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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 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
Aside from the 613 commandments in the Torah, the "10" commandments don't even neatly number 10 and people disagree on which 10 phrases constitute the 10 commandments. – James Shewey Nov 2 at 4:31

4 Answers 4

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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
This barely answers the question... The Code of Hammurabi was presumably also based on cultural norms, and if we assume Genesis is accurate history, then all people would be descendant of Noah and thus perhaps retain some knowledge of "proto-law". As such, saying 10C is based on proto-law doesn't really answer the question as to whether the author of Exodus used CoH as part of his knowledge base. – ThaddeusB Nov 2 at 1:02

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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Related – James Shewey Nov 2 at 4:41

I don't know of any scholar who denies that Hammurabi wrote a code of laws before Moses received the Ten Commandments and the accompanying law. So if the question is: Did Moses invent the idea of having a written code of laws, the answer is clearly "no".

But if the question is: Were the specific set of laws in the Ten Commandments et al not really written by God himself as the Bible claims (Deuteronomy 4:13), but my Moses, and did Moses copy them from Hammurabi?, then I say this:

People who make this argument point to similarities in the laws. Like, Hammurabi has laws against murder, stealing and kidnapping, and so does Moses! But almost anyone writing a set of laws for a nation would include laws against murder, stealing, and kidnapping. Cultures that surely never heard of Hammurabi, like the Chinese and the American Indians, also had laws against murder etc. It is an interesting philosophical and theological question why diverse cultures all over the world all agree that murder is wrong, but any theory that it is because they all copied from Hammurabi would be very difficult to defend.

While Hammurabi and Moses have some overlap like this, they also diverge on many points. The Code of Hammurabi devotes considerable space to the responsibilities of renters and tenants, things barely mentioned by Moses. Hammurabi has a long list of government-set prices for various products, something not found in Moses at all. Moses has many rules about public health and safety, a subject not particularly covered in Hammurabi. Moses says a lot about religious matters, like kosher foods and specific holidays and rituals, subjects not in Hammurabi.

Even in the areas that both law codes cover, there are major differences.

Here's a typical law from Hammurabi:

If anyone brings an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser. (Code of Hammurabi, #2)

Compare this to a typical law from Moses:

You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the Lord your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe ... (Deuteronomy 16:18-19)

Hammurabi says to determine guilt by magic. Moses says to determine guilt by having judges who examine the evidence.

Perhaps the most striking similarity is that Hammurabi and Moses have similar wording about the idea of "an eye for an eye". But even here the laws are quite different. Here's Moses's version:

If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him -- fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. (Leviticus 24:19-20)

(Many today consider this law cruel and barbaric. Personally I think it's barbaric to say that someone can deliberately gouge out another's persons eyes and blind him, be caught and convicted, and then serve a couple of years in jail and be out on the streets, going on with his life, while his victim is still blind. I think he should at least stay in jail until his victim's eyes grow back. But my point here isn't to defend the fairness of Biblical laws, just to contrast Moses and Hammurabi.)

Here's Hammurabi's version:

If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. ... If he put out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina. If he put out the eye of a man's slave, or break the bone of a man's slave, he shall pay one-half of its value. (Hammurabi #196, 198, 199)

Under Hammurabi's law, assaulting an injuring a slave is a minor crime calling for a small fine. Assaulting and injuring a freed man, i.e. a former slave, is a bigger crime calling for a bigger fine. Assaulting someone of higher social status is a serious crime calling for serious punishment. Under Moses. there is no distinction under the law based on your social status. So while they have some vaguely similar wording, the whole point is exactly the opposite: Under Moses, if you deliberately injure someone else, you are to be punished by being injured in the same way, regardless of social status. In Hammurabi, the severity of punishment depends on the social status of the victim.

Indeed throughout the code of Hammurabi, there are different penalties for injuring a slave versus a freedman versus someone born free versus a nobleman. Moses requires complete impartiality:

You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. (Leviticus 19:15)

The only social distinction I see in Moses is that crimes by a master against his own slaves are treated differently. In general, if you do someone temporary injury so that he can't work, you have to compensate him for his lost time. But if a master injures his own slave, he doesn't have to compensate him. Presumably because the value of the lost work would hurt the master, not the slave. BTW if a master permanently injured a slave, like knocking out an eye or a tooth, he was required to let the slave go free in compensation. (Exodus 21:26-27) (And yes, the Old Testament law tolerates slavery. But that's a subject for another time.)

Hammurabi calls for "family justice":

If a prisoner die in prison from blows or maltreatment ... if he was a free-born man, the son of the jailor shall be put to death. (Hammurabi, #116)


If a man strike a free-born woman so ... the woman die, his daughter shall be put to death. (Hammurabi, #209-210)

That is, if someone commits a crime, his children can be executed for it.

Moses says the opposite:

Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin. (Deuteronomy 24:16)

So yeah, there are some similarities between the two law codes. But there are huge differences. Even ignoring Biblical statements that the Old Testament law was given by God, if we assume that it was written by Moses or some other nameless author, there's still little evidence that it was copied from Hammurabi. The Code of Hammurabi has about as much similarity to the Old Testament law as it has to Obamacare. :-)

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Interesting answer ... but it's not about the Ten Commandments (see original question) -- this is quite explicit in the question. – Davïd Nov 3 at 7:27
@david The text to which the writer links in his question argues that the whole of the Old Testament law -- what the writer calls the "Covenant Code" -- is derived from the Code of Hammurabi, not specifically just the Ten Commandments. And in common speech people often say "the Ten Commandments" when they mean the whole of the Old Testament law, of which the Ten Commandments are basically a summary or the highlights. I interpreted the question in that light. Arguably the paragraph in the original post beginning "unfortunately" could be interpreted to mean that the OP is challenging such ... – Jay Nov 3 at 14:30
... a connection specifically to the Ten Commandments. If that was the intent, if the point of the OP's question is, "yes I agree that the OT law as a whole is derived from Hammurabi, but I question whether specifically the Ten Commandments are", then okay, my answer is off track. – Jay Nov 3 at 14:31

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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