Hammurabi (Deuteronomy 12)

Illustration: The top of the diorite stele of the Code of Hammurabi (the sun-god, seated, gives Hammurabi the symbols of power)

Hammurabi (also called Hammurapi) was the sixth king of the first dynasty of Babylon. Reigning in approximately the eighteenth century B.C., he was a vigorous and successful, but not a spectacular king. However, because of the universal fame of the Law Code of Hammurabi, and especially because of the large stele (inscribed stone monument) of that name now housed in the Louvre in Paris, he is without question the most recognized figure of Mesopotamian history.

Hammurabi began his royal career ruling over a city (Babylon) that was but one of many vying for power at the time in Mesopotamia. Through cunning diplomacy and force of arms, however, Hammurabi defeated first his main rival to the south, Rim-sin of Larsa, and then his challenger to the north, Zimri-lim of Mari. The empire Hammurabi put together, however, collapsed after his death.

The era of Hammurabi was in some respects quite literate. In addition to the famous law code, diplomatic and personal correspondence has survived from his court, providing us a picture of the man himself. He appears to have been somewhat harsh and arbitrary, though not altogether tyrannical. His law code was not original to him but followed a pattern that had already been set in Mesopotamian society. Some scholars have noted that the laws of Hammurabi do not appear to have been the basis for day-by-day adjudication in his time bit instead were probably exemplary.

Setting up steles with the king’s laws inscribed on them, moreover, served to remind the people of Hammurabi’s authority over all his domain. Some have suggested that Hammurabi was in fact the Biblical Amraphel from Shinar (Genesis 14:1, 9), but few espouse this view today. Although Hammurabi’s laws remind us that legal texts did exist in the early second millennium B.C. (contrary to those who date the Biblical books of the law to the late first millennium – a later date), there does not appear to be any direct connection between Hammurabi and the Bible.

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