16 November 2020

BOOK: Pamela BARMASH, The Laws of Hammurabi: At the Confluence of Royal and Scribal Traditions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020). ISBN 9780197525401, 99.00 USD


(Source: OUP)

Oxford University Press is publishing a new book on the laws of Hammurabi.


Among the best-known and most esteemed people known from antiquity is the Babylonian king Hammurabi. His fame and reputation are due to the collection of laws written under his patronage. This book offers an innovative interpretation of the Laws of Hammurabi.

Ancient scribes would demonstrate their legal flair by composing statutes on a set of traditional cases, articulating what they deemed just and fair. The scribe of the Laws of Hammurabi advanced beyond earlier scribes in composing statutes that manifest systematization and implicit legal principles, and inserted the Laws of Hammurabi into the form of a royal inscription, shrewdly reshaping the genre. This tradition of scribal improvisation on a set of traditional cases continued outside of Mesopotamia. It influenced biblical law and the law of the Hittite empire significantly. The Laws of Hammurabi was also witness to the start of another stream of intellectual tradition. It became the subject of formal commentaries, marking a profound cultural shift. Scribes related to it in ways that diverged from prior attitudes; it became an object of study and of commentary, a genre that names itself as dependent on another text. The famous Laws of Hammurabi is here given the extensive attention it continues to merit.


Pamela Barmash teaches at Washington University in St. Louis and has served as director of Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern Studies there. She is the author of Homicide in the Biblical World, the co-editor of Exodus in the Jewish Experience: Echoes and Reverberations, and the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Law.



Chapter One: The Stela of the Laws of Hammurapi and the Representation of Political Power

Chapter Two: Royal Legitimization Through the Establishment of Justice

Chapter Three: The Laws of Hammurabi as a Royal Inscription

Chapter Four: Scribes and Statutes

Excursus: Scribes and Scribal Education

Chapter Five: Adoption in the Laws of Hammurabi

Chapter Six: The Legal Authority of the Laws of Hammurabi

Chapter Seven: The Afterlife of the Laws of Hammurabi: The Continuation of Scribal

Improvisation Outside of Mesopotamia and the Creation of Commentaries in




List of Abbreviations

List of Illustrations



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