 “If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, he must make restitution. But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss.”

§  263 If he kill the cattle or sheep that were given to him, he shall compensate the owner with cattle for cattle and sheep for sheep.

§  244 If any one hire an ox or an ass, and a lion kill it in the field, the loss is upon its owner.  245 If any one hire oxen, and kill them by bad treatment or blows, he shall compensate the owner, oxen for oxen.  246 If a man hire an ox, and he break its leg or cut the ligament of its neck, he shall compensate the owner with ox for ox.  247 If any one hire an ox, and put out its eye, he shall pay the owner one-half of its value.  248 If any one hire an ox, and break off a horn, or cut off its tail, or hurt its muzzle, he shall pay one-fourth of its value in money.  249 If any one hire an ox, and God strike it that it die, the man who hired it shall swear by God and be considered guiltless.

o   Animal damages another’s property:

§  57 If a shepherd, without the permission of the owner of the field, and without the knowledge of the owner of the sheep, lets the sheep into a field to graze, then the owner of the field shall harvest his crop, and the shepherd, who had pastured his flock there without permission of the owner of the field, shall pay to the owner twenty gur of corn for every ten gan.

§  Ex. 22.5  “If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man’s field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard.”

  • Restitution.

o    265 If a herdsman, to whose care cattle or sheep have been entrusted, be guilty of fraud and make false returns of the natural increase, or sell them for money, then shall he be convicted and pay the owner ten times the loss.

o    Ex 22.1 If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.

o    Ex 22.4  “If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—he must pay back double.”

o    53-55 (Broken Dam), 106,

o    125 If any one place his property with another for safe keeping, and there, either through thieves or robbers, his property and the property of the other man be lost, the owner of the house, through whose neglect the loss took place, shall compensate the owner for all that was given to him in charge. But the owner of the house shall try to follow up and recover his property, and take it away from the thief.

o    Ex. 22.7-8, “If a man gives his neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor’s house, the thief, if he is caught, must pay back double. But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before Elohim to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man’s property.

  • Laws about the proper regulation of slavery.

o   226-7 (sign of a slave), 278-282,

o   Exodus 21.2-11, 20-21, 26-27, 32; 

o   Slaves are of lesser worth than free humans.

§  195 If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.  196 If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. 197 If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.  198 If he put out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina.  199 If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.  200 If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.

§   222, 223, 229-31,

o   Slaves are distinguished from freedmen in many laws and assessments of penalty.

§  222, 223, 229-31,

o   Both distinguish linguistically between male slaves and female slaves.

§  278  “If any one buy a male or female slave …”

§  Ex. 21.2-7

o   Limits to slavery in certain cases:

§  H, debt-slaves free in the 4th year:  117 If any one fail to meet a claim for debt, and sell himself, his wife, his son, and daughter for money or give them away to forced labor: they shall work for three years in the house of the man who bought them, or the proprietor, and in the fourth year they shall be set free.

§  H, 119 If any one fail to meet a claim for debt, and he sell the maid servant who has borne him children, for money, the money which the merchant has paid shall be repaid to him by the owner of the slave and she shall be freed.

§  Mosaic: male Hebrew slaves free in the 7th year:  Exodus 21.2-7 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free. But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before Elohim (or, the judges). He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.  If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do.”

o   Slaves are marked:

§  226-7

§  Exodus 21.5-6, “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before Elohim (or, the judges). He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.”

  • Allow lesser penalties when harm is unintentional

o    206 – If during a quarrel one man strike another and wound him, then he shall swear, “I did not injure him wittingly,” and pay the physicians.  [instead of eye for eye law]

o    see Goring Oxen section.

  • Adultery forbidden.

o    127 If any one “point the finger” (slander) at a sister of a god or the wife of any one, and can not prove it, this man shall be taken before the judges and his brow shall be marked. (by cutting the skin, or perhaps hair.)  128 If a man take a woman to wife, but have no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him.  129 If a man’s wife be surprised (in flagrante delicto) with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves.  130 If a man violate the wife (betrothed or child-wife) of another man, who has never known a man, and still lives in her father’s house, and sleep with her and be surprised, this man shall be put to death, but the wife is blameless.  131 If a man bring a charge against one’s wife, but she is not surprised with another man, she must take an oath and then may return to her house.  132 If the “finger is pointed” at a man’s wife about another man, but she is not caught sleeping with the other man, she shall jump into the river for her husband.

o    Dt 22.22, “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.”

  • Divorce permitted.

o     137 If a man wish to separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his wife who has borne him children: then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a part of the usufruct of field, garden, and property, so that she can rear her children. When she has brought up her children, a portion of all that is given to the children, equal as that of one son, shall be given to her. She may then marry the man of her heart.  138 If a man wishes to separate from his wife who has borne him no children, he shall give her the amount of her purchase money and the dowry which she brought from her father’s house, and let her go.   139 If there was no purchase price he shall give her one mina of gold as a gift of release.  140 If he be a freed man he shall give her one-third of a mina of gold.  141 If a man’s wife, who lives in his house, wishes to leave it, plunges into debt, tries to ruin her house, neglects her husband, and is judicially convicted: if her husband offer her release, she may go on her way, and he gives her nothing as a gift of release. If her husband does not wish to release her, and if he take another wife, she shall remain as servant in her husband’s house.

o    Dt 24.1-4 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled.

o   Except in certain situations:

§  Dt 22.28-29 Divorce not permitted IF man seduces the woman before marriage. — “If a man has sex with a woman before marriage, he must pay the father, marry the girl, and is never allowed to divorce her.”  (Cf. Ex 22)

  • Society is male-dominated. Women are the property of their husbands.

o    Exodus 20.17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male slave or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

o    Dt 5.21 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male slave or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

o    Ex 23.17 All males (no women) are to assemble before YHWH 3 times a year.

o    135 If a man be taken prisoner in war and there be no sustenance in his house and his wife go to another house and bear children; and if later her husband return and come to his home: then this wife shall return to her husband, but the children follow their father.

o   One of the most important roles of women in each society was the production of male offspring to inherit the father’s name and wealth.

o   Women are not as valuable as men.

§  Exodus 21.7 “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do.” [Male Hebrew slaves, however, must be freed in the 7th year (Exodus 21.2-6)

§  Lev 12.1-5  Bearing a male child made a women unclean for 7 days; a female child, 14 days.

  • Father’s can give dowries to daughters, and men may pay a bride price to their father-in-law for marrying a woman.

o   137

o   Bride price – Ex 22.16-17; Dt 22.28-29.

  • Women do have certain rights.

o    134 If any one be captured in war and there is not sustenance in his house, if then his wife go to another house this woman shall be held blameless.

o    142 If a woman quarrel with her husband, and say: “You are not congenial to me,” the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father’s house.

o    150-151 Babylonian women could both own property and contract debt.

o    Ex 21.10-11, in case of female slaves taken as wives, “If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.”

  • Both societies allow concubines (female slaves with whom a man may have children)

o    144 If a man take a wife and this woman give her husband a maid-servant, and she bear him children, but this man wishes to take another wife, this shall not be permitted to him; he shall not take a second wife.   145 If a man take a wife, and she bear him no children, and he intend to take another wife: if he take this second wife, and bring her into the house, this second wife shall not be allowed equality with his wife.

o    183-4 refer to a man’s “daughter by a concubine.”

o    Gen 25.1, 1 Chron 1.32-33 – Abraham has a concubine, Keturah.

o    Gen 30 – Jacob has 2 wives and 2 concubines, from whom his sons are born.

o    Judges 19 – story about a Levite from Ephraim and his concubine from Bethlehem.

o    2 Sam 21.11 – Saul has a concubine, Rizpah.

o    1 Chron 2.48 – Caleb has a concubine.

o    1 Chron 7.14 – Manassah has an Aramean concubine.

o    Gen 35.22 – Reuben with Bilhah, Israel’s concubine.

  • Both law codes allow polygamy:

o    Dt 21.15-17 “If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.”

o    However, it is limited in Hammurabi’s code: see 144-145 (see section on concubines).

  • Sex Laws:

o   Father must not have sex with son’s wife.

§  Lev 20.12 If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads.

§  H 155 If a man betroth a girl to his son, and his son have intercourse with her, but he (the father) afterward defile her, and be surprised, then he shall be bound and cast into the water (drowned).

o   Incest forbidden.

§  157 If any one be guilty of incest with his mother after his father, both shall be burned.

  • Laws about harming pregnant women.

o    209 If a man strike a free-born woman so that she lose her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss.  210 If the woman die, his daughter shall be put to death.  211   If a woman of the free class lose her child by a blow, he shall pay five shekels in money.   212 If this woman die, he shall pay half a mina.  213 If he strike the maid-servant of a man, and she lose her child, he shall pay two shekels in money.  214 If this maid-servant die, he shall pay one-third of a mina.

o    Exodus 21.22-25 “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

  • Rebellious Sons:
    • Dt 21.18-21 – Death Penalty – “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.”
    • 168 “If a man wish to put his son out of his house, and declare before the judge: “I want to put my son out,” then the judge shall examine into his reasons. If the son be guilty of no great fault, for which he can be rightfully put out, the father shall not put him out.  169 If he be guilty of a grave fault, which should rightfully deprive him of the filial relationship, the father shall forgive him the first time; but if he be guilty of a grave fault a second time the father may deprive his son of all filial relation.”
    • 195 If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.
  • Slander?

o   127 If any one “point the finger” (slander) at a sister of a god or the wife of any one, and can not prove it, this man shall be taken before the judges and his brow shall be marked. (by cutting the skin, or perhaps hair.)

  • Hammurabi’s law is a light to his people.

o    “Laws of justice which Hammurabi, the wise king, established. A righteous law, and pious statute did he teach the land.  Hammurabi, the protecting king am I.  I have not withdrawn myself from the men, whom Bel gave to me, the rule over whom Marduk gave to me, I was not negligent, but I made them a peaceful abiding-place. I expounded all great difficulties, I made the light shine upon them. ” (Epilogue)

o    Prologue: Hammurabi is “the mighty monarch, the sun of Babylon, whose rays shed light over the land of Sumer and Akkad; the king, obeyed by the four quarters of the world.”

o    Isaiah 51:4:  “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations.”

 

 

Neither code is uniformly harsher or more lenient.  Sometimes one is harsher in certain cases, but the other may be harsher in other cases.

  • Restitution varies in H: 10x, 30x (8), 12x (5), 6x (107), 5x (112), 3x (106), or equal (113);
  • Restitution varies in the Mosaic law 4x or 5x (Ex. 22) for some cases, 2x for others, or equal.
  • Death penalty used by both, often; but sometimes in diff. situations.
    •  Hammurabi:  banning someone without proof (1), falsely or without proof accusing someone of a capital offense (3), purchasing from a son or slave without witnesses or contract (7)

 

 

 

Unique Features:

  • Although Babylonian religion had animal and grain sacrifices, Hammurabi did not include these on his monuments.  The priests and temples would have kept such.  The Hebrew code mixes sacrificial laws with other laws.
  • Babylonian religion was more syncretistic, accepting deities from various cultures.  Mosaic law demands the death penalty for worshiping other deities.
    • Ex. 22.20, “Whoever sacrifices to any god other than YHWH must be destroyed.”
  • Laws specific to chieftains and captains and soldiers in the king’s army are absent from the Mosaic code.  H 26-41.
  • Hammurabi’s code has laws about physicians.  H 215-225.
  • Babylonian women could both own property and contract debt. H 150-151.  However, women are expected to leave any property to their sons.
  • While menstruation probably made Babylonian women ritually impure as well, such matters were not included in Hammurabi’s law as they were in the Mosaic law (e.g. Lev 15).
  • Laws regarding Prostitutes, devoted women, sisters of the deity.
    • In Mesopotamia, prostitution was permitted by law, and was in some cases given religious sanction. 178-182.
    • The Mosaic law, in books other than Exodus, forbids official prostitution:
      • Dt 23.17, “No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute.”
      • Dt 23.18, whores are an abomination.
      • Lev 19:29 “‘Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness.”
      • Lev 21:9 “‘If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire.”
      • Israelite girls were to remain virgins until marriage, or be stoned to death.
        • Dt 22.20-21, “If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.”
    • Hebrew culture certainly had prostitutes, as is clear from several Bible passages. Yet, at some point in the nation’s history, official prostitution of Hebrew women (and men, though omitted from the text) was outlawed.  Perhaps prostitutes had to be foreigners.  Passages concerning prostitution:
        • Judah and Tamar (Gen 38) – Judah goes to a prostitute who turns out to be his daughter-in-law in disguise.
        • Proverbs 6.26; 7.10; 23.27.  Opposing prostitutes.
        • Judges 11.1 “Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute.”
        • 1 Kings 14:24 “There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations YHWH had driven out before the Israelites.”
        • 1 Kings 15:12 “He expelled the male shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols his fathers had made.”
        • 1 Kings 22:46 “He rid the land of the rest of the male shrine prostitutes who remained there even after the reign of his father Asa.”
        • 2 Kings 23:7 “He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes, which were in the temple of YHWH and where women did weaving for Asherah.”
        • Job 36:14 “They die in their youth, among male prostitutes of the shrines.”
        • Hosea 4:14 “I will not punish your daughters when they turn to prostitution, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery, because the men themselves consort with harlots and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes — a people without understanding will come to ruin!”
        • Amos 7.17 “Therefore this is what YHWH says: ‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword. Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country. And Israel will certainly go into exile, away from their native land.'”
    • The Hebrew word for a prostitute was “qedeshah,” which is literally, “a consecrated/holy one,” (or “qadesh” for a male prostitute, sodomite).  It is related to the word “qodesh,” which is the word for “sacred, holy, set apart, consecrated.”
    • Sleeping with a prostitute was not the same thing as adultery in either culture.  Adultery involved sleeping with another man’s wife.  A prostitute need not be married.
  • Hammurabi’s code has a section on adoption (185-193).
  • Some things were simply not part of the nation’s culture, and therefore were absent from the law code.
      • Ferry-boats and freight-boats were not part of Israel’s economy.
      • 275    If any one hire a ferryboat, he shall pay three gerahs in money per day.  276 If he hire a freight-boat, he shall pay two and one-half gerahs per day.
      • 234-40 Boats and sailors.
      • 53-55 (Broken Dam).

 

EXTRA NOTES:

Hammurabi:

  • Stealing sometimes results in hand cut off, but not always:
    •  253 If any one agree with another to tend his field, give him seed, entrust a yoke of oxen to him, and bind him to cultivate the field, if he steal the corn or plants, and take them for himself, his hands shall be hewn off.
    • No hand-cutting:  259-60, 

 

THE SACRIFICIAL SYSTEM:

It is interesting to note that the Jewish system of animal, grain, and liquid sacrifices was basically the same as the sacrificial systems of all the countries around the ancient Mediterranean world.  In other words, it was not very unique and did not come from a real Yahweh, but was merely a local Hebrew variation upon ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern religious views/customs.  The idea that god(s) need(s) animal blood in order to get over their anger issues against humans is quite absurd and primitive.  Yet about 39 times (!), the Bible speaks of Yahweh smelling the “pleasing aroma” of burnt animal sacrifices: Gen 8:21; Ex 29:18,25,41; Lev 1:9,13,17; 2:2,9,12; 3:5,16; 4:31; 6:15,21; 8:21,28; 17:6; 23:13,18; 26:31; Num 15:3,7,10,13,14,24; 18:17; 28:2,6,8,13,24,27; 29:2,6,8,13,36. ex. “…sprinkle their (an ox, sheep, or goat) blood on the altar and burn their fat as an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.”

CONCLUSION:

What can be gained by comparing the Bible’s law code with other ancient codes? 

Among other things, such a comparison confirms that the “Law of Moses” was not actually all that special in the ancient world, and certainly shows no signs of “divine composition.”  The Old Testament with its Law/Torah does not actually come from any god at all. It is merely a local Hebrew/Jewish human variation on religious themes that were very common throughout the ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world.  

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Matthew Kruebbe,

Sep 18, 2011, 12:49 PM

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