Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Noach, Lech Lecha: The Perverted Law Code of Nimrod

For entertainment purposes only.

We now know of the Code of Hammurabi, an Ancient Near Eastern law code. And it is useful for figuring out peshat in various pesukim, as I have discussed previously here.

But what should we think of this law code? Is it good and moral? How does it rate against, e.g. Hurrian law, which seems to be much practiced by the avot and company?

Firstly, it is quite possible that the Torah makes mention of Hammurabi, in parshat Lech Lecha. In Bereishit 14:
א וַיְהִי, בִּימֵי אַמְרָפֶל מֶלֶךְ-שִׁנְעָר, אַרְיוֹךְ, מֶלֶךְ אֶלָּסָר; כְּדָרְלָעֹמֶר מֶלֶךְ עֵילָם, וְתִדְעָל מֶלֶךְ גּוֹיִם. 1 And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim,
ב עָשׂוּ מִלְחָמָה, אֶת-בֶּרַע מֶלֶךְ סְדֹם, וְאֶת-בִּרְשַׁע, מֶלֶךְ עֲמֹרָה; שִׁנְאָב מֶלֶךְ אַדְמָה, וְשֶׁמְאֵבֶר מֶלֶךְ צְבֹיִים, וּמֶלֶךְ בֶּלַע, הִיא-צֹעַר. 2 that they made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela--the same is Zoar.
Some scholars suggest that Amraphel is Hammurabi. That is, gutturals switch off and the peh substitutes for the bet. The same two items are at play on the attempted identification of the Egyptian Hapiru and Ivri.

The Code of Hammurabi gives some sort of divine basis for the laws:
When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.
Meanwhile, a midrash cited by Rashi declares that Nimrod and Amraphel are the same person. The same is present in Targum Pseudo-Yonatan (which shares a basis with Targum Yerushalmi). Rashi states:
Amraphel This is Nimrod, who said (אָמַר) to Abram, Fall (פּוֹל) into the fiery furnace. (Gen. Rabbah) [from Mid. Tan., Lech Lecha 6; Er. 53a, Targum Jonathan]
Nimrod, as we see from this very midrash, and from other sources, is not such a great guy. What are we to think of his law code?

Indeed, in parshas Noach, in Bereishit 10:
ח וְכוּשׁ, יָלַד אֶת-נִמְרֹד; הוּא הֵחֵל, לִהְיוֹת גִּבֹּר בָּאָרֶץ. 8 And Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one in the earth.
ט הוּא-הָיָה גִבֹּר-צַיִד, לִפְנֵי ה; עַל-כֵּן, יֵאָמַר, כְּנִמְרֹד גִּבּוֹר צַיִד, לִפְנֵי ה. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; wherefore it is said: 'Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.'
Targum Yerushalmi explains pasuk 9 as "He was mighty in 'hunting' in sin before Hashem, that he captured people with words, and said to them, 'Distance yourselves from the laws of Shem and attach to the laws of Nimrod.' "

Thus, there is indeed a tradition that Nimrod had a law code, and that it was sinful for people to follow that law code over that of Shem (and Ever). And if Nimrod = Amrafel, and Amrafel = Hammurabi, then the Code of Hammurabi is the perverted law code of Nimrod.


Anonymous said...

R' Yoni Grossman is deeply skeptical of the Amrafel=Hammurabi equation, because (1) if it was Hammurabi, it's inconceivable that throughout the story Chedarlaomer would be leading the battles and not him, and (2) while "-el" is sometimes added to ancient middle eastern names, there is no record of that being done to Hammurabi, though his name is well-attested in ancient sources.

Anonymous said...

I have had the thought you discuss for years, ever since I first learned that Amarafel is identified with Hamurabi.

I also think this is what it is meant when Chzal say Nimrod was called such because he caused the world to rebel against God. (Nimrod=mered). I think the idea is that Nimrod/Hamurabi, through his code, began the age of human reason. Though it does not have to be, and we as Orthodox Jews must deal with it, the focus on reason is always the first step away from devotion to a deity. With the renaisance and enlightenment came protestantism and a general weakening of religious observance. Jews experiecned the same thing in microcosm. Thus, drafting a code of law was the first step in Man leaving the fold of God and rebelling against him,

David Farkas

noony mouse said...

Ibn Ezra says Nimrod was a great person, who built lots of altars and offered lots of sacrifices to God on them!
As in "gibor tzayid - LIFNEI HASHEM"


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