Both Hammurabi’s code and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are sets of laws written with the purpose of protecting individuals and maintaining order. They share common intentions, yet differ in the values they address. Hammurabi’s code was a set of laws written in the 1700’s BCE my Hammurabi, the king of Babylon, and was influential in developing later systems of laws including the Mosaic Code. The basic tenets directed individuals on how to protect their possessions, keep safe, and how the judicial system should punish wrongdoers. More than 3,000 years later, on December 10th, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly. It represented a global promise to ensure the rights of all individuals, as a vow to never again allow atrocities like the Holocaust to occur. The Declaration of Human Rights consists of a preamble and thirty articles that describe the fundamental and judicial rights of all human beings.
Hammurabi’s Code and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights share the overarching goal of obtaining fairness, justice, and protection for the people the laws pertained to. While Hammurabi’s code focused largely on outlining a system of justice to victims of crimes, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights laid out rules to prevent future violations rights within countries and between countries. Numerous laws throughout Hammurabi’s Code focused on delivering rightful punishment to wrongdoers. For example, a common trend that reappears in the laws is the value “an eye for an eye. ” For every transgression one commits, one is to be punished in the same way. One law states that “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” (laws 196 – 197). This law demonstrates the value of order in society, and that justice is defined in part by the reciprocation of deeds. I believe it also proves that Hammurabi understood the importance of protecting his citizens. His strict system of law and order was meant to frighten individuals from committing crimes, which in turn would protect his citizens from being victimized.
Similarly, the purpose of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is to protect human lives. The laws written in this document tend to focus on basic rights that all humans have and that cannot be abused. For instance, Article 19 states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” This law is not based mainly on maintaining order in society, as in Hammurabi’s code, but rather on recognizing a fundamental dignity that humans are thought to deserve. This shows that the purpose of the Declaration of Human Rights is to acknowledge that people have a certain dignity as human beings that needs to be respected.
Even though these two documents share the common goal of defining basic rights and laws, they differ in the respect of the values they describe as being crucial to maintaining order and morality. In Hammurabi’s code, the overarching value has to do with the importance of attainting justice through fair punishments to wrong-doers, and resolving smaller-scale social conflicts fairly. The first goal of Hammurabi’s code, to achieve justice by dealing out fair penalty, is a reoccurring theme throughout his laws. For example, the 3rd law states “if a man has borne false witness in a trial, or has not established the statement that he has made, if that case be a capital trial, that man shall be put to death.” The law made clear to how the justice and court system was supposed to work, but also how wrong-doers were supposed to be punished. Hammurabi’s code also instructed citizens on more mundane conflicts such as marriage disputes. For example, law 138 states that “if a man has divorced his wife, who has not borne him children, he shall pay over to her as much money as was given for her bride-price and the marriage-portion…and so shall divorce her.” In other words, a man could not simply leave his wife if she did not get pregnant, but had to pay back the money that was given to him when they married. All in all, Hammurabi’s code, consisted of instructions on how to resolve judicial, criminal, and social conflict, and emphasized the value of justice in order to live in a fair and orderly society.
The values embedded in the Declaration of Human Rights have to do with attaining a sense of global morality. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes rights and privileges that all individuals are entitled to and that should not be violated. These include protection against torture and inhumane punishment (Article 5), the freedom to practice religion (Article 18), and the right to education (Article 26). The Declaration of Human Rights does not focus on how to resolve specific conflicts, but rather on how to avoid conflict. In other words, the laws and rights described are for the purpose of averting possible clashes by insisting on a level of respect for all citizens of the world. The Declaration of Human Rights does not specify how to punish individuals who violate the rights described, but rather makes the case that these rights are morally correct and therefore should never be broken. The reason why they shouldn’t be broken is because it would degrade humanity and undermine respect for the human race.
So what does this difference mean? I believe that the distinct values described in Hammurabi’s code versus those explained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights demonstrates how our world has evolved since the times of Hammurabi and ancient Babylon. Hammurabi’s code reflects the mindset that individuals needed guidance on how to live in every aspect of their lives. From judicial to social conflicts, the laws explained how to resolve very specific problems. In contrast, the Declaration of Human Rights, which is a code to the world, focuses not on conflicts or resolutions for specific cases, but rather on creating a common moral mindset. This shift in focus reflects the idea that in addition to laws and rules, morality is also an important part of a just society. Today, the world needs to be reminded on how to treat others respectfully and morally because the most serious conflicts that face humanity are not small problems between citizens that have to do with an unfair business deal or a dead ox that was stolen by a neighbor, but wars, genocides, and persecutions. The laws described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights illustrate the causes for the most pressing conflicts that face our world today.
The differences in values between Hammurabi’s code and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reflect the development of the concepts of justice and morality. It is now not enough to base fairness solely on following rules, but also upon morality.