Theological Implications of
by Rit Nosotro
Hammurabi's Code, Mosaic Law, and Justinian's Law
Contrast the theology behind Mosiac Law with Hammurabi’s Code and Justinians' Code (6th century Eastern Roman law).
"Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin." ~Apostle Paul in Romans 7:7
From the throne of the Mesopotamian ruler, Hammurabi, originated the Code of Hammurabi. From the towering heights of Mt. Sinai descended Moses with Mosaic Law. From the empire of Byzantium grew Justinian Law. Throughout history, laws have been designed to maintain order and safety among people. Is there common basis for these laws that is independent of time and culture? Is there a universal morality that forms, for example, the basis of today's international human rights groups?
Hammurabi’s Code came during his reign of the Babylonian Empire of Mesopotamia. Hammurabi hoped to transfer legitimacy into his codes by claiming they were inspired by the sun god, Shumosh. Yet there have been other more ancient codes unearthed by archeologists. Hammurabi boasted of himself stating, “Let any oppressed man who has a cause come into the presence of my statue as King of Justice, and have the inscription on my stele read out, and hear my precious words, that my stele may make the case clear to him: may his heart stand his cause, and may his heart be set at ease!” According to Hammurabi, he was the ultimate authority of truth. However, according to Romans 1:19, Hammurabi's Code and all codes that proceeded it came into existence because, "what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them". Hammurabi and all leaders before him could look up and see that "the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Ps. 19:1).
Morality derives from a moral Creator in whose image man was created. This enables the universal judgment upon acts such as the Beslan Massacre of a gymnasium full of school children. Humanity passes collective condemnation. Although creation "groans for the return of the Lord", there are no evolutionary traits in the animal kingdom of collective social law. This distinction of moral judgment sets man apart from beast and is undeniable evidence for our Creator. Only a fool would say, “There is no God.” (Ps.14:1). Obviously, a house has a builder (Heb.3:4).
It was from Hammurabi's region of Mesopotamia that God called out Abram. This act divided the world into two groups. Abraham would father the Hebrews to whom God would give the written Mosaic law. This law was summed up by Jesus Christ with "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Mat 22:37) and then Jesus quoted from Leviticus, "love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). The monotheistic base of the Ten Commandments supplied the moral reason to keep the law, which was to have relationship with God by avoiding sin. The rest of the world consisted of Gentiles who only had the work of "the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness" (Rom. 2:15) and thus, they "perish without the law" (Rom. ). Gentiles only had a conscience which, although it excused and condemned, it could also be suppressed. As each did what was right in their own eyes, Gentiles could form a collective conscience which was subject to whims of public opinion. Hebrews, on the other hand, had the immutable, authoritative Word of God. Yet, even before God's written word was delivered through Moses, God notes that "Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." (Genesis 26:5)
A little over 400 years later, God established the Ten Commandments as well as other laws. As at the burning bush, Moses again approached the great "I Am" and received commandments from the ultimate authority. Certain similarities between Mosaic Law and Hammurabi's inscribed stele, reveal the common morality that was passed down from Cain to Noah and dispersed from the tower of Babel on the plains of Shinar. These precepts of God were further dispersed as leaders came from Africa and the east to hear the wisdom of Solomon (1 Kings 4:34).
It is clear the all codes are derived from human conscience and the knowledge provided by creation. All codes acknowledge that some types of behavior is good and other types are evil. Nature points to an omnipotent Creator yet does not provide escape from sin. All cultures realize that the "life of a creature is in the blood" (Lev.17:11) and most have offered some type of blood sacrifice to appease their idea of a just, and perhaps, merciful god. The book of Hebrews points out that this type of animal sacrifice could never remove the guilt of sin. Thus, only one code contained the revealed truth that pointed to Christ as the perfect sacrifice to take away the sin of the world. The divinely given law proved mankind was unable to keep the law, and was therefore doomed to die in their sins.
Indeed, laws also maintain peace and safety. From an early Christian king came Justinian Code. In the middle of 500 AD, in the sprawling empire of Byzantium there was great chaos. Within the kingdom were recently captured lands which attempted to maintain their own laws. Observing the confusion caused over contradicting laws, Justinian appointed ten advisors to reconstruct the preexisting laws in order to diminish the chaos. His purpose as he expressed it was to, "religiously uphold the law and triumph over its (Byzantine’s) conquered enemies." As a Christian he acknowledged God as the creator of ethics and strove to sustain vestiges of Mosaic Law. Even though this law contained faults, it was a "minister of God" whose authority rested on Romans 13:3-4, "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil."
Death has been a natural consequence for certain types of law violations. All three codes discussed often employ similar modes of punishment. For instance all three issue death as the punishment for adultery. Furthermore the “an eye for an eye” theme is common in Mosaic Law and Hammurabi’s code yet is not extremely apparent in Justinian Law, perhaps due to the Byzantine culture. Here is a comparison of details implemented by Hammurabi, Moses, and Justinian on marriage, slavery, theft and others.
In order to sustain and protect each code, each author cited an ultimate authority upon which the ethic was founded. While Mosaic Law and Justinian Code both establish God as the ultimate authority, Hammurabi cites himself and Shumosh as the ultimate authorities.
From man comes temporal and finite wisdom. From God comes absolute and infinite authority. God’s pure law is described as "quick, powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to dividing the soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12-13). Through detailed investigation of either the Laws of Justinian or Hammurabi there is not found the content as powerful as the Mosaic Law. Hammurabi was an emperor who considered himself wise yet this directly contradicts God’s command to, “not be wise in your own eyes, but fear the Lord and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7). Those who rely on their own wisdom cannot ultimately succeed. Although Justinian strove to uphold ethics of God, he did so through the inclusion of past Roman laws and his code became subject to error. Mosaic law acted as a living schoolmaster that convicted man on a personal level for his sin against his Creator and thus led to eternal condemnation. The law of the Lord cuts to man’s heart pushing him toward salvation . As the Bible says, “The law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul” (Psalms 19:7).
The legal systems of Hammurabi and Justinian prospered for a short time in
their season. In contrast, Mosaic Law, the law of God, “is eternal; it
stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). It is capable of upholding
justice, convicting and compelling to withdraw from our sinful behavior. But
it could only bring condemnation, not salvation. Christ came "as the fulfillment
of the law". Clearly, laws convict people of wrong doing. Although the
law of Justinian and Hammurabi also brought conviction, it was only the Mosaic
Law that could bring a person to admit as David told God in Psalm 51:4, "Against
you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight".
Appendix of Related Verses:
"Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood- I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life" (Lev.17:10-11).
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)
"For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law" (Romans 2:11-12)
"For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another". (Romans 2:14, 15)
"But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:21-24).
"...for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation" (Romans 4:15).
"Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. 13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." (Romans 7:12-13)
"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster" (Galatians 3:24-25).
"Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." (Heb.9:22)
"For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10-11).
1. All of the following statements are false except:
a. Justinian claimed Shumosh was the ultimate authority.
b. Hammurabi mounted Mt. Sinai to talk to God.
c. God gave his law to Moses.
2. Psalm 19:7 states, “The law of the Lord is ______________.”
a. full of contradictions.
b. perfect, converting the soul.
c. like a light bulb, showing us the truth.
3. From what you have read, which statement is most likely?
a. Hammurabi’s law will convert people’s souls.
b. Mosaic law will be used by God in the future.
c. Mt. Sinai is the location where all holy people live.
4. Which is true about the correct order in which the laws came?
a. Mosaic Law, Hammurabi’s Code, Justinian Law.
b. God’s Law, Mosaic Law, Justinian’s Code, Mosaic Law.
c. Justinian Law, Hammurabi’s Code, Mosaic Law.
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