BIBLE AND SPADE - BY STEPHEN L CAIGER D B - first published at the University Press, Oxford 1936. This Edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.

Chapter VII: THE LAW OF MOSES

HOME | Contents | Introduction | The Influence of Egypt | The Influence of Arabia | The Ras Shamra Tablets | The Code of Hammurabi

How much of the Pentateuchal legislation, history, and teaching which we call 'The Law' is really the work of Moses himself, and how much of it is a later development inspired by him, is one of the main problems of Pentateuchal criticism.
But it has always been, and apparently must continue to be, almost entirely a literary problem, to be solved by the literary evidence.
So far no discoveries of archaeology have materially affected the conclusions of the higher critics in this department.
[Books on this subject are innumerable, e.g. Robertson Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church (1892).
Driver, Literature of the Old Testament (1898);
Oesterley and Robinson, Literature of the Old Testament (1934), and Erith's lucid synopsis in Gore's Commentary (1928).]

Neither Moses nor any of his Ten Commandments have been found upon the monuments.
All that archaeology can do is to illuminate the background of Hebrew legal and religious development,
and to enrich our understanding of its significance.
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THE INFLUENCE OF EGYPT

First among the influences, which moulded the development of the Hebrews, we shall naturally look to Egypt,
where Moses and his people awaited so long the mighty hand and outstretched arm of their Deliverer.

Many massive books have been written on this fascinating subject: [See especially Knight, and Yahuda, op. cit.] all we can attempt here is a very rapid survey of it.
Thus, the musical instruments mentioned in the Bible are all depicted on the Egyptian monuments.
The Hebrew weights and measures are of Egyptian rather than Babylonian origin.
Biblical ceremonial and ritual, at any rate in its later elaboration, show distinct affinities with Egypt.
The tabernacle, for instance, is made of Egyptian shittim wood (instead of Palestinian cedar), and its details of gold, silver, colouring, priestly vesture, and so on, as well as the ritual use of oil, incense, &c., may all be derived from Egyptian origins.
The practice of circumcision was also common in Egypt. 

The sacred boat, made in the form of a chest containing sacred emblems, was a familiar feature of Egyptian ceremonial, being carried in procession on the shoulders of the priests, and has been regarded by many as the prototype of the Hebrew Ark of the Covenant.
The golden cherubs which adorned its lid have been likened to the Egyptian winged figures,
especially the figure of Maat, goddess of Truth,
often seen within the Egyptian ark covering with her wings the sacred disk
[Most authorities, however, derive the cherubs from Assyrian models.].
Many other coincidences have been pointed out: 'most remarkable of all,
the High Priest of Memphis wore as his distinctive badge of office a breastplate and appendages
practically identical with those worn by Aaron.
Such coincidence can scarcely be accidental' (Knight). 

According to Professor Yahuda the influence of Egypt over the early Hebrews has been much underestimated by scholars obsessed by the Babylonian discoveries.
It was in the Nile valley (he claims) that Hebrew as a literary language was evolved,
that most of the early Biblical legends took their final colouring,
that Paradise must be located,
and even that the Book of Genesis was thrown into its present shape.
He certainly succeeds in showing an extensive and hitherto unsuspected vein of Egyptianisms within the language of the Pentateuch, together with a surprising absence of Chaldaean linguistic traits. 

Yet, to the ordinary reader of the Bible, nothing seems clearer than the stern resistance which the early Hebrews set up against the 'reproach of Egypt', against Egyptian idolatry, against city-dwelling, luxury, art, and particularly against that exaggerated interest in the bodies of the dead which was so characteristic of the Nile-dweller.
There is nothing in the Bible to correspond with the Egyptian pyramids, food and treasure for the dead, Book of the Dead, or (save in one or two cases) mummies of the dead.
In fact, nothing could show a greater contrast than the Hebrew and the Egyptian attitude towards the future life, as far as the Old Testament is concerned.
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THE INFLUENCE OF ARABIA

Far more readily assimilated, we may well believe, was the influence of the kindred Semitic culture of Arabia.
Here, as the fifteenth-century Minaean inscriptions [For the date of the Minaean inscriptions see p.80.] show,
the Divine Name JAH
[JAH is the basic element in Jahweh,
that is the Biblical JHWH,
transliterated in the English Bible as 'Jehovah'.]

had survived from the most primitive times.
What may have been the original meaning or root of this mysterious name is still in doubt.
It is found (as Ya or Yau) on Babylonian tablets of 2000 BC
and later, always as a Semitic Deity.
It is found in name-compounds among the Ras Shamra tablets.
It appears again in the Minaean records as the God of Heaven,
whose second name is Love (Wadd),
and Who has His shining Hosts (Sabaoth).
It may well be that here in Midian Moses learnt to call upon the 'Name of the LORD'
[In our Bibles the word LORD(printed in capitals) always represents the Hebrew JHWH,
the Divine Name which the Jews were not allowed to pronounce.]

But, as Rogers remarks [R. W. Rogers, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1908).],
'the question is not where the Name came from, but what Moses put into it.
For into that vessel a long line of Prophets from Moses onwards poured such a flood of attributes as never a priest in all Western Asia, from Babylon to the Sea, ever dreamed of in his highest moments of spiritual insight.' 

Further interesting points arise in the Minaean inscriptions.
God is known as EL, and the several gods of the Minaean pantheon as ELOHIM,
both of which forms appear in the Biblical name for God.
The priestess of Wadd is called a Levite (lawiat);
and there are further verbal identities in the words for the sacrificial cart (mekonah),
the cauldron (mabsal),
a feast (haj),
the tithe (ma'ser),
the congregation (kahal),
the sin-offering (hattath), and so on.
In fact 'the Minaean inscriptions exhibit an extensive correspondence to the Hebrew ritual,
and the vista is open for still more "light on the Bible" when Arabia comes at last to be scientifically explored'.
[J. A. Montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (1934).] 

A small detail of Minaean orthography may also be mentioned:
the letter H is frequently used to indicate a vowel-sound.
For instance Abram would be written either ABRM or ABRHM (Abram or Abraham).
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THE RAS SHAMRA TABLETS

Ras Shamra, on the coast of Asia Minor opposite Cyprus, seems a far cry from Arabia, but there is reason to believe that the Phoenician inhabitants of this place, the ancient seaport of Ugarit, were in some way connected with Kadesh and the Negeb from the second millennium onwards.
[For the best account of the Ras Shamra discoveries, see J. W. Jack, The Ras Shamra Tablets (1935).] 

The site was discovered by Schaeffer and Chenet in 1929, and since then has been systematically excavated.
Among the ruins, some of them remarkably well preserved and exhibiting traces of close intercourse with Egypt, a large number of very interesting inscribed tablets have come to light, dating apparently from the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC,
that is, contemporary with those of Tell el Amarna.
Amongst these tablets are some written in an archaic Semitic dialect, closely akin to Hebrew, and in a unique alphabetical cuneiform script which has recently been deciphered by Dhorme [Dhorme, J.P.O.S. xi.1; W.O.P.187.], Gaster, and others. 

These tablets present a picture in this Syrian seaport of a Semitic culture and religion clearly related to those of Minaean Arabia, and once more many interesting parallels with Hebrew tradition and ceremonial may be drawn, although it seems as yet too early to decide what may be the precise relationship between the two. 

Dr. Jack
[See also Marston, New Knowledge and the Old Testament (1933); The Bible is True (1934).]
gives a long list of technical terms identical with those of the Mosaic Code,
such as the words for Trespass Offering,
Peace Offering, Wave Offering,
First-fruits, Burnt Offering, and the like.
The colony at Ras Shamra admitted to their pantheon such deities as Baal
[As a god of the Underworld and an ancient enemy of Elohim, his name appears as Baal-Zebul.]
,
Ashtaroth, Dagon, and Hathor,
but appear to have accorded special prominence to a supreme deity
known, as in Hebrew, by the name EL,
or in the plural ELOHIM.
The name JAH also appears in compounds.
There is also an interesting reference to a god Salem,
who may be the divinity after whom Jerusalem was named.
And we read of a primeval hero called Daniel, who 'renders justice' to all. 

Historically significant may be the recently discovered (1934) Keret Tablet mentioning a strife between Keret king of Sidon and the people of Asher on the one hand, and Zabulon together with the followers of Terah on the other - 
possibly an echo of the Hebrew invasion.
[Note how the Song of Deborah mentions the defection of Asher, Judges v.17.]

  Further points of interest in these tablets may appear as they are fully deciphered.
Already they are said to show some acquaintance with primitive Biblical tradition?
with Adam, the 'Man from the East', for instance,
and the 'cutting in pieces' of Leviathan [See above, p.16.].
We are assured, too, that the Wilderness of Kadesh is named as the birthplace of their religion.
In a reference upon these tablets to a sacred object called ED (stone of testimony)
Gaster believes 'we may see the prototype of Israel's "ark of testimony" (Eduth),
later interpreted as the receptacle of divinely inscribed "tablets of testimony" '.
For further references to the Ras Shamra tablets, see the Index.
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THE CODE OF HAMMURABI

Hammurabi Stele.

The most interesting and important discovery, however,
in connexion with the subject of this chapter
is the famous Code of Hammurabi
found at Susa by de Morgan in 1901,
and now in the Louvre.

It is a rounded slab of black diorite
[Diorite: an igneous rock composed of feldspar and hornblende.
It had been inscribed in Babylon,
but carried 'captive' to Susa by a Persian conqueror.]

inscribed in cuneiform at the command of Hammurabi king of Babylon about 2100 BC,
surviving almost intact as he left it,
and containing nearly 300 carefully tabulated laws,
with a prelude in honour of the Sun-god,
and an epilogue denouncing a curse upon any one who should deface it.
The publication of this Code
[For full discussion of the Code see C. H. W. Johns, The Oldest Code of Laws in the World (1903);
S. A. Cook, The Laws of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi (1903).
For the Babylonian text (in roman print) and a literal translation into German,
see H. Winckler, Die Gesetze Hammurabi's (1904).]

early in the present century caused great excitement among Biblical students,
for it was seen at once to cast a brilliant light upon Hebrew legislation.
Here were actually commandments on a table of stone, inscribed by the very Amraphel king of Shinar who had fought with Abraham hundreds of years before the days of Moses, and - most remarkable of all -
containing many enactments that correspond exactly with some of the laws laid down at Sinai.
The correspondence was observed to be particularly close
in precisely that section of Hebrew legislation that was claimed by scholars to be most primitive in the Biblical text,
namely, the 'Book of the Covenant' (Ex.xx.22-23).
[Marked as E, but recognized as extracted from an archetype far earlier.]

Here, for instance, are some striking parallels:

 

EXODUS

 

HAMMURABI

xxi.16.

He that stealeth a man ... shall surely be put to death.

14.

If a man has stolen a man's son under age, he shall be slain.

xxi.28.

If an ox gore a man or a woman that they die, the ox shall be surely stoned ... but the owner of the ox shall be quit.

250.

If a mad bull has rushed upon a man and gored him, and killed him: that case has no remedy.

xxi.29.

But if the ox were wont to gore in time past, and it hath been testi?fied to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.

251.

If a man's ox is known to be addicted to goring, and he hath not blunted his horns, nor fastened up his ox: then, if his ox hath gored a freeman and killed him, he shall pay half a mina of silver.

x.2.

If the thief he found break?ing in, and be smitten that he die, there shall he no blood guiltiness for him. (But the Hebrew adds that this only applies to burglary by night.)

21.

If a man hath broken into a house, before the breach shall he be slain and there buried.

x.10.

If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass or an ox ... to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: the oath of the lord shall be between them both, whether he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour's goods; and the owner thereof shall accept it.

266.

If a stroke of God hath occurred in a fold, or a lion hath slain, then the herdsman shall clear himself before God, and the owner of the fold shall meet the disaster to the fold.

x.12.

But if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof.

267.

But if the herdsman is in fault: then he shall restore the cattle which he hath caused to be lost.

   

263.

If he hath lost an ox or sheep that hath been entrusted to him, he shall replace ox by ox to the owner.

x.13.

If it be torn in pieces, let him bring it for witness; he shall not make good that which was torn.

244.

If a man hath hired an ox or an ass, and a lion hath killed it in the open country, that is to the owner.

xxi.23.

The principle of the Lex Talionis, or exact retaliation, e.g. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.

196.

If a man hath destroyed the eye of a freeman, his own eye shall be destroyed.

   

200.

If a man hath knocked out the teeth of a man of the same rank, his own teeth shall be knocked out.

 That the principles of the Code were known and practised amongst the earliest Hebrews seems clear from the patriarchal stories of Genesis, as when the barren Sarah gives her maid Hagar to Abraham for the purpose of raising children (Gen.xvi), or Rachel acts in the same manner with Jacob and Bilhah (Gen.xxx).
However repugnant to later Hebrew notions,
all this was quite in accordance with ancient Semitic law,
as shown by the Code:

144-6.
If a man has married a wife,
and that wife has given to her husband a female slave who has children by him ...
he shall not marry that concubine.
If a man marries a wife,
and she has not presented him with children ...
if that man marries his concubine and brings her into his house,
then that concubine shall not rank with his wife.

Similarly, when we read how Hagar presumed upon her position,
and Sarah dealt hardly with her (Gen.xvi, xxi),
again it was all in accordance with the Code:

It a man has married a wife,
and she has given her husband a female slave who bears him children:
and afterwards that slave ranks herself with her mistress,
because she has borne children,
her mistress shall not sell her for silver.
 

Sarah was, in fact, merciful, for she might have consigned Hagar to slavery:
'The concubine shall be fettered and counted among the slaves.' 

In general, the circumstances of the Babylonian and the Hebrew codes are very similar.
The community is mainly pastoral and agricultural, with a certain amount of commercial organization.
There is a strong distinction between the rights of freemen and slaves.
Family life, marriage, and concubinage are carefully regulated, the rights of the father being paramount.
Contracts are ratified and oaths taken under religious sanctions: the phrases shall bring him unto God (Ex.xxi.6) and shall come near unto God (Ex.x.8) are illuminated by similar expressions in the Code.
In both legal systems wilful murder is regarded as a matter for private vengeance, the relevant laws dealing only with accidental homicide or manslaughter.
There is a similarity in the penalties meted out:
death is frequent in both codes,
together with fines and retributive compensation.
Among the crimes, which fall within the law, witchcraft and magic are included. 

All these striking resemblances led people at first sight to believe that they had found the original of the Mosaic legislation.
It was even used as a rationalistic argument that Moses had after all only 'copied' his famous laws from the pagan Babylonian. [Cf. C. Edwards, The Hammurabi Code (1904).] 

Historically this was not impossible.
The Code of Hammurabi belongs to an epoch far earlier than that of Moses,
but in estimating its possible influence upon the latter,
we have to remember that it remained well known for centuries after its first promulgation.
The slab in the Louvre was only one of many such copies of the Code.
They were broadcast throughout the Babylonian Empire,
and remained a textbook for students up to the days of Ashurbanipal. 

But the opinion is now generally abandoned that the Mosaic 'Book of the Covenant' was in any sense a copy of the Code of Hammurabi.
The Code itself, as recent research has shown, was by no means original:
it embodied or 'copied' laws which had been current for centuries before Hammurabi,
for centuries even before the Semitic occupation of Babylonia.
A comparison of the known Sumerian, Assyrian, and Hittite laws shows
that there were common principles of legislation spread over the whole of the Near East,
and that the statutes of Hammurabi were largely a codification of these,
rather than a distinctive innovation.
As the mainspring and inspiration, therefore, of the Babylonian Code
we must assume some archetypal body of Common Law
infinitely more ancient,
and emanating in all probability from Arabia,
the motherland of the Semites.

'The evidence',
says Cook,
'does not suggest that Israelite legislation was to any considerable extent indebted to Babylonian,
and the parallels which have been observed are to be ascribed most naturally to the common Semitic origin of the two systems. ...
It is to the Arabia of the nomads that we must turn for Semitic legislation in its earliest form.' 

If the conjecture is correct that both Hammurabi and Moses based their legislation on an earlier common original, it would account both for the many resemblances and also for the not less remarkable divergencies between the two codes, the latter showing that there must have been 'an independent history of generations, perhaps of centuries behind them'.
[T. H. Robinson, Palestine in General History (Schweich Lecture, 1929).]
 

We have not space to examine these differences in detail.
In many respects it is now claimed that the Hebrew Code represents a more primitive version of the archetype than the Babylonian.
From the ethical point of view it marks, on the whole, a considerable advance.
The ten varieties of bodily mutilation, for instance, which the Babylonian Code prescribes for various offences, are missing from the Hebrew
[Except in Dt.xxv.12, where the wife's hand is cut off.
In the Code a doctor's hand is cut off after an unsuccessful operation!]
.
In the latter, too, a more humane treatment of slaves is enjoined,
a greater value set on human life,
and a stricter regard for the honour of womanhood.
Finally, the Code has nothing in it corresponding to that twofold golden thread which runs through the Mosaic legislation, the motives of the love of God and the love of one's neighbour.
Jeremias thus summarizes the essential difference in spirit between the two Codes:

'In the Babylonian there is no control of lust:
no limitation of selfishness through altruism:
nowhere the postulate of charity:
and nowhere the religious motif which recognizes sin as the destruction of the people,
because it is in opposition to the fear of the Lord.'

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