Justice and Judgment in the Laws of Hammurabi and Moses Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

laws of the ancient world demonstrate a consistency with the laws of the present. They prove, without a doubt that the challenges of the human condition have been and remain similar in scope and temptation. Humans have long been tempted to retain that which belongs to another, for their own gain. This is true of the laws of Moses and the laws of Hammurabi yet the ways in which those two sets of laws differ are also very visible. Hammurabi is a comprehensive and practical cannon set within the context of a real world need for comprehensive laws of man while the laws of the books of Moses offer a generalized guideline of morality in the world of man as seen by God.

Although, in the prologue to the Code, Hammurabi claims divine authority 'to cause justice to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak . . . To enlighten the land and to further the welfare of the people,' the Code itself is secular throughout. (Chambliss 19-20)

The laws of Moses are judged not of this earth but by God and through divine denial while the laws of Hammurabi are punishable by judgment upon this earth and often through capital means. Past the basic practical differences between the laws of the books of Moses and the laws of Hammurabi, already mentioned there are also some other very interesting divergent points of interest, how they differ with regard to intention as apposed to deed, how the sets of laws differ within view of slaves as property, how they differ with regard to official judgment, and mostly throughout each argument how each encompasses similar concepts of human failing yet offers an entirely different level of comprehension of the issues and standards of right and wrong.

The issue of judgment demonstrates very clearly the differences between the laws of Hammurabi and the laws of the Books of Moses, with regard to the real nature of the ways in which humanity fails. The former is a comprehensive edict of right and wrong doing while the later is a moral guidepost for believers in the lord. Within the Hammurabi text it becomes clear that the intent of the actor is absolutely unimportant, as the act of wrong doing, or presumable wrongdoing is the one and only reason for judgment and punishment, yet within the laws of Moses even the intent is punishable within the confines of faith and eternity.

Hammurabi demonstrates a practical sense of evil deeds and how the doer will repay the debt of his deed. Hammurabi, within his introduction and epilogue demonstrates faith yet within his 281 law codes does not offer offense for failure to keep the laws of faith, failure to worship or give credence to the Gods of the region. As in the Laws of Moses, as told by the books of Moses in the Old Testament:

'12 "Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your manservant, or your maidservant, or your ox, or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your manservant and your maid-servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. (The Holy Bible 189-190)

Though, Within Hammurabi's Codes there is a clear sense of the rank of the faith and its properties the punishable acts are not for failure to worship or give credence to this rank, but acts of proprietary damage to the temple and God, "6. If any one steal the property of a temple or of the court, he shall be put to death, and also the one who receives the stolen thing from him shall be put to death." (Codes of Hammurabi at: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/hamcode.html)

As this demonstrates the deed is the wrongdoing, not the intent to commit the deed, as in the infamous law of Moses, that follows. "21 "Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's."(The Holy Bible 190) The laws of Moses clearly demonstrate that though the acts of murder, thievery and adultery are forbidden the act of intent to do some of these things is punishable in judgment of the higher power. Not only is a person forbidden to steal from another but he or she is also forbidden to want to steal from another.

'110. If a "sister of a god" open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death." (Hammurabi's Codes http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/hamcode.html) The intent of the woman to act in such a manner is forbidden in the Laws of Moses as the immorality of the tavern life is in thought alone a challenge to her righteousness in the eyes of the lord, yet to Hammurabi the act must be demonstrated, as no man's mind can be breeched but their acts can be judged.

Probably the most definitive case demonstrating the differences between the Laws of Moses, also aptly known as the commandments and the laws of Hammurabi with regard to practicality is adultery. In the Laws of Moses the simple declaration of '18 "Neither shall you commit adultery." Or as it is more affectionately known the seventh commandment, is simply that a commandment of God not to do that, which is morally wrong, having intercourse with another man's wife. While Hammurabi's declarations upon adultery and fornication in general are practical, in the case of an adult wife the act is punishable by death or in some cases banishment, while in the case of the transgression against a virgin and therefore a valuable piece of property to her father and future husband is punishable through reparations.

'129. If a man's wife be surprised (in flagrante delicto) with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves. 130. If a man violate the wife (betrothed or child-wife) of another man, who has never known a man, and still lives in her father's house, and sleep with her and be surprised, this man shall be put to death, but the wife is blameless. 131. If a man bring a charge against one's wife, but she is not surprised with another man, she must take an oath and then may return to her house. 132. If the "finger is pointed" at a man's wife about another man, but she is not caught sleeping with the other man, she shall jump into the river for her husband. (Hammurabi's Code)

Challenging the practical rather than the moral implications of the Hammurabi Codes, or at least pointing out the differences between the equation between the impracticality of immorality and the simple declaration of the bible is an interesting paradox, as the same things are wrong, so could we not say the basis for morality in the bible is that same as that of Hammurabi, it is fiscally wrong to steal from another therefore it is morally wrong.

Ceremonial enactments are entirely foreign to it, and morality, in the modern sense of the word, though represented, does not hold a very high place, though it must not be forgotten that five columns of the text are wanting. That there should be, therefore, but few parallels between the Codes of Moses and of Hammurabi was to be expected, though naturally likenesses and parallelisms are to be found, the Hebrews being practically of the same stock as the Babylonians, and also, as has been shown, under the influence of the same civilization. It will be noticed, in reading through the code, that not only are there no laws against sorcery, worshipping other than the national god or gods, and prostitution, but there are actually enactments referring to the first and the last, showing that they were recognized. Moral, religious, ceremonial, and philanthropic enactments are, in fact, entirely absent. (Pinches 520)

With regard to slave ownership there is a clear demonsratibleve departure. Within the bible Moses demonstrates that owners must have mercy upon their slaves, as they must remember that they were once the slaves of Egypt. Though the ownership of another was given accordance, as a necessary part of the economy mercy was to be shown universally.

12 "If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve…

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