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  • Reverend James Squire

Hammurabi's Code

I taught Hammurabi’s Code as part of high culture that existed in Babylon. He was the king of Babylon between 1792 B.C. and 1750 B. C. It is one of our earliest legal codes. The text at the end of Hammurabi’s reign was a collection of legal precedents. His code provided some of the earliest examples of the doctrine of lex talionis or the laws of retribution. It is better known as “an eye for an eye.”

Hammurabi’s Code contained harsh punishments, but it is also one of the earliest examples of “you are innocent until proven guilty.” The U. S. Supreme Court Building features Hammurabi on the marble carvings of historic lawgivers that lines the south wall of the courtroom.

The code was to strengthen the law so that the strong did not abuse the weak including widows and orphans.

What my students found most interesting was that if a man accuses another man of murder and cannot prove it, then the accuser is put to death. Can you imagine what that would mean for people today who were making frivolous accusations against others. Think Trump who sues people at the drop of a hat.

The burden of “justice seeking” rests with the accuser and not the accused. My students thought that this was an interesting way to view justice and the law. I think that we should bring it back at some level.

I was thinking in particular of the frivolous lawsuits accusing others that there was fraud involved such as Doug Mastriano and Keri Lake and their accusations for the way that the election was done that meant that they were the real victors in their races for Governor. They accused their states of terrible behavior. I think that Hammurabi would want them to personally pay for all the investigations and court expenses that are part of any action to honor their claims with an expensive investigation if they fail to win their court cases. I don’t think Hammurabi would want the Republican Party to pay for this. They would have to pay for it under Hammurabi’s mandate that he would require an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

Justice is at the heart of ethics as it is with the Babylonian King’s new way of seeing things. If justice is central to ethics and law, then the abuse of justice is just as important if not more so.

One of my former students who is African American and remains in touch with me said something to me over lunch one day that I will not forget. He said, “We have a legal system in our nation but we don’t have a justice system.”

Where would Trump and his allies be if they thought that the responsibility for payment for their frivolous lawsuits would be their personal responsibility. Most of their accusations have been denied by the courts such as finally getting to see his income tax returns, a requirement of all other former presidents.

Hammurabi would never accept the weaponization of our legal system by Trump and others.

We have heard the phrase “no one is above the law” as a mantra. That would never happen as well in Babylon under Hammurabi’s Code. In fact, he would put teeth into that guideline that “you must treat one the way that you should treat all.”

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