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The Hazor Tablet Fragments: Further Details and Musings

Fragment of Hazor Tablet

Data about the Cuneiform Fragments from Hazor continue to be released.  Here are some of the most recent details: (1) There are two fragments.  One of the fragments is very small indeed. (2) Akkadian words that can be translated into English as “master,” “slave,” and arguably “tooth” have been read.  (3) Wayne Horowitz has been cited as stating that the style is reminiscent of the phrasing of the Code of Hammurabi (i.e., the famed Old Babylonian Law “Code”).  All of these are useful data.  Further details will certainly soon be forthcoming.

Reflections.  At this juncture, (1) It seems that there is the assumption that these two fragments are from a single tablet.  I think that this seems reasonable.  Of course, the best means of determining this sort of thing is a certain and clear join of fragments.  Often, though (in the absence of a certain and clear join), it is reasonable to posit that two fragments are of the same tablet based on the proximity of the fragments (i.e., found in situ next to each other).  Nevertheless, proximity of fragments cannot be considered quite as definitive as a clear and certain join.  (2) Legal texts are very common in the ancient Near East and are attested at numerous sites through the course of time.  (3) Hammurabi is a very famous “Code.”  Nevertheless, “Codes” such as Eshunna and Lipit Ishtar are also known.  Also, note the Middle Assyrian Laws…a fairly large corpus of legal texts (and sometimes the term “code” is used of these as well).  That is, Hammurabi is arguably the most famous “code” (i.e., famous now, in the modern period) but it is not the only extant law “code.” Note: in terms of chronological horizon, Expedition Director Amnon Ben-Tor has recently characterized these fragments as “Mari Age” (Itamar Singer, personal correspondence).   Along these lines, it should be noted that, as Raymond Westbrook (my teacher of all things legal) often stated…the term “law code” cannot be readily used of these ancient Near Eastern texts, as they are not “codes” in anything approximating modern legal codes (as modern legal codes are considerably more extensive).  Thus, I use the term “code” of these ancient Near Eastern texts with Westbrook’s caveat in mind.  (4) Words that can be translated “man,” or “citizen,” or “master,” or “slave” are quite common in legal texts (e.g., , “awilum” meaning “man,” “citizen,” etc. or “wardu” meaning “slave,” or “servant”).  (5) “Shumma Awilum” is a phrase that can be rendered “If a man,” and it is the standard way that each consecutive Law of Hammuarib begins (the same is basically true of the various law “codes”).  As noted above, Horowitz refers to the style of these new fragments as similar to Hammurabi.  This causes me to suggest that something similar to this phrase has been deciphered in the new Hazor fragments.  (6) Within one story Horowitz is cited as saying: that this latest discovery “opens an interesting avenue for possible further investiation of a connection between Biblical Law and the Code of Hammurabi.”  I concur and suspect (as I mentioned in a previous post) that the contours of this discussion were articulated nicely in two recent Maarav articles. 

Christopher Rollston


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