Press "Enter" to skip to content

Hummurabis Code

By: Ksenya
E-mail: [emailprotected]
History is the past, which for the most part can not be scientificately proven. The real; goal of History is to rediscover past. A dramatic error happens when past is rediscovered from our own bias that is from the way we see it. Even certain artifacts and works pf literature that we have left from earlier civilizations can be interpreted in several different ways, or misinterpreted to a certain extend or entirely. Usually interpretation or even misinterpretation is affected bu the concept of ethnocentrism, where different communities have an already set up establishment of certain norms based on their own believes, traditions, social, legislative, and personal values and ethics from which they judge other foreign communities. When considering other societies, it is usually a difficult task to view “other world” without any observer prejudices. Each world, our and their can evoke its own realities that are more or less comparable from one period to another, or from one culture to another. One of the obvious misinterpretations, discussed in this paper, took place considering historical document written by king of Mesopotamia. Our textbook, Arts and Culture,(p 98) presents Hammurabi’s Code as a “Law Code” of king Hammurabi. It was, in turn something quite different from a Code of Laws existing in our judicial and legislative structure of government and society. Hammurabi’s Code- “A law Code” or a set of royal decisions??? As written in Mesopotamia: The Mighty Kings, (p26), the code consists if 282 laws that are branched at the beginning and end by a prologue and epilogue. The “Code” touches almost every aspect of everyday life in Babylonya. As the prologue states, the laws were supposedly written “to promote the welfare of the people,to cause just to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, that the strong might not oppress the weak” ( The Human Record, p 12). Furthermore, just like a real Law Code, each “law” is written in the form of conditional sentence: in which the phrase is introduced by a certain condition, “if” and the consequence follows “then”. Another fact makes Hammurabi’s “Code” so similar to the U.S. Constitutional Law Code is that it follows specific order, consisting of separate “chapters” associated with similar issues. For instance;” The Administration of Justice” “chapter” is followed by “Felons and Victums”, which is in turn followed by “chapter” that talks about “Property” issues. Thus from a point of view of an ordinary contemporary American,theHammurabi’s Code is an ancient set of detailed legal codes of Mesopotamia. As mentioned above, the code is composed of 282 “law codes” which are started in conditional sentences, typical to a legislative document, and broken down in sets of chapters which are associated with particular issue considered and in addition follow a certain order. Therefore keeping in mind such a definition of Hammurabi’s “Code”, Americans can look at it as primitive, and even savage prototype of contemporary set of laws. From the American bias and American community’s perspective, Hammurabi’s code is a violent, non-ethic judicial document based on a cruel and unacceptable to American society “eye-for-an-eye” and “tooth-for-a-tooth” concept. This cruelty is depicted in a “law” that states that an amputation was demanded for any surgeon whose malpractice resulted in a patient’s death. The other such situation occurs when a contractor whose slapdash s=work led to the collapse of a home and the death of owner could expect to be put to death himself. Another, even more savage condition takes place when a woman who happen to neglect her house and family and humiliate her husband, would be forced to undergo “trial-by-water” (Mesopotamia, p134). Such primitive ideas seem totally radical and astonishing to American ideology based on Thomas Jefferson’s ideas of “certain unalienable RightsLife, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness” (United States History and Government, p13). However, sticking to the original goal of History (to rediscover, and learn the original past), and setting aside our ethnocentric motives, we should attempt to look at this famous and impressive work with the eyes of those who wrote it and who lived in its time, no matter how far away it is removed from our own categories. In the reality, Code of Hammurabi is not a Law Code, and after close and precise study we will understand that it was never even intended to be one. The “Code” of Hammurabi is a self-glorification of the king. It is at the same time a treatise, with examples on exercise of judicial power which meant to be practical and didactic by Hammurabi himself. It was also meant to be referred to by his successors. However its goal was to suggest for his successors to associate with the code in order to rule justly and fairly, not dictate upon them. According to Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (p833), a law is an imperative rule of social conduct, laid down and enforced by the legitimate authorities. Therefore we can say that a law is something general, something universal. Therefore we can make a conclusion, that the law is something general, something universal. However when we look at the “Code” closely, what we find most often are very specific and particular situations, complete opposites of a general ideas that describe a concept of a law. For instance, in the article about blows given by children to their parents, we find only an expressis verbis mention of a son who has beaten his father: ” If a son has struck his father, they shall cut off his hand.(Mesopotamia, p162). Another example is seen in a following passage:(Human Record, p15) “If a man has knocked out teeth of a man of the same rank, his own teeth have to be knocked out.” Therefore these “articles” can not be laws intended to control totally and uniformly the matters involved, but are verdicts, describing particular situations and decisions made upon particular cases. The use of exact events and the consequences following them introduced by “if”-“then”, which makes them conditional sentences used in Law Codes, in fact are not so special and unique to the “Code”. This conditional scheme was very popular in Mesopotamia at that time, and was considered as a common rational thought. “Mesopotamians would put forward a hypothesis and then, by a judgement based upon the element of that hypothesis, they draw a conclusion that they have found in it.”(Mesopotamia, p170) This was the acceptable and expected norm of writing any document in Mesopotamian society. Thus, Hammurabi formulated his code in such way that he gave logical form of thought, that consisted of hypothesis and conclusions. The ordering principle of “chapters” in Hammurabi’s ” Code” can also be understood, once looking at it from Mesopotamian bias. Even though each “chapter” is associated with a particular issue, ad “chapters” are arranged in a specific order, which is a clear feature of a legislative code, it is not. To Mesopotamians it was very common to arrange their written items in a linear sequence, where each point raises the next one. Technique used in cuneiform writing system developed earlier and being popular structure of script(Arts and Culture, ). That justifies the technique where Hammurabi placed the chapter on assault followed by chapter on free professions. This is because latter begins with physicians. When interpreting history, in order to correctly revive the past, it is very important to look at it from the other’s point of view, referring to the degree possible tour own believes, views, ethnic issues and social behavior. It is very important not to make dramatic prejudices,(a cleat sign of ethnocentrism), as it happened with American interpretation of Hammurabi’s code. BIBLIOGRAPHY PRIMARILY SOURCES: 1. The Human Record, Sources of Global History. Third Edition. Volume I. By Andrea/Overfield. Copyright 1998 by Houghton Miffin Company. 2. Mesopotamia: The Mighty Kings. Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia.1997. SECONDARY SOURCES: 1. Arts and Culture, An Introduction To The Humanities. Volume I. By Janetta Rebold Benton and Robert DiYanni. Prentice Hall, Inc. 1998. 2. Mesopotamia The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London. By jean Bottero, 1987. 3. United States History and Government. N;N Publishing Company, Inc. By Paul Stitch, Susan F. Pingel, and John Farrel. 1996. 4. Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. Published by: Gramery Books, New York/ Avenel, New Jersey. 1989.
Bibliography
BIBLIOGRAPHY PRIMARILY SOURCES: 1. The Human Record, Sources of Global History. Third Edition. Volume I. By Andrea/Overfield. Copyright 1998 by Houghton Miffin Company. 2. Mesopotamia: The Mighty Kings. Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia.1997. SECONDARY SOURCES: 1. Arts and Culture, An Introduction To The Humanities. Volume I. By Janetta Rebold Benton and Robert DiYanni. Prentice Hall, Inc. 1998. 2. Mesopotamia The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London. By jean Bottero, 1987. 3. United States History and Government. N&N Publishing Company, Inc. By Paul Stitch, Susan F. Pingel, and John Farrel. 1996. 4. Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. Published by: Gramery Books, New York/ Avenel, New Jersey. 1989.
Word Count: 1378