Jesus Quotes Hammurabi

This summer, the kids and I are reading through "The Story of the World: Volume 1, Ancient Times." (EXCELLENT reading). Today's chapter was on Hammurabi and Babylonians.

Hammurabi ruled the new kingdom of Babylon around 1780 BC. He called himself "the reverent god-fearing prince."

His god was Marduk, and Hammurabi claims the laws he wrote down in his "Code" were given to him by this god. Regardless of the source, the laws were the most just laws the world had yet seen, and since they were etched in stones across his kingdom, they were preserved and are the first written set of laws that we know of.

One of the stones (an almost complete copy of the Code) is now kept at the Louvre museum. We saw it during our 1999 visit to Paris, and I'd completely forgotten about it until today. (Museums and their artifacts, as much as I love them, tend to run together in my mind!)

Code of Hammurabi, *attribution
At any rate, one of the laws on the stone, reads as follows: "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. If a man puts out the eye of another man, put his own eye out. If he knocks out another man's tooth, knock out his own tooth. If he breaks another man's bone, break his own bone." (Way to keep crime to a minimum, right? LOL)

When I read the law out loud, I had to stop and run for my Bible. "You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on they right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38--the Sermon on the Mount.) Jesus says he's quoting, but I never realized we knew his source.

And the neatest part? Even though it was first written 1700+ years before Christ, He witnessed it being etched in stone, all the while knowing that one day, He would stand on a Galilean mountain and "re-write" it. The "god" Marduk got the credit for the first version, but the One True God always gets the last word.

We serve an awe-inspiring Lord!!

I've attended church since before I was born, but this was new information to me. Did you know Jesus quoted Hammurabi? I didn't!


Since writing this post, I've had an interesting conversation about it with a good friend of mine who says I have permission to quote her here.

HER: "I've always assumed Jesus was quoting the Old Testament since words similar to His are found in Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21."

ME: "Good point. I should have mentioned that. The Code of Hammurabi was written around 1700 BC, so it would have been written before the Law of Moses, which is believed to have been written around 1400 BC. Either way, Christ was fulfilling/completing the law--whether Moses' or Hammurabi's."

Okay, so I knew Jesus was quoting our Old Testament, but it slipped my mind while writing this. I think because we'd just been reading about "the first written law that we know of." So I subconsciously skipped over Moses' Law. But, duh, I should have thought to at least mention in passing that Jesus was also quoting the Torah. He was speaking to a mixed audience, but the majority were probably Jews and were mostly likely thinking "Torah" and not "Hammurabi." The conversation continues...

HER: "Well, yes, technically, Hammurabi came first and I've seen plenty of history texts that use that as a way to discredit the Bible. You know, the Bible is derivative, etc. I guess, really, I've always seen the passage from Matthew to be Jesus saying, "Hey, Jews, you know that law God gave you, well, you can't keep it. And you know what, God knew you wouldn't be able to keep it when He gave it to you. He wrote those laws so that you'd know you'll never get it right enough to gain His favor. No human effort can ever get you to heaven. No rituals or laws or sacrifices will ever get you there. God made another way, a better way, a perfect way, and I (Jesus) am that way." So, I think that mindset of retribution is in our nature from the beginning whether it was codified by Hammurabi or written out on tablets by God. God knows the kind of stuff we'll try to do to be "good enough". Jesus helped us all see that we aren't good enough, only He is. I tend to think that most religious Jews wouldn't have cared about the laws of Babylon (especially since the Babylonians brought destruction and captivity to the southern kingdom), but it's possible that the non-religious ones would have been more familiar with the Code of Hammurabi than they were God's law. Maybe Jesus was trying to cover all the bases. He does say, "you've heard it hath been SAID" rather than "it is written". So that points to something that is more common knowledge which I imagine the Code would have been.

ME: I heartily agree with everything you've just said. And that's how I've always interpreted that passage--and still do! It says that people came from all around to listen to Jesus, including Decapolis (Greek cities), so I imagine there would have been some in the crowd that knew Jesus' double-reference. But yes, MOST would have thought of the Law. What I find neat is that JESUS knew the double meaning, that He was there was it was originally written (by a god--a.k.a Satan) and He was setting things "straight" and--all the way back to early Babylonian time. If I'm wrong, I want to be corrected!! But I really should alter that post to include the OT reference...

And so I am. LOL. Heaven forbid anyone think I'm one of those that try to discredit the Bible. Horror of horrors! Think me a ditz for forgetting about the Torah reference, but not a "discreditor" of God's Word.

*attribution--Code of laws of Hammurabi, Louvre museum, Middle East antiques.This work is free software; you can redistribute it or modify it under the terms of the CeCILL. 

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  1. Hi April,
    Thanks for your humility and humor.

    While there was a crowd of Jews and Gentiles around Jesus when he spoke of an eye for an eye, his focus was on his disciples (Mt. 5:1-2). When he says they have heard this saying before, it would have probably been in the synagogues, where the scribes/rabbis of the Pharisees read and taught the Torah (including an eye for an eye). But Jesus goes on to say that what he says is they should get no revenge at all (5:39-42).

    So instead of telling people in general that these laws are impossible, Jesus is telling disciples their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees or they will not enter the kingdom of heaven (5:20). A righteousness that includes no revenge, no evil for evil (as Paul echoes in Rom. 12:14f.), is the righteousness they should hunger and thirst for; if so, they will be filled with that righteousness (5:6).

  2. JesusandtheBible--thank you so much for stopping by and for honoring my blog with your insight. Blessings!


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