The Code of Hammurabi, one of the oldest surviving codes of law, was enacted by the sixth king of Babylon, Hammurabi. Like the Mosaic Law, a large portion of the code deals with property rights and family relations. The prominent feature of the code, however, is its emphasis on individual responsibility, imposing heavy penalties on neglect and sloth, from which even the judges and governors are not exempt.
Here are a few examples:
If a judge has given a verdict, rendered a decision, granted a written judgment, and afterward has altered his judgment, that judge shall be prosecuted for altering the judgment he gave and shall pay twelvefold the penalty laid down in that judgment. Further, he shall be publicly expelled from his judgment-seat and shall not return nor take his seat with the judges at a trial.
On the one hand, the judge will be extremely cautious when giving judgment, on the other hand, he might be unwilling to alter his judgment in the face of new evidence.
If a man has carried on brigandage, and has been captured, that man shall be put to death. If the brigand has not been caught, the man who has been despoiled shall recount before God what he has lost, and the city and governor in whose land and district the brigandage took place shall render back to him whatever of his was lost. If it was a life, the city and governor shall pay one mina of silver to his people.
Similar laws should be enacted in our society, laws that render a government official directly accountable to the people he is supposed to serve and protect.
If a man has hired a field to cultivate and has caused no corn to grow on the field, he shall be held responsible for not doing the work on the field and shall pay an average rent.
If a builder has built a house for a man and has not made strong his work, and the house he built has fallen, and he has caused the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death. If he has caused the son of the owner of the house to die, one shall put to death the son of that builder.
Laws like these must have caused much fear and trembling in the people.
- “The Code of Hammurabi” at Feedbooks
- “The Code of Hammurabi” at Gutenberg
- Hammurabi, The Code of Hammurabi King of Babylon. Trans. Robert Francis Harper. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1904. Online Library of Liberty. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/hammurabi-the-code-of-hammurabi