The Ten Commandments and the Code ofHammurabi
The Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments are laws created by theBiblical God. Modern scholarship is still torn apart regarding theissue of whether God read the laws to the Israelites or he gave thelaws to Moses to pass them on to the Israelites (Smith 36). However,according to the Biblical narrative, there was lightning and then Godread all the commandments to the Israelites. There is also debate onwhether God read all the commandments to the Israelites or part ofthem. God created the Ten Commandments in order to guide theIsraelites through the desert. The Israelites were travelling in thedesert after spending centuries in Egypt as slaves. It was thereforenecessary for God to give them these laws in order to guide themthrough the transition period. In addition, the Israelites had beenusing the laws of their slave masters to the extent of forgetting howto serve their God.
The Ten Commandments were created on theBiblical Mount Sinai, also called Mount Harold. When the Israelitesarrived at the foot of the mountain, their leader, Moses ascended themountain to speak to God. Moses received the Ten Commandments that hepassed on to the Israelites. The Ten Commandments were a set of rulesthat aimed at maintaining a cordial relationship between man and Godand man with fellow men. The commandments included instruction tokeep the Sabbath, honor parents, and worship only God.
The commandments also included a prohibitionagainst blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, murder, stealing, coveting,and dishonesty. Although the commandments aimed at protecting thepeople from each other, they often led to disagreement between theIsraelites and God. In some instances, the wrath of God killedseveral Israelites. When the Israelites worshiped idols, God punishedthem by ensuring that they did not enter the Promised Land onlytheir descendants set foot in Canaan.
Code of Hammurabi
The code of Hammurabi was created to govern andguide the Babylonians in their day-to-day life. The code of Hammurabiis a set of rules created by the sixth Babylonian King calledHammurabi. Archeological evidence suggests that Hammurabi ruledbetween 1792 and 1750 BC (King 109). The Babylonian code was createdin 1754 BC on a seven-foot tall stone stele and several claytemplates. The writings on the stone, which was discovered in 1901,are in the Akkadian language. Several translations have been madeever since and replicas of the stele exist in four institutions ofhigher learning and museums.
The code of Hammurabi was created in ancientMesopotamia. The writings on the stele created a precedent formodifications that were to follow, after the death of Hammurabi. Theancient Persian Empire used a modified version of this code of laws.Other lands surrounding the Kingdom of Babylon also adopted thiscode. The lands that were conquered by this kingdom were alsosubjected to the code of Hammurabi.
The code of Hammurabi was a set of 282 lawsthat governed the Babylonians. The laws covered a wide scope of thedaily lives of the people of Babylon. On the side were punishmentsfor anyone who broke the various pieces of the code. The punishmentwas commensurate with the code that the individual broke.Archeologists describe the code as law that draws most of itsconcepts from the saying an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.This law also makes different provisions for free men and slaves.
A third of the code deals with matters ofcontract. For instance, the wages for a slave, surgeon or an oxdriver are included therein. The code also makes provisions for othercivil law suits such as negligence it allowed the residents ofBabylon to sue their leadership for not fulfilling its obligations.Negligence of a builder, which led to the collapse of a house, wasanother form of civil suits accounted for in the code. The lawscovered in the code were arranged in order for everyone to read withease.
The subjects that were covered in the codeinclude slavery, slander, trade, divorce, liability, theft, andduties of workers. The law protected the people from members of thesociety with a dubious character such unscrupulous buildingcontractors, brutal slave owners, and thieves. The law laid down ablueprint for solving social issues such as sexual immorality,divorce and land disputes. Finally, the code protected citizens fromlazy leaders and those who abused their power.
Comparison between the two laws
The basic similarity between the two laws isthat they both existed during early civilizations. Some prohibitionsin both laws are similar. They include the prohibition againstmurder, adultery, theft and lying. The modern laws and standards ofmorality heavily borrow from these two ancient laws.
The Ten Commandments attribute their existenceto the immortal Biblical God while the Code of Hammurabi was createdby the mortal Babylonian King Hammurabi. Whilst the target populationfor the Ten Commandments was the Israelites, the Code of Hammurabitargeted the people of the Babylon Kingdom, the slaves and otherconquered lands.
The Ten Commandments are brief and ambiguousfor that matter. For instance, the law regarding shunning idolatryand that of worshiping only one God seem to specify the same thing.The commandments are also too brief to cover all the aspects of humanlife. On the other hand, the code of Hammurabi is a set of 218 lawsthat cover most aspects of human-to-human engagements and human toauthority relations.
The Ten Commandments do not specify what theconsequences of violation are. According to Moses, people whoviolated the commandments would face the wrath of God. Thedescription of the consequences does not go deeper than ‘Experiencingthe Wrath of God’. On the other hand, the code of Hammurabi hasprovisions for the violation of every code. For instance, if a mandestroys the eye of another or breaks their bone, the same shall bedone unto them. If a son strikes his father, his hand will be choppedoff.
In conclusion, I chose to compare the two lawsbecause they mark the beginning of Western civilization and modernlaws heavily borrow from them. The two sets of laws are also some ofthe remaining ancient law manuscripts that are still in existence forarchaeologists to scrutinize. Between the two laws, the Code ofHammurabi was more respected than the Ten Commandments probablybecause the consequences of violating the former were immediate andmore imminent. The code of Hammurabi was also respected because itwas clear and precise regarding many issues that affected theday-to-day lives of the Babylonians. In the modern times, I wouldprefer we adopted the Code of Hammurabi because it is more detailedand covers many aspects of human association such as divorces,contract and sexual behavior.
King, Leonard William. Thecode of Hammurabi. Netlancers Inc,CreateSpaceIndependent Publishing Platform,2014, Print
Smith, Lesley J. TheTen Commandments: Interpreting the Bible in the Medieval World.Leiden:Brill, 2014, Print