Erich Lessing

The giving of the law. The Babylonian sun-god Shamash (right) authorizes the law code prepared by the 18th-century B.C.E. King Hammurabi (left). The laws are inscribed on the body (shown in part) of this 8-foot-tall basalt stela, discovered in 1901 at Susa, in the mountains of Persia, and now in the Louvre. In his second lecture, Delitzsch explicitly connected the scene with Moses receiving the Law on Mt. Sinai.

About Hammurabi’s laws Delitzsch later said: “The first and original commands of man’s impulse to self-restraint, and of human society, namely not to shed a neighbor’s blood, not to approach his neighbor’s wife, not to take unto himself his neighbor’s garment, were at least no more sacred and inviolable in Israel than in a typical constitutional state such as Babylon.”

For Delitzsch, the code demonstrated that the moral consciousness of the Babylonians was “much broader and much deeper” than the Israelites’. “We know that even Hammurabi like the later Babylonian kings regarded himself as lord of the earth, and like the German emperors of the Middle Ages aspired to include all tribes under his dominion and by so doing to wipe out all distinction between native and foreigner. Right here lies the difference between the juridicial condition of Babylon and Israel…This developed Babylon into the commercial metropolis of the world.”