Saturday, June 18, 2011

Did Moses Plagiarize from the Code of Hammurabi?

The Code of Hammurabi (Hammurapi).

Critics of the Bible use to question whether a complex code of laws, such as that which Moses penned, could have been written at so early a time (c. 1446 BC). Their question was answered in 1901. It was then that a French excavator by the name of Jacques de Morgan unearthed a black stone monument (called a stele) more than seven feet tall at Susa in southwest Iran. The monument, which is now on display at the Louvre in Paris, contains 282 laws inscribed on it and is known as the Code of Hammurapi (a spelling scholars now prefer to Hammurabi).
       Hammurapi, an Amorite, was the sixth and best-known ruler of the first dynasty of Babylon. He lived from about 1792 to 1750 BC so it is generally acknowledged that Hammurapi’s code of laws was compiled nearly three centuries before the Israelites were at Mount Sinai. [1] The discovery of these laws and other ancient codes unearthed since then [2] has forever silenced questions about whether or not complex laws existed at the time of Moses. Surely they did.
       But the discovery of the Code of Hammurapi gave rise to another challenge, one that continues to be propagated by critics of the Bible. Critics like to point out that there are similarities between the Code of Hammurapi and the Old Testament laws and then claim that Moses plagiarized or borrowed his ideas on how to govern a nation from Hammurapi. And “Because that was the case,” critics contend, “Moses’ words originated with man, not God, and Moses’ whole story about receiving instruction from God on Mount Sinai goes out the window!”
      Well, in response to this, I’ll start out by acknowledging that Christians and Jews recognize that there are some similarities between the Code of Hammurapi and the Mosaic Law. Allow me to share with you three of the more apparent examples. As you read through them, ask yourself “Does it appear as though Moses plagiarized the Code of Hammurapi or might something else be going on?”


Code of Hammurapi, no. 14:
“If any one steal [3] the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.” [4]

Exodus 21:16:
“He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.”


Code of Hammurapi, no. 8, 22:
“If any one steal cattle or sheep, or an ass, or a pig or a goat, if it belong to a god or to the court, the thief shall pay thirtyfold; if they belonged to a freed man of the king he shall pay tenfold; if the thief has nothing with which to pay he shall be put to death…If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death.”
Exodus 22:1–4:
“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep. If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall restore double.”


Code of Hammurapi, no. 196–197, 200:
If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out. If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken…If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.”

Exodus 21:22–25:
“If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

      So as you can see, there are some similarities. And there are a few other lines that could be compared. [5] But similarities do not prove plagiarism. Most of the similarities in the two sets of laws are limited to the fact that both codes address things like murder, stealing, adultery, kidnapping, etc., problems that every society must address. This is hardly proof of plagiarism. The country I live in, the United States of America, has hundreds of laws concerning these matters as well. So does India, France and Australia. Do the similarities between our laws mean that we plagiarized from these countries? Of course not. The similarity in some of our laws points not to plagiarism, but to the fact that humans are made in the image of God and He has written His Law on the hearts of all people (Romans 2:15). Societies of every stripe know that certain things are wrong (stealing, kidnapping, murder, etc.). And so laws against those things have shown up in codes all around the world for thousands of years. So if similarities in our laws don’t mean that we plagiarized from other countries, why conclude that the similarities between Old Testament laws and the Code of Hammurapi are the result of plagiarism?
      But the critic raises a good question, “What about this peculiar saying regarding an ‘eye for eye’? It seems odd that this saying would end up in both codes if there wasn’t some sort of plagiarism going on.”
      The “eye for eye” statement is certainly the most mentioned example of “plagiarism.” But I want you to notice something in the passage above (no. 196). Hammurapi does not say, “An eye for an eye.” He simply says, “His eye shall be put out.” Moses says, “Eye for eye,” but not Hammurapi. I see no compelling reason to conclude that Moses’ words (“life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,”) are the result of plagiarism. The concepts–that punishment should fit the crime–are similar but the words are different. I point this out to you because I’ve had people tell me, “Hammurapi said “An eye for an eye,” three hundred years before Moses!” Uh, no. That’s not accurate. The wording is different.
      And even if it could be maintained that Moses’ words concerning appropriate retribution were too similar to the Code of Hammurapi to be original, I would still not be troubled, for God may have purposely expressed His will to Moses with words and concepts that the Israelites were already familiar with. Many of the Babylonian laws were already well known in that region of the world at the time of Moses. So there’s a chance that the Israelites were familiar with Hammurapi’s laws regarding equal retribution long before they arrived at Mount Sinai. Rather than give laws to the Israelites with new terms, God may have communicated this concept (equal retribution) in terms the Israelites were already familiar with (eye for eye).
      Other blows to the plagiarism charge include the fact that the remedies and punishments for many of the legal issues are quite different (even as seen in the laws above regarding stealing) and that the Old Testament laws are presented as an expression of a holy God (Leviticus 19:1–2). This is not at all the case in the Code of Hammurapi. Fred Wight, author of Highlights of Archaeology in Bible Lands, comments on this:

The Mosaic Law gives strong emphasis to the recognition of sin as being the cause of the downfall of a nation. Such a thought is entirely lacking in Hammurabi’s Code…Also the great fundamental principle of the laws of God in the Hebrew Bible may be summed up in the words: “Be ye holy, for I am holy” [Lev. 11:45]. Such a principle as this was utterly unknown to the Babylonians as seen in their law code. [6]

Archaeologist, Alfred Hoerth, also comments on this:

The Old Testament law code is religiously oriented, while the others are civil. The Mesopotamians believe the god Shamash gave Hammurapi his law code so people could get along with one another. In the Bible the law code was given primarily so people could get along with God. [7]

      So, while there are some similarities between the Code of Hammurapi and the Old Testament Law, the vast differences between the codes show the plagiarism charge to be without warrant.

For more help on topics like this one and to learn how archaeology has vindicated the Bible, check out my book Archaeological Evidence for the Bible (PDF, e-book, $7.95).

1. Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, 171.
2. The Holman Bible Dictionary states: “Archaeologists now have five cuneiform law codes which were written before the time of Moses: those of Ur-Nammu, Eshnunna, Lipit-Ishtar, Hammurabi, and the Hittites.” The code of Ur-Nammu of the city Ur dates to 2100 BC (Fant and Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible, 60); an excavation at a site called Nuzi in east central Mesopotamia revealed similar laws dating to the fifteenth century BC (Hoerth and McRay, Bible Archaeology, 46).
3. The use of words like “steal” or “knock” that should have an “s” on the end are not typos, but accurate to the original translation.
4. From translation of the Code of Hammurapi at
5. Compare Hammurapi 195 with Exodus 21:15; 206 with Exodus 21:18–19; 209–210 with Exodus 21:22–25; 250–251 with Exodus 21:28–32.
6. Wight, Highlights of Archaeology in Bible Lands, 72.
7. Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, 171.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Two Evidences for Noah's Flood: Fossil Graveyards and Extrabiblical Accounts

The Bible tells us that God judged sinful humanity about 2500 years before Christ with a flood that covered "all the high hills under the whole heaven" (Genesis 7:19). [1] This was a cataclysmic flood that devastated the planet. If this event happened as Moses said, and as Jesus and Peter affirmed (Matthew 24:39; 2 Peter 3:6), surely there should be some evidence for it. Is there? Yes.

Everywhere geologists dig on all seven continents, they find billions of dead animals and plants buried and fossilized inside sedimentary rock made up of sand, mud, and lime that were deposited rapidly by water. Billions of animal remains inside rocks? That’s odd. Animals that die natural deaths rapidly decompose and disappear. Consider the buffalo. Invertebrate paleontologist, Carl Dunbar, points out:

The buffalo carcasses strewn over the plains in uncounted millions two generations ago have left hardly a present trace. The flesh was devoured by wolves and vultures within hours or days after death, and even the skeletons have now largely disappeared, the bones dissolving and crumbling into dust under the attack of the weather.[2]

When animals die today, their carcasses fall to the ground and within months their bones are dragged off by scavengers or, if left alone, they begin to decay under the wear and tear of the elements.

But something different happened with the billions of creatures we find in the fossil record. Their bones are preserved, many of them wholly intact with very little evidence of decay. This has led many paleontologists, geologists and archaeologists to conclude that these creatures were killed during a flood. Their bodies were caught in the mudflow, rapidly buried in the sediment while it was still wet and soft, and then preserved. 

The fossils of billions of dead creatures encased in sedimentary rock all over the world are a powerful reminder of the Flood described in the Book of Genesis.[3]

One of the tablets making up the "Gilgamesh Epic"
In addition to the widespread fossil evidence, archaeologists have unearthed a number of ancient extrabiblical writings describing a catastrophic flood. The Greeks, Hindus, Chinese, Mexicans, Algonquins and Hawaiians all have flood stories.[4] Although there are some differences among the accounts, the parallels are striking. Consider this list of similarities between Noah’s flood and the flood account known as the “Gilgamesh Epic,” found 150 years ago in the ancient ruins of a library at Nineveh. In both accounts:

•  the flood was divinely planned
•  the flood was connected with the defection of the human race from God/the gods
•  advance notice of the flood was given to one individual
•  there was instruction to build a boat
•  the building of a boat, pitched inside and out
•  a storm brings on the flood
•  preservation of the hero’s family and the animals aboard the boat
•  everyone not on the boat is destroyed
•  the boat coming to rest atop a mountain
•  the sending out of the birds after the flood to determine if the world was habitable
•  the offering of sacrifices after the flood [5]

With so many points in common between the Gilgamesh Epic and the Biblical account, it’s not difficult to conclude that both accounts recall a common event. But some critics of the Bible look at the similarities in the accounts and argue that Moses must have stolen his idea for a flood from an earlier source. They have no evidence that this occurred except the similarities in the accounts. But similarities in different reports of historical events don’t prove plagiarism. It is very possible that witnesses with similar details in their stories are looking back to an actual event–in this case the Flood.

The more witnesses who tell a similar story, the more likely the core of the story is actually true. Think this through with me. Let’s suppose you have two books by two different authors lying before you on the coffee table. They are both first hand accounts of surviving Auschwitz, Hitler’s infamous death camp. One of the books was released ten years after Nazi Germany was defeated; the other was released forty years later. As you read the books, you see quite a few similarities in the accounts of what life was like in that dreadful place. Descriptions about the guards, rules, cruelty, lack of food, labor, clothing, all match. Do you tear up the newer book and conclude that the author plagiarized from the other author because there are some similarities? I wouldn’t. I think it would be wiser to conclude that some of the details are similar because both accounts look back to and report on the same event (life at Auschwitz). And so it is with the similarities in the flood accounts. They exist because the accounts look back to the same event, the catastrophic Flood.

But other critics of the Bible aren’t concerned with the similarities in the accounts. They are concerned about the differences between the accounts. And there are differences:

•  the Genesis version is monotheistic
•  the Gilgamesh Epic is polytheistic
•  the God of Genesis is holy
•  the Gilgamesh gods act in unholy ways
•  the arks are shaped differently
•  the names of the boat builders are different [6]

These differences aren’t surprising. As Noah’s descendants spread out from the mountains of Ararat (c. 2400–2300 BC) to the four corners of the planet [7] and the story was told and retold over the centuries, conflicting details crept into different strains of the story. Some critics point to these differences and conclude, “All the flood stories are myths, including the Bible’s!”

But do differences in the stories mean that all of the accounts are myths and that we can’t be confident in any of them? Not at all. Imagine for a moment you are sitting in a courtroom observing a trial. As the day progresses, you notice that the witnesses taking the witness stand are giving some conflicting details of an event. What would you think if the judge threw up his hands and said, “Everyone’s lying!” laid down his gavel, declared a mistrial, and walked out of the courtroom for an early lunch? What would you think about his assessment that everyone was lying? They could all be lying; it’s possible that is the case. But I think it would be wiser to assume that even though there are some conflicting details, one or more of the people on the witness stand is likely giving a more accurate account than others. The goal of the jury is to figure out whose story is most trustworthy.

Critics who discover the differences in the flood accounts and then throw down the gavel and declare them all to be myths are making the same mistake that the judge makes in the scenario above. They are failing to give serious consideration to the possibility that one of the accounts is a more accurate account of what actually happened.

Christians and Jews believe that the Genesis account of the Flood is an accurate account of what happened. Why? Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks offer a succinct overview of the reasons:

The other versions [of the Flood] contain elaborations that display corruption. Only in Genesis is the year of the Flood given, as well as dates for the whole chronology relative to Noah’s life. In fact, Genesis reads almost like a diary or ship’s log of the events. The cubical Babylonian ship could not have saved anyone from the Flood. The raging waters would be constantly turning it over on every side. However, the biblical ark is rectangular––long, wide, and low––so that it would ride the rough seas well. The length of the rainfall in the pagan accounts (seven days) is not enough time for the devastation they describe…The idea that all of the floodwaters subsided in one day is equally absurd…in the other accounts, the hero is granted immortality and exalted, while in the Bible, we see Noah sinned. Only a version that seeks to tell the truth would include this. [8]

To these differences the Holman Bible Handbook adds:

"In the Bible, God is morally outraged by humanity’s perversity. The gods in the Gilgamesh Epic are sophomoric, perturbed, and sleepless at humanity’s noisiness. In Genesis, God’s gracious will is to save those in the ark. The hero in the Gilgamesh epic discovered the coming flood despite the will of most of the gods. [9]

The explanations above coupled with the fossil record are some of the reasons I believe the Genesis account is a superior, more accurate, retelling of the actual event. And ensuring that Moses’ account of the Flood was perfectly accurate would not be a difficult task at all for a sovereign omnipotent God. God may have providentially ensured that one strain of the story, that strain that was passed down through the Jewish people and ultimately given to Moses to compile, edit and write down as Scripture, was kept free from contamination. Another possibility is that although all the stories may have eventually taken on legendary encrustations by the time of Moses (c. 1446 BC), God straightened out the truth of the matter by direct, special revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. However God accomplished an accurate preservation of the details surrounding the Flood is fine with me.

For those of us who believe God is sovereign and can watch over His Word in order to preserve it (Jeremiah 1:12, Isaiah 40:8), for those of us who trust that Jesus knew the truth about the Flood (Matthew 24:37–39), for those of us who believe that “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16), we confidently affirm with Peter that “the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3:6) even if the rest “willfully forget” (2 Peter 3:5). [10]


1. There are good reasons to believe that the Flood covered the whole Earth. Genesis 7:20–21 says, “The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the Earth.” If the flood was only local as some claim, then God’s promise to not flood the Earth again (Genesis 9:11) is broken every time a severe local flood occurs.
2. Carl Dunbar, Historical Geology, 39. Cited in “Questions About Genesis 1–11,” number 37, Willmington’s Guide to the Bible, retrieved on QuickVerse software (version 2.0.2).
3. I anticipate some of you may have questions at this point: Why don’t we find fossils of people if they were killed during the Flood? Isn’t it possible that all of the animals we find in the fossil record were killed in local floods rather than a global flood? How could rain falling for 40 nights cover the top of the Himalayan Mountains? How could all of the animals fit on Noah’s ark? You can find answers to these kinds of questions at Click on “Flood.”
4. Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, 182.
5. Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible: Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums, 21. Also see Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, 195–196.
6. Noah is called Ziusudra by the Sumerians and Utnapishtim by the Babylonians. I think differences like this actually help fight off the charge that Moses was guilty of plagiarism.
7. I hope you won’t label me a flat-Earther because of my use of this term. The apostle John used it in Revelation 7:1 and critics have accused the Bible of teaching a flat Earth. Ridiculous! He was using a figure of speech to describe the extremities of the land in the four cardinal directions: North, South, East and West.
8. Geisler and Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, 183.
9. David S. Dockery, general editor, “Creation and Flood Stories,” Holman Bible Handbook (1992), retrieved on QuickVerse software (version 2.0.2).
10. For further reading see: “The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh” by Frank Lorey at; “A Comparative Study of the Flood Accounts in the Gilgamesh Epic and Genesis” by Nozomi Osanai at

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Bible's Critics Were Wrong Again: Daniel and His Supposedly Invented King

"Belshazzar's Feast" by Rembrandt
The Book of Daniel records for us the final hours of the Babylonian empire before its fall to the Medes and Persians (539 BC). We read that:

Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them (Daniel 5:1–2).

Shortly after this, Belshazzar saw a human hand write a mysterious message on the wall that no one was able to interpret. After Daniel was called in to help interpret the message, he gave Belshazzar the interpretation:

Belshazzar…you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written…This is the interpretation…God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it…You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting…Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:22–28).

That very night Belshazzar was killed (v. 30) and the city of Babylon passed into the hands of the Medes and Persians.
This passage of Scripture was long the target of critics’ cannons. They considered Daniel’s references to Belshazzar “pure invention" [1] and “a historical blunder." [2] Why? The name Belshazzar could not be found anywhere outside the Bible and the ancient historians Berossus and Alexander Polyhistor said that the last king of the Babylonian empire was a man named Nabonidus. [3]
And so the critics appeared very wise pontificating about how the author of the Book of Daniel, not really knowing the real name of the king and writing long after the fall of Babylon, just made up the name Belshazzar. And they appeared to have a case. But, as the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice, said:

If you want to look very wise in the world’s eyes and are willing to risk looking foolish years from now, you can make a reputation for yourself by pointing out the “errors” in the Bible…But these things tend to become explained. As time passes and the data from archaeology, historical investigations, numismatics, and other disciplines accumulate, these alleged “errors” tend to explode in the faces of those who propound them. [4]

PHOTO: Babylonian Chronicle 7, known as the Nabonidus Chronicle

Explode they do. And explode they did with the mid-nineteenth century discovery of thousands of ancient clay tablets in Babylon. These clay tablets, known as the Babylonian Chronicle (see photo above), contain a treasure trove of information about Babylon’s history. They not only mention Belshazzar, they tell us that when king Nabonidus departed for a multi-year stay in the Arabian oasis town of Tema, about 450 miles away from Babylon (in modern day Saudi Arabia), he entrusted the rule of Babylon into the hands of Belshazzar, his eldest son. [5]
Belshazzar’s name has also been discovered on a clay cylinder (photo below) found in Ur in southern Iraq. The cylinder records a prayer by Nabonidus, wherein he petitions the moon god “Sin” for his son “Belshazzar, the eldest son of my offspring." [6]
So there is no doubt today that Belshazzar was a real person and co-ruler with his father on the night Babylon fell. [7]

PHOTO: Cylinder containing Nabonidus’ prayer with mention of his son Belshazzar.  © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
But there appears to be another problem in Daniel chapter five. The passage refers to Belshazzar’s “father” as Nebuchadnezzar (5:2, 11, 13, 18) not Nabonidus. Clyde Fant, Mitchell Reddish and other critics have pointed out this supposed error. [8] But the critics have overlooked something. The word “father” in Aramaic (the language Daniel 5 was written in), [9] like Hebrew, can mean “ancestor” or “predecessor." [10] As Dr. Lawrence Richards points out:

The term is often used in genealogies to indicate an individual who may be a distant ancestor. “Father” was also used in biblical times with the sense of “predecessor” on a royal throne. Even a supplanter like Jehu, who murdered the family of Ahab to set up his own dynasty, is called in Assyrian records a “son of Omri,” the founder of the earlier royal line. A third consideration is that frequently a king like Belshazzar would marry a daughter of the founding line, and in this sense too be the “son” of the “father." [11]

So with some investigation into the original languages and consideration as to how the word “father” was used in the ancient world, another apparent problem evaporates. The critics will have to turn their damaged cannons elsewhere.


1. Free, Archaeology and Bible History, 201.
2. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible, 119.
3. Ibid. and Free, Archaeology and Bible History, 201.
4. Boice, Daniel: An Expositional Commentary, 60.
5. Nearly all of the books cited in my footnotes and many others not cited discuss the archaeological evidence surrounding Belshazzar.
6. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible, 119.
7. The fact that Nabonidus and Belshazzar occupied the top two ruling positions in Babylon, sheds light on Belshazzar’s offer of the third position (rather than second) to anyone able to interpret the writing on the wall (Daniel 5:7, 29).
8. Fant and Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible, 234.
9. The Book of Daniel was written in two languages: 1:1-2:4a and chapters 8-12 are in Hebrew, and 2:4b-7:28 is in Aramaic.
10. The ESV Study Bible, see notes at Daniel 5:1.
11. Richards, The 365 Day Devotional Commentary, June 19, Daniel 5:1, retrieved on QuickVerse software (version 2.0.2).