The following briefly explores an alleged connection between the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi and the Hebrew Ten Commandments. It is an issue worthy of speculation and yet seemingly impossible to accomplish. In order to conduct such a feat it is necessary to look to history and embark down a rabbit hole with other potential connections are equally worthy of speculation. What follows illustrates this latter point.
Babylonian ruler Hammurabi (c. 1810-c. 1750 BC) is said to have grown weary of the warfare that eventually united his empire and decided to issue a code of laws meant more as a generalized rule of thumb for his subjects to follow, as well as a way in which he could establish a guidepost by which to control the masses. From establishing the proper fees to hire human and animal labor to medical malpractice, the code covered numerous aspects of daily life and established consequences for transgressions (Van De Mieroop). About three centuries later came the Ten Commandments. Also known as the Decalogue, they are commonly known as laws given to the Hebrew prophet Moses (c. 1400 BC) by God atop Mt. Sanai and during the Old Testament exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. The commandments are deceptively simple, admonishing the Hebrew people to follow God’s laws concerning such things as honoring parents and not committing murder, but their significance remains as a covenant that establishes a bond between God and Hebrew (Brown).
There seems to be a somewhat popular notion that Hammurabi’s code is connected to Moses’ Decalogue in some way. That the code somehow played an influential role in the development of the Ten Commandments. While the notion seems tempting it remains speculative. But in reality, attempting to connect the two artifacts is akin to going down a “rabbit hole” of history where various connections can actually be made. For example, it might be tempting to connect the Decalogue with the laws that were purported to have first been given to Adam and then to Noah by God. Known as the Noahide Laws, they were comprised of seven laws quite similar to those found in the Decalogue, and while they are viewed as universal, meaning all people where to follow them, the Noahide Laws were primarily used as guides for gentiles who chose to follow the tenants of the Hebrew religion (Rosenberg 1-2).
Yet, in both cases there must be a connecting point, or at least something that would tie Hammurabi’s code to the Decalogue, or the Noahide Laws to Moses’ tablets. The Hebrew prophet Abraham was a contemporary as well as subject of Hammurabi’s and lived in nearby Ur.
Make sure you finish with a paragraph that summarizes the main idea of your report. It is conceivable that Abraham had knowledge of the codes as well as the Noahide Laws and, in some form, took both with him into Palestine. It is equally as tempting to conjecture that because Palestine during this period was heavily influenced by Babylonian culture that Hammurabi’s code played an important role in life there as well (Duncan 277). Hammurabi’s code may also played more of an influential role in the Covenant Code, an extensive set of Hebrew laws said to have also been given to Moses by God after creating the tablets known as the Ten Commandments. The characteristics of the laws found in the Covenant Code bear a striking resemblance to those found in the Babylonian code (Wright 3).
If there is a connection between the Code of Hammurabi and the Ten Commandments it remains hidden and remains a mystery. Hence, any speculation is open to other enquiries that connect other ancient or religious codes to another, it’s fair game. But, it’s a proverbial rabbit’s hole because unless concrete evidence is found that makes some type of connection then whatever is stated to have been proven or disproven remains the stuff of mystery.
- Brown, William P. “The Ten Commandments.” Bible Odyssey, Society of Biblical Literature, www.bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/main-articles/the-decalogue.
- Duncan, George S. “The Code of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi. II.” The Biblical World, vol. 23, no. 4, 1904, pp. 272-278, www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/473377.
- Rosenberg, Irene M. “The Seven Noahide Laws: Of Monkey Brains and Courts.” Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, vol. 6, no. 1, 2004, pp. 1-19, SSRN. papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=686114.
- Van De Mieroop, Marc. “The Code of Hammurabi.” Bible Odyssey, Society of Biblical Literature, www.bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/code-of-hammurabi.
- Wright, David P. Inventing God’s Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi. PDF, Oxford UP, 2009.