Monday, January 10, 2011

Code of Hammurabi

The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian law code, dating to ca. 1700 BCE (short chronology). 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" (lex talionis) as graded depending on social status, of slave versus free man.

One nearly complete example of the Code survives today, on a diorite stele in the shape of a huge index finger, 2.25 m or 7.4 ft tall. The Code is inscribed in the Akkadian language, using cuneiform script carved into the stele, today on display in the Louvre.

Hammurabi ruled for 144 years, 1792 to 1750 BC, in the preface to the law code, he states, "Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land."

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 Khuzestan, Iran (ancient Susa, Elam), where it had been taken as plunder by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte in the 12th century B.C.

It is currently on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Law

The Code of Hammurabi was one of several sets of laws in the Ancient Near East.

Earlier collections of laws include the Code of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur (ca. 2050 BCE), the Laws of Eshnunna (ca. 1930 BCE) and the codex of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin (ca. 1870 BCE), while later ones include the Hittite laws, the Assyrian laws, and Mosaic Law. These codes come from similar cultures in a relatively small geographical area, and they have passages which resemble each other.

The code has been seen as an example of even a king not being able to change fundamental laws concerning the governing of a country which was the primitive form of what is now known as a constitution. However, this interpretation may be anachronistic. The code is also one of the earliest examples of the idea of presumption of innocence, and it also suggests that both the accused and accuser have the opportunity to provide evidence. The Code's provisions do not cover important areas of law and commerce. The occasional nature of many provisions suggests that the Code may be better read as a codification of supplementary judicial decisions of the king. Rather than being a modern legal code or constitution, it may have as its purpose the self-glorification of Hammurabi by memorializing his wisdom and justice. Its copying in subsequent generations indicates that it was used as a model of legal and judicial reasoning.

Here are seventeen example laws, in their entirety, of the Code of Hammurabi, translated into English:

* If anyone ensnares another, putting a ban upon him, but he cannot prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.
* If anyone brings an accusation against a man, and the accused goes to the river and leaps into the river, if he sinks in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river proves that the accused is not guilty, and he escapes unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.
* If anyone brings an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if a capital offense is charged, be put to death.
* If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then the builder shall be put to death. (Another variant of this is, If the owner's son dies, then the builder's son shall be put to death.)
* If a son strikes his father, his hands shall be hewn off.
* If a man give his child to a nurse and the child dies in her hands, but the nurse unbeknown to the father and mother nurses another child, then they shall convict her of having nursed another child without the knowledge of the father and mother and her breasts shall be cut off.
* If anyone steals the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.
* If a man takes a woman to wife, but has no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him.
* If a man strikes a pregnant woman, thereby causing her to miscarry and die, the assailant's daughter shall be put to death.
* If a man puts out the eye of an equal, his eye shall be put out.
* If a man knocks the teeth out of another man, his own teeth will be knocked out.
* If anyone strikes the body of a man higher in rank than he, he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public.
* If a freeborn man strikes the body of another freeborn man of equal rank, he shall pay one gold mina [an amount of money].
* If the slave of a freed man strikes the body of a freed man, his ear shall be cut off.
* If anyone commits a robbery and is caught, he shall be put to death.
* If anyone opens his ditches to water his crop, but is careless, and the water floods his neighbor's field, he shall pay his neighbor corn for his loss.
* If a judge tries a case, reaches a decision, and presents his judgment in writing; and later it is discovered that his decision was in error, and it was his own fault, he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case and be removed from the judge's bench.

There are 282 such laws in the Code of Hammurabi, each usually no more than a sentence or two. The 282 laws are bracketed by a Prologue in which Hammurabi introduces himself, and an Epilogue in which he affirms his authority and sets forth his hopes and prayers for his code of laws.

Other copies
Various copies of portions of the Code of Hammurabi have been found on baked clay tablets, some possibly older than the celebrated diorite stele now in the Louvre. The Prologue of the Code of Hammurabi (the first 305 inscripted squares on the stele) is on such a tablet, also at the Louvre (Inv #AO 10237). Some gaps in the list of benefits bestowed on cities recently annexed by Hammurabi may imply that it is older than the famous stele (it is currently dated to the early 18th century BCE). Likewise, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, part of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, also has a "Code of Hammurabi" clay tablet, dated to 1750 BCE., in (Room 5, Inv # Ni 2358).

In July, 2010, archaeologists reported that a fragmentary Akkadian cuneiform tablet was discovered at Tel Hazor, Israel, containing a ca. 1700 BCE text that was said to be partly parallel to portions of the Hammurabi code. The Hazor law code fragments are currently being prepared for publication by a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.