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First Law Code Discovered in Israel

Digging at Hazor. In the background are archeologists Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor (left) and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman (Photo by Yoav Becher)

Hebrew University has announced today (Monday, July 26, 2010) the discovery of a law code written on fragments of cuneiform tablets dating to the 17th or 18th century BC.

The code, which parallels portions of the famous Code of Hammurabi, was found on fragments discovered during Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeological excavations this summer at Tel Hazor in northern Israel.

The code was written in Akkadian and refers to issues of personal injury law relating to slaves and masters similar to the famous Babylonian Hammurabi Code of the 18th century BC. Hammurabi’s Code, a set of ancient laws, created in 1790 BC in ancient Babylon and enacted by the sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi, consists of 282 laws.

In the Hazor code, the laws also reflect Biblical principles such as “a tooth for tooth,” the researchers said. Prof. Wayne Horowitz of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology said that so far, words such as “master,” “slave,” and possibly the word for “tooth,” have been deciphered.

“At this stage, it is difficult to determine whether this document was actually written at Hazor, where a school for scribes was located, or brought from somewhere else,” said Prof. Horowitz.

Horowitz is heading a team preparing the fragments for publication. He noted that this discovery opens dialogue to see whether there is a connection between Biblical law and Hammurabi’s Code.

This is the largest batch of cuneiform texts found in Israel.

“These tablets point to Hazor’s importance as a major center for administration and scholarship in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages,” said Professor Amnon Ben-Tor.

The Hazor excavations, sponsored by the Hebrew University and the Israel Exploration Society, take place within the Hazor National Park. A monumental building dating to the Bronze Age is also on the site and may contain additional tablets.

Nicole Jansezian, Assist News Service

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