No, I’m not talking about that kind of solicitor, I’m talking about the other kind of solicitor. The one who tells you what the law is. You may think you can shake us off, but the evidence shows we’ve been around for a lo-o-o-ong time, at least 3700 years.
Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found and translated fragments of an ancient legal code written in cuneiform.
The fragments, written in Akkadian cuneiform script, likely refer to issues of personal injury law relating to slaves and masters, as gleaned from the words deciphered so far, which include “master,” “slave,” and a word referring to bodily parts, apparently the word for “tooth.”
“The document we have uncovered includes laws pertaining to body parts and damages. These laws are similar to laws in the Hammurabi Codex, as well as to laws along the lines of ‘an eye for an eye,’ mentioned in Exodus,” said Professor Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology. Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman are heading the team of archaeologists at Tel Hazor who made the find.
The Code of Hammurabi is an ancient law code, created ca. 1790 BC in ancient Babylon. It was enacted by the sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi, and consists of 282 laws, with scaled punishments, adjusting “an eye for an eye” as graded depending on social status, of slave versus free man.
Let’s look at the specifics of the Code of Hammurabi. Laws 196 – 201 say:
196. If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.
197. If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.
198. If he put out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina.
199. If he put out the eye of a 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 freed man, he shall pay one-third of a gold mina.
It is interesting to compare this with similar laws of lex talionis in the Torah. There are a number of instances in the Bible. Leviticus 24:19–20 says:
Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered.
Exodus 21:22–25 says:
When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Deuteronomy 19:21 says:
Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Why then do we not see the Jews literally imposing these punishments? Rabbi Eliezer (in the minority) said “An eye for an eye – literally” but the other sages in the Talmud read these laws to mean that a person must pay compensation if they injure another. (See Bava Kamma, 83b-84a, which is incidentally one of my favourite volumes of the Talmud). One of the arguments is ingenious. Rabbi Simon ben Yohai raises the possibility of a person with no eyes blinding another person with eyes. He reasons that the injured party could not remove the injurer’s actual eyes because he has none. Because the rules are interpreted to be universal, it must be contemplated that compensation be paid instead.
Of course, such notions are present in early European societies too – see eg, the Saxon notion of weregild.
Perhaps this fragment of text will show the relationship between the Code of Hammurabi and the Torah. I hope they find other bits. Isn’t it interesting, that even in a society which is a long way away from our own, people are still struggling to best work out how to compensate others for wrongs done to them? I’m fascinated by the topics of wrongs, compensation and vindication. It seems that it’s something that’s been fascinating people for a long, long time.
P.S. While I was researching this post, I found a recording of a guy reading out an excerpt from the Code of Hammurabi. How unbelievably cool is that?