The Hammurabi is supposed to predate the Torah and contains a verse "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth". I've done a little reading around the issue, but is there any reference to why there would be an identical quote in this code and in the Torah? Why would there be exactly the same quote before we were given the Torah, considering that we believe that the Torah was recorded by Moshe and dictated by G-d?

Edit: There's a similar question asked, but I would like to expand about why mine is slightly different. It makes sense that the concept of "an eye for an eye" would exist, given that it's a 'logical' principle (mishpat) but this doesn't explain why it is exactly the same sentence. How can it be if the Torah is divinely inspired that someone else written the same quote? While the differences in the rest of the Code and the Torah are obviously important and there are clear differences, this quote is important.

Edit: Also, upon more research I came across the Epic of Gilgamesh. There appears to be the exact same quotes here too, as well as similar stories (Garden of Eden, Flood, etc)


3 Answers 3


It makes sense that the concept of "an eye for an eye" would exist, given that it's a 'logical' principle (mishpat) but this doesn't explain why it is exactly the same sentence.

The phrase "eye for an eye", or anything like it, does not actually occur anywhere in the text of the Code of Hammurabi. The closest thing is ¶ 196, which reads*:

šumma awīlum īn mār awīlim uḫtappid īnšu uḫappadu
"If an awīlu** blinds the eye of another awīlu, they shall blind his eye."

The following ¶¶ 197–201 then lay out similar punishments for an awīlu breaking the bone or knocking out a tooth of another awīlu, as well as lesser punishments (fines in silver) for injuring a muškēnu ("commoner") or a slave.

Thus, it is not accurate to say that the same phrase "eye for an eye" would occur both in the Torah and in the Code of Hammurabi, not even accounting for variation in translation. The same concept is indeed found in both sources, but the manner in which it is expressed is considerably different.

*) transcription and translation by Martha T. Roth, from Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, 1995.
**) a (free) man; while this term is frequently used as the generic subject of the laws in the Code of Hammurabi, context suggests that here at least the specific term mār awīlim (lit. "son of a free man"), used to describe the victim, refers to a member of a specific societal class.


In this answer (unfortunately, in Russian), R' Eliyahu Essas deals with a similar question. He learns that according to our Tradition, the Torah's existence predated the Creation of the world [although it then existed in a different form], and this Torah, as a set of ideas, was expressed through different descending layers of Creation, coming down to the material world.

People of the earlier generations were spiritually sophisticated enough to understand these concepts either by tradition from Adam or by looking at the Creation itself.

He adds another chiddush without sourcing (possibly his own, I don't know). He derives the word Hammurabi from two roots, Ham and rab, where the first is identified with the name of Noach's son, and the second means "great" or "oldest", which suggests the person talked about is the oldest son of Ham, who is named Kush in the Bible.

Bereishis Rabba 42 identifies Nimrod, Amrafel and Kush. R' Essas also suggests that Hammurabi is a variant of Amrafel.

He bring is the Gemara in Eiruvin 53, where Rav holds his name is Amrafel because his words (which R' Essas identifies as laws) brought unclarity or darkness into the world (amr means word, afel - unclarity, darkness).

Shmuel derives Nimrod from marad, rebellion, because he rebelled against G-d.

R' Essas summarizes that Hammurabi was a rebel against G-d, who's laws brought unclarity to understanding of the world. He says that the Hammurabi code does resemble the laws of the Torah, but it was Hammurabi who took them and confused/inverted them in process of adapting them to his own, anti-G-d philosophy. The similarity remains, but the starting point is fundamentally different - to acknowledge the sun as the main god.

So in the beginning of history, humanity starts with closeness to G-d, then there is separation expressed through idol worship and desire to invent own laws, and finally another bringing close by revelation of the Torah to the Jewish people.


The people were accustomed to systems of law in which an eye for an eye was carried out. The Torah therefore says that yes indeed, what is deserved is an eye for an eye.

However, along with that verse came an oral tradition: what is deserved is an eye for an eye, but what we carry out is financial restitution instead -- "a hand for a hand" means that money should change hands.

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