Stele with law code of Hammurabi

Stele with law code of Hammurabi, Susa, Iran, approximately 1780 BCE

This is the law code of Hammurabi. It wasn’t the first set of laws ever recorded, but it was one of the most comprehensive lists of laws, court happening and punishments. It even addresses fair wages for services rendered, almost like a government endorsed minimum wage.

At the top of the stele, you see Hammurabi receiving the law codes from Shamash, the sun god. In a religious sense, it is similar to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God/Yahweh. Both were leaders receiving their laws from god.

The stele is divided into three parts. First, we’re introduced to Hammurabi and a champion to the little guy, the weak and oppressed. Then there’s a section about his past legal work and how it will continue. Finally, there are almost 300 laws listed as well as the punishments for committing such offenses. It also contains the names of towns and territories annexed into Babylon.

I’m going to be honest, this is an obligatory post. The law code of Hammurabi is a pretty big deal. It’s a very comprehensive list and it has interesting religious parallels. However, I don’t think it is all that interesting beyond that. It was likely phallic in nature because Hammurabi was a man and men like their penises because Hammurabi is a very masculine figure and the phallic shape reinforces that. (Phallus = Power, which is silly if you ask this feminist… Besides, it’s easy to make a man become a crumpled ball of mess by kicking him in his ‘nads.) That is relatively interesting and I’m sure it would be cool to look at the male-female dynamics of this time in more depth, but that’s a whole other post entirely.

Basalt, which is what this stele was carved from, is a fairly hard rock, so I’m sure a great deal of time and energy is expended in carving it. Obviously a basalt record would have been ideal for lasting records of King Hammurabi’s great legal works because it was likely to last through the years. Good choice, Babylon. Good choice. This was a nation that planned on being legendary, I suppose. They are pretty legendary, obviously, they ended up being portrayed as overconfident heathens in the Bible and we are still discussing their culture many years later.

There are older recordings of this law code on baked clay tablets, but they haven’t withstood the test of time quite as well as this stele has.

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