Hammurabi's Code: Revenge or Justice?

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Andrew Zobel
Christian Woodfin
Tim Koehler
Justice and revenge, while often lumped together, have very distinct differences. Revenge, in its most basic meaning, is “exact punishment or expiation for a wrong on behalf of, especially in a resentful or vindictive spirit.” Justice, on the other hand, has more of a heroic feel to it. Justice is the right thing, while revenge is frowned upon in society. Justice is necessary, revenge is not. Every successful civilization in history has had a strong system of laws and punishments, and Hammurabi’s Sumerians were no exception. Hammurabi’s code evokes a strong sense of justice rather than revenge. While his laws were very strict in nature, they were simply disciplinary measures needed to keep the common man in line. The “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” method of discipline, while being quite primitive in compassion for those breaking the law, is still justice at its inner most core. The first three laws in Hammurabi’s code have to do with protecting the accused. Nowhere in these decrees is revenge a factor; this is all about preserving integrity for the individual. Rules twenty-two to twenty-five have to do with theft and robbery. It is not simply an act of revenge to pursue those in violation of the law and punish them, it is to balance out both sides of the equation. If someone feels the need to steal, then he or she shall face the consequences put forth. Hammurabi was quite strict on adultery. If someone was found having an affair, they were either run out of town, paid a hefty fine, or were put to death.

Having such severe punishments for crime really whips the subjects into shape. Had there been less of a penalty, the common man would take advantage of these laws because of no fear of the consequences. If revenge was the core of a legal system, then society could not propel itself forward; it would be too worried about getting even, thus causing it to self-destruct. Without law and order, civilization and a...
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