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Alexa Comeau

28 January 2019

HUM2210

Hammurabi’s Code Write Up

King Hammurabi versus The Founding Fathers

For as long as there have been civilizations there have been rules. The way in which we

carry out these rules and organize a system may have changed over the years, but this idea has

been around since the beginning. These rules were originally spread orally, with civilians

knowing them by heart and understanding the consequence. Soon, however, these rules would

form into legal systems and be recorded. Hammurabi’s Code is one of the first examples of

recorded law we see among Babylon, and in the ancient world; it is the most comprehensive and

detailed one to survive today. Even when looking at other ancient civilizations like the great

Egyptians who were known for their power and intelligence, and are even credited with the

invention of writing, it “seems unlikely...that they developed a sophisticated legal system, since

extensive research has revealed no record of it” (McNeil 444). Looking at such an important and

revolutionary piece such as Hammurabi’s Code, we can find parallels to our legal system today,

as well as be able to see the differences in how our systems have evolved.

From the section of Hammurabi’s Code that is given in the textbook, many laws involve

women and their rights, especially within marriage. Surprisingly, women had a decent amount of

rights when it came to marriage and divorce, like in 142, where an investigation is done when a

woman complains about her husband, and she can be found not guilty for her husband’s neglect.

In Babylon at that time, “a husband had the power to divorce his wife with the words, ‘Thou art
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not my wife.’ But he could not do so without a cause” (Urch 440). Nowadays either husband ​or

wife​ can choose to divorce the other for whatever reason they please. Women also were able to

choose their husbands if they had already been married before, which was unlikely in that era in

other parts of the world. (440) These laws, though still highly in favor of men, were much more

progressive in comparison to other laws from ancient times. This very well could have had an

impact on our laws today, as women felt empowered and began making more efforts to fight for

their rights and equality within society.

Another common theme within the laws from this excerpt is the punishment for crimes.

In most cases, the punishment is equal to the crime that has been committed. The phrase “an eye

for an eye” comes to mind when reading through many these, especially 196: “If a man has

destroyed the eye of a free man, his own eye shall be destroyed” (“From Hammurabi’s Code”

28). A very interesting parallel is that of the Biblical law. This phrase “an eye for an eye” can be

found in multiple places within the Old Testament (Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-21), and is

even later used ​by​ Jesus in his sermon in chapter 5 of the book of Matthew. As far as the laws go,

the Babylonian punishments are generally more severe overall, except for some cases which the

Biblical punishments for specific crimes are more severe. In law 195, however, the punishment

for the crime is the same punishment for the crime as in Deuteronomy 25:12, which is that one’s

hand is to be cut off. (Duncan 192) These parallels are particularly intriguing concerning

modern, Western societies because our legal systems are heavily based on Biblical teachings and

principles. The governments of these societies were heavily influenced by the Christian church

and many times Christianity was the main religion of the lawmakers and civilians.
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Though the laws between regions today have many differences, and though legal systems

overall across the globe have evolved since King Hammurabi’s reign over Babylon, there are

still very many parallels that can be found. These parallels often lead to possible evolution to

show where the laws of today have originated and what they developed from. It is interesting to

see in what ways humans and society have the same needs, like having the punishment fit the

crime and the need for justice. Perhaps more interesting, however, is seeing the evolution and

large differences, like the push for gender equality and how many rights women have today, as

well as many of our punishments being far less violent and gruesome. If Hammurabi’s Code can

maintain its significance over nearly 4,000 years, it is sure to stand the test of time for centuries

to come.
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Works Cited

Duncan, George S. “The Code of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi.” ​The Biblical World,​ vol.

23, no. 3, 1904, pp. 188–193. ​JSTOR​, www.jstor.org/stable/3140703.

“Exodus 21, Leviticus 24, Matthew 5.” ​The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments​,

American Bible Society, 2000.

“From Hammurabi's Code.” ​The Humanistic Tradition, Volume 1​, by Gloria K. Fiero, McGraw

Hill, 2006, pp. 28–29.

McNeil, Donald G. “The Code of Hammurabi.” ​American Bar Association Journal​, vol. 53, no.

5, 1967, pp. 444–446. ​JSTOR​, www.jstor.org/stable/25724017.

Urch, Erwin J. “THE LAW CODE OF HAMMURABI.” ​American Bar Association Journal,​ vol.

15, no. 7, 1929, pp. 437–441. ​JSTOR​, www.jstor.org/stable/25707711.

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