Sample Critical Thinking On The Prologue To Hammurabi’s Laws
King Hammurabi’s laws were concise and unrelenting. Unlike many laws we see today, there came with the laws a prologue, dictating how Hammurabi was dubbed a King by the gods themselves. It speaks to how he worships the gods, but was also beget by the gods. A critical analysis of the prologue show embellishments that suggest Hammurabi was desperate for citizens to believe him and follow his command, and he believed that a bestowal of godly verification was the only way to get what he desired. He uses a constant flow of words, disallowing citizens to think about what he is saying, all the while spewing lies. It is clear that it is all an effort to gain more control over Babylon.
It is unclear why Hammurabi chose such a desperate way of subjugating his people into believing him or following his whims. For the time, it is not as though the population could easily verify his birth, or even that the gods Anu and Enlil did not exist. There were no encyclopedias, or internet. Citizens lived and died by their beliefs in the gods. The prologue outlining Hammurabi’s contact with the gods, as well as their involvement with his prince-hood appears too lengthy, and sounds rather desperate. Still, Hammurabi states in the prologue that, “The gods Anu and Enlil, for the enhancement of the well-being of the people, named me by my name: Hammurabi, the pious prince .” Perhaps Hammurabi believed that his laws would be taken more seriously, or face less disobedience if he were believed to have been named a prince directly by the gods. One might think this would be enough to convince the masses of his credibility as a lawmaker, but as the prologue continues, the reader sees Hammurabi turns to scare tactics to convince his audience further that he should be obeyed.
As if being named the pious prince of Babylon was not enough to give one the authority to assert laws throughout the land, Hammurabi thought it best to also strike fear into the hearts of citizens. He evidently did not believe prince-hood granted by the gods would be sufficient for citizens to follow his rules. Fear tactics were perhaps used in case some citizens questioned the authenticity of his involvement with gods, or his royalty. Hammurabi begins by comparing himself to a, “dragon among kings, beloved brother of the god Zababa .” Now not only is he a king, instead of a prince, but he will also attack with the ferocity of the mythical creature that, at this time was believed to be real, and is related to a god. Again, the language gives readers little time to assess the lies Hammurabi is telling. Instead their first response is likely fear. He uses the prologue to further circumvent citizens who would think to disobey him, calling himself a, “fierce wild bull who gores the enemy, beloved of the god Tutu,” as a verbal assault. Though he does not say specifically, it is implied the enemy is anybody who stands against what the gods want. Because Hammurabi has been named the prince and, therefore, the lawmaker, by the gods, anybody who dared to stand against the laws would be proclaimed the enemy. As such, Hammurabi would maul them as he acted like a wild bull. Not to mention the fact that he states he is beloved by a god named Tutu who most likely would find it unsavory if any citizens stood against laws declared by a prince of Anu and Enlil. Thus, the prologue would likely scare citizens into believing, and even worshipping Hammurabi before they even read the laws.
While scare tactics are often effective in attempting to control the masses, Hammurabi also attempts to appeal to his reader’s fear of the gods themselves by insinuating he is better than they are. He brags that he, “brightens the countenance of the god Tishpak, who provides pure feasts for the goddess Ninanzu, who sustains his people in crisis, who secures their foundation in peace in the midst of the city of Babylon .” Once more, the flow of words is only broken with commas. Readers have no chance to evaluate the claims Hammurabi makes, or how out of control his claims become. Essentially, he begins the prologue only suggesting he was given power by the gods, but now he suggests he is better than they are, possessing so much charm and candor that he admits bringing happiness and sustenance to gods. Typically, gods are known to not seek out just any mortal to satisfy their needs, making Hammurabi’s proclamation much loftier. He is a mortal prince, but such a mortal prince that he was able to cheer the gods, feed them, and befriend them. If citizens read the prologue and believed Hammurabi had consorted with gods as he had claimed to, there would be no limit to his power.
Moreover, Hammurabi states that he has the power to keep peace in Babylon, and will hold his people steady in times of crisis. Firstly, having the power to keep unmitigated peace in Babylon suggests he had godly control. Secondly, referring to citizens as his people negates the existing gods who typically rule the citizens, placing him in the seat of power. Again, he sets himself up to be the voice that citizens listen to over the gods. He further supports himself as one of the gods, stating he has been christened to, “rise like the sun-god Shamash over all humankind, to illuminate the land .” Early in the prologue, he stops identifying himself with common men. Gods also are often blamed for bad times, and adored for good times. If people are happy, it is because a god is showering good things upon them. If they are unhappy, it is because a god has decided to rain desolation down upon them. While Hammurabi’s promise to keep Babylon peaceful may be a reference to his laws, the reference to sustaining his people during crisis suggests the people are now his, and they should follow him as they should follow a god. He desires his laws to be followed as though the citizens were unflinchingly following the rules of a god.
In sum, it appears that Hammurabi was desperate to have his laws followed, and used the prologue as a tool to instill a belief in his credibility before even stating his laws. He used many tactics to manipulate citizens into believing him and following him. For example, he claims to be chosen as a prince by the gods themselves. At the time of Babylon, citizens believed intensely in gods and all they had to teach. Hammurabi’s decree that he was chosen as a prince by the gods would have given him instant credibility. As a second tactic, he attempts to frighten citizens into following him. He promises a fierce anger to be unleashed against his enemies, and implies that anybody who disagrees with him, or the gods, will be a decided enemy and experience this wrath. Furthermore, he indicates he is good friends with gods, and they may unleash their wrath upon unwanted enemies. Finally, Hammurabi goes on to hint arrogantly that he may be better than the gods may. He alludes to the idea that he grants certain gods happiness, and even gives them life, or food. He promises to sustain the people of Babylon, as well, calling them his people, which could mean that he already thinks of himself as a god and demands others treat him as one as well. Under critical analysis, the prologue reads more accurately as a decree to Hammurabi’s induction into godliness, than it does his introduction to laws.
Roth, Martha T., Harry A. Hoffner and Piotr Michalowski. Law Collection from Mesopotamia in Asia Minor. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997. Print.
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