1792 – 1750 B.C.
Babylonian king who set down first written code of lawsby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Mesopotamia lies in confusion, turmoil, and constant war. King after king manages to rule a city-state or a small empire for a short time by conquering neighboring city-states. But these kings are cruel to the people of the conquered city, rule unjustly, and leave turmoil and a struggle for power when they die or are conquered!1 The people of Mesopotamia need a firm but fair ruler to unite Mesopotamia under a just law! But who can accomplish such a feat?
Hammurabi, first ruler of the Babylonian empire, holds the claim of restoring order and justice to Mesopotamia. Although Hammurabi did conquer other city-states to expand his empire, he let the rulers of the cities-states live and justly ruled the people with fair laws. Hammurabi wanted his subjects to obey him because they liked him and believed he made just, fair laws and not because they were apprehensive of his formidable military.2 In about 1786 B.C. he wrote 282 laws governing family, criminal punishment, civil law, ethics, business, prices, trade, and every other aspect of ancient life known as “the Code of Hammurabi” which he set up where everyone could read them.3 No one had ever set up a code of law to this extent before even though there had been several attempts over the previous 400 years. Introducing this early form of law, he boasted of his purpose: “to promote the welfare of the people, I, Hammurabi, the devout, god-fearing prince, cause justice to prevail in the land by destroying the wicked and the evil, that the strong might not oppress the weak.”4 Although Hammurabi had right motives for producing these laws that he believed Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, had given him the commission to write, many of the laws seemed strict, harsh and, cruel. Two examples of the severity and harshness of some of the punishments for lawbreaking follow: “If a son strikes his father, they shall cut off his forehand.” “If any one steals the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.”5 Some laws favored the people with a higher social status although they did attempt to provide justice for every class. For example: “If a man strikes the cheek of a freeman who is superior in rank to himself, he shall be beaten with 60 stripes with a whip of ox-hide in the assembly.”6
Although opinions vary on exactly when Hammurabi lived and the important dates of his reign, most scholars believe Hammurabi began his rule of Babylon in 1792 B.C. and died in 1750 B.C. Hammurabi was the sixth king over the city of Babylon, but once he defeated Sumer, Akkad, and other city-states to the south of Babylon around 1760 B.C., he claimed the title of the first king of the Babylonian empire. Eventually, his empire covered most parts of Mesopotamia. His main claim to fame, the Code of Hammurabi, was written in about 1786 B.C. Besides this, Hammurabi also did other things to improve his empire, namely, he improved the irrigation process. He also strongly encouraged astronomy, mathematics, and literature. Sadly, once Hammurabi died, the Babylonian empire that he worked so hard to build and improve collapsed due to military pressure from the Hittites under the rule of Mursilis I. Eventually, the Kassites, under the command of Agumkakrine, came to rule Babylon and some of the former, gargantuan empire for 400 years. Interestingly enough, they obeyed and respected the Code of Hammurabi.7 Much later, God used the Babylonians to correct and discipline the people of Judah when they were taken captive into Babylon in 586 B.C.
There are also some interesting speculations showing some parallels between the Bible and the life and laws of Hammurabi. One theme concept in both the Levitical law and the Code of Hammurabi that repeat themselves again and again are, namely: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise (Exodus 21:24-25).” Although Hammurabi did not know it, the principles in his laws reflected the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping as found in Galatians 6:78 and Proverbs 22:8: “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). “He who sows wickedness reaps trouble (Proverbs 22:8a).”
Another speculation made by some Bible scholars is that Nimrod, mentioned in the Bible, could be Hammurabi, since they both had similar military exploits, and because the name “Hammurabi” could be interpreted “Ham the Great”. According to the Bible, Nimrod was Ham’s (the son of Noah) grandson.9 Some argue that since Hammurabi lived about the same time as Abraham and the patriarchs, and Moses lived about 400 years after Abraham, Moses must have just borrowed and revised the Code of Hammurabi to fit the needs of Israel rather than God Himself writing the Levitical Law and Ten Commandments. “According to Genesis 26 'God had revealed a legal code to someone, for Abraham lived under it; because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes and my laws.' Originally Abraham lived in Babylonia. God called him out of that heathen environment and brought him into the kingdom of Melchizedek, whose capitol was Salem, the ancient name of Jerusalem. Melchizedek was king and 'priest of God Most High.' Since he was sovereign of the Kingdom of God on earth, as it existed at that time, the laws and statutes enforced were probably the laws mentioned in Genesis 26:5. 'It is reasonable to suppose that Hammurabi was aquatinted with this primitive revelation and saw the value of certain laws. These he copied and incorporated into his code.”10
One of the major differences, however, between Melchizedek’s law and the Code of Hammurabi is that Hammurabi based his on human wisdom (and perhaps a demon’s influence: note his reference to Marduk in the introduction of his code of law) while Melchizedek based his law on love and the worship and honor of God. Although each of these is only a speculation, they do help set the stage for Hammurabi’s life and reign and draw some conclusions worth digging deeper for more positive answers to further prove the historical accuracy and truth in the Bible.
In conclusion, Hammurabi, first king of the Babylonian empire, became most famous for writing the first, detailed code of laws and for uniting the war-torn, chaotic Mesopotamia under a just, fair rule. He began his rule of Babylon in about 1792 B.C. and eventually conquered most of Mesopotamia and added it to the Babylonian Empire. Following his death in about 1750 B.C., however, his kingdom fell into barbarian hands who, surprisingly, respected his code of law. To stage his life in comparison with Biblical events, Abraham and the patriarchs lived at about the same time as Hammurabi. Although Hammurabi had good motives for writing his just but strict code of law, he based them all on his own human wisdom, which, just like the rest of us, becomes subject to fallacy and error.
1 Susan Wise Bauer, The
Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 1, From the Earliest
Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor, Peace Hill Press, Charles City, Virginia,
2001, pages 59-62.
2Susan Wise Bauer, The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 1, From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor, Peace Hill Press, Charles City, Virginia, 2001, pages 59-62.
3Mesopotamia, The Code of Hammurabi, http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/CODE.HTM
4Peter N. Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart B. Schwartz, Marc Jason Gilbert, World Civilizations: The Global Experience, AP Edition, Pearson Education, Inc., New York…, 2003, page 19.
5Peter N. Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart B. Schwartz, Marc Jason Gilbert, World Civilizations: The Global Experience, AP Edition, Pearson Education, Inc., New York…, 2003, page 19.
6Mesopotamia, The Code of Hammurabi, http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/CODE.HTM
7Hammurabi, Wikipedia Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammurabi
8George T. Thompson, Laurel Elizabeth Hicks, World History and Cultures: In Christian Perspective, A Bekah Book Publications, Pensacola, Florida, 1887.
9Hammurabi, Wikipedi: the Free Encyclopedia, August 29, 2003, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammurabi
102000-9-02 – The Giving of the Law, http://www.cfdevotionals.org/devpg00/de000902.htm
For more on the claim, "The biblical laws are based on the Babylonian
laws of Hammurabi", see: http://www.aishdas.org/toratemet/en_yitro.html