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A topic that was discussed among peers was that the Ten Commandments of Christian and Jewish faith were based off the Code of Hammurabi.

I looked into the Wikipedia article and was informed that David P. Wright, author of Inventing God's Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi suggests that the Code of Hammurabi was the basis of the Ten Commandments.

I got a hold of the book online here

Unfortunately, the book showed comparisons between those written in exodus and the code of hammurabi. How does it relate to the Ten Commandments?

Now, I am skeptical about it. To me the Ten Commandments and The Code of Hammurabi are two very different writings.

The code of Hammurabi, to me, is a much more technical in writing (kind of like our modern laws)

Example: -§8 : If any one steal cattle or sheep, or an ass, or a pig or a goat, if it belong to a god or to the court, the thief shall pay thirtyfold therefor; if they belonged to a freed man of the king he shall pay tenfold; if the thief has nothing with which to pay he shall be put to death.

Whereas the Ten Commandments are Virtues that people of faith should live by Example:"Thou shall not steal"

My conclusion at the moment is that no, The Ten Commandments was not based of the Code of Hammurabi because the two are entirely different.

Am I wrong?

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migrated from skeptics.stackexchange.com Dec 27 '13 at 14:49

This question came from our site for scientific skepticism.

The bible doesn't have only 10 commandments. The Torah has (according to Judaism) 613 commandments. The fact that the 10 commandments got the "best PR" doesn't mean that they are the only laws in the bible, Leviticus (and to a lesser extent Deuteronomy) deal mostly with presenting different laws, some of them are written in a very "legal" language, dealing with diffrent situations where the law apply, and when it doesn't and how. –  Ilya Melamed Dec 27 '13 at 14:01

3 Answers 3

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According to Ezekiel the prophet, the cities of the plain, which included Sodom and Gomorrah, were destroyed because of the neglect of the poor and needy (Ez 16:48-50). In other words, the events in the Book of Genesis regarding Sodom and Gomorrah occurred BEFORE the revelation of the ten commandments and other laws given through Moses. Thus there was some revelation and/or oral tradition regarding the love of ones neighbor as oneself before Moses and the Law ever appeared on the stage. We would call this "proto" revelation by the Lord, since these laws were at the time unwritten. Another example of this proto-law are the clean and unclean animals of Noah (Gen 7:1-3), for which there was no written revelation at the time as to what constituted "clean" versus "unclean" for the purposes of sacrifice and/or human consumption of meat (after the flood). The tradition therefore was oral.

Thus Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because they were rife with homosexuals, but because they violated the proto-law of the Lord regarding the love of ones neighbor as oneself. In hindsight, as we review the events and account in Genesis through the lens of love, we see that the obsession of self-gratification had eclipsed the cry of the helpless and hopeless: that is, the widow and orphan. In the Hebrew Bible, the widow and orphan represented the metaphorical canaries in the mineshaft, which collapsed at the onset of the odorless and colorless methane gas of what we now describe as sin. In other words, the proto-law of love is violated when the poor and needy are subsumed by obsessive self-interest in concert with "abundant food and careless ease" (words cited directly from the passage from Ezekiel, above).

Thus the law of Moses was predicated on this law of loving ones neighbor as oneself. The Christian New Testament in many places predicates the "fulfillment" of the Law of Moses based on this principle of love (e.g., Rom 13:10 and Jam 2:8). Thus the Ten Commandments were not based on the Code of Hammurabi, but on some oral tradition based on the proto law of loving ones neighbor as oneself. One can say that the Ten Commandments are, in fact, an admixture of commandments for loving the Lord and loving ones neighbor as oneself, since the revelation was explicit from the Lord, who is the giver of light and truth.

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They are called the Noahide Laws. –  fredsbend Dec 27 '13 at 21:13
so to summarize, the laws of moses were rather based on the noahide laws, than the code of hammurabi? –  Malky.Kid Dec 30 '13 at 7:22
The Law of Moses was written by the finger of God (Ex 31:18), and the Code of Hammurabi is preserved on a stele shaped like a finger. Proto-laws before Hammurabi and Moses were descriptive and pointed to widow and orphan. When the Code of Hammurabi and the Law of Moses appeared, the descriptive became proscriptive; the implicit (oral tradition) became explicit (written of the finger). These laws governed Covenant under the head of state, who enforced these laws. When there is no covenant relationship, explicit laws have no enforceability (Rom 4:15), however the implicit still apply (Rom 5:13). –  Joseph Dec 30 '13 at 22:37
I think it might be useful to distinguish between content and form. While the content of the Code of Hammurabi may be different, the literary style and format are similar. –  James Shewey Apr 13 at 15:19

Suzerain covenants

Modern contracts typically follow a certain format: the parties of the contract are identified, the terms and conditions are defined, certain penalties are defined, and the parties (and witnesses, if necessary) sign their agreement.

There is a similarly formatted ancient Near Eastern contract, called a suzerain covenant, though these were much more unilateral; the suzerain has all the power. Conveniently, these suzerain covenants tend to follow a similar format to modern contracts:

  1. Preamble: the parties of the contract are identified (the suzerain and/or his vassals),
  2. History: any past relationship between the suzerain and his vassals is described,
  3. Stipulations: laws are defined,
  4. Sanctions: rewards and penalties are defined.

Lastly, such treaties could define how the covenant should be kept into future generations ('succession arrangements'), witnesses would be called upon, and the covenant might be ratified with a sacrificial meal.1

Code of Hammurabi

The Code of Hammurabi conforms to the suzerain covenant format almost exactly:

  1. Preamble: '. . . Then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi . . .',
  2. History: 'I am Hammurabi . . .' Hammurabi takes several paragraphs to describe what he has done for his vassals (reestablished Eridu, enriched Ur, founded the farms of Kish, etc.),
  3. Stipulations: 'If anyone . . .' Nearly three-hundred laws are prescribed (the actual 'Code' of Hammurabi), covering a wide range of social and criminal issues.
  4. Sanctions: The written text concludes with another lengthy reminder of what Hammurabi has done for his vassals, brief invocation of reward (those who read the law will be blessed by the gods Marduk and Zarpanit), followed by succession arrangements (future kings may not alter the law), and concluding with warnings of curses against those who violate the law code.

Exodus 20-24

Exodus 20-24 begins with the Ten Commandments. These chapters are, of course, embedded within Israel's historical narrative, but they very closely follow the same suzerain covenant format as the Code of Hammurabi:

  1. Preamble: 'Then God spoke all these words . . .' The suzerain is identified,
  2. History: 'I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.' God's (brief) historical relationship with the (newly-forming) nation of Israel is described,
  3. Stipulations: 'You shall . . .' The Ten Commandments initiate a series of laws, continuing all the way to Exodus 23 (concluding abruptly with the command not to boil a kid in its mother's milk),
  4. Sanctions: God promises reward to Israel for their continued obedience to the angel guiding them, namely, they will be rewarded with entry and settlement in the land of Canaan.

Exodus 24 depicts a ratification ceremony for this suzerain covenant: Moses reads the laws of Exodus 20-23 to the people of Israel, blood from a sacrifice binds the people to the covenant, and Moses and the elders of Israel partake in a meal with their suzerain on Mount Sinai.2

Exodus and the Code of Hammurabi

Given the similarities in format, loose parallels between Exodus and the Code of Hammurabi are to be expected (e.g. Exodus 21.24 is similar to CoH §196; Exodus 21.28-32 is similar to CoH §251), because they come from the same overarching milieu. There is another law system that dates only a century or two later than the Code of Hammurabi, called the Code of the Nesilim (i.e. the Hittites); this law shares similarities between both the Code of Hammurabi and Exodus 20-24.

However, other than these broader similarities, the actual Ten Commandments (which begin the section of Exodus 20-24) show no direct dependence on the Code of Hammurabi. Some of the Ten Commandments (e.g. you shall not murder, you shall not steal) are so general, it's hardly a surprise we find any overlap between Exodus and the Code of Hammurabi. Yet, when we look into the more specific of the Ten Commandments (e.g. prohibition against idols, prohibition against work on the Sabbath), there are no parallels with the Code of Hammurabi.


The Ten Commandments (indeed, all of Exodus 20-24) shares similarities with the Code of Hammurabi, but they are similarities of culture. There are a few distinct overlaps between the two, but no more than would be expected by their mutual origin in the ancient Near East. The Ten Commandments are not directly dependent on the Code of Hammurabi.


1 Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, p.107-113.

2 The whole book of Deuteronomy also follows the above-described format:

  1. Preamble: Deuteronomy 1.1-5
  2. History: Deuteronomy 1.6-12.32
  3. Stipulations: Deuteronomy 13-26
  4. Sanctions (rewards, penalties): Deuteronomy 27-30
  5. Succession arrangements, witnesses, etc.: Deuteronomy 30-34.
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There is some doubt in the literature, for the reasons stated in the comments. For example, in the webpage Did Moses Steal the Ten Commandments? (Grace Communion International), one of the conclusions that was made was

Hammurabi’s law code is civil and criminal. Moses’ law code, on the other hand, begins with spiritual principles — love toward God and humans — from which the civil and criminal laws are derived.

However, inthe essay Exodus: The Hammurabi Code Jones, (2010) contends that

The two sets of writing would seem to have been based on a code and practice of law common in the region, yet the similarities between the Covenant Code and the Code of Hammurabi are enough to suggest that the authors of Exodus were aware of, and inspired by, the Babylonian legal document.

Essentially, according to Jones, the differences between the two documents suggest that there was no appropriation, just that the Law of Hammurabi influenced (or in Jones' words: inspired) the 10 Commandments.

TL:DR According to the research (including the examples above), it is highly unlikely that the 10 Commandments were based on the Law of Hammurabi.

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my thoughts exactly, thank you for this –  Malky.Kid Dec 30 '13 at 7:21

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