How is modern law different from the Hammurabi code?

Modern law is different from the Hammurabi code in that it prescribes the same punishments for crimes committed against men and women. In most cases, punishments are less harsh nowadays, in the sense that people do not lose limbs for committing crimes.

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A major difference between the Codes of Hammurabi and the modern laws of today has to do with the nature of their punishments. Today, most criminal punishments consist of time in prison. The Babylonians, on the other hand, did not use incarceration as a punishment. Likely, they would have found it too expensive and troublesome to maintain prisons. Instead, Hammurabi's Code lists punishments composed of payments of restitution, bodily disfigurement, or execution, in certain circumstances. These punishments were more centered around the notion of deterring crimes than rehabilitating criminals.

The sources of these legal codes are also very different. In the United States, for example, the legal code is derived from the Constitution. Elected lawmakers write and institute particular laws and a judicial system ensures that the laws are constitutionally compliant. Today's legal code is meant to reflect the democracy from which it originated. Hammurabi's Code, on the other hand, is based on the edicts handed down by its royal namesake. We do not know how much debate and deliberation went into its development and institution of Hammurabi's Code. However, it is unlikely that there was much debate between the absolute monarch and other Babylonians at the time of its conception.

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The main difference between the Code of Hammurabi and modern law is that it puts forward different standards of justice for different classes of people in society. Though there are undoubted social imbalances in the administration of justice in this day and age, the justice system in most countries still strives for equality. In the Code of Hammurabi, however, it is explicitly stated that different standards of justice apply to three different classes: freedmen, slaves, and owners of property.

In practice, this would inevitably lead to what we may consider in this day and age to be manifestly unjust outcomes. For instance, a doctor who killed a rich patient could expect to have his hands cut off, whereas if he killed a slave, he'd receive no more than a fine. We can safely infer from this scale of punishments that the lives of the rich and privileged were more valued than those of slaves, who counted for little in Babylonian society.

The Code of Hammurabi was much more wedded to the punitive ideal of “an eye for an eye” than most present-day legal codes. The primary purpose of the Code was not so much restoration—and certainly not rehabilitation—as retribution. And such retribution took the form of brutal punishments, such as the cutting off of limbs.

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I would argue that modern law is thankfully less sexist and less barbaric than the Hammurabi code. It is also based on reason rather than religion. Since the Hammurabi code of laws was a collection of 282 rules, it is also evident that modern laws are far more comprehensive.

One of the first things that you’ll notice about the Code of Hammurabi is the harshness of the punishments it dictates. The guilty party would often wind up losing a hand, an eye, an ear, a tongue, or even a breast. The rules were certainly written to discourage crime. If man was found guilty of stealing an ox, for example, he would need to pay the injured party back thirty times the ox’s value. The good news, however, was that the Code was the first time that the notion of being innocent until proven guilty was factored in.

Gender was another factor which played a role in the Hammurabi Code, while being absent in modern law. The punishments doled out by Hammurabi were harsher if you injured a man than if you injured a woman. Socials status also played a role, with slaves being less protected than the wealthy. At least on paper, that is different today, with everyone being treated equally regardless of socioeconomic status.

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The Code of Hammurabi dates to the eighteenth century BC. It was promulgated by the Babylonian king Hammurabi and consists of a preface setting out the rationale for the code and a set of laws. The preface is unlike most modern laws in that it specifically describes the king as expressing and enforcing the will of the gods, while more recent codes tend to be secular.

A major difference between the Code of Hammurabi and most modern laws is that the punishment for a crime depends on the victim's social status and gender, with more severe punishments for injuring a man, free person, or noble than injuring a woman, slave, or poor person, although the laws do include an obligation of the society to take care of widows and orphans.

Next, the Code of Hammurabi accepts and enforces slavery and a social hierarchy based on birth, which is not true of modern laws. It also regulates adultery, which is now considered a personal issue between the people involved rather than a criminal one.

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There are a number of fundamental ways the Code of Hammurabi is different to today. Many of the differences demonstrate the difference in perspectives between people of the ancient world, with people of today. Hammurabi's ancient code assigned punishments that, by today's standards, would be considered cruel and unusual. Also, sometimes if you were accused of a crime, your guilt or innocence would be determined by your ability to emerge from being dumped in the Euphrates River. Today, judges and juries decide verdicts and not your swimming ability, but the superstition of the day dictated that the gods would choose to help a defendant if they were innocent.

The Code of Hammurabi was also much simpler than today's legal systems. The code was posted on a seven-foot-high piece of stone and contained 282 laws. How high would the piece of rock reach in the sky if all of our laws were posted on it? Modern law has more than 282 laws in even the smallest towns. The code of Hammurabi also established different codes for different classes of people, a notion that would be unacceptable in modern law.

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