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Archaeologists Find Ancient Hammurabi-Like Law Code in Israel

Clay Tablet With Law Code
A fragment of a clay tablet unearthed in Israel is shown in this archaeological photo. The tablet has fragments of a law code that resemble portions of the famous Code of Hammurabi. Source: Hebrew University of Jerusalem via Bloomberg

Archaeologists have uncovered for the first time in Israel fragments of a law code that resemble portions of the famous Code of Hammurabi.

The code was found on two fragments of a clay tablet, and is between 3,700 and 3,800 years old, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said today in an e-mailed statement.

The fragments “refer to issues of personal injury law relating to slaves and masters, bringing to mind similar laws in the famous Babylonian Hammurabi Code of the 18th century B.C. that were found in what is now Iran over 100 years ago,” the statement said. “The laws also reflect, to a certain extent, biblical laws of the type ‘a tooth for a tooth’.”

The discovery opens an interesting avenue for investigation of a connection between Biblical law and the Code of Hammurabi, according to Wayne Horowitz of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, who is preparing the law code fragments for publication. The style of the text is similar to that of the Hammurabi Code, he said.

The tablet, written in Akkadian cuneiform script, was discovered in Hazor, in the north of Israel. Words that have been deciphered include “master,” “slave” and a word referring to bodily parts, apparently the word for “tooth.”

The two fragments are the 18th and 19th cuneiform finds from the Hazor excavations, which now form the largest body of documents of cuneiform texts found in Israel. Previous documents found dealt with subjects including the dispatch of people or goods, a legal dispute, and a text of multiplication tables.

The Hazor excavations are under the direction of Amnon Ben-Tor and Sharon Zuckerman of the Hebrew University. Previous excavations were directed at the site by Yigael Yadin in the 1950s and 1960s.

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