The Birth of Law
The Birth of Law
By Martin Wilson

When Hammurabi, King of Babylon, had established his country's laws, he caused them to be inscribed on clay tablets and exhibited in a public place.

"For," he said, "it would be a scandal if anyone were to transgress through ignorance of the Law."

The people came to admire the tablets, and praised the King for having inspired the creation of such a splendid work of art. But when they learned that from now on they were to be punished for acts that had been customary with them from time immemorial, they were less pleased with the King; and soon whispers of "tyrant" and "despot" began to be heard.

And so, at length, the people arose, and threw themselves upon the tablets and broke them in pieces. And for a while thereafter there was no law in the Land Between the Two Rivers. Then the King caused a second set of tablets to be made, upon which were again inscribed his country's laws. But these he laid up within the recesses of a temple, where only the judges, the lawyers, and the officers of the law were allowed to consult them.

And from then on, the people of Babylon were resigned to being punished for their transgressions. For, like misfortune, their punishments came to them as of old, by the decrees of an inscrutable fate, which can neither be understood nor averted.