BULL STREET - The art of the Con

Hammurabi's Code 1700 BC

Hammurabi was probably the greatest King in the history of Babylon[2] and as such, ruled for a relatively considerable time. He started writing a new set of laws soon after he ascended the throne but these were not to be finished for a half-century. While Hammurabi build upon his predecessor’s work and was not quite as cruel, many of the same elements can be seen by comparing the two works. Civilization had becoming a tad more sophisticated by this time and therefore, more laws had to be created and uncertainties had to be eliminated. Thus, Hammurabi’s work was considerably more extensive and covered many topics not previously considered. moreover, in order to call down some divine providence, Hammurabi also began and ended with solicitations to the gods. One interesting difference is quickly discernable when you look at the difference in the treatment of women:

109 “If a woman wine-seller does not accept corn according to its correct total weight in payment for drink, but takes, money and the price oaf the drink is less than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water. If conspirators meet in the house of a woman wine-seller, and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the wine-seller shall be put to death. 110. if a “sister of god” (nun) open a tavern or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.”

It was none other than Hammurabi that came up with the expression, “an eye for an eye”. We can envision this saying in the follow:

196. “If a noble-man put out the eye of another noble-man, his eye shall be put out, 197. If break another nobleman’s bone, his bone shall be broken. 198, if he put the eye of a commoner, or break the bone of a commoner, he shall pay one silver mina. 199. If he put out the eye of man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value. 200. If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out. 201. If he knock out the teeth of a commoner, he shall pay one-third of a silver mina.”

As we see, Hammurabi has to come to grips with the fact that during this period to time, all classes in society had different relative values and these had to interpolated relative to the value of each one's body parts. If the two men involved incident both came from the same class, there would be little problem, but all hell broke out when the two were from differing social strata. Hammurabi smoothed these differences from a monetary point of view. Thus, Hammurabi was attempting to invoke the concept of “Equality before the law”, a rare concept at such an early age.

“The code then regulates in clear and definite strokes of the organization of society. The judge who blunders in a law case is to be expelled from his judgeship forever, and heavily fined. The witness who testifies falsely is to be lain. Indeed, all the heavier crimes are made punishable by death. Even if a man builds a house badly, and it falls and kills the owner, the builder is to be slain. If the owner’s son was killed, then the builder’s son is slain. We can see where the Hebrews learned their law of “an eye for an eye.” These grim retaliatory punishments take no note of excuses or explanations, but only of the fact—with one striking exception. An accused person was allowed to cast himself into “the river,” the Euphrates. Apparently the art of swimming was unknown; for if the current bore him to the shore alive he was declared innocent, if he drowned he was guilty. So we learn that faith in the justice of the ruling gods was already firmly, though somewhat childishly, established in the minds of men”[3]

Interestingly enough, in order that no one have any misunderstanding relative to what the regulations were, Hammurabi had his code carved into a black stone monument, which was eight feet tall and central positioned at the center of the busiest street in town. Unbelievably, this stone was rediscovered in 1901 in a Iranian City high into the mountains and far from Babylon. Most historians have surmised that the city had been captured and the victorious soldiers had carried the monument off into the mountains as a prize.



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