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Religion of the Laws of Hammurabi

Jong-Keun Lee 1

1삼육대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper deals with religion of the Laws of Hammurabi, exploring religious motifs of laws with other Ancient Near Eastern laws. The Laws of Hammurabi were composed by King Hammurabi during his last years of reign, which are royal apologia for his rule. On the top of the stele, Shamash, the sun-god, god of justice is seated on his throne, while Hammurabi is standing before him. Shamash is giving laws to him which expresses divine character of the laws. The lengthy prologue and the epilogue show the divinely approved functions of the king as the protector, and shepherd of the people, upholding justice and peace. The prologue deals with divine calling by gods at divine council of gods. Many gods, temples and city-states are listed both in the prologue and the epilogue, and royal beneficiary works are emphasized too. Hammurabi lists about 60 curses by the names of gods and entreats later kings to keep the law and not to demolish statutes. The Laws stipulate both swear and divine water ordeal for many cases where evidences are not enough to judge. Oath before god was used in cases of property rights, slaves, distribution of income, damages during business by thieves, and issues of deposit at a depot. Oath was done at the temple, or in front of divine images, and was accepted trustworthy. Divine water ordeal was applied to witchcraft, innkeeper's behavior, suspicion of adultery, and sexual abuse by father-in-law. River was regarded as divine to judge in settling the issues. The member who was thrown into the river, and floated was regarded as innocent. The laws of Hammurabi are based on religion, and both religion and law are from divine will. Both the prologue and the epilogue of the Laws are rooted in religion, and all clauses of oath and divine river ordeal show dependance on divine will, which express religion of the Laws.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.