Code of Hammurabi and the Book of Exodus

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The secular laws of Babylon were laid down by Hammurabi in “The Code of Hammurabi”, and in the book of Exodus. These laws provided stability and order in those respective societies. As society depended upon them, it is natural to assume that the laws relied upon society as well and reflect the values held by each society, not only in the laws themselves, but also in how they are written, whom they pertain to and how they are executed. While at first glance the law codes appear similar, there are a number of differences that provide key insight to what was held dear in each society. How do differences in these two law codes attest to differences in the two societies which pronounced them, and likewise, what can be learned from their similarities? These questions will be answered by analyzing the background history of the law codes, the laws themselves, how justice was administered, and the differences and similarities between the punishments for similar offences. This approach will give a comprehensive picture of the law codes and make it possible to see the social reasons behind the differences. There are a number of differences in the origins of the laws that provide a better picture of the differences between the two cultures. The Code of Hammurabi is presented as a body of laws produced as the result of single event in which Hammurabi was given divine right to create and enforce the laws of the land. The laws of ancient Israel seem to have been created over the period of the Israelites’ wandering through the desert after the Exodus. (Avalos 616) This is not to say that the Code of Hammurabi is an original work by Hammurabi; many of the laws in the Code of Hammurabi can be traced back to older more incomplete codes of laws. It is most likely that Hammurabi took various laws that were already in existence and compiled them with a number of original addictions to create the most complete set of laws at that time. The Code of Hammurabi was inscribed on a number of large black stone steles measuring seven and a half feet tall. The stele also included a scene in which Hammurabi is depicted alongside the god Shamash at the top, giving it an overall imposing impression of authority and power. It is also framed by a prologue and an epilogue, which serve to further justify Hammurabi’s legitimacy as king and the justness of his laws. (Roth 73) While Hammurabi attributes his ability to rule to the gods, he does not claim that the laws were written by the gods; which is the case with the Ten Commandments in the book of Exodus, which is attributed to Yahweh. The laws of ancient Israel were the only ancient laws to have both religious and non religious laws combined together, demonstrating the importance of religion to the Bible’s authors.(Avalos 616) Both law codes have references to the gods, but the Code of Hammurabi presents itself as a more secular law code. The overall background of the laws gives the impression that the laws of Exodus were laid down through trial and error throughout the history of their society. The Code of Hammurabi reflects the strong central government that created it and has a more secular feel. The workings and practices of the law system itself also give insight into the cultures of the two societies. In both ancient Mesopotamia and Israel, the judges in local cases were made up of a group of village elders. (Avalos 437) The use of a group of judges indicates a concern with equality as a greater number of judges would usually indicate a fairer trial. Neither the Babylonians nor the Israelites used lawyers in their cases; both parties represented themselves before the judges, which emphasize the concept of personal responsibility in both societies. (Greengus 473) There are a number of differences between the two societies however in the way in which their laws are carried out and by whom. There were technically three jurisdictions in both Israelite and Babylonian society, the...
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