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Hebrews and Hammurabi

“Hebrew Laws and Their Covenant”, Global Experience. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002.

 “The Laws of Hammurabi”, Global Experience. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002.


The “Hebrew Laws and Their Covenant” and “The Laws of Hammurabi” are both sets of laws that seem to have been created for the purpose of setting guide lines for those people who fallowed these laws.  Both sets of law are harsh and seem to offer no gray area for guilt.  One is either guilty and in need of the full punishment allotted to him, or he is innocent and has no fault. “The Laws of Hammurabi” were supposedly written by Hammurabi who was a Mesopotamian King and a ruler of Babylon. (20)  The “Hebrew Laws and Their Covenant”, on the other hand were believed to have been written by Moses who was a spiritual leader to The Hebrews. (27)  Both works can be used to help analyze the culture that created them and when doing so one might find it hard not to notice how strikingly similar these two cultures share.  It is important, though, to note that both works found in The Global Experience have been edited so that the striking similarity of the two works might simply be the effort of an editor who was trying to present the Babylonians and the Hebrews in the same light. This being said, though, there are many ideas that these two works have in common.

As stated above, both of these works seem to offer no allotment for partial guilt.  This, one might imagine, could have often caused problems when trying to enforce these laws.  While reading “The Laws of Hammurabi” and “Hebrew Laws and Their Covenant”, for instance, one should notice that there is a law that states as Hammurabi puts it “If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye.”  (22)  This in mind though, what if the man’s eye is destroyed out of an act of self defense?  Would it then still be necessary to destroy the other man’s eye?  (fix both of these rhetorical questions) Both works do not seem to answer these questions.  Possibly this could be taken as a clue that both Hebrews and Babylonians do not believe in partial guilt.

Another striking similarity is that both of these sets of laws appear to be incredibly harsh.  Probably the most recurring phrase in “The Laws of Hammurabi” is “be put to death” (21) while the Hebrews say “Shall be Stoned”.  Although this punishment my seem harsh when viewed the eyes of today’s western culture, the fact that both the Hebrews and The Babylonians shared the death penalty probably testifies to the utility of capital punishment in their day and age.  It was most likely a lot easier to kill some one than it was to incarcerate her.

Even with all these similarities in mind though, it is notable that there are some differences between the two works. Although the Hebrews, for example, say “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”, it is only The Babylonians that offer punishment for doing so. (21)  Furthermore, the Babylonians seem to be much more trusting, or at least god fearing, than the Hebrews.  If, for instance, one is accused of committing a crime in Babylon, in many cases he or she would be permitted swear to their deity that they are innocent and would then be set free.  Lastly, Hammurabi seems to have more respect for women than do the Hebrews.  The prime example of this is Law One Hundred Forty Two in “The Laws of Hammurabi” which allows a woman to leave her husband if she desires to do so. (22)  The Hebrews do not seem to have any such allotments.

Even though in today’s Western society many might guess that the Hebrews would have been much more civilized than the Babylonians, this does not appear to be the case.  The Babylonians and the Hebrews seemed to have a striking amount of similarities and if anything, The Babylonians seemed to be more civilized, in today’s standards, then were the Hebrews.  So perhaps when today’s western world thinks of the Muslim world as less civilized than them selves, they should keep in mind that Muslim laws were just as, if not more, civilized than the laws that helped form today’s western world.


© All words and music written and owned by Shawn Nelsen.