When Scheil found the stela, excited scholars published numerous books and commentary about it -- as well as dubbed it the "Code of Hammurabi." Historians continue to discuss the code's significance and lingering mysteries to this day. It offers remarkable insights into the history of law, social justice and even the Bible. To understand why, we'll inspect some of the most important aspects of the code.
Though the Code was notoriously severe, it did introduce two of the most important tenants of modern justice: the presumption of innocence and the opportunity for both sides of a conflict to present evidence. Additionally, unlike many modern justice systems, the Code of Hammurabi punished the upper classes much more severely than the lower classes.
Some like to believe that Moses and the Hebrews got their laws, based from, the Code of Hammurabi. In that case, without the Code Of Hammurabi there would be no Mosaic Law. Therefore, the lives of all people today would be nothing as it is now due to the effects of the Code of Hammurabi.
The Code of Hammurabi, inscribed on a large stone stele-an upright slab--was uncovered by a French expedition in 1901. Its leader, Father Vincent Scheil, translated the code the following year. At the time, it was the oldest known set of what appeared to be laws. Since that time, however, earlier similar "codes" have been unearthed. Though Hammurabi's Code is not unique, it is still the longest code yet discovered and one of the only ones known to have been inscribed on a stele. Information and an image of the stele can be found by visiting the , which is available through EDSITEment-reviewed resource . Once on the Louvre website, click on the link for "selected works" at the left; then, click on Oriental Antiquities; under "selected works" click on Mesopotamia and Anatolia; and finally, you will see an image of the stele by scrolling down through the thumbnail images. It is marked as the "Law Codex of Hammurabi." You may access directly the , which is also from the Louvre.
Stele with law code of Hammurabi, from Susa, Iran, c. 1780 BCE.
Detail of stele of Hammurabi: Shamash, the supreme sun god and judge, offers to Hammurabi the rod and ring that symbolize authority. These symbols are apparently derived from builders' tools --measuring stick and coiled rope. The implication is that the king is to build social order. The reference to builders' tools reminds us of the importance of building as another means of giving physical testimony to a ruler's power. The stele thus asserts the divine sanction of Hammurabi's power, and that the social order he constructs is a reflection of a divine order.