When we restrict our knowledge of the origins of our religious heritage to that contained only in the Bible, we deny ourselves the opportunity of enjoying a comparative study of how our faith came down to us and what others had to say about what the Bible reveals.

After the flood deposited Noah and his three sons Shem, Japheth and Ham on Mt. Ararat and they descended into the flat lands below, as they grew in number they began to disperse. The children of Shem moved into the area we know as the Middle East that includes Iran and Iraq. One of Shem’s descendents named Terah ended up in the city of Ur in the land that became known as Chaldea, which is in southern part of Iraq today.

It was there around 2047 BC that three sons were born to Terah: Abram, Nahor and Haran. During this time, there was a ruler in Ur of Chaldea known as Ur-Nammu. Whatever Noah taught had his sons about God, and whatever they passed on to their children was as rudimentary as that which Adam passed on to Seth and his other children.

But something urged Ur-Nammu to write a code of conduct that was meant to govern the society there in Chaldea, and these were the rules and legal code that Terah learned and taught to his sons. It is the oldest known surviving example of such a code to come out of that part of the world. This would be the basis for the ethics by which Abram would live when one day Terah took Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai (his son Abram’s wife), and his grandson Lot (his deceased son Haran’s child) and moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans. He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there. Gen 11:31 The prophet Nehemiah makes note of this historical event in 9:7, You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him from Ur of the Chaldeans and renamed him Abraham.”

So what was this Code of Ur-Nammu written hundreds of years before the Law was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai? Do any of these laws reflect what Moses was given and can be found in both the Ten Commandments and the Laws given in Leviticus? Let’s look at some examples:

  1. If a man commits murder, that man must die. (See Genesis 9:6a, “God made humans to be like Himself. So whoever kills a person must be killed by another person.”)
  2. If a man commits robbery, that man must die.
  3. If a man kidnaps another, he must serve prison time and pay a fine of 15 shekels of silver.
  4. If a male slave marries a female slave in the same household, if that female slave is set free the male slave cannot go with her.
  5. If a slave marries a person, he/she is to hand the firstborn son over to the owner.
  6. If a man deflowers the virgin wife betrothed to another man, that man must die.
  7. If a man divorces his first wife, he shall pay her one mina of silver.
  8. If a man divorces his first wife who was a widow, he shall pay her one half mina of silver.
  9. If a man’s female slave speaks insolently to his wife, the slave’s mouth shall be scoured with 1 quart of salt.
  10. If a man appears as a witness and proves to have perjured himself, he must pay a fine of 15 shekels of silver.

There are some 32 laws in all and a number of them deal with compensation for injuries to others and misuse of property, all of which must be redressed by the paying of fines. All of these laws can be culminated into one simple phrase: do what is right and love your neighbor as yourself. As such, laws were never meant to be tools for punishment, but as warning to keep one from being punished. The law itself does not punish, it is only the breaking of the law that requires punishment.

These were the laws that Abram lived by and taught to Isaac and Ismael, for we see this replicated in the laws of the Semites and Arabs to this day. A successor to Ur-Nammu named Hammurabi became king of Babylonian and reigned from 1795 to 1750 B.C. He is remembered today for promoting and enforcing an organized code of laws that were written some 300 years before Moses was given the laws found in Leviticus in 1440 BC. The Code of Hammurabi, discovered on a stele (a stone slab) in 1901, is one of the best preserved and comprehensive of ancient writings of significant length ever found. The Hammurabian Code is divided into 12 sections and consists of 282 laws, 34 of which are unreadable. The Code is primarily a case-by-case formula of customary regulations covering administrative, civil, and criminal issues. The complexity of the laws and their subject matter reveal much about ancient Babylonian culture.

Both Levitical law and Hammurabi’s Code impose the death penalty in cases of adultery and kidnapping (Lev. 20:10; Ex 21:16 with Statues 129 – If a man’s wife be surprised with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves; & Statute 14 – If any one steal the minor son of another, he shall be put to death). Also, there are similarities in the law of retaliation, such as “an eye for an eye” (Lev. 21:23-25) with Statute 196 – If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. Also, Statute 206 of the Hammurabian Code says, “If during a quarrel one man strike another and wound him, then he shall swear, ‘I did not injure him wittingly,’ and pay the physicians.” The Law of Moses is comparable: “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed” (Ex. 21:18-19).

Some of the other unique laws in this code include:

If a man’s property is stolen and the thief is not caught, the owner may make his losses known and the community where he lives will make donations to cover his loss. Statute 23

If a landowner rents out a house, garden or filed and some rents from him and stays there for three years, as long as they continue to pay the rent the owner cannot ask them to leave. Statute 30

If a bartender charges more for a drink that it is worth, then the bartender will be convicted and thrown into a river. But only if the bartender is a woman. Statute 108

If a man marries a woman but refuses to consummate the marriage, the woman cannot be called his wife. Statute 128

If a man wants to throw his son out of the house and is taken to court, if the judge examines all the evidence but finds the son not guilty of any misconduct, the father will be barred from throwing him out. Statute 168

A tooth for a tooth. Statute 200

If a contractor builds a house but does not construct it properly, and the house falls and its owner is killed, the contractor will be charged with murder and executed. Statute 229

If a person is hired to do a job, the one hiring must pay minimum wage. Statute 261

The whole point of this is that God did not leave mankind to wander in ignorance and without guidance from the time of Noah’s flood until the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. Rather, he spoke to man through his conscience and innate desire to protect what was right both for himself and others. But such laws were designed only to find the will of man and not the will of God. That is why the day would come when a more explicit set of rules and commandments would be given to the descendants of Abraham so they could find the will of God to ensure their destiny as His chosen children through which the Messiah would come.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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