Archaeologists excavating Tel Hazor have uncovered a clay tablet dating from the 18th or 17th centuries BCE, describing laws in the style of the ancient 18th century BCE Babylonian lawgiver Hammurabi.
It is the first time a document resembling Hammurabi's laws has been uncovered in Israel. The Code of Hammurabi constituted the most ancient and extensive legal codex in the ancient Near East. Some of the laws are similar to biblical laws, which are believed to have been inspired by the Code of Hammurabi.
"The document we have uncovered includes laws pertaining to body parts and damages. These laws are similar to laws in the Hammurabi Codex, as well as to laws along the lines of 'an eye for an eye,' mentioned in Exodus," said Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology. Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman are heading the team of archaeologists at Tel Hazor who made the find.
The document is written in Akkadian cuneiform, which was the diplomatic language of the period.
Prof. Wayne Horowitz, an Assyriologist from the Institute of Archaeology, has so far deciphered only a few words of the 20-word document, including "lord," "slave" and "tooth." Horowitz told Haaretz the first word he deciphered was the Akkadian word meaning "if and when," which attests to a traditional legalistic structure that led to the understanding that the latest find has to do with law.
Bronze Age Hazor was linked to the great ancient kingdoms of the region such as Mari and Babylonia. "The document found confirms what we know about Hazor from Mesopotamia and Syria. We know that there were scribes in Hazor that came out of the scribal tradition of their period, which was accepted in Babylonia and Syria," Horowitz said. "We are just at the beginning of deciphering the document, and it will take time until we reach an optimal decipherment."
Since excavations at Hazor, in northern Israel, began in the 1950s by the late Yigael Yadin, 19 cuneiform documents have been found - the largest collection of such documents unearthed in Israel in one site.
Among the documents so far discovered are a bilingual text, a multiplication table, and legal and economic documents.
Ben-Tor says that the wide variety of texts indicates that Hazor was an important learning and administrative center at the time, where high-quality scribes worked.