Ancient Law Codes

Was Moses a Plagiarist?

Archaeologists discovered several ancient Near Eastern law codes in the first half of the twentieth century. Many of the laws contained in these codes bear a striking resemblance to some of the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament. This fact has forced Old Testament critics to revise their late date for the Pentateuch (Albright, 109). But the relationship between Mosaic Law and the ancient Near East legal codes has also given rise to another form of criticism. Modern critics argue that Moses (or whoever authored the Pentateuch) received his laws from his ancient Near Eastern neighbors. This claim raises an important question for the Bible-believing Christian: Did the Mosaic Law ultimately originate with God or with pagan societies? More bluntly, was Moses a plagiarist?

The ANE Legal Codes

Below is a summary of the ancient Near East legal codes, listed according to rank of antiquity. Most of these legal codes are casuistic in form though some apodictic laws are found in the Hittite law codes. Casuistic laws are framed in conditional language, the protasis introducing a particular scenario and the apodosis rendering a corresponding judgment (hence they are also called “case laws”). Apodictic laws are categorical commands or prohibitions, like those in the Decalogue (cf. Alt, 101-71).

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