Did Moses copy the Law from the Code of Hammurabi?

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Question: “Did Moses copy the Law from the Code of Hammurabi?”

Answer: Hammurabi was a Babylonian king who reigned from 1795 to 1750 B.C. He is remembered today for promoting and enforcing an organized code of laws. The Code of Hammurabi, discovered on a stele in 1901, is one of the best preserved and comprehensive of ancient writings of significant length ever found. The Hammurabian Code is divided into 12 sections and consists of 282 laws, 34 of which are unreadable. The Code is primarily a case-by-case formula of customary law covering administrative, civil, and criminal issues. The complexity of the laws and their subject matter reveal much about ancient Babylonian culture.

About 300 years after Hammurabi, in 1440 B.C., Moses recorded the Law for the Israelites. Because the Mosaic Law contains some similarities to Hammurabi’s Code, some critics of the Bible believe that Moses copied from the Hammurabian Code. If they’re right, and Moses simply stole from the Babylonians, then the whole episode at Mount Sinai is false (Exodus 34), and the inspiration of Scripture is suspect.

Both Levitical law and Hammurabi’s Code impose the death penalty in cases of adultery and kidnapping (Leviticus 20:10; Exodus 21:16; cf. Statutes 129 and 14). Also, there are similarities in the law of retaliation, such as “an eye for an eye” (Leviticus 21:23-25; cf. Statute 196). Statute 206 of the Hammurabian Code says, “If during a quarrel one man strike another and wound him, then he shall swear, ‘I did not injure him wittingly,’ and pay the physicians.” The Law of Moses is comparable: “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed” (Exodus 21:18-19).

There are other examples, but in all truth, such resemblances do not demonstrate that Moses plagiarized Hammurabi’s Code. What the similarities do show is that murder, theft, adultery, and kidnapping are problems in every society and must be addressed. Even today, countries throughout the world have similar laws. Such parallels certainly don’t prove plagiarism.

Similarity in penal codes should be expected in civil societies. Both Babylon and Israel had laws against murder, but it doesn’t follow that one stole the idea from the other…

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Did Moses copy the Law from the Code of Hammurabi?