The code of Hammurabi was written somewhere between 1792-1750 BC. We cannot be sure exactly when Hammurabi penned his law code. In comparison, Moses wrote the ten commandments somewhere around the 15th century BC.
The difference in years between the two does not mean that God copied form a secular human ruler. God had instituted his laws long before Hammurabi reigned with Adam. If he hadn’t, then God would not have been able to punish Cain for his murdering Abel. Adam and his family had to know God’s rules in order to know if their behavior was right or wrong.
You will notice that in the biblical record, Cain does not complain about not knowing it was wrong to kill. The secular world may have long surviving records, but that doesn’t mean that they were first. Noah and his family would have related God’s rules to their descendants—again, long before Hammurabi existed.
What follows will be the 10 commandments from Exodus 20, some brief words from Hammurabi himself, some examples of his laws and also a blurb from a website giving a little information on the king and his laws.
Part 1: The 10 Commandments
20 Then God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of [a]slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods [b]before Me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself [c]an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not [d]leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who [e]stays with you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”…
Part Two: A Note of History
During the first two decades of his forty-two year reign (1792-1750B.C.), Hammurabi fortified several cities in northern Babylonia. In 1764, Babylon defeated the coalition of Elam, Subartu and Eshnunna. By 1762, Hammurabi claimed to have “established the foundations of Sumer and Akkad, a phrase borrowed from Sumerian royal hymns to express the ideal of pan-Babylonian rule. With the conquest of Mari in 1759, virtually all of Mesopotamia had come under Babylonian rule.
Hammurabi’s rigidly centralized system prospered from tribute and taxes, both used to compensate state dependents and to finance extensive state irrigation and building projects. However, these projects placed a heavy fiscal load on subject territories and created a mood of disenchantment with the state. Following Hammurabi’s death, distant provinces broke away immediately and the continued loss of revenues weakened the crown. In an attempt to slow down the tendency toward disintegration, the bureaucracy was expanded. In the end, Hammurabi’s successors became figureheads dependent on locally controlled goods and resources. The outcome was somewhat predictable: centralized institutions collapsed, autonomous local groups reasserted control, and the city-state pattern once again prevailed.
The Code of Hammurabi is the longest surviving text from the Old Babylonian period. Almost completely preserved, the code is far more significant in legal history than any of its forerunners, such as that of Ur-Nammu. 282 laws, carved in forty-nine columns on a basalt stele, address a variety of topics in civil, criminal, and commercial law. Like other Near Eastern codes. Hammurabi’s does not attempt to cover all possible legal situations. In its epilogue, Hammurabi describes the code as “laws of Justice” intended to clarify the rights of any “oppressed man.”
You will find complete versions of the Code of Hammurabi online at: The Avalon Project (Yale University Law School) and Exploring Ancient World Cultures (Evansville).
Part Three: Hammurabi
The following excerpts are taken from The Code Of Hammurabi, published by wildside Press LLC, 2009.
When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the Lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in th eland, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind. (pg. 7)
When Marduk sent me to rule over men, to give the protection of right to the land, I did right and righteousness in…and brought about the well-being of the oppressed. (pg. 9)
Laws of justice which Hammurabi, the wise king, established,. A righteous law, and pious statute did he teach the land. Hammurabi, the protecting king am I. I have not withdrawn myself from the men Bel gave to me, the rule over whom Marduk gave to me, I was not negligent, but I made them a peaceful abiding-place. I expounded all great difficulties, I made the light shine upon them. (pg. 43)
The king who ruleth among the kings of cities am I. My are well considered: there Is no wisdom like unto mine. By the command of Shamash, the great judge of heaven and earth, let righteousness go forth in the land; by the order of Marduk, my lord, let no destruction befall my monument. (pg. 43)
Hammurabi is a ruler, who is a father to his subjects, who holds the words of Marduk in reverence, who has achieved conquest for Marduk over the north and south, who rejoices the heart of Marduk, his lord, who has bestowed benefits forever and ever on his subjects, and has established order in the land. (pg. 44)
When he reads the record, let him pray with full heart to Marduk, my lord, and Zarpanit, my lady,; and then shall the protecting deities and the gods, who frequent E-Sagil, graciously grant the desires daily presented before Marduk, my lord, and Zarpanit, my lady. (pg. 44)
Part Four: The Laws
The following will only be excerpts form the complete code. If you want to read all the laws and compare them with God’s for his people (found in Exodus to Deuteronomy) then go to the following website: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ancient/hamframe.asp
1. If any one ensnare another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.
2. If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape 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.
3. If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.
4. If he satisfy the elders to impose a fine of grain or money, he shall receive the fine that the action produces.
14. If any one steal the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.
15. If any one take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death.
16. If any one receive into his house a runaway male or female slave of the court, or of a freedman, and does not bring it out at the public proclamation of the major domus, the master of the house shall be put to death.
17. If any one find runaway male or female slaves in the open country and bring them to their masters, the master of the slaves shall pay him two shekels of silver.
18. If the slave will not give the name of the master, the finder shall bring him to the palace; a further investigation must follow, and the slave shall be returned to his master.
19. If he hold the slaves in his house, and they are caught there, he shall be put to death.
20. If the slave that he caught run away from him, then shall he swear to the owners of the slave, and he is free of all blame.
21. If any one break a hole into a house (break in to steal), he shall be put to death before that hole and be buried.
22. If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.
48. If any one owe a debt for a loan, and a storm prostrates the grain, or the harvest fail, or the grain does not grow for lack of water; in that year he need not give his creditor any grain, he washes his debt-tablet in water and pays no rent for this year.
49. If any one take money from a merchant, and give the merchant a field tillable for corn or sesame and order him to plant corn or sesame in the field, and to harvest the crop; if the cultivator plant corn or sesame in the field, at the harvest the corn or sesame that is in the field shall belong to the owner of the field and he shall pay corn as rent, for the money he received from the merchant, and the livelihood of the cultivator shall he give to the merchant
104. If a merchant give an agent corn, wool, oil, or any other goods to transport, the agent shall give a receipt for the amount, and compensate the merchant therefor. Then he shall obtain a receipt form the merchant for the money that he gives the merchant.
105. If the agent is careless, and does not take a receipt for the money which he gave the merchant, he can not consider the unreceipted money as his own.
106. If the agent accept money from the merchant, but have a quarrel with the merchant (denying the receipt), then shall the merchant swear before God and witnesses that he has given this money to the agent, and the agent shall pay him three times the sum.
107. If the merchant cheat the agent, in that as the latter has returned to him all that had been given him, but the merchant denies the receipt of what had been returned to him, then shall this agent convict the merchant before God and the judges, and if he still deny receiving what the agent had given him shall pay six times the sum to the agent.
108. If a tavern-keeper (feminine) does not accept corn according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water.
109. If conspirators meet in the house of a tavern-keeper, and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the tavern-keeper shall be put to death.
110. If a “sister of a god” open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.
111. If an inn-keeper furnish sixty ka of usakani-drink to . . . she shall receive fifty ka of corn at the harvest.
136. If any one leave his house, run away, and then his wife go to another house, if then he return, and wishes to take his wife back: because he fled from his home and ran away, the wife of this runaway shall not return to her husband.
137. If a man wish to separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his wife who has borne him children: then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a part of the usufruct of field, garden, and property, so that she can rear her children. When she has brought up her children, a portion of all that is given to the children, equal as that of one son, shall be given to her. She may then marry the man of her heart.
138. If a man wishes to separate from his wife who has borne him no children, he shall give her the amount of her purchase money and the dowry which she brought from her father’s house, and let her go.
139. If there was no purchase price he shall give her one mina of gold as a gift of release.
140. If he be a freed man he shall give her one-third of a mina of gold.
141. If a man’s wife, who lives in his house, wishes to leave it, plunges into debt, tries to ruin her house, neglects her husband, and is judicially convicted: if her husband offer her release, she may go on her way, and he gives her nothing as a gift of release. If her husband does not wish to release her, and if he take another wife, she shall remain as servant in her husband’s house.
142. If a woman quarrel with her husband, and say: “You are not congenial to me,” the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father’s house.
154. If a man be guilty of incest with his daughter, he shall be driven from the place (exiled).
155. If a man betroth a girl to his son, and his son have intercourse with her, but he (the father) afterward defile her, and be surprised, then he shall be bound and cast into the water (drowned).
156. If a man betroth a girl to his son, but his son has not known her, and if then he defile her, he shall pay her half a gold mina, and compensate her for all that she brought out of her father’s house. She may marry the man of her heart.
157. If any one be guilty of incest with his mother after his father, both shall be burned.
158. If any one be surprised after his father with his chief wife, who has borne children, he shall be driven out of his father’s house.
159. If any one, who has brought chattels into his father-in-law’s house, and has paid the purchase-money, looks for another wife, and says to his father-in-law: “I do not want your daughter,” the girl’s father may keep all that he had brought.
160. If a man bring chattels into the house of his father-in-law, and pay the “purchase price” (for his wife): if then the father of the girl say: “I will not give you my daughter,” he shall give him back all that he brought with him.
161. If a man bring chattels into his father-in-law’s house and pay the “purchase price,” if then his friend slander him, and his father-in-law say to the young husband: “You shall not marry my daughter,” the he shall give back to him undiminished all that he had brought with him; but his wife shall not be married to the friend.
162. If a man marry a woman, and she bear sons to him; if then this woman die, then shall her father have no claim on her dowry; this belongs to her sons.
170. If his wife bear sons to a man, or his maid-servant have borne sons, and the father while still living says to the children whom his maid-servant has borne: “My sons,” and he count them with the sons of his wife; if then the father die, then the sons of the wife and of the maid-servant shall divide the paternal property in common. The son of the wife is to partition and choose.
171. If, however, the father while still living did not say to the sons of the maid-servant: “My sons,” and then the father dies, then the sons of the maid-servant shall not share with the sons of the wife, but the freedom of the maid and her sons shall be granted. The sons of the wife shall have no right to enslave the sons of the maid; the wife shall take her dowry (from her father), and the gift that her husband gave her and deeded to her (separate from dowry, or the purchase-money paid her father), and live in the home of her husband: so long as she lives she shall use it, it shall not be sold for money. Whatever she leaves shall belong to her children.
172. If her husband made her no gift, she shall be compensated for her gift, and she shall receive a portion from the estate of her husband, equal to that of one child. If her sons oppress her, to force her out of the house, the judge shall examine into the matter, and if the sons are at fault the woman shall not leave her husband’s house. If the woman desire to leave the house, she must leave to her sons the gift which her husband gave her, but she may take the dowry of her father’s house. Then she may marry the man of her heart.
173. If this woman bear sons to her second husband, in the place to which she went, and then die, her earlier and later sons shall divide the dowry between them.
174. If she bear no sons to her second husband, the sons of her first husband shall have the dowry.
175. If a State slave or the slave of a freed man marry the daughter of a free man, and children are born, the master of the slave shall have no right to enslave the children of the free.
82. If a father devote his daughter as a wife of Mardi of Babylon (as in 181), and give her no present, nor a deed; if then her father die, then shall she receive one-third of her portion as a child of her father’s house from her brothers, but Marduk may leave her estate to whomsoever she wishes.
183. If a man give his daughter by a concubine a dowry, and a husband, and a deed; if then her father die, she shall receive no portion from the paternal estate.
184. If a man do not give a dowry to his daughter by a concubine, and no husband; if then her father die, her brother shall give her a dowry according to her father’s wealth and secure a husband for her.
185. If a man adopt a child and to his name as son, and rear him, this grown son can not be demanded back again.
186. If a man adopt a son, and if after he has taken him he injure his foster father and mother, then this adopted son shall return to his father’s house.
187. The son of a paramour in the palace service, or of a prostitute, can not be demanded back.
188. If an artizan has undertaken to rear a child and teaches him his craft, he can not be demanded back.
189. If he has not taught him his craft, this adopted son may return to his father’s house.
190. If a man does not maintain a child that he has adopted as a son and reared with his other children, then his adopted son may return to his father’s house.
191. If a man, who had adopted a son and reared him, founded a household, and had children, wish to put this adopted son out, then this son shall not simply go his way. His adoptive father shall give him of his wealth one-third of a child’s portion, and then he may go. He shall not give him of the field, garden, and house.
192. If a son of a paramour or a prostitute say to his adoptive father or mother: “You are not my father, or my mother,” his tongue shall be cut off.
193. If the son of a paramour or a prostitute desire his father’s house, and desert his adoptive father and adoptive mother, and goes to his father’s house, then shall his eye be put out.
194. If a man give his child to a nurse and the child die in her hands, but the nurse unbeknown to the father and mother nurse 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.
195. If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.
196. If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. [ An eye for an eye ]
197. If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.
198. If he put out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina.
199. If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.
200. If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out. [ A tooth for a tooth ]
201. If he knock out the teeth of a freed man, he shall pay one-third of a gold mina.
202. If any one strike the body of a man higher in rank than he, he shall receive sixty blows with an ox-whip in public.
203. If a free-born man strike the body of another free-born man or equal rank, he shall pay one gold mina.
204. If a freed man strike the body of another freed man, he shall pay ten shekels in money.
205. If the slave of a freed man strike the body of a freed man, his ear shall be cut off.
206. If during a quarrel one man strike another and wound him, then he shall swear, “I did not injure him wittingly,” and pay the physicians.
207. If the man die of his wound, he shall swear similarly, and if he (the deceased) was a free-born man, he shall pay half a mina in money.
233. If a builder build a house for some one, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.
234. If a shipbuilder build a boat of sixty gur for a man, he shall pay him a fee of two shekels in money.
235. If a shipbuilder build a boat for some one, and do not make it tight, if during that same year that boat is sent away and suffers injury, the shipbuilder shall take the boat apart and put it together tight at his own expense. The tight boat he shall give to the boat owner.
237. If a man hire a sailor and his boat, and provide it with corn, clothing, oil and dates, and other things of the kind needed for fitting it: if the sailor is careless, the boat is wrecked, and its contents ruined, then the sailor shall compensate for the boat which was wrecked and all in it that he ruined.
238. If a sailor wreck any one’s ship, but saves it, he shall pay the half of its value in money.
239. If a man hire a sailor, he shall pay him six gur of corn per year.
240. If a merchantman run against a ferryboat, and wreck it, the master of the ship that was wrecked shall seek justice before God; the master of the merchantman, which wrecked the ferryboat, must compensate the owner for the boat and all that he ruined.
249. If any one hire an ox, and God strike it that it die, the man who hired it shall swear by God and be considered guiltless.
250. If while an ox is passing on the street (market) some one push it, and kill it, the owner can set up no claim in the suit (against the hirer).
251. If an ox be a goring ox, and it shown that he is a gorer, and he do not bind his horns, or fasten the ox up, and the ox gore a free-born man and kill him, the owner shall pay one-half a mina in money.
252. If he kill a man’s slave, he shall pay one-third of a mina.
273. If any one hire a day laborer, he shall pay him from the New Year until the fifth month (April to August, when days are long and the work hard) six gerahs in money per day; from the sixth month to the end of the year he shall give him five gerahs per day.
274. If any one hire a skilled artizan, he shall pay as wages of the . . . five gerahs, as wages of the potter five gerahs, of a tailor five gerahs, of . . . gerahs, . . . of a ropemaker four gerahs, of . . .. gerahs, of a mason . . . gerahs per day.
275. If any one hire a ferryboat, he shall pay three gerahs in money per day.
276. If he hire a freight-boat, he shall pay two and one-half gerahs per day.
277. If any one hire a ship of sixty gur, he shall pay one-sixth of a shekel in money as its hire per day.
278. If any one buy a male or female slave, and before a month has elapsed the benu-disease be developed, he shall return the slave to the seller, and receive the money which he had paid.
279. If any one buy a male or female slave, and a third party claim it, the seller is liable for the claim.