Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Warning!! School Work Posting!!!

The Code of Hammurabi is in the Louvre.
I have no idea why it is written sideways.

I've been knee deep in the Code of Hammurabi this quarter. (If you don't know, that's one of the earliest law "codes" that we have on record. I put "code" in quotes like that for reasons... but it's not worth going into here.)

Anyway, I'm really fascinated by what I'm doing, reading about soldiers and fisherman who loose their fields to another because they absented from their ilku service etc... (I know... BORING!) But to know that I am connected to these people who lived thousands of years ago, by reading their laws... its amazing. It's really, really amazing.

I get to learn what was important to them. The law codes deal a lot with slaves, and property and inheritance rules. I was surprised to see a law code in which the widow inherited a third of the father's land if he died and his boy was too young to inherit it. Which leads to questions like: why a third? How young is too young? What if he has no son? Etc...

I get to wonder whether or not people actually were put to death for all those things. A surprising number of the laws end with "iddak" meaning "He will be put to death." And, sometimes the penalties are strangely in favor of the wealthy. If you steal a boat from a palace, you have to pay back thirty boats. If you steal a boat from a commoner, you have to pay back ten boats. First of all, who has thirty boats? And why does the palace get a bigger recompense than the poor person? Oh, you don't have thirty boats? "iddak."

I get to ask questions about the practicality of the code. If a man's house is burning, and I am trying to put it out, and see something of his that I like, and take it... then they will throw me into that very fire. First of all, how often does this one happen that they took time to carve it into stone? Probably not that often... which leads us to guess that maybe these laws are supposed to explain really complicated circumstances, with the intention that easier cases can be judged based on them. If I steal something while putting out a fire in a guy's house (remember, that thing was going to get burned up if I hadn't come by) I get tossed into the fire. If I get killed for stealing something that was going to be destroyed anyway, then presumably, if I steal something from dude's house, when it isn't on fire... "iddak." But what about the fire? Remember, if I steal from dude's house while it's on fire... they will throw me into that very fire! Does that mean they had to keep the poor guy's house burning while someone fetched a judge to try the case in order for me to get tossed into that fire? Did the judge have to go check the stele to see what the law said before coming back to say, "Oh... toss him into the fire." It's odd how impractical some of the laws are, which leads me to think they were never intended to be real court guidelines. Yet, at the same time, some of them make perfect sense, and are likely to have served as real court case guidelines.

All in all, it's pretty dry stuff on the outside, but when you start picking it apart, and asking what does all of this tell you about society? You get to learn some pretty interesting stuff about how people lived and what they cared about several thousand years ago. And when you do that, you see that they were largely concerned about the same kinds of things we care about today. And that gives me a very eerie feeling of connection with people from thousands and thousands of years ago.

Well, I think it's neat anyway.


Rachel Elek said...

I think it's neat how you think it's neat!

Joshua said...

I think it's neat how you think it's neat that I think it's neat.