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Tablet Discovered by Hebrew U Matches Code of Hammurabi

A first in Israel: a cuneiform tablet uncovered by a Hebrew University team at Hazor parallels the Code of Hammurabi.
By INN Staff courtesy of Hebrew University
First Publish: 7/26/2010, 2:40 PM / Last Update: 7/26/2010, 3:56 PM

Hebrew University

For the first time in Israel, a document has been uncovered containing a law code that parallels portions of the famous Code of Hammurabi. The code is written on fragments of a cuneiform tablet, dating from the 18th-17th centuries B.C.E in the Middle Bronze Age, that were found in Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeological excavations this summer at Hazor, south of Kiryat Shmonah, in northern Israel.

The Hazor excavations, known as the Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin, are under the direction of Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology. Previous excavations were directed at the site by the late Prof. Yigael Yadin in the 1950s and 1960s.

The fragments that have now been discovered, written in Akkadian cuneiform script, refer to issues of personal injury law relating to slaves and masters, bring to mind similar laws in the famous Babylonian Hammurabi Code of the 18th century B.C.E. that were found in what is now Iran over 100 years ago. The laws also reflect, to a certain extent, Biblical laws of the type of “a tooth for a tooth,” say the researchers.

The Hazor law code fragments are being prepared for publication by a team headed by Prof. Wayne Horowitz of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology. Thus far, words that have been deciphered include “master,” “slave,” and a word referring to bodily parts, apparently the word for “tooth.” The style of the text is similar to that of the Hammurabi Code, said Prof. Horowitz.

“At this stage, it is difficult to determine whether this document was actually written at Hazor, where a school for scribes was located, or brought from somewhere else,” said Prof. Horowitz. He said that this latest discovery opens an interesting avenue for possible further investigation of a connection between Biblical law and the Code of Hammurabi.

These two fragments are the 18th and 19th cuneiform finds from the Hazor excavations, which now form the largest corpus of documents of cuneiform texts found in Israel. Previous documents dealt with such subjects as the dispatch of people or goods, a legal dispute involving a local woman, and a text of multiplication tables. “These tablets point to Hazor’s importance as a major center for administration and scholarship in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages,” said Prof. Ben-Tor. 

The Hazor excavations, sponsored by the Hebrew University and the Israel Exploration Society, take place within the Hazor National Park. The archaeological team is presently about to begin uncovering a monumental building dating to the Bronze Age, where they expect to recover additional tablets.