Homework: The Judgments of Hammurabi

Tonight, you’re going to work on your first analysis of a primary source document for this class– an excerpt from the judgments of Hammurabi, a Babylonian king from the 18th century BCE.  After carefully reading through the text provided for you in class (Judgments of Hammurabi), please respond to the prompt at the bottom of this entry in the form of a comment on this blog post.  You’ll find the “Leave a Comment” link right under the title of this entry, next to the date.  Your comment should be thoughtful and refer to at least two specific examples in the text.

In order to encourage you to use this blog as a venue for discussion, here’s how grading for this assignment will work: a response which appropriately answers the discussion question will receive a maximum grade of 95%.  To earn that final 5% of the grade, you must respond (thoughtfully!) to one of the comments left by your classmates.

A few reminders about appropriate online interactions: as this is an academic assignment, I expect your responses to reflect all standard grammatical and mechanical practices.  Remember that tone is sometimes difficult to discern in online communication, so be sure that you express yourself clearly.  If you’re uncomfortable using your full name to post a comment, please just post using your first name and last initial– I’ll know who you are.

Comments are moderated on this blog, which means that I have to approve your first comment before you’ll see it appear.  It’s a quick process– I just have to hit something on my phone, honestly– but if you wait to post your comment until late tonight, I might not moderate it until tomorrow morning.

Here’s your discussion prompt:

Consider Hammurabi’s judgments.  Do you think they would have been effective as a law code?  Who were the judgments meant to protect or benefit?  What sort of social distinctions can we see in Hammurabi’s law code?  Did any of the laws or their implications surprise you?  If so, why?

Remember to include at least two specific examples from the text in your response!

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105 thoughts on “Homework: The Judgments of Hammurabi

  1. Hammurabi’s code is an extremely strict set of laws, and in some ways cruel. However, if the goal for the set of laws and it’s punishments is to stop further crime, then it is very effective. If dismemberment and death are punishments for small crimes, people would be terrified of breaking the law. It also is very bias on the punishment of people based on social class and gender. For example if a man destroys another free mans’s eye, his own would be destroyed. If he does the same to a peasant he only has to pay a fine. While these laws may have been effective, it would be miserable to live under them. People would have to be under constant fear that they might make a mistake at their job and be put to death. Overall Hammurabi’s code is an interesting take on the legal system pushed to an extreme.

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  2. To preface this comment i would like to point out that we are observing the morality of a mesopotamian society far in the past. its is quite obvious our morals don’t always align.That being said Hammurabi’s law is one of the early sets of laws and may have been invented after a bringing about as a united empire with babylon as its capital. However this brief empires structure seemed rather benign.I do not believe Hammurabi meant any ill will to the people of mesopotamia. The laws he present are seem to be leaning toward a more regimented society where in the penalty for sloppy,ill intended or even accidental failures are punished very harshly. While I believe no one should ever get the death penalty i can recognize this was a more archaic society.

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  3. I definitely found Hammurabi’s law very interesting and complex but, mostly unfair. I found his rules were more meant to establish fear in his people to than to establish fairness in the community. The way the laws were written suggested that the king had an “eye for an eye” mentality which is definitely not the way to handle situations at all. Most of the laws were meant to benefit upper class men, especially in the Family section. Law 129 stated that if a mans wife was found with another man then the husband would be able to have them tied up and thrown into the river but, there is no law that talks about what happens if the man cheats. also, in the topic of divorce, if a woman had “neglected” her husband the man was allowed to keep her as a slave! I would honestly love to see some twisted misogynist try this today and see how fast he was ripped apart by our justice system. These laws definitely not fly here in the United States. In most of the laws if an upper class male committed a crime he had to pay a much larger fine than if a poor man had committed a crime.

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  4. The Code of Hammurabi could be effective due to fear of the cruel punishments listed. However, in some cases, these punishments can be overly cruel and grotesque. A physician’s hands being cut off for unintentionally killing a patient is much too extreme. There is also a clear divide between the rights of those of a certain gender or social class, and completely innocent people can be met with undeserved punishment as well. For instance, the law stating that a man who strikes and kills a free man’s daughter will have his own daughter killed in turn is unjust. While Hammurabi boasts that he is a king of justice, he is truly biased. Over time, if these same laws were to be continued, the fear invoked in the people under these laws could potentially result in damaging consequences for their entire civilization.

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  5. Cade F.
    I feel like this could be a way to govern a group of people, but only for so long. I have a feeling that people would disagree with these laws, or even possibly rebel against Hammurabi. The reason I say this is because these seem too extreme, for example if a man commits perjury or gives false evidence he could be killed, I understand that it is a big deal and it is wrong but I don’t feel like he should be killed or it. I also have evidence to believe that there was some kind of rebellion. Law Number 109 says that if a wine seller encounters rebels and she does not seize them, she would be killed. I feel like some of these punishments are unnecessary and too extreme, I understand the cause for such punishments(not all of them) such as rule number 195 if a son strikes his father his hands shall be cut off, I understand that you can’t do that, but losing your hands for it seems really extreme.

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  6. I believe the way the Hammurabi’s lived was perfect for them in the time being. I suppose they did some supposedly ‘extreme’ activity, such as the sons hands will be cut off, God was necessary in the time being. I found it perfect for how they set up how if a women is cheating on the man, she and the cheater will be thrown into the water. It shows that they treated both genders fairly. If it really was just sexism, the male wouldn’t have been thrown in. The way they had to pay silver was a great way to prevent people from doing wrong to organize currency with less problem then current day. I like to know that there was currency even this early in times, but what I also find interesting is how the man can give his wife and children in exchange for silver. It seems that they used silver for a last resort, instead of now when you will protect your family first no matter the consequences.

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  7. In the time of Hammurabi’s code, the laws that were written would have been very effective. The laws written were specific to the time and place of the people for which it was written. The judgements were meant to protect the citizens of the city, not just free men, but peasants and slaves as well. As explained in laws 195 to 233, not everyone was held at the same respect. There were free men, peasants, and slaves in that order. The problem with this is that if personal injury comes to a peasant by a free man then he pays less than he would if it was someone at his same ranking or above. These laws are understandable though because it does not seem as if free men associated themselves with the so-called peasants therefore, peasants were striking peasants. One of the laws that surprised me the most was law 142 which basically stated that a woman could divorce her husband. This implication means that by this time women were looked at as more that property made to have children, which I can definitely respect.

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  8. Hummurabi’s code was an extremely strict code of laws. However I feel like most of them make since for this era. Considering most of the punishments were basically eye for an eye I feel like this would’ve kept people from committing harsh crimes knowing that whatever they did would also effect them. You could tell that the laws were different considering each social class. If a crime was committed against a peasant it didn’t matter as much as it would against a regular person. I was very surprised on how the laws effected women. I thought that in this area especially they would have very few laws protecting them. When in fact women this society had tons of more rights than women in other societies in this era.

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