Archive for March 10, 2010

Pre-10 Commandments Law Codes

March 10, 2010

The 10 Commandments, of C.B. DeMille fame, are often given credit by Christians as the only possible way to know what’s right and wrong (that’s why you always see then counting before they make any decisions).

Even though Biblical literalists attempt to place the Exodus at the middle of the 14th century BCE, there is a large discrepancy in proposed dates. And, with the absence of any corroborating archeological or historical data from Egypt, Canaan, or anywhere in between, as well as all the logical difficulties with any sort of a literal reading of the Biblical narrative, the chances of the Exodus being an historical event are pretty much nonexistent. The Torah is theoretically dated to the 6th century BCE, probably based on 8th or 9th century BCE sources. And it is difficult to imagine the text being any older at all since a recent discovery of 10th century BCE writing on a pottery sherd was so foreign the language was dubbed “proto-Canaanite” and took scholars some time to translate.

All that aside, several law codes pre-date even the early mythical date for the 10 Commandments. This leaves Yahweh’s chosen people not only incapable of making a decent set of laws themselves, but paints them as late comers in the law and order department:

Code of Urukagina, Lagash, 2300 ca BCE

  • Among reforms for the poor, this law code imits powers of the priesthood, giving us a pretty good precedent for the Separation of Church and state

Code of Ur-Nammu, Sumer, 2100-2050 BCE

  • Mentions the gods An and Enlil in the prologue. Superstitions cultures often attribute laws to gods.

Laws of Eshnunna, Baghdad, ca. 1930 BC

  • Most offenses were penalized with monetary payment.

Codex of Lipit-Ishtar, Isin, ca. 1870 BC

  • If a man rented an ox and injured the flesh at the nose ring, he shall pay one-third of its price. Sounds odd, sure. But there’s rules about cattle in the Bible, too.

Code of Hammurabi, Babylon, 1790 BCE

  • Like the 10 Commandments, it attributes the laws to god. Only in this case, the god is Dagon.

Hittite laws, 1650 BCE

Assyrian law, ca. 1110 BCE

Mosiac Law, Judah, 900-800 BCE

  • Listed in the Hebrew Bible (aka, the Old Testament) as the 10 Commandments as well as the 613 laws listed in the Pentateuch