You can learn a lot about a civilization by reading their law codes. At least you can learn a lot about really old civilizations which wrote their codes on stone. This limited how long the code could be; it couldn’t, for example, be a health care bill of 2,000 pages.
Hammurabi, who we know was a great guy because he said so in the intro to his 1750 BC law code, dealt with just the most important problems challenging the peace and stability of his kingdom. Murder, theft, contracts, investments (!), adultery, divorce, adoption…
This is why Hammurabi wrote his code:
“…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; and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.” See, I told you he was a great guy.
Some surprises are:
- A woman could divorce her husband if he was a stinker and take her stuff and leave.
- If a man divorced his wife he had to pay child support.
- If a judge was wrong, he got the punishment coming to the defendant.
- If a person made a false accusation, they got the punishment of the one they accused.
- Doctors and veterinarians could be punished or fined for malpractice.
- If a guy had sex with someone’s betrothed, he was killed. But not her.
In many ways, these laws seem more enlightened than the Mosaic laws, dated 500 years after Hammurabi’s.
I get a kick out of introductions to ancient documents listing the titles of the king and the curses at the end for any future ruler who has the gall to try to change the dictat. Here are some of Hammurabi’s curses:
“…may the great God (Anu), withdraw from him the glory of royalty, break his scepter, curse his destiny. May Bel, the lord, whose command can not be altered, order a rebellion which his hand can not control; may he let the wind of the overthrow of his habitation blow, may he ordain the years of his rule in groaning, years of scarcity, years of famine, darkness without light…”
Do you think Hammurabi went too far? But consider this: These laws were found unchanged after nearly 4,000 years. 🙂