Correcting a Common Misconception

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Several times recently, I have seen the Old Testament standard of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," derided as the draconian face of the "Old Yahweh" (whatever that might mean). And indeed, in terms of our present understanding, the standard is harsh. But in fact, for its time, the standard was enlightened.

The Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest sets of written laws, set out the rule for the nation. Nearly everything was punishable by death. If a neighbor killed your son, you were entitled to kill his son. If you lied on the witness stand, you were to be executed. If you stole something of great value, you were to be executed. Hammurabi's code was indeed draconian.

The "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" code is, in fact a moderation of this very strict, very harsh, very difficult code. One could not go from the rule of Hammurabi straight to "turn the other cheek." I suppose if there is development of doctrine among human beings it is because God first led us step by step to the rule of love. As we responded to His gentleness and clear law, we were encouraged to move further, to improve upon it in our behavior. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," was not the "rule absolute" but rather the absolute limits for what one could justly demand. There is no necessity to demand this from another--but in the transaction of law, no more could be taken than was taken originally.

An eye for an eye is not the way we live today, but it was a considerable improvement over the way we lived in Hammurabi's time.

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Fascinating, I had no idea. Thanks for the scoop!

Dear Julie,

Yes. And in fact, if I remember correctly, Hammurabi's code was moderate in comparison to that of Sargon who preceded him.



Sargon! Wasn't he someone from Star Trek?

(just kidding ... but it's amazing how many of those old names that show used)



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 25, 2005 3:12 PM.

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