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Ancient Moral Systems

By liqmidiq May 05, 2013 1077 Words
Ancient Moral Systems
Throughout history different civilizations have been able to demonstrate their moral systems through their codes, laws, and religions. Beginning with the Mesopotamian civilization during the Babylonian empire, King Hammurabi brought forth the Code of Hammurabi. The Hebrew civilization used guidance from their Hebrew bible as a template for their moral standards. Order was established by their religious beliefs which were derived from two stone tablets given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The ancient Indian civilization is seen as the blending of the indigenous Dravidians and the nomadic Aryans. A millennium later, the Bhagavad Gita is presented and it represents the Indian moral system as a whole. The moral systems of the ancient Mesopotamian and Hebrew civilizations are clearly defined in the Code of Hammurabi and The Jewish Bible respectively, while the Indian civilization had a moral system not as clearly defined because individuals strongly focused on transcending caste levels. King Hammurabi composed the first set of written laws during his reign 1,000 years after the Sumerian empire was established. His code of Hammurabi set a social norm for moral standards and presented the idea of ensured punishment for wrong doers. Because the laws were written down, all citizens were expected to adhere to them. The Hammurabi code was centered on the idea of revenge. “If any one steal the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.” This example in the Hammurabi code represents the Mesopotamian belief in fairness and explains that tolerance will not be allowed for anyone who breaks the moral code. The idea of stealing as moral wrong is similar to the law presented in the Jewish bible. The bible contains the Ten Commandments, the primary source of law and moral values in ancient Hebrew times. The first commandment states “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” proclaiming that the Hebrew God is the greatest; however it also states “Thou Shalt Not steal,” a moral norm and obligation of believers. This idea was similar to the Hammurabi principle established in the code of Hammurabi. Both pieces also contain moral obligations for murder, adultery, and lying. They hold the similar characteristic that they were written down and intended for all citizens’ lives. The Hammurabi code also allowed for women’s rights and their fair treatment. “If this woman does not wish to remain in her husband's house, then he shall compensate her for the dowry that she brought with her from her father's house, and she may go.” To the ancient Mesopotamian’s a wife was not a mere object to serve her husband, but she was a mutual contributor to the household who had certain ethical rights. This represents the moral obligation for equal rights and fairness within sexes. This concept of equality was also mentioned in another source of Hebrew law, The Ketubot. Women’s roles in marriage as well as their rights are described in the Ketubot. The Jewish Marriage Laws helped to establish the behavioral norms within a marriage. It also formed the idea of what was morally acceptable in a marriage and what was not, offering expectations for both men and women. It contained some of the same moral beliefs as the Hammurabi code, such as the idea of divorce. The marriage law states that the father “receives her writ from divorce.” This indicates that divorce was handled similarly in both civilizations, with the woman returning to the father’s home. It was important in both Mesopotamia and ancient Israel for women to be treated fairly. Even though the civilizations occurred thousands of years apart, both shared some common principles about marriage life. The Bhagavad Gita is a small part of the epic the ‘Mahabharata.’ It is the conversation between a prince named Arjuna and the god Krishna. The Bhagavad Gita helped individuals achieve moral values by telling them to perform the duties required in their caste in order to transcend to another life after death. In the Bhagavad Gita the God Krishna states, ” One who is engaged in My pure devotional service, free from the contaminations of previous activities and from mental speculation…certainly comes to Me.”In this quote Krishna tells Arujna that in order to achieve a higher state, one must follow nature and let go of all ties to doubtful thinking. Because of this, the Bhagavad Gita does not contain a set of rules in which individuals must govern by. Each person is the guide to their destiny and must follow what they believe is moral for their position in life. The idea that religion should dictate daily life is a common factor to both the Indian and Hebrew civilizations. Religion was a factor that determined the behavior of individuals. The actions a religious individual took usually followed their religion closely. Conversely, the Hebrew Civilization had a clearer set of moral standards but the ancient Indian civilization did not. The Indian moral system incorporated the idea of inner morality established by the caste system. These morals could differ from person to person as each had a different belief system depending on their caste, while the ancient Israelites had values that applied to the civilization as a whole. For example, the Hebrew bible says “thou shall not kill,” a message intended for all of mankind. Yet in the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna kills his family members because it was an acceptable action allowed for individuals within his caste. Universal morals were also present in the Code of Hammurabi as it included all social classes and both men and women in its rules. All three ancient civilizations had identifiable moral systems. Both the Mesopotamian and Hebrew civilizations had a set of written down moral beliefs to help guide individuals. However, the Mesopotamians’ moral system was not determined by religion. Their moral standards were social behaviors expected of the citizens. The Hebrews' moral standards were commanded to them by their god and had a spiritual following. Yet both systems contain very similar expectations dealing with topics varying from women's rights to murder. In ancient India moral standards were less focused on what was right and wrong and more so on spiritual transcendence. It was important for individuals to let go of this life and make sacrifices in order to transcend human existence. From understanding each civilization’s moral system and how it was developed, one can begin to realize the underlying similarities and differences between, leading to further comprehension as to why a civilization follows its morals.

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