Code of Hammurabi

Code of Hammurabi, Babylon, 2000-1600 BC

Cuneiform text that records a portion of the 282 laws that are collectively known as the Code of Hammurabi are pictured on this fragment of a clay tablet. This codex is one of the earliest known set of laws ever created. The law’s ethos reflect what we would now call Old Testament, think an eye for an eye. These laws regulate a wide variety of subjects, including commercial, property and family law.  

Many properties of modern jurisprudence descend directly from this code. The accused is given a presumption of innocence. Both the accused and the accuser have the opportunity to present evidence. While the code strived to achieve some equality, biases still existed within it. It reinforced the society’s class structure, with one law for the rich and another for the poor. For example, the punishment for a doctor who kills a rich patient, was the loss of both hands. While, for poor people, the same offence only warranted a fine as punishment. Sexism was also enforced within the code. For men, having sex with servants and slaves was permitted, but for women any adultery was punished. And then there was the whole codification of slavery.

Law is built on precedence. It is thought that the Code of Hammurabi originated first as a collection of his rulings, before it eventually became codified as law. From this start, almost 4,000 years ago, the law has evolved much. Sometimes moving forward, sometimes back. The human flaws inherited from Hammurabi have rippled through time. The current impeachment trial lies both outside the realm of normal jurisprudence, while still being rooted within the law. Infused with politics, its justice has become corrupted. Making any verdict that this trial decrees suspect. Giving neither a conviction nor any true vindication. 

2 thoughts on “Code of Hammurabi

  1. Oi! The GAO, a non-partisan agency of the federal government, resolved that withholding legislated aid to a foreign country is a breach of law. There is no question that Trump withheld such earmarked monies and arms to Ukraine, a country in a bloody war with Russian backed insurgent separatists. His excuse is that the current administration of Ukraine was not following up on spurious rumours of corruption in their gas industry. The House of Representatives impeached Trump for this transgression. There has been no effort successful or otherwise to impune that conviction. Trump’s defense has only presented arguments of executive privilege, patriotic motivation, and a desire to deter corruption in US elections. None of these “reasons” exhonerates Trump from the conviction of impeachment. How could a decree to remove Trump from office be suspect? Oi vey!

    • The New Yorker had a cartoon this week that was apropos. The Founding Fathers were standing around a TV set in heaven. The caption read, “George, C-SPAN can’t hear you.”

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