There are 282 laws out of which one of the laws which is interesting and relevant is Code no. 144.
144. If a man take a wife and this woman give her husband a maid-servant, and she bear him children, but this man wishes to take another wife, this shall not be permitted to him; he shall not take a second wife.
Hammurabi lived during the 19th Century BC. One has to read his political achievements before one steps into reading his Codes.
The most important concept that emerged out of his code, almost 3800 years ago was PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE.
In social intercourse an allegation has to be backed by a credible proof. The judge cannot presume the guilt merely because a person has been accused of having committed a crime. There are two things which are to be proved; one being by that indeed a crime was committed and secondly that such crime was committed by the accused. This has to be proved through witnesses.
Me as a Christian, raised in Christian beliefs rooted mostly in the Old Testament of the Bible, believed that Moses was the first law giver.
If one were to chronologically date the time of Moses, the starting point with some certainty would be the reign of David/Solomon, which has been recognised to have been around 1000 BC. That’s 3000 years back. Give the Israeli judges from Joshua another 450 years, so that makes it 3450 years back. Add generously another 100 years for Moses, who is mentioned to have lived for 120 years, and we would end up with a figure of 3550 years. Make it 3600 years, still that would make Moses as a person who was probably in existence almost 200 years after the Rule of Hammurabi, of the first Babylonian empire.
Therefore, as a man raised in the palace of the Egyptian Pharaoh, I’m sure that Moses would have had access to the Code of Hammurabi or at any rate would have been trained in the laws of other lands and thereby would have been familiar with the codes of Hammurabi.
The distinctness of Moses’ Ten Commandments besides having social perspective opens with the concept of God and his jealous nature and how one ought to worship that one true God, regarding which, at least the opening 144 Sections of the Code of Hammurabi doesn’t entertain.
Hammurabi’s Codes are secular and more designed to cater to the fairness of just existence – except for Death as a penalty at the drop of a hat. Worse still is that punishment of throwing someone into the Euphrates or Tigris – which according to me is no punishment for a swimmer.
Code no 144 is what Laban and his daughters Rachel and Leah did to Jacob. Laban was a Syrian and Jacob had been egged in by his mother Rebekah to go to Laban’s place and wive from there, unlike his brother Esau, who wives from the locals, which Rebekah believed was the cause of her conflict with her daughters in law, little realising that Laban and his daughters were bigger frauds than all those ones in the land of Isaac.
Laban finds that his nephew, Jacob was smitten by Rachel, his younger daughter, so in bargain agrees to get her married to him in return for his labour for seven years with Laban.
But Laban suo motu decides to get Leah, his first daughter, married to Jacob without his knowledge. I often wonder how Jacob spent the whole night with Leah not realising that it was not Rachel. Or was it a payback time by the cosmic forces for all that drama enacted by Jacob and his mother Rebekah by impersonating as Esau and stealing the blessings from his father Isaac? Or did the sharp Jacob, decide to take the bird in hand for the night and protest for the other bird – the wages for his seven years’ labour – later and obtain it too? I don’t put that thought beyond Jacob – the sharpest one in the Book of Genesis.
Be that as it may, Jacob protests and plays the victim card to Laban and gets Rachel too for another 7 years’ labour.
After the marriage of Leah and Rachel, the sisters play the one up manship based on their fecundity and in that race, Rachel gets left behind. Rachel gives her maid to Jacob and Rachel’s maid brings forth a boy. Leah also follows suit and gives her maid to Jacob for procreating purposes. At that point Jacob ends up with two wives and two of their maids in his kitty.
Jacob feels stifled by Laban’s methods of sharing the fruits of Jacob’s labour. Jacob flees overnight from Padanaram to his hometown – of course with his two wives, the two maids and the brood littered in Padanaram.
Laban overtakes then and takes an oath from Jacob, which is mentioned in the Bible as follows:
The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.
50 If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.
51 And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee:
52 This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.
Laban extracts a vow from Jacob that he shall not take any more wives than the ones he had given – Laban’s two daughters.
Now let us revert to Hammurabi’s law no 144:
If a man take a wife and this woman give her husband a maid-servant, and she bear him children, but this man wishes to take another wife, this shall not be permitted to him; he shall not take a second wife.
What Laban did was that he was merely enforcing that law no 144 on Jacob. Hammurabi’s code must have seeped into the consciousness of the Syrians by then, as unlike the Ten Commandments, which became an esoteric set of Rules for the Israelites, Hammurabi had directed every town/ city to rear a cylinder with all his 282 laws written and kept for the public to be aware.