Hammurabi’s Laws: Text, Translation and Glossary

Written by M.E.J. Richardson Reviewed By Richard S. Hess

For the first time since Driver and Miles’ two-volume edition of 1955, the student now has available a full volume devoted entirely to a critical edition of the Old Babylonian text of the law collection of Hammurabi. An introduction discusses the textual sources as well as the rationale for the presentation of the text in transcription. Richardson then provides the text and a readable translation on opposing pages, allowing for convenient consultation of the two together. Footnotes provide for textual variants (on the Akkadian pages) and for alternative translations as well as distinctive grammatical features (on the English pages). A comprehensive glossary follows with an appendix of proper names, numerals and units of measure. The glossary of more than one hundred pages is more like a lexicon with most lexemes (listed in a manner following The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary) having all their occurrences in the text cited with full transcription and translation of the line. There follows a listing of words by Semitic roots and stems, a comprehensive listing of all verbal forms for each verb that occurs in the law collection, an English-Akkadian index and an Akkadian-English index.

For English readers who wish to study the Old Babylonian language and text of the laws of Hammurabi, this is the best resource available. It is based upon Richardson’s long experience of using the laws as a basic text for teaching university students the fundamentals of Akkadian grammar. It reflects his careful scholarship and breadth of knowledge.

Richardson bases his text on the work of Martha Roth, whose 1995 text and translation appeared in the SBL Writings from the Ancient World Series. Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. However, Richardson’s introduction, glossary and other helps are far more comprehensive and useful for the beginning student. Further, he does not hesitate to disagree with Roth and others where he feels a different reading or text is preferable. Meanwhile Roth has updated her translation, which now appears in volume 2 of W.W. Hallo and K.L. Younger Jr. eds., The Context of Scripture (Brill, 2000). This is the resource that students of the Bible should use for comparative study, as it provides relevant biblical references in side notes throughout the translation. However, it does not have the Old Babylonian text. So Richardson’s work remains the best critical edition available. Indeed, the student interested in comparative biblical associations would be well served by reading Richardson anyway, since not all parallels are presented in Roth’s translation. For example, compare Hammurabi law 109 and Rahab’s role in Joshua 2. Note also law 154 where the verb ‘to learn, know’ is used with reference to sexual relations (see Richardson’s footnote), as in the Hebrew Bible (though with a different verb). There is also much that can be gained from reading the prologue and epilogue regarding the value placed upon social justice, a value not unique Lo the OT law or prophets. Thus students of the English translation, as well as those of the Old Babylonian text, will benefit by consulting Richardson’s contribution.

Richard S. Hess

Denver Seminary, Denver