The Code of Hammurabi is remembered more for the punishments set for each crime, and not for the crimes themselves. The “eye for an eye” rule and the plentiful crimes that may result to a death penalty may seem harsh for us nowadays, but the Code has been the basis of other subsequent laws used to govern a society. “By far the most remarkable of the Hammurabi records is his code of laws, the earliest-known example of a ruler proclaiming publicly to his people an entire body of laws, arranged in orderly groups, so that all men might read and know what was required of them.
” (Fordham University ) The Code is also considered Hammurabi’s best legacy not only to his people, but to other societies as well. This is understandable because Hammurabi has ruled over the world’s oldest metropolis, Babylon. During those times, the code of law is considered “a subject for prayer”, although the dominant view is contempt for the violators of the law. (Yale Law School) The Code of Hammurabi is basically a list of rules for a community. There are negative and positive results that can be expected with the implementation of the set rules.
Hammurabi, Babylon’s ruler, has formulated the laws in order to make sure that his kingdom maintains peace, order and justice. He is presented as a king who is also a wise law-giver. However, as said earlier, there are advantages and disadvantages in implementing the Code of Hammurabi. Due to the strictness and gravity of the punishments, the Code may actually create a peaceful community. Fear is instilled in the people of Babylon. The Code also aims to promote balance and over-all justice in the community:
“…Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind. ” (Yale Law School) I believe that the Code is well-intended. It must also have been a success because there are other set of rules that seem to follow the Code of Hammurabi. If one should peruse the Ten Commandments, some similarities can be discovered.
Basically, what is considered a sin in Hammurabi’s time is still considered a sin or a violation of the law. However, the Commandments have reduced the violations that should be punishable by death. In fact, the emphasis is on what should not be done, not on what punishments should be implemented. This negative way of setting rules, like “Thou shall not kill” is its similarity to the Code of Hammurabi, except that the Code attaches the punishments to what must not be done. (Bible. Org) There are many points in the Code which talks about punishment for things that are prohibited or for things that are not proved.
“If anyone brings an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death, (Yale Law School) ” is an example of the laws enumerated in the Code of Hammurabi. This can be compared to the Ten Commandments’ law against bearing false witness against a neighbor. “If anyone is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death” is an example of a punishment attached to the crime which is prohibited. In this case, the rule states that robbers should be put to death.
(Yale Law School) Like the other rules, the intention is to discourage people from committing the crime. Other rules with punishments of a less serious degree attached seem to be more reminiscent of state laws rather than religious laws. Surprisingly, even within a Code which can be often harsh and unforgiving, there are also some provisions in some laws that will provide options to the one who has been wronged. For example, if the wife is caught committing adultery, the husband is given an option to forgive her. It also gives importance to fairness in trade and contracts.
Persons who own properties, including slaves, must make sure that they have the proper documentation ready for cases that will question the validity of ownership. This will gauge if stealing or cheating has occurred. This is a common sense rule which prevails today. The above mentioned statements support the positive effect of the Code of Hammurabi. Nevertheless, the Code is not without its flaws. Although the fear that is instilled in the people by giving harsh penalties may reduce the crime rate in any given society, the very fear may be detrimental to the psyche of the people ruled by the law.
I believe that it is not fully satisfying to command people with the weapon of fear. The Code cannot ensure the goodness of the people, only their outward behavior. Although I think that the Code of Hammurabi is well-intended, as it aims for a just and peaceful community, there are laws within it that actually violates my sense of justice. There are punishments that are too harsh for the crime that it is meant to castigate. For example, a woman who is to set up a tavern or even just to enter a tavern to have a drink will be burned to death.
The Code is also not without its share of superstition. In the absence of other means to prove guilt, measures like making people swim in the river and then judging them to be guilty if they drown, seem to be superstitious and ignorant. Obviously, this manner of investigation cannot work during modern times when people train to become stronger swimmers. In life, we like to believe that we are given several chances to change our ways. Even modern prisons allow for some conversion, religious or secular they may be.
Death penalties are only implemented whenever heinous crimes are encountered. However, the Code of Hammurabi seems to pride itself in preventing a person to commit the same mistake. “If a judge tries a case, reach a decision, and present his judgment in writing; if later error shall appear in his decision, and it be through his own fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge’s bench, and never again shall he sit there to render judgment”.
(Yale Law School) The above example shows the finality of the Code’s decision on a person’s fate. Of course this will have its advantages as well. If the error committed has affected many lives in a serious way, like in medical malpractices of today, licenses are revoked. As a conclusion, I believe that the Code of Hammurabi is an effective set of rules formulated by a just ruler. Nevertheless, there is a need to adjust some of the penalties in order to fit today’s sense of justice.
The Ten Commandments, and other religious laws, have already condensed the Code’s contents while state or government laws have versions of its secular pointers.
Works Cited: Bible. Org. 20 October 2007 <http://www. bible. org/page. php? page_id=146>. Fordham University . 20 October 2007 <http://www. fordham. edu/halsall/ancient/hamcode. html>. Yale Law School. The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. 17 October 2007 <http://www. yale. edu/lawweb/avalon/medieval/hamframe. htm>.