Friday, April 5, 2013

Misunderstood: The Code of Hammurabi

How often have we heard the words, "So, I guess it's an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." uttered with a disdainful sneer?  The Code of Hammurabi is recognized by many modern people as a template for revenge - the Code of Tit-for-Tat.  But you would be wrong - for the most part.

Here are a few things you might not know about the Code of Hammurabi:

  • The Code of Hammurabi is not the oldest (or only) ancient code of laws.  The oldest known code of laws is the Code of Urukagina.  Other contemporary legal statutes include the Code of the Assura, and the Code of Ur-Nammu.  A more complete list of ancient legal codes can be found here.
  • The Code has 282 laws covering topics such as: Religion, Military Service, Trade, Slavery, the duty of workers, and the Law.
  • It is a significant advancement in justice.  It provided for widows and orphans and protected the week from the wealthy and powerful.
  • Despite its reputation for bloody revenge, the eye for an eye theme was designed to prevent people from over-reacting.  No more would anyone be allowed to kill someone over an insult.
  • It separated the victim/accuser from the perpetrator/accused via a judicial system.  Thus, the continuous cycle of retribution is stopped; similar to the system we now employ.
  • The C of H carried over into the Old Testament:  see Exodus Ch. 21, Leviticus Ch. 24, and Deuteronomy Ch. 19,  The Israelites expanded the protection of widows, orphans, slaves, and the weak.  They also added 351 more laws.
  • It also has elements of hypothetical (what if?) legal scenarios.  These items consider legal issues that had not necessarily been encountered.

Yep, I learn something new almost every day.

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