January 31, 2021

Upper portion of the stela

4th Sunday after Epiphany

Lectionary reading and study helps are here.

Today’s OT reading is from Deuteronomy, one of the five books of the Pentateuch, the law code of the Hebrews attributed to Moses.  The image above is  the top portion of a stone slab that records the law code of the Babylonians attributed to King Hammurabi, written some hundred or so years before Moses. It depicts the standing King Hammurabi receiving the law from Babylonia’s national god of the sun.  The king is holding up his right arm in a speech gesture, perhaps a prayer, and looking at the divine in the eyes, as if to report on his codification of the law.

Here is a picture of the entire 7-foot stone slab or stela entitled The Law Code of Hammurabi, displayed at the Louvre in Paris.

On the body of the stela is the Babylonian law written in cuneiform.  Here is a magnification of the cuneiform from the stela.

Cuneiform

The stela was discovered in three pieces, in Iran in 1901.

Like his predecessors, King Hammurabi (c. 1792-1750) sought for justice throughout his kingdom, which was spread along the Euphrates River from its mouth at the north end of the Persian Gulf northward through today’s Iraq and Syria, the ancient Mesopotamia.

The Babylonian law code was based on precedence, consisting of 282 legal decisions made by King Hammurabi that include economic provisions (prices, tariffs, trade and commerce), family law (marriage and divorce), criminal law (assault and theft) and civil law (slavery and debt).  The most famous of its similarities to Mosaic law is its law of retaliation: an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.