Codes of Conduct

As far back in time as c.2600 BCE a ruler of Sumeria named Urukagina found so mujch immoral activity throughout his empire that it became necessary for him to enact prohibitions against the rampant corruption. The long inscription erected by this ruler for the people to comply with is regarded as the first-ever record of social reform, and the code of conduct that was expected of the people was anchored on an ideal of equality and justice.

A few of the many injustices that Urukagina addressed included the unfair use of their powers by supervisors to take the best of collections for themselves; the abuse of one’s official position; the practice of monopolistic groups to extort unbearable prices on needed goods–in short, the same practices that still taint the religio-political in-crowd of today.

By c.2300 BCE the Assyrian civilization had compounded out of the Babylonian and Hittie cultures, and the Akkadian leader named Sargon I had become the supreme ruler–under the designation as “regent of the god Assur”–his influence being over a broad territory that nonetheless remained dependent upon Babylon. Corruption, as usual, interfered with the ideal of keeping an element of balance in civil affairs. Thus around c.2350 BCE laws were being determined and recorded on clay tablets, laws that were declared to have been presented under the authority of the god Nannar.

Approximately eight hundred and fifty years after the Sumerian code of Urukagina, and some five hundred years after the Assyrian laws (or c.1758 BCE), a Babylonian king named Hammurabi decreed a similar code of justice and set up the means to enforce it. Hammurai’s code was engraved on a block of black diorite that stood nearly eight feet high, and the provisions set forth for the public to read and heed was an effort to protect the weak and the poor against injustices as the hands of the rich and powerful. Interestingly, a bas-relief under the 282 paragraphs of the civil code shows King Hammurabi recieving the code from the god Shamash.

It is upon this code of conduct that the priest-editors of the book of Exodus fashioned the abbreviated version of a code of conduct known as the Ten Commandments, and law (anchored in materiality and civil conduct) became enthroned as the soul and backbone of Judaism–as well as the grafted-on spine of Christianity. And of course, the priest-editors of Exodus written in Jerusalem c.800 BCE declared that the Ten Commandments had been written in stone and handed down to Moses by the god Yahweh.

There is a peculiar uncertainty of approach expressed with the opening lines, for omnipotent power should not be anxious about a possibility of being upstaged. But the first four of the ten directives have no moral instructions but do imply the authority of the priest class. And conspicuously absent from this god-given list is any instruction or requirements on treating all persons fairly in all interactions or transactions. Could this possibly be why fundamentalists periodically campaign to have the Ten Commandments poste in all judicial buildings and other public places?

One Response to “Codes of Conduct”

  1. Whoa, I can’t believe how much this post helps! Although, it would be nice if you could expand your thoughts a bit. Thank you for posting and please continue to share your cool insight with everyone.

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