The laws of Eshnunna (Deuteronomy 9)

Illustration: the Code of Hammurabi (full stele)

Eshnunna, which lay east of Babylon, was for a brief period around 1800 B.C. a dominant city in Meopotamia, and a code of laws has been discovered from this civilization. Judging from the fragments that remain of the laws’ superscription, it appears that King Dadusha, successor of Naram-Sin (founder of the dynasty), issued this law code for his city. It is the earliest example of an Akkadian law code discovered to date and anticipates in form and context its successor, the much more famous Code of Hammurabi (who conquered Eshnunna in 1766 B.C.)

The code of Eshnunna is fairly short but covers a wide range of topics, including price controls for products like barley and wool and regulations involving theft, the status of slaves, marital relations, crimes of violence, and vicious animals. It includes, for example, laws concerning a dangerous ox and the liability of its owner, which are closely paralleled in Exodus 21:28-32.

The Eshnunna law code is significant for Biblical studies. It reconfirms that the Bible did not spring into existence in isolation from its larger cultural and political milieu, as well as reinforces that a code of laws similar to those we find in the Bible could have existed as early as the time of Moses (some historians have argued that the bulk of Israel’s laws were very late, coming to existence long after Moses’ day).

It is striking, however, that while the superscription to the Eshnunna code celebrates the military prowess and worthiness of King Dadusha, Deuteronomy 9 focuses on the weakness and unworthiness of Israel, thereby emphasizing God’s grace.

See also “Custom and law in ancient Mesopotamia” under Genesis 21.

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