the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
King of Shinar; perhaps identical with Abraham's contemporary, Amraphel, who is mentioned in Genesis 14:9; the sixth king in the first dynasty of Babylon. Hammurabi was the founder of the united Babylonian empire; he conquered Rim-Sin, King of Larsa and Sumer-Accad, joined the northern and southern kingdoms, and thus established the Babylonian empire, with its capital at Babylon. It is supposed to have been Hammurabi who laid the foundations of Babylon's prosperity, and made it the first city of the Orient, a position which it maintained until the time of the Seleucids. The direct traces of the connection between this first dynasty of Babylon and the West are still scanty. An inscription on a stone slab seems to represent Hammurabi in the capacity of "King of Amurru."
Hammurabi ruled from 2267 to 2213 [2394-2339, Oppert]. His father and predecessor was Sin-muballit. The later Babylonians regarded Hammurabi's period as the golden age of the Babylonian empire. After conquering the south Hammurabi improved its economic conditions. In the preceding period the canals, the efficient condition of which was essential to the cultivation of the land, had probably been very much neglected. Hammurabi endeavored to restore to the land its former fruitfulness by building a new canal, which he named "Hammurabi Is the Blessing of the People." Other accounts in his inscriptions record his building operations in connection with the most important sanctuaries of the land. Thus he continued the work, already begun by his predecessor Rim-Sin, on the temple of Ishtar at Zarilab in southern Babylonia; he "made rich" the city of Ur, the home of Abraham; rebuilt the sun-temples at Larsa and Sippar; and beautified and enlarged the temples of Babylon (E-sagila) and Borsippa (E-zida). Hammurabi died after an unusually long reign (fifty-five years), and left the newly founded Babylonian empire, firmly established and unified, to his son Samsuiluna (2209-2180 [2339-2304, Oppert]). The latter's policy, like that of his successors, seems to have been the same as Hammurabi's.
The most important of all the Hammurabi inscriptions is without doubt that found at Susa, containing his code of laws. This inscription was brought to light on the acropolis of Susa by J. de Morgan, at the head of a French archeological expedition, as a result of excavations carried on in December and January, 1901-02. The laws are inscribed in forty-four lines on a block of black diorite 2.25 meters in height, and constitute the most valuable known monument of Babylonian culture, the oldest document of the kind in the history of human progress. A bas-relief on the monument shows the king in a devout attitude before the sun-god Samas, who, seated, instructs him in the law. The god wears a crown, while in his right hand he holds a style and a circular object of symbolic import. This monument stood originally in the sun-temple of Ebabarra at Sippar. Thence it was carried to Susaby the Elamite conqueror Shutruk-Naḥḥunte in 1100 B.C. From a statement in the inscription it appears that a duplicate of the stone codex was erected in the temple of E-sagila at Babylon. Fragments of a second copy have been found in Susa itself. Four fragments of a copy in clay made for Assurbanipal's library are preserved in the British Museum. The code is a collection of decrees, which, however, do not constitute a legal system as generally understood. Private and criminal law are not separated. The transitions are arbitrary and lack any logical principle of succession. Paragraphs 128-194 are especially noticeable, containing regulations concerning marriage, family possessions, inheritance, and adopted children.
The picture of civilization which these laws unroll compels a change in the traditional ideas of the ancient Orient. A large number of regulations show a wholly unsuspected degree of culture. Manual labor, architecture, ship-building, commerce, and agriculture form the subject-matter of the code. There was a decided advance over the Bedouin civilization, since the Babylonians were under the protection of a prince who was like a father to his subjects. Only the slave seems to have been excluded from this protection; he was regarded as a chattel, as in Mosaic law, but with the difference that the "'ebed" in Israel was protected by the law against inhuman treatment (Exodus 21:20), whereas the slave in Babylonia, according to paragraph 282, was exposed to pitiless barbarity. The degrees of the social scale are not shown very clearly. The ranks of priest, king, free-born, and freedman were distinguished, as well as the class of slaves. Artisans belonged to the lower classes; even the physician was reckoned among them. Like them, he received a "wage"; whereas the architect, like the artist, received a "fee" ("kistu"). Paragraphs 198-214 contain the penal code; a free-born man was about equivalent to two freedmen, and a freedman to about two slaves.
Parallels with Mosaic Code.
The laws concerning marriage and inheritance, property and punishments, show much similarity to the regulations of the Torah. Genesis 16:3 and 30:3, where the relation of Sarah to Hagar, and of Rachel to Bilhah, is spoken of, have light thrown upon them by paragraph 145 of Hammurabi's code: "If a man takes a wife and she bears him children and he desires to take a concubine—if he takes the concubine into his house, this concubine shall not be equal to the wife." In Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 it is decreed that in case of adultery on the part of a wife both parties to the guilt shall be put to death; paragraph 129 of Hammurabi's code corresponds to this: "If any man's wife is found lying with another man, they shall both be bound and thrown into the water." Exactly the same law is found in Deuteronomy 22:25-26 as in the code, paragraph 130: "If any one forces the betrothed of another, who has not yet known a man and is still living in her father's house—if he is found lying with her, he shall be put to death, but the, woman shall be guiltless." An accusation brought against a woman by her husband is decided by appealing to God's judgment: the "jealousy offering" in Numbers 5:11-31 is a parallel. Paragraphs 7 and 122 treat of the business of depositing goods (comp. Exodus 22:6-7); paragraph 176 assures to the public steward the right of holding property (comp. Genesis 15:2; 2 Samuel 9:2,9,10). Paragraph 117 sheds light on 2 Kings 4:1; Isaiah 27:2, 1; it shows that bondage for debt, which could be made to include the whole family, terminated in the fourth year, as against the seventh according to Mosaic law (comp. Exodus 21:2).
The "Lex Talionis."
The lex talionis, indicated in Exodus 21:23-25; Deuteronomy 19:21; Leviticus 24:19, is also met with in the code, in fifteen places. But as in the Mosaic law (Exodus 21:26,29-32; Leviticus 24:18; Numbers 35:31) the retaliatory punishment may be commuted by substitution or by a monetary satisfaction, so also in the code of Hammurabi, which distinguishes many cases in which a payment proportionate to the injury committed may be exacted. There is another class of punishments, found also in old Egyptian law, which falls under the law of retaliation: "If a physician wounds a man severely with the operating-knife and kills him, or if he opens a tumor with the operating-knife and the eye is injured, one shallchop off his hands" (§ 218). A similar fate befell the unskilful tattooer, according to paragraph 226. The code classes the casting of spells (§§ 1 and 2) as an offense against religion. The same verb, "abâru," appears in Deuteronomy 18:11 as in paragraph 157, and with a like meaning: "If any one lies with his mother after his father, they shall both be burned," a decree which recalls Leviticus 20:11. Bearing false witness knowingly was punished with death, according to §§ 3 and 11 (comp. Deuteronomy 19:16-21). Revenge, or private enforcement of justice, was allowed in cases of burglary and stealing if (§§ 22, 26) the evil-doer was taken in flagrante delicto: Exodus 22:2 has a similar regulation. The principle that a man is responsible for damage caused by his carelessness is clearly brought out in the code. Among others belonging to this class of regulations is paragraph 229, to which Deuteronomy 22:8 is comparable.
There is a parallel between paragraphs 251-252 of the code and Exodus 21:29-32, as regards the fine which the owner of vicious oxen must pay in the event of an accident if he has not taken proper precautions. If an animal is torn to pieces in the field by a wild beast, the shepherd is not responsible, according to paragraph 244 of the code (comp. Exodus 22:12). As in Exodus 21:28 the owner of an animal that gores is not liable to confinement on account of injury caused by his animal, so also in the code (§ 250). The "elders" are named with the judges as officers of the law, just as in Deuteronomy 19:12 the "ziḳne 'ir" appear as criminal magistrates. Bribing the judge was forbidden. An oath of purgation was accepted as proof in Exodus 22:7,10-11: the same conception is met with in various places in the code. The Book of the Covenant makes a distinction in Exodus 21:13 between actions with and without intent: so does the code (§ 206). According to Exodus 21:22 the fine to be paid for injuring a pregnant woman was fixed by the husband; according to paragraph 209 of Hammurabi's code the fine was ten shekels. The law in Exodus 21:26 gives freedom to a slave whose eye is destroyed by his master: the code gives the slave the half of his value (§ 199).
Mode of Composition.
The fact that these laws are not arranged in logical classifications gives ground for the supposition that Hammurabi's code originated in a collection of important decisions. It contains, therefore, only typical cases from legal practise. Hence one seeks in vain in this code of Hammurabi for norms in the juridical sense which has attached to the term since Binding ("Handbuch des Strafrechts," 1:159); it does not contain pure commands of the lawgiver, like the Ten Commandments, "where the commands are given in a short and imperative form." However uncertain the interpretation, there is no manner of doubt that the Torah excels Hammurabi's code from an ethical-religious standpoint.
Superiority of Mosaic Code.
The code, indeed, contains humane regulations, such as those clauses which treat of freeing a captive; which excuse a man from the payment of his taxes where the harvest has failed; which protect one in bondage for debt against ill treatment; which limit the right to dispose of goods given in security for debt. But the humanity of these provisions is outweighed by regulations such as those dealing with the legally organized system of prostitution (§§ 178-180), or with the conditions in the wine-shop in which evil people assembled (§ 109), and by the typical cases mentioned of outrageous cruelty toward animals (§§ 246-248), all which clauses evidence a low plane of morality.
A law such as Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21, "thou shalt not covet" (which the Decalogue, with a perception of the fact that covetousness is the root of all law-breaking, places above all other earthly laws), is not to be found anywhere in the code. Hence it follows that the code does not recognize the law of neighborly love, since self-restraint is wholly foreign to it. The institutions of the Torah which protect those who are weak economically, which set bounds to the unlimited growth of wealth, and which care for the poor are peculiar to itself. The law of love to one's neighbor (Exodus 23:4 et seq.), which takes account of the stranger and even of the enemy, is nowhere discernible in Hammurabi's code. The law of retaliation, of cold, calculating equity, "as thou to me so I to thee"; the revenge of the stronger on the weaker—these form a broad foundation on which the love of one's neighbor finds no place.
Hammurabi's service to religion consisted chiefly in the fact that he opposed the use of spells and enchantments. A similar advance in this direction had already been made by King Gudea. The discovery of Hammurabi's code completely disproves one of the chief hypotheses of the Wellhausen school, that a codification on the part of the Hebrews was impossible before the ninth century.
- V. Scheil, Délégation en Perse, Mémoires Publiés sous la Direction, de M. J. de Morgan, Délégué Général, vol.;
- Textes Elamites-Sémitiques, 2d series, Paris, 1902;
- H. Winckler, Die Gesetze Hammurabis, Königs von, Babylon, in Der Alte Orient, vol. , part 4, Leipsic, 1902 (2d ed., 1903);
- Schrader, K. A. T. vol. , Berlin, 1902;
- L. W. King, The Letters and Inscriptions of Hammurabi, London, 1898-1900;
- M. Montgomery, Briefe aus Hammurabis Zeit, Berlin, 1901;
- C. H. W. Johns, The Oldest Code of Laws in the World, Promulgated by Hammurabi, Edinburgh, 1903;
- The Independent (New York), Jan., 1903;
- J. Jeremias, Moses und Hammurabi, Leipsic, 1903;
- G. Cohn, Die Gesetze Hammurabis, Zurich, 1903;
- Winckler, Gesch. Israels;
- Friedrich Delitzsch, Babel und Bibel, pp. 21 et seq., Leipsic, 1903;
- Kohler, in Zeitschrift für Vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft, vol.;
- R. Dareste, in Nouvelle Revue Historique de Droit Français et Etranger, vol.;
- S. Oettli, Das Gesetz Hammurabis und die Thora Israels. Leipsic, 1903;
- Schwersahl, Das Aelteste Gesetzbuch der Welt, in Deutsche Juristenzeitung, March 1, 1903;
- Grimme, Das Gesetz Chammurabis und Moses, Cologne, 1903;
- Lagrange, in Revue Biblique, 1903;
- C. F. Lehmann. Babyloniens Kulturmission Einst und Jetzt, pp. 43 et seq., Leipsic, 1903;
- G. Cohn, Die Gesetze Hammurabis, Zurich, 1903.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Hammurabi'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​h/hammurabi.html. 1901.