Christian Cyclopedia

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Law Codes.

1. A law code is a collection of laws which has become authoritative for a specific community. The code of Sumerian king Ur-Nammu (sometimes called Ur-Engur) antedates 2000 BC; that of Lipit-Ishtar (Lipiteshtar) of Issin (Isin), Babylonia, stems from ca. 1870–1860 BC (the time of Abraham); that of Hammurabi* was promulgated perhaps ca. 1800 BC. Hittite codes probably stem from ca. the 15th c., Assyrian codes from the 14th c. BC. Many of these ancient laws are casuistic: hypothetical cases are based on common precedent. Ancient Near E codes gen. have no clear parallels to the Biblical practice of setting laws in the form of direct command or prohibition as in the Decalog.* But they have many parallels to Biblical Law. Law 195 of the Hammurabi code: “If a son has struck his father, they shall cut off his hand”; the parallel Biblical law Ex 21:15 sets the penalty at death.

2. The OT law codes are covenant law: law to which a community bound itself in covenant allegiance to God as its overlord (Ex 24:3–8; Jos 24:25). The 1st OT code law is Ex 20:2–17. Ex 20:ca. 21–23, sometimes called Covenant Code, includes civil, criminal, soc., and cultic laws. Lv 1–7 contains directions for offerings and sacrifices. Ex 34:ca. 1026 (some add 22:29b–30; 23:12–19), sometimes called Ritual Decalog, including laws regarding Jewish festivals and cultus. Lv 17–26, sometimes called Holiness Code (or Law of Holiness) esp. because of such passages as Lv 19:2; 20:7–8, 26; 21:8, includes cultic, civic, ceremonial, dietary, and hygienic laws. Dt 12–26, sometimes called Deuteronomic Code, treats esp. of religious, agricultural, martial, soc., and ecclesiastical activities. Isolated laws are scattered through the rest of Scripture.

3. Theol. emphases of OT codes vary. Laws pertaining to the same subject appear in each of these codes presented in varying forms and divergent perspectives, e.g., Ex 12; 23:14–19; 34:18–26; Lv 23; Nm 28–29; Dt 16:1–17. This has led to the suggestion that original Mosaic laws were reformulated by later inspired leaders to make them relevant to changing conditions. Many therefore date the final formulation of the various codes at various times from Moses to Ezra. Some identify the book of the law found by Hilkiah (2 K 22:8) with some form of Dt. The codes are esp. significant for an appreciation of Jewish customs and of the way in which daily life of the community and of the individual was to be related to God. They were God's guide for living for the people of God under the OT dispensation. NH

See also Higher Criticism.

G. E. Mendenhall, Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1955); R. de Vaux, Les Institutions de L'Ancien Testament, tr. J. McHugh, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (New York, 1961); J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3d ed. with supplement (Princeton, New Jersey, 1969); J. Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia, 1959); H. M. Buck, People of the Lord (New York, 1966); The World History of the Jewish People, First Series: Ancient Times, I: At the Dawn of Civilization, ed. E. A. Speiser (New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1964).


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
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Content Reproduced with Permission

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