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HAMMURABI (ham'ū-ra'bē). The king of the city of Babylon who brought that city to its century-and-a-half rule over southern Mesopotamia, known as the Old Babylonian Kingdom. He was an Amorite, the name given to a Semitic group that invaded the Fertile Crescent about 2000 b.c., destroying its civilization and establishing their own Semitic culture. There has been considerable difference of opinion about the date of his reign, recent scholars favoring 1728-1686.

Hammurabi made Babylon one of the great cities of the ancient world. Archaeologists have discovered that in his city the streets were laid out in straight lines that intersect approximately at right angles, an innovation that bears witness to city planning and strong central government, both little known in Babylon before this time. Marduk, the god of Babylon, now became the head of the pantheon, and his temple, Etemenanki, became one of the wonders of the ancient world. Many letters written by Hammurabi have been found. These show his close attention to the details of his realm and enable us to call him an energetic and benevolent ruler.

Hammurabi began the first golden age of Babylon—the second being that of Nebuchadnezzar, over a thousand years later. He systematically unified all of the old world of Sumer and Akkad (southern Mesopotamia) under his strongly centralized government. The prologue to his famous law code describes his administration: “Anu and Enlil [the sky and storm gods] named me to promote the welfare of the people, me, Hammurabi, the devout, god-fearing prince, to cause justice to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, that the strong might not oppress the weak, to rise like the sun over the black-headed [people], and to light up the land. Hammurabi the shepherd, called by Enlil, am I; the one who makes affluence and plenty abound...the one who revived Uruk, who supplied water in abundance to its people; the one who brings joy to Borsippa...who stores up grain for mighty Urash...the savior of his people from distress, who establishes in security their portion in the midst of Babylon...that justice might be dealt the orphan and the widow...I established the law and justice in the language of the land, thereby promoting the welfare of the people.”

By far Hammurabi’s most famous claim to fame is his law code. The code is inscribed on a magnificent stele of black diorite, eight feet (two and one-half m.) high, found at Susa in a.d. 1902. Formerly it had stood in Babylon, but the Elamites carried it off when they conquered Babylon in the twelfth century b.c. It is now in the Louvre in Paris. At the top of the stele is a finely sculptured scene showing Hammurabi standing before the sun god Shamash (the patron of law and justice), who is seated and is giving the laws to Hammurabi. Beneath the scene the laws are inscribed in beautiful cuneiform characters in fifty-one columns of text.

It is now known that Hammurabi’s was not the first attempt to systematize the laws of Babylonia. Fragments of several previous law codes have been found. Ur-nammu of Ur and Lipit-Ishtar of Isin both promulgated earlier codes, and another was known in Eshnunna. But Hammurabi’s code is the most complete expression of early Babylonian law, and undoubtedly incorporated many laws and customs that went back to far earlier times. Hammurabi did not invent these laws; he codified them.

The monument contains not only the code, but also a prologue and an epilogue, which narrated his glory (a portion of which was quoted above) and that of the gods whom he worshiped, blessed those who would respect his inscription, and cursed future vandals who might deface it. The entire inscription is translated in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the OT (edited by James B. Pritchard, 1950, pp. 163-80) and should be read by students interested in the subject.

The law code itself included nearly three hundred paragraphs of legal provisions concerning commercial, social, domestic, and moral life. There are regulations governing such matters as liability for (and exemption from) military service, control of trade in alcoholic drinks, banking and usury, and the responsibility of a man toward his wife and children, including the liability of a husband for the payment of his wife’s debts. Hammurabi’s code was harsher for upper-class offenders than on a commoner committing the same offense. Death was the penalty not only for homicide but also for theft, adultery, and bearing false witness in cases involving the accused’s life. But the graded penalties show a great advance on primitive laws, and contemporary legal texts show that the harsher penalties were rarely exacted.

Women’s rights were safeguarded. A neglected wife could obtain a divorce. A concubine who had become a mother was entitled to the restitution of whatever she had brought with her or a pecuniary indemnity appropriate to her social position. If a house fell on its owner or a doctor injured a patient, the one who built the house or treated the patient might suffer death, mutilation, or at least a heavy fine.

Students of the Bible are especially interested in the comparison of Hammurabi’s code with the Mosaic legislation of the Bible. There are many similarities. In both a false witness is to be punished with the penalty he had thought to bring on the other person. Kidnapping and breaking into another person’s house were capital offenses in both. The biblical law of divorce permits a man to put away his wife, but does not extend to her the same right as did Hammurabi. Both codes agree in prescribing the death penalty for adultery. The principle of retaliation, on which a number of Hammurabi’s laws were based, is vividly stated in Exod.21.23-Exod.21.25.

How are these similarities to be explained? It is obvious that Hammurabi could not have borrowed from Moses, for Moses lived several centuries after Hammurabi. Direct borrowing in the other direction also seems very unlikely. Most scholars today agree that the similarities are to be explained by the common background of the Hebrews and Babylonians. Both were Semitic peoples, inheriting their customs and laws from their common ancestors. At first this explanation seems to run counter to the biblical claim that Moses’ law was given by divine revelation. A closer examination of the Pentateuch will show that the Hebrews, before they came to Sinai, followed many of the regulations set forth in the law (e.g., penalties against murder, adultery, fornication, Gen.9.6 and Gen.38.24; the levirate law, Gen.38.8; clean and unclean animals, Gen.8.20; Sabbath, Gen.2.3 and Exod.16.23, Exod.16.25-Exod.16.29). Moses’ law consisted of things both old and new. What was old (the customs the Hebrews received from their ancient Semitic ancestors) was here formally incorporated into the nation’s constitution. Much is new, especially the high view of the nature of God and the idea that law is an expression of this nature (Lev.19.2).

Formerly many scholars identified the Amraphel, king of Shinar, whose invasion of Transjordan is described in Gen.14.1-Gen.14.12, with Hammurabi, king of Babylon. Recently this identification has generally been given up. The two names are not the same and the chronological problems raised by the new late date for Hammurabi makes their equivalence very unlikely.——JBG

HAMMURABI hăm’ ə rä’ bĭ (Akkad. Ḫammurab/pi [the god] [H]ammu is great; by some identified with AMRAPHEL, ַמְרָפֶ֣ל, of Gen 14:1, 9). Name borne by sixth king of first dynasty of Babylon and by kings of Aleppo and Kurda in early 2nd millennium b.c.

King of Babylon

Political events.

Hammurabi was son and successor of Sin-muballit and father of Samsuiluna. The widely accepted date for his reign is 1792-1750 b.c.; though this is disputed as 1728-1686 (Albright) or 1642-1626 b.c. (Goetze). He inherited a small kingdom centered about Babylon itself. According to the date-formulae of documents from his time and his own account of events given in the prologue to his Laws, he captured the cities of Uruk and Isin in his seventh year, destroyed Malgum, warred against Emutbal and attacked Rapiqum. The same sources state that between his eleventh and thirtieth regnal years he was preoccupied mainly with local affairs and the rebuilding of religious shrines, despite an uneasy truce with the neighboring city-states of Assyria and Eshnunna. The lively correspondence from this period found at Mari throws interesting light on the relative powers and is based on information from ambassadors at the court of Babylon. An emissary of Zimri-Lim, king of Mari, wrote him saying, “There is no king who is strong by himself. Ten to fifteen kings follow Hammurabi, the governor of Babylon, a like number Rim-Sin of Larsa, a like number Ibalpiel of Eshnunna, a like number Amutpiel of Qatana, and twenty follow Yarimlim of Yamhad.” In his twenty-ninth year Hammurabi won an outstanding victory over a coalition holding the E of the River Tigris and the way was open for the attack, made two years later, against his old rival Rim-Sin, king of Larsa and Emutbal to gain control of the southern cities. The balance of power was now drastically changed.

Assyria was soon subdued and in this thirty-eighth year the Babylonians crushed Eshnunna by inundation due to diverted waterways. The next year his forces marched against the desert peoples to the NW and rendered the great city of Mari, about 250 m. from Babylon, impotent by the destruction of its walls. This was to prove the northernmost limit of Babylonian conquest at this time. The years till his death in his forty-third year of reign were much occupied with resettling his new frontiers. An abundance of administrative letters and contracts reveal something of the strong character of this king engaged in personal control of matters of war, diplomacy and business, yet fond of good food, hunting and fine buildings.

Economic conditions.

At this time numerous contracts attest the increase in private trading, though the palace (state) played a dominant part in external dealings. The hold over the economy formally exercised by the temple was weakened by the use of manpower in cooperative projects such as harvesting and irrigation, and by royal decree fixing the prices of staple commodities power centered in the person of the king. Access to his presence was freely accorded, and out of the many decisions made there arose a collection of legal judgments commonly called the Laws of Hammurabi.


An eight ft. high diorite stele surmounted with a portrait of the king receiving a scepter and ring, symbols of justice and order, from Shamash, the divine law-giver, was found in 1901 at Susa. It had been taken there in 1160 b.c. by the Elamite Shutruk-nahhunte following a successful raid on Babylon. Fragments of other stelae and tablets bearing copies of the same text show that the monument once stood in the Esagil temple of Marduk in Babylon with copies at other centers. The prologue tells how the king had received a divine call to “make justice to shine forth in the land, to destroy the evil and the wicked, that the strong might not oppress the weak...to give light to the land.” The increasingly diverse elements within the empire required the clear definition of the rights of an individual. Manifold personal indebtedness and a large measure of dependence on slave labor provided both the reason and means of doing this. By stating the wages of agricultural and technical workers and by decreeing release from slavery or debt, the king could largely guide the whole life of the nation. This was done by a periodical decree of “righteousness” (mesharum). In his first full regnal year, as dated by one such decree, Hammurabi made a public pronouncement of the standard of law which would govern the religious and economic life of his peoples. This action has been compared with the so-called “reforms” by the Heb. kings who, by restating allegiance to the Law in the opening year of their rule “did the right (yāšār) in the eyes of the Lord.” Hammurabi’s laws may well date from the beginning of his reign in part, but their final ed. and compilation was undertaken toward the end of his reign when he made a report to his god on his stewardship and exercise of “wisdom.” Two hundred eighty-two paragraphs or jud gments remain, phrased in the form of a summary of the evidence followed by the brief decision. It was decided that “if a son has struck his father they shall cut off his hand” (195). The laws are not comparable to a modern law code, the cases being grouped according to subject, though in only a few cases are they worded as general ordinances having universal application. Because of their specific reference to cases judged by the king, sometimes of an unusual nature (though background detail often is lacking to confirm this) the application of these laws rarely is reflected in the contemporary court cases or legal contracts. The latter were enacted before local judges or magistrates, some of whom sat at the city gate or “ward.” Some of the cases are similar to those recorded by earlier rulers, e.g. Lipit-Ishtar of Isin and Bilalama(?) of Eshnunna. A few bear close resemblance to Heb. laws, though in general the Hammurabi laws do not deal with religious affairs. Punishments included ordeal by immersion in the river, the lex talionis, fines, restitution by labor or in kind and death. Penalties might vary according to the class of the offender, the Babylonians being at this time divided for this purpose into “freeman” (awēlum), “state-dependent” (muškenum) and “slave” (wardum). The laws may be analyzed:

Various offenses and crimes (§§ 1-25).

Property (§§ 26-99)

is covered with special reference to crown-tenants, absconding fief-holders and tenant farmers. Loans of money or seed against an anticipated crop, pledges and distraint played a dominant part in a precarious agricultural existence. However, the man who planted trees was allowed four years for them to bear fruit before repaying capital (§ 60). Hebrew practice was similar, save that any firstfruits in the fourth year had to be dedicated to God (Lev 19:23ff.).

Commercial law (§§ 100-126)

related to partnerships and agencies, sales and carriage of merchandise including liquor. Cases of deposit, distraint and slavery figure prominently, for Hammurabi legislated for an urban community which subsisted on a large body of slave labor and debtors were more severely treated than in the Heb. pastoral groups (cf. Exod 23:1).

Marriage (§§ 127-161)

cases concerned the rights of both parties, dowry settlements, bridal gifts, divorce and matrimonial offenses. Adultery with a married woman resulted in the death penalty for both parties (as Deut 22:22), in the case of rape, in death for the man (as Deut 22:25). Both the Babylonian (§ 131) and Heb. (Num 5:13-22) sentenced the adulterous wife to trial by ordeal. A husband captured abroad (§§ 133-135) had his marriage safeguarded as was the intent of the Deuteronomic prohibition of military or merchant service in the first year of married life (Deut 24:5). The common reference to concubinage (§§ 144-147) and protection for the girl against divorce or reduction to slavery, except for offenses against the first wife, throw light on patriarchal practices (Gen 16:2, 4; 21:8ff.). Remarkably the Heb. attitude which allowed a man to divorce his sick wife (Deut 24:1) is harder than the Babylonian (148). Incest is treated with equal severity in both laws.

The firstborn

had special rights and portion (as Deut 15:21).

Special cases concerning women and priestesses in cloisters (§§ 178-184)

whose support was weakened by the increase in state and private ownership of land reveal a situation applicable to N Babylonia only at this time.

Adoption (§§ 185-194)

included the granting of “sonship” to apprentices and the legal force of oral depositions both to adopt and disown. Violence by an unruly son was met by cutting off the offending limb (cf. Exod 21:15).


and damage to persons and property (§§ 195-208) including pregnant women (21:22f.), a surgeon’s liability in an eye operation, builders of faulty constructions and hire of boats.

Agricultural work and offenses (§§ 241-267)

includes a case requiring the owner of a goring ox to have been warned before further action can be taken (as in Exod 21:28-32).

Rates and wages (§§ 268-277)

for seasonal workers, craftsmen, hire of beasts, carts and boats emphasize the divergences between the urban community for which these judgments were given and the conditions in early Israel.

An appendix concerning slaves (§§ 278-282),

their purchase and sale.

While similar judgments in both the Heb. and Babylonian laws may arise from similar circumstances and a common Near Eastern tradition, they should not be overstressed in the light of the overriding religious purpose and expression in the Heb. legislation.

King of Aleppo

According to texts from Alalah (Syria) two kings of Yamhad bore the name Hammurabi, one (Hammurabi I) ruling c. 1760 b.c. being a contemporary of the king of Babylon of the same name. The name also was borne by a king of Kurda and by an official in the Old Babylonian period.


This king (Gen 14:1ff.) formerly was identified by some scholars with the name Hammurabi, but this is unlikely in that no form of the name with a terminal -el is known. Much depends on the identification of Shinar (q.v.), assuming this to be a northern site (Sinjar?). Albright equates Amraphel with a king named in the Mari tablets, Amud-pi-el (“Enduring is the word of El”).


F. M. Böhl, King Hammurabi of Babylon in the Setting of His Time (1946); G. R. Driver and J. Miles, The Babylonian Laws (1952); D. J. Wiseman, “The Laws of Hammurabi Again,” JSS VII (1962), 161-172; C. J. Gadd, Hammurabi and the End of His Dynasty (1965).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Etymology of His Name, with Reference to Amraphel; His Dynasty

2. The Years Following His Accession

3. Military Operations and Further Pious Works. Inauguration of His Image

4. The Capture of Rim-Sin

5. Various Works, and an Expedition to Mesopotamia

6. His Final Years

7. No Record of His Expedition to Palestine

8. The Period When It May Have Taken Place

9. Hammurabi’s Greatness as a Ruler

1. Etymology of His Name with Reference to Amraphel; His Dynasty:

The name of the celebrated warrior, builder, and lawgiver, who ruled over Babylonia about 2000 BC. In accordance with the suggestion of the late Professor Eb. Schrader, he is almost universally identified with the AMRAPHEL of Ge 14:1, etc. (which see). Hammurabi was apparently not of Babylonian origin, the so-called "Dynasty of Babylon," to which he belonged, having probably come from the West. The commonest form of the name is as above, but Hamu(m)-rabi (with mimmation) is also found. The reading with initial "b" in the second element is confirmed by the Babylonian rendering of the name as Kimta-rapastum, "my family is widespread," or the like, showing that rabi was regarded as coming from rabu, "to be great." A late letter-tablet, however (see PSBA, May, 1901, p. 191), gives the form Ammurapi, showing that the initial is not really "kh", and that the "b" of the second element had changed to "p" (compare Tiglath-pil-eser for Tukulti-abil-esar, etc.). Amraphel (for Amrapel, Amrabel, Amrabe) would therefore seem to be due to Assyrian influence, but the final "l" is difficult to explain. Professor F. Hommel has pointed out, that the Babylonian rendering, "my family is widespread," is simply due to the scribes, the first element being the name of the Arabic deity `Am, making ’Ammu-rabi, "Am is great." Admitting this, it would seem to be certain that Hammurabi’s dynasty was that designated Arabian by Berosus. Its founder was apparently Sumu- abi, and Hammurabi was the fifth in descent from him. Hammurabi’s father, Sin- mubalit, and his grandfather, Abil-Sin, are the only rulers of the dynasty which have Babylonian names, all the others being apparently Arabic.

2. The Years Following His Accession:

Concerning Hammurabi’s early life nothing is recorded, but since he reigned at least 43 years, he must have been young when he came to the throne. His accession was apparently marked by some improvement in the administration of the laws, wherein, as the date-list says, he "established righteousness." After this, the earlier years of his reign were devoted to such peaceful pursuits as constructing the shrines and images of the gods, and in his 6th year he built the wall of the city of Laz. In his 7th year he took Unug (Erech) and Isin--two of the principal cities of Babylonia, implying that the Dynasty of Babylon had not held sway in all the states.

3. Military Operations and Further Pious Works. Inauguration of His Image:

While interesting himself in the all-important work of digging canals, he found time to turn his attention to the land of Yamutbalu (8th year), and in his 10th he possibly conquered, or received the homage of, the city and people (or the army) of Malgia or Malga. Next year the city Rabiku was taken by a certain Ibik-Iskur, and also, seemingly, a place called Salibu. The inauguration of the throne of Zer-panitum, and the setting up, seemingly, of some kind of royal monument, followed, and was succeeded by other religious duties--indeed, work of this nature would seem to have occupied him every year until his 21st, when he built the fortress or fortification of the city Bazu. His 22nd year is described as that of his own image as king of righteousness; and the question naturally arises, whether this was the date when he erected the great stele found at Susa in Elam, inscribed with his Code of Laws, which is now in the Louvre. Next year he seems to have fortified the city of Sippar, where, it is supposed, this monument was originally erected.

4. The Capture of Rim-Sin:

Pious works again occupied him until his 30th year, when the army of Elam is referred to, possibly indicating warlike operations, which paved the way for the great campaign of his 31st year, when, "with the help of Anu and Enlil," he captured Yamut-balu and King Rim-Sin, the well-known ruler of Larsa. In his 32nd year he destroyed the army of Asnunna or Esnunnak.

5. Various Works, and an Expedition to Mesopotamia:

After these victories, Hammurabi would seem to have been at peace, and in his 33rd year he dug the canal Hammurabi-nuhus-nisi, "Hammurabi the abundance of the people," bringing to the fields of his subjects fertility, "according to the wish of Enlila." The restoration of the great temple at Erech came next, and was followed by the erection of a fortress, "high like a mountain," on the banks of the Tigris. He also built the fortification of Rabiku on the bank of the Tigris, implying preparations for hostilities, and it was possibly on account of this that the next year he made supplication to Tasmetum, the spouse of Nebo. The year following (his 37th), "by the command of Anu and Enlila," the fortifications of Maur and Malka were destroyed, after which the country enjoyed a twelve-month of peace. In all probability, however, this was to prepare for the expedition of his 39th year, when he subjugated Turukku, Kagmu and Subartu, a part of Mesopotamia. The length of this year-date implies that the expedition was regarded as being of importance.

6. His Final Years:

Untroubled by foreign affairs, the chief work of Hammurabi during his 40th year was the digging of the canal Tisit-Enlila, at Sippar, following this up by the restoration of the temple E-mete-ursag and a splendid temple-tower dedicated to Zagaga and Istar. The defenses of his country were apparently his last thought, for his 43rd year, which seemingly terminated his reign and his life, was devoted to strengthening the fortifications of Sippar, a work recorded at greater length in several cylinder-inscriptions found on the site.

7. No Record of an Expedition to Palestine:

Unfortunately none of the documents referring to his reign makes mention of his attack, in company with the armies of Chedorlaomer, Tidal and Arioch, upon the rebel-kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. This naturally throws doubt on the identification of Hammurabi with the Amraphel of Ge 14:1 ff. It must be remembered, however, that we do not possess a complete history either of his life or his rule. That he was a contemporary of Arioch seems undoubted, and if this be the case, Chedorlaomer and Tidal were contemporaries too. Various reasons might be adduced for the absence of references to the campaign in question--his pride may have precluded him from having a year named after an expedition--no matter how satisfactory it may have been--carried out for another power--his suzerain; or the allied armies may have suffered so severely from attacks similar to that delivered by Abraham, that the campaign became an altogether unsuitable one to date by.

8. The Period When It May Have Taken Place:

If Eri-Aku was, as Thureau-Dangin has suggested, the brother of Rim-Sin, king of Larsa (Elassar), he must have preceded him on the throne, and, in that case, the expedition against the kings of the Plain took place before Hammurabi’s 30th year, when he claims to have defeated Rim-Sin. As the date of Rim-Sin’s accession is doubtful, the date of Eri-Aku’s (Arioch’s) death is equally so, but it possibly took place about 5 years before Rim-Sin’s defeat. The expedition in question must therefore have been undertaken during the first 25 years of Hammurabi’s reign. As Amraphel is called king of Shinar (Babylonia), the period preceding Hammurabi’s accession ought probably to be excluded.

9. Hammurabi’s Greatness as a Ruler:

Of all the kings of early Babylonia so far known, Hammurabi would seem to have been one of the greatest, and the country made good progress under his rule. His conflicts with Elam suggest that Babylonia had become strong enough to resist that warlike state, and his title of adda or "father" of Martu (= Amurru, the Amorites) and of Yamutbalu on the East implies not only that he maintained the country’s influence, but also that, during his reign, it was no longer subject to Elam. Rim-Sin and the state of Larsa, however, were not conquered until the time of Samsu-iluna, Hammurabi’s son. It is noteworthy that his Code of Laws (see ''''3, above) not only determined legal rights and responsibilities, but also fixed the rates of wages, thus obviating many difficulties.

See Amraphel; Arioch; CHEDORLAOMER; TIDAL, etc.