Early winter 1902 the French archaeologist Jacques de Morgan found a 2,25 meter tall polished black stele (diorite) in his excavations of the prehistoric city of Susa. On this stone there were carved cuneiform inscriptions and had a relief of two men at the top. De Morgan had found what later would be known as the Code of Hammurabi, 282 laws carved into stone. The code of Hammurabi became the very model of later legal systems, and also was the inspiration of the Biblical laws and regulations. On top of the stone, Hammurabi himself was depicted together with the Sungod Shamash, the divine protector of justice.

King Hammurabi was the first ever “Sun King” and he ruled between 1848 and 1805 BC. Originally the stone was erected in the sun temple in the city of Sippar in Babylon, where it stood for 650 years. In 1158 BC Babylon was attacked and ransacked by the Elamites, and when they were done they got the idea of dragging this heavy stone home to their own capital Susa. This was where Jacques De Morgan found it 3700 years later. Today the Hammurabi stone is on display in Louvre, Paris.

King Hammurabi ratified a collection of 282 so called “righteous rulings” (dinat misharin) and let them be carved in stones and they were copied and spread over the kingdom (Babylon). These laws were meant to be guidance for the country and stand as model for executing justice throughout the kingdom. The prologue of the laws indicates a new ideology emphasising the king’s role as the representative of the Sun God, the righteous heavenly judge, on earth. Hammurabi’s laws were partly modelled after the ca 300 years older Ur-Nammus code, - the oldest known law code in the world.

The biblical “And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Deut 19,21; Ex 21,23.25) is actually from Hammurabi. (From Judaism and Christianity Islam got this gem, and in many Muslim societies this is still practiced (the Sharia laws)). As opposed to the biblical laws, older Greek law and Roman law, Hammurabi also had laws for women’s rights. Women could file for divorce (§142), and on adultery there were equal punishments for men and women (§129). The code also had laws against evil gossip and the spreading of false rumours and punishments for those who couldn’t prove his or her allegations (§127).

The 10 Commandments
The Ten Commandments is listed both in the book of Exodus and the book of Deuteronomy. These commandments were given to Moses carved on two tables of stone by the God Father personally, becomingly shrouded in a dark cloud. The Stone tablet motif points directly to the Hammurabi laws which were copied and spread all over Babylon on clay and stone tablets and the original was also carved in the Hammurabi stone in the temple of Sippar. The Babylonian civilization had a huge cultural, political, juridical and religious influence on the surrounding cultures, and also on the writers of the Old Testament.

The Ten Commandments are in the Bible portrayed as the first and foremost rules for the chosen people of God, the Israelites. And with Christianity the Church claims these commandments are the very evidence of the ethical and humane values of Christianity. Let us therefore examine these commandments so often are referred to when discussing ethics and moral. (The numbering is according to the order the commandments are listed in the Bible (Ex 20; Deut 5,7).

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother:
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

The first four commandments only regulate the believer’s relationship with the deity, and is not exactly something to build a society on. They also have no moral or ethical relevance for one’s conduct towards other people or in society at large. And if you don’t believe in Jehovah, the four first commandments are utter useless!

The fifth commandment tells you to honour your father and mother. Fine! But this is also nothing to regulate a society with, and has also no relevance for your conduct towards other people than your parents. The rest of the fifth commandment “that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee”, makes sense when we realize that Jehovah thinks that the death penalty is suitable punishment for not honouring your parents, - or worse, speak ill about them (see Ex 21,17; Lev 20,9).

The 10 th Commandment deals with coveting, and has of course nothing to do in a code of laws. You can’t regulate human emotions by law. It’s stupid.

The commandments 6 – 9 are common to all known human cultures independent of religion, and not at all particular to Christianity. When Christians refer to the Ten Commandments in debates on ethics and morality, it is usually just these four commandments they mean. These are also usually the only commandments they manage to remember, if one urges them to recite the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments contain no revolutionary news, no trace of wisdom, nothing brilliant. One should maybe expect something less trivial from the Highest Being??

In the Biblical commandments there is no burden of proof or no defining of sentencing as in the Code of Hammurabi. The Biblical laws are also exclusively for the conduct towards “your next”, which means other Jews, and later other Christians. The sixth commandment of thou shalt not kill, does not extend to people outside the religion. There is no law against killing people of different faiths. The Old Testament is on the contrary full of stories of how the Jews and God Almighty kill men, women and children of the enemies of the Jews by the thousands (*).

The maxim of the Catholic Church ”Omnem hominem fidelem judica tuum esse fratrem” (consider every believer as your brother) has not always been practiced accordingly by the Church. The Church’s efforts of putting an end to the common practice of plundering shipwrecked sailors in the Middle Ages, didn’t include Arabs or other infidels. The Church didn’t see any wrong in sending non-christian prisoners of war into slavery. In the 17 th century the Scottish clergy teached that one under no circumstances whatsoever should give food or shelter to a hungry human being if he didn’t have an orthodox Christian faith (Deschner).

Very few of us commit murder in our lives, at least nowadays. The situation was obviously different in the time of Moses since the Bible all the time sees it necessary to remind the congregation of the sixth commandment.

It’s clearly not easy to live by your own rules either, as numerous stories in the Bible show. Especially it seems that the sixth commandment is particularly troublesome to follow for the Lord Almighty. The ninth commandment of not bearing false witness also seem to be at tough one for Jehovah, since he lies to his own prophets (1King. 22:23, 2.Chr. 18:22. Jer. 4:10, 20:7 Ezek 14:9) and deceives the evil ones (2.Thess 2:11-12). St Paul also admits using lies and deception to spread the word of God (Rom 3:7, 1.Cor 1:19-23). The biblical texts also forge the very word of God (Jer. 8:8).

Even the noble Church Father Origenes thinks it should be allowed to lie and deceive to save souls. According to Origenes God’s love justifies him using lies. Church father John Chrysostomos (Gold mouth) thought lies were necessary for saving the soul (Deschner 1972:30).
Bishop and Church historian Euseb of Cæsarea (ca 265-430 AD) claimed openly that the Church should use deception and fraud if it was in the interest of the Church. The founder of the Jesuit order, Ignatius Loyola, wrote in the 16 th century ”We should always be open for what seems white to us, in reality is black if the leaders of the Church should decide so”.

As juridical or social rules for human behaviour and for regulating any society, the Ten Commandments are apparently very insufficient. Jehovah also admits this in Ezek 20,25 “Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live”.

As we have seen, six of the commandments is rubbish, and the remaining four (6-9) are very banal and common to all cultures at all times. There is thus nothing particular original or “christian” about these commandments.

One should also notice that the order of the ten Commandments is the very same on the two places in the Bible (Ex 20; Deut 5,7). This has to say something about their relative significance and importance, - of God’s priorities. It should not surprise anybody vaguely familiar with the Old Testament stories, that the commandment “thou shalt not kill” is only ranked as number six.

The death penalty
The death penalty was commonplace in the Semitic societies, and usually in the form of stoning. Occasionally they also burned people alive. Through the mainly religious founded mosaic laws and regulations, the death penalty was used for a number of “offences”. The death penalty was used for everything from assassinations to mere trifles, and was often used arbitrary and as mean to an end in internal feuds.

The Old Testament is brimming over with ridiculous, outdated and complete useless rules and regulations which penalty usually is death. Let’s exemplify with a few things the Bible and God think one should be killed for:
- to speak bad of your parents,
- to work on Sundays,
- not be circumcised,
- eat bloody meat,
- men having long hair,
- homosexuality,
- believe in ghosts (not the holy one I presume),
- be possessed by a spirit of the dead,
- not celebrate Easter,
- if a daughter of a priest has sex she must be burned,
- for a man to have sex with a menstrual women (both should be exterminated),
- and of course to mock the holy name of the Lord.
Obstinate and disobedient sons should be stoned (Deut 21,18-21), and for a man to have sex with a married woman, both must die. Girls who aren’t virgins when they marry, should be stoned (Deut 22,13-21). If you hear that someone has been advertising for another religion in a neighbouring town, you should go there and kill all the inhabitants (and not to forget their cattle)(Deut 13,12-18). If some of your close relatives want you to convert to another religion, you should stone them (Deut 13,6-11). Should some poor bastard be unlucky enough to get his balls crushed or his penis cut, he is banned from the congregation and therefore condemned.

The Lord further despises men in women’s clothing and women in men’s clothing (trousers?). Those who have the nerve not to listen to the priest during the service shall die. All the people shall hear about it and be scared to a degree that they no more will think of doing anything so wicked (Deut 17,12-13).

But what about Jesus?
Jesus says, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail” (Lk 17,16), and “the law” means the Thora - aka the Pentateuch. So according to Jesus, all above is still valid! In the famous sermon on the mount Jesus also feels it should be capital punishment for calling somebody ”a fool” (Mt 5,22), even though he himself calls people "fools" on several occasions (Mt 23:17, Luke 11:40; 24:25). And the core message of Jesu teachings is that without believing in him as the son of God you are condemned to burn alive in Hell for eternity. Not very kind or ethical is it; thinking that eternal torture is a suitable punishment just for not believing in an unsupported and absurd notion?

It is obvious to all that these rules are not particularly relevant today. Even seen in the light of the ancient times, many of these rules appear as quite bizarre. In today’s world the Ten Commandments and the other biblical rules are useless and irrelevant. Compared to the Declaration of human rights they are downright embarrassing and ridiculous.

(C) R.L. Børsheim 2005

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Hammurabi
King Hammurabi Hammurabi og Shamash
Hammurabi and Shamash
Moses

The Ten Commandments

Further reading:
The Bible
Deschner Karlheinz, 1972: ”Abermals krähte der Hahn” Stuttgart
Kramer, Samuel Noah. 1963: ”The Sumerians, their history, culture and character”, Chicago & London
Gen. Books on Mesopotamia, Sumer, Babylon

* - 1 King 20,29-30; 1 Chr 19,18; 2 King 19,35; 2 Chr 25,11-13; 2 Chr 14,9-13; 2 Sal 8,5; 2 Sam 10,18; 2 Sam 18,7; 2 Sam 8,13; Num 31,6-18; Judg 1,4; Judg 12,6; Judg 20,35; Judg 20,44-46; Judg 3,28-29; Judg 8,10-11; Judg 9,49; Ezek 9,4- 10; Esth 1 9,14-16; Jer 25,33-35; Hos 8,24; Nah 2,14; Nah 3, 1- 6

The stele of Hammurabi's 282 laws

Clay tablet with cuneiform inscriptions

Related articles:

The Early History of Christianity

Forgeries in the Bible

Moses - fact of fiction?

The Sumerian Legacy

Archaeology and the Bible

Read why the teachings of Jesus are unethical here.