4000 years ago in the city of Babylon, there was a ruler called Hammurabi. He tried to bring fairness to all, which led him to create the Hammurabi’s code. In his codes, he made laws that tried to make the city a safer place and protect the citizens. As we discovered more and more about these laws, we noticed some of them seemed unfair, and some of the punishments seemed pretty extreme. This left the world wondering, was hammurabi’s code fair? I don’t think it was just because some of the laws were greatly exaggerated towards those accused of crimes, and some of the punishments were very cruel.
One reason why I don’t think the code was just is because some of the laws were unfair towards many people. For example, in law 48 it states, “…storm has flooded the field… carried away the crop… does not have to pay his creditor” (doc d). This is unjust towards the creditor because he can’t control the weather, and he can’t help if it floods or not. If it floods every year, the creditor would start to run out of money for something he can’t help. Another example would be in law 21 when it says, “…broken through the wall… hang him in the hole…” (doc d). This is inequitable towards the family who lives in the home, because if the criminal is hung in the hole, he could still be doing bad things. He could be yelling, making a distraction, and making the owners of the home uncomfortable. This situation could have easily been solved through a discussion with the criminal and the family, or banishing the criminal from the city.
Another reason why I think the code was unjust is because some of the fines are unfair towards different castes. For example, in law 196 it reads, “…knocked out the eye of a free man, his eye shall be knocked out” (doc e) and in law 199 it says, “…knocked out the eye of a slave, he should pay half his value” (doc e). This is differentiating between the different castes. If a man knocks out the eye of a free man the man will get his eye knocked out as well, but if he knocks out the eye of a slave, he only has to pay half his value. All humans were created equal. He was trying to bring fairness to all, but this law doesn’t help prove that. If the man knocks out the eye of a freeman or a slave, or anyone no matter their title, it would have been reasonable to have the same punishment for all.
The third reason why I believe the code is unjustifiable is because some of the punishments were very harsh. For example, in law 129 it states, “…married lady is caught with another man… cast them into the water” (doc c). This punishment is very severe. It is an exaggeration for a woman to be caught with another man, then to be punished by being tied together and drowned. Rather than being sentenced to death by suffocation, this could have easily been resolved by a discussion with the wife, the husband, and the other man, or simply by divorce. Another example would be in law 195 where it reads, “if a son has struck his father, his hands shall be cut off.” This is a very hoarse punishment because again it is an exaggeration to cut off the hands of someone who strikes at their father, or anyone. The son’s action was/is seen as very disrespectful, but the amputation of a sons body part is simply unethical. Instead of a punishment of chopping off a limb, this could have easily been resolved by a discussion between the father and the son or a lighter discipline, like working for someone for a period of time.
Although through the perspective of today, most of these laws seem very unethical, through the perspective of 4000 years ago some laws can be seen as balanced. Even if these laws were moral back at that time, they are not viewed as ethical today, simply because many of the consequences of the crimes were ruthless and exaggerated.