The Middle Assyrian laws (Leviticus 18)

German excavations at ancient Asshur in modern Iraq between 1903 and 1914 yielded a significant number of cuneiform tablets (top picture) containing regulations now known as the Middle Assyrian laws. Although this cannot be established with certainty, the widely accepted view is that they date to the reign of Assyria’s Tiglath-Pileser I (1114-1076 B.C.). It is notable, however, that these tablets are copies of even earlier laws that originated during the fourteenth of fifteenth centuries B.C.
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Each tablet contains a separate law collection concerned with particular life issues such as theft, inheritance, marriage and family law, witchcraft, fornication, false accusation, irrigation, propert rights, abortion, blasphemy etc. These decrees, like many of those recorded in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, are “casuistic laws”, that is, they follow an “if… then” pattern. For example: “If the wife of a man should go out of her own house, and go to another man where he resides, and should he fornicate with her knowing that she is the wife of a man, the man and the wife skall be killed.” This particular law has direct Biblical parallels in Leviticus 18:20 and Deuteronomy 22:22. In other cases, however, the Middle Assyrian laws prescribed harsher punishments than Biblical commands; theft, for examplem was punishable by death or mutilation of the ears and nose.
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Many Middle Assyrian laws demonstrate that men had greater rights than women in that ancient society. For example, if a married man were to rape an unmarried woman, his own wife was turned over to be raped and the rapist was obligated to marry the woman he had violated. Acceptable means by which a man could punish his wife included beatings, whippings, plucking out her hair and mutilating her ears. Wherever the decrees of Leviticus and Deuteronomy differ from the Middle Assyrian laws, the Biblical commands demonstrate greater equality between the sexes and a higher level of respect for human life and moral purity.
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