SYMHC Listeners Shed Insight on the Code of Hammurabi


Recently, Jane and I dedicated a podcast to the Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi ruled over ancient Babylon, and he had some pretty strict laws. And there were a lot of them. You can get the full story in Jane's article, titled, "What's so important about the Code of Hammurabi?" As Jane explains, the code is one of the most "well-preserved" and "comprehensive" sets of "ancient laws in existence." Never heard of the Code of Hammurabi? Well, if you've heard the expression, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," you've got the basic idea.

As much as history scholars tout the importance of the code, I wondered (aloud, in the podcast) whether it's something that law students still actively study. In short, is the code still relevant? Or can we learn something from it that's applicable to codes of conduct today?

I got two very helpful responses from law students -- Amy and Barry -- and one response from (surprise!) an engineer named Jay. Amy and Barry both said that they hadn't studied the Babylonian code in law school, but Amy read Plato and Sophocles (background on philosophies of justice) and Barry examined some laws from the Middle Ages. Barry wins some extra brownie points with me because he outlined some common themes between Hammurabi's code and our modern system of criminal law: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, restitution and incapacitation. Meanwhile, Jay, who hails from Canada, says that the Code of Hammurabi provides the oldest written record of engineering codes. Jay cites the part of the code that doles out punishment for the builder for constructing a faulty house.

Ask and ye shall receive. Many thanks to Amy, Barry and Jay for their thoughtful responses and insight.

For more, read: What's so important about the code of Hammurabi? Babylon How Becoming a Lawyer Works