Code of Hammurabi

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Hammurabi receives the code from Shamash, a Babylonian god; from the top of the stele

The Code of Hammurabi was an elaborate code of law established by Hammurabi, king of Babylon, around 1750 BC. It is the earliest known code of law. The Code imposed harsh retributive punishment akin to the Bible's "an eye for an eye" and punished members of lower classes more severely than those of nobles and higher classes. It mandated death for bearing false witness in court. The Code of Hammurabi was used for centuries in Babylonia and inspired other codes in the ancient Middle East.


In the opening prologue, Hammurabi claims that his authority comes directly from the Babylonian gods and that the purpose of the Code is "to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land… so that the strong should not harm the weak." There is to be a judicial system with elders serving as judges. Dines of money and/or grain are to be imposed on the losing party in civil suits. Precept #108 indicates that women could own at businesses. Precept #196 is the most famous: "If a man has knocked out the eye of a noble, his eye shall be knocked out." It echoes the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 21:18-19, 22-25, Leviticus 24:17-21) and in the Gospels (Matthew 5:38).


The Louvre museum in Paris houses an ancient copy of the Code engraved on a conical, black basalt stele, a tower seven feet in height. It was discovered in 1901.

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