Imagine a society without rules and regulations. Everyone can do exactly what they want and there is no difference between what is right and wrong. This is the world that the people of Babylon lived in before King Hammurabi took reign. Hammurabi ruled the city-state of Babylon in the early 1800’s BCE, during the 38th year of his rule, Hammurabi created a set of laws supposedly given to him directly from the god of justice himself, Shamash. According to Document A, the 282 laws, promoting justice to the weak, were carved into large pillar shaped stones called stele. They later became known as Hammurabi’s Code. Today we are going to analyze these laws in order to determine whether or not they were fair to the victim, the accused, and society. Personally I believe that these laws were indeed fair in his ancient era , although we don’t know much about life in this century, by studying these laws we can find out.
Over the years, things change. And laws are definitely a good example of change. What was fair many years ago might not make sense to people of today. In document C. Law 129, it states: “If a married lady is caught [in adultery] with another man, they shall bind them and cast them into the water.” In the US government today, if a woman commits adultery, she is not breaking the law. Another example is in document D. Law 21, it states: “if a man has broken through the wall [to rob] a house, they shall put him to death and pierce him, or hang him in the hole in the wall which he has made.” In modern day America, the punishment of hanging someone would be the crime itself. Obviously we now know that hanging people is not the right thing to do because times have changed.
One thing that I have noticed about Hammurabi’s code is that some of these laws lack basic logic. They were just simply not thought out very well. In document E. law 218, it states: “If a surgeon has operated with a bronze lancet on a free man for a serious injury, and has caused his death,…his hand shall be cut off.” I would just like to point out the missing logic in this statement and how the person who came up with this law obviously did not think it through very well. In a surgery, there are many variables that can go wrong, only a few of them having to do with the surgeons mistakes. Many people can, and have died from surgeries, especially in the ancient time period where medicine was not advanced and there was not much knowledge about the human body. To have the surgeons hands cut off every time a surgery failed, would probably result in a very quick decrease in the amount of surgeons and anyone in their right mind would not want to be a surgeon. Even if there were people that still wanted to become surgeons, there would no longer be anyone left to teach them the practice. This shows that the person (or god), that created these laws were obviously not as intelligent as he could have been; therefore discrediting his work in creating the code.
In the society of ancient Babylonians, social class had a lot to do with what somebody’s life was like. It also had everything to do with what your punishment would be if you committed a crime. In document E. Law 196, it says: “If a man has knocked out the eye of a free man, his eye shall be knocked out.” But in Law 199 of the same document it states: “If he has knocked out the eye of a slave … he shall pay half of his value.” Comparing these two laws, it shows clearly how the social class of the victim completely changes the punishment for the accused. The same idea is shown in Laws 209 and 213 of document E. Because a slave was not considered a person back them but rather property, it relates back to the overall theme of what was fair then, is not fair now.
Although one could argue that Hammurabi’s code was either completely unjust and extreme, or even fair and equal, I believe that it all has to do with what is appropriate in the situation. Life in ancient Babylon is not the same as life in modern day United States. If you study the code, you quickly realize that punishments for most crimes are death. I believe this is fair back then because they had not formed the idea of prison yet and matters of life and death were taken less seriously. Do I believe that people should be drowned for committing adultery? Of course not, but that is what they believed back then and times have changed. Maybe in a few thousand years locking people up in a cell for a designated amount of time will be a harsh and terrible punishment worse than the punishment of death, who knows?