08.02.07 Mt. 5:38-42; Lk. 6:31
Mt. 38 You have heard that it was said,
“An Eye for an eye,
and a tooth for a tooth”(Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21).
39 But I tell you, “Don’t resist an evildoer.”
On the contrary, if someone slaps you on your right cheek,
turn the other to him also.
40 As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt,
let him have your coat as well.
41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile,
go with him two.
42 Give to the one who asks you,
and don’t turn away from the one
who wants to borrow from you.
Lk. 31 Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.
When Jesus told them not to retaliate, not to resist an evil person (a Roman), and walk a second mile when so demanded (an occasional request by Roman soldiers), they were greatly perplexed.
When Jesus said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” He used a figure of speech to say that the punishment must fit the crime, a law that predated the written Old Testament and had numerous counterparts in the Oral Law. When given by Moses, it was for the courts to judge a case and render a legal verdict it was not for an individual response. It was known among the Romans as Lex Talionis and had four important elements.
- The name Lex Talionis was the beginning of mercy for the Romans, an act to establish justice without vengeance although it had been even earlier among the Jews (Lev. 19:18).
- This law was never administered by an individual, but by a court (see. Deut. 19:18).
- Even in semi-civilized societies, this law was never carried out literally. Rather, compensation was required for the following:
- Pain suffered
- Lost time of wages lost
- For indignity suffered
- While this law does call for justice, it is not the embodiment of the Hebrew Bible. Other sections call for feeding one’s enemy (Prov. 25:21).
The ancient law that appears to have been so incredibly ruthless was, in fact, the forerunner of modern liability law. Nonetheless, to make sure there would be no misunderstanding about it, Jesus removed the retaliation element of it. Neither Moses nor Jesus ever denied mercy, but the leading Pharisees and Sadducees were not as kind.
Critics have frequently discussed the issue of several laws of Moses that are nearly identical to those of Hammurabi written centuries earlier. They challenge the inspiration of Scripture, implying that parts of the Hebrew Code are dependent upon the older Hammurabi’s Code. To address this issue, an example of each lawgiver is presented as well as the comment by Jesus in Matthew 5:18. Therefore, the question is,
08.02.07.Q1 Did Moses quote Hammurabi, and if he did, how does this affect the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:18?
This topic is beyond the scope of this paper. However, a brief review is warranted since Jesus made reference to a Law of Moses that appears to have originated with Hammurabi. If one assumes that Jesus referred to the Mosaic Law and not to the Oral Law, then, critics say, He legitimized the Old Testament passages. On the other hand, if one assumes that the quotation by Jesus originated by Hammurabi, then the inspiration of Scripture is challenged. To explain this issue, it is important to briefly step into history.
An archaeological discovery that caused phenomenal controversies occurred at the close of 1901 and at the beginning of 1902. A French archaeological team, excavating at the acropolis of Susa (or “Shushan the palace” in the book of Esther), unearthed a seven-foot four-inch tall stele with one of the longest cuneiform inscriptions ever discovered. It was the legal code of King Hammurabi (1792 -1750 B.C.), the sixth monarch of the first Babylonian dynasty. He expanded the Babylonian Empire that included numerous vassal states. To govern properly, he established a set of 282 laws that were uniform throughout the Empire and became known as the Code of Hammurabi, or Codex Hammurabi. These laws were inscribed on the black diorite stele, and scholars believe that copies were made and distributed. The Code became the standard of conduct and culture throughout the vast section of western Asia. However, some of these regulations existed prior to Hammurabi in the Codex or Code of Ur-Nammu. Hammurabi selected those laws he felt would serve his people best and provide uniformity to his court system on legal and social issues.
Abraham (c. 2000 B.C.), the father of the Jewish people, came from Ur, a city within the ancient country of Sumer (the biblical Shinar). While he predated Hammurabi, many laws of the Codex Hammurabi existed in Abraham’s time. Five centuries later Abraham was followed by Moses who wrote the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. As stated previously, the major problem is that some laws written by Hammurabi are nearly identical to those given centuries later by Moses and Jesus. Note the following:
If a man has knocked out the tooth of a man who is his equal, they shall knock out his
Law No. 200, Code of Hammurabi
22 “When men get in a fight and hit a pregnant woman so that her children are born prematurely but there is no injury, the one who hit her must be fined as the woman’s husband demands from him, and he must pay according to judicial assessment. 23 If there is an injury, then you must give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, bruise for bruise, wound for wound.
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
While the judicial codes of Ur-Nammu, Hammurabi, and Moses were for judicial conformity, these laws did not prevent or limit the extension of mercy on the part of the judges. Both the Hammurabi and Ur-Nammu (see footnote above) codes are arranged in casuistic form, meaning, the law begins with a statement similar to “If a man…” after which the punished is described.
There is one major difference between the codes of Hammurabi and Moses – and that is one of mercy. For many of the 282 laws of Hammurabi, the punishment for a violation was death, even in matters considered to be trivial today. It is unknown if Hammurabi’s judges enforced all laws to their maximum punishment. However, the Mosaic Code is overall far more merciful. It restrained revenge, and essentially stated that punishment must fit the crime.
In spite of some similarities, there are other distinct differences as well. Among the Hebrews, all people had equal rights, even slaves. However, in the Babylonian culture were three distinct societal levels:
- The aristocrats, gentlemen, free citizens, professionals, officers, and tradesmen.
- The poor and freemen who previously were slaves.
Legislation varied for each level. Another distinct difference from the Mosaic Code is that the Codex Hammurabi deals with outward expressions and actions but avoids issues of religion and matters of the heart. Many Greek and Roman laws were similar. However, the Mosaic Law is thus far superior as it has both outward expressions as well as issues of the heart. The latter is illustrated as follows,
- “And you shall be holy men to me” (Ex. 22:31)
- “You shall be holy for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45)
- “You shall be holy, for I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:2)
These three examples are a keynote of the Mosaic Law; that men should be holy in deed and action before God, and this is the message that was reinforced by Jesus. Furthermore, when Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said,” He spoke to everyone – Jew and Gentile alike. He gave instructions that one should not retaliate with anger, but respond with love. It is the opinion of this writer, that God ordained some parts of the Code to be copied into the Bible because, at that time, they were part of the universal code of conduct.
If an injury and death occurred, even if it was accidental, a member of an injured clan or tribe had the duty to bring justice to the guilty party. The Old Testament phrase specifically stated this to keep angered justice from becoming a vindictive blood feud. All too often, the punishment far exceeded the crime and any sense of justice.
In the travels of this author throughout the Middle East, he discovered that this ancient tribal law is still being observed in many Muslim countries, especially in the rural areas. His friend, Imad, in Jordan had an experience as follows: Imad is an academic and by nature, is a very careful and observant individual. One day while driving in Amman, a pedestrian darted out in front of his car. This caused an unavoidable accident and Imad was clearly the innocent party. Yet the police placed him in prison to protect his life, until the family of the injured pedestrian said that their demands were met. Only then was he released from prison. Even though Imad was completely innocent, he had to pay for the damages to his car, the hospital bill of the injured person who caused the accident, and the lost wages of the injured. Insurance did not cover accidents of this nature in Jordan in the late 20th century.
Hammurabi’s Law Code was not limited to ancient Babylon, because many surrounding people groups eventually adopted some form of it.  In 2010 Israeli archaeologists digging at a site in Hazor discovered two fragments of a clay tablet written in Akkadian cuneiform that parallels portions of Hammurabi’s decrees. The fragments contained the “tooth for a tooth” provision that appears to be parallel to the Old Testament passage “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  The word from Jesus is that it was time to lay aside the tribal laws and live with compassion and mercy.
Did Moses copy part of the Hammurabi’s Code? Critics have assumed that he did. However, it was because God ordained some parts of the Code to be copied into the Bible because, at that time, they were part of God’s universal code of conduct that long pre-existed Moses and Hammurabi. For example, when Noah built the ark, he acknowledged the differences between clean and unclean animals – centuries before Moses wrote about them.
“Don’t resist an evildoer.” It hardly seems right that one should not resist evil. The word “resist” is a Hebraism that also reads, “Do not agree with an evil person,” or “do not fight an evil person.” While the word is translated correctly, its meaning is more encompassing and includes Psalm 37:1, 8 and Proverbs 24:19.
“If someone slaps you on your right cheek.” This phrase has nothing to do with physical violence, but has everything to do with insults. Notice that the slap is on the right cheek, not left. For one to slap another person on the right cheek, he would need to use his left hand. For centuries the right hand was symbolic of authority and blessings while the left hand was for personal hygiene and cursing. In this phrase, the cursing hand was used to slap someone. Furthermore, to slap someone with the back of the hand was considered twice as insulting as if he was hit with the palm of the hand.
“Turn the other to him also.” The reason Jesus said to turn the cheek was not to accept additional physical violence, but by doing so the victim disarms the individual who initiated the insult. Disarming the verbal assault with love is the preferred solution to returning insult with insult. The Apostle Paul essentially said the same thing – not to repay evil for evil – in Romans 12:17. Again, righteous Jews at the time already observed this command of love as preserved in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I will repay on one with evil; I shall pursue him with goodness, for with God is the Judgment of all living.
Dead Sea Scroll 1QS 10:18; CD 8:5-6
The Dead Sea Scroll CD 8:5-6 and scroll fragment (1QS 10:18 demonstrate that this command was practiced by some Jewish people – namely the Essenes. But that may have been only to members of the Essene community because their Manuel of Discipline says to love all children of light (Essene members) but hate all children of darkness (non-members).
Other rabbinic writings indicate that it was observed among righteous Jews elsewhere as well. However, the fact that it appears in the Didache, is evidence that the command was taught by the early church, and also for a first century authorship of the book of Matthew (an opinion that critics oppose).
Abstain from gratifying the carnal [and bodily] impulses. When anyone gives you a blow on the right cheek, turn to him the other as well, and be perfect; when anyone forces you to go one mile with him, go two with him; when anyone takes your cloak away, give him your coat also; when anyone robs you of your property, demand no return.
Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) 1:4
“For the one who wants to sue you.” The Jews had a village court where the magista served as a judge. However, if a case came before a higher court, the oath was imposed upon those who testified by one called a dawar. While there was a judicial system, the Talmud was highly critical of the Jew who took another Jew to court, especially in a heathen court where the oath was pronounced in honor of a pagan god.
“Shirt, let him have your coat as well.” The coat, known as a cetoneth, was the ancient outer garment. Not wearing one was considered being “naked,” as only the inner garment was then worn. If an outer garment was held for security or pledge for any reason, Mosaic Law (Ex. 22:26-27) required it to be returned by nightfall. Poetic parallelism of Matthew 5:38-42 was used by Jesus to as a memory tool condemning vengeance and vindictiveness. This literary device is also found in the Inter-Testamental book of the Testament of Benjamin.
See then, my children, what is the goal of the good man? Be imitators of him in his goodness because of his compassion, in order that you may wear crowns of glory.
For a good man does not have a blind eye,
but is merciful to all, even though they may be sinners.
And even if persons plot against him for evil ends,
by doing good this man conquers evil, being watched over by God.
He loves those who wrong him
as he loves his own life.
If anyone glorifies himself,
he holds no envy.
If anyone become rich,
he is not jealous.
If anyone is brave,
he praises him.
He loves the moderate person;
he shows mercy to the impoverished;
To the ill he shows compassion;
he fears God.
He loves the person who has the gift of a good spirit
as he loves his own life.
Testament of Benjamin 4:1-5
“And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” The word forces is from the Greek term aggareuein, meaning to compel. The origin of the word is from a Persian custom when couriers were authorized to force anyone into service for them, if assistance was needed. This practice was later adopted by the Romans. In the Roman world, a soldier could command any peasant into service immediately and he would have to carry whatever load was demanded of him. However, to protect the citizen from military abuse, the soldier could demand that the load be carried only one mile. This is precisely what happened to Simon of Cyrene when a Roman soldier compelled him to carry the cross for Jesus to Calvary. Jesus stated that the generosity of His followers should perform the task to a greater measure than that which was permitted or requested. Therein would the gracious love and kindness of God flow through the faithful believer and be revealed to the lost sinner.
08.02.07.Q2 Who challenged Jesus in various public discussions?
Scholars believe moderate Pharisees were followers of the School of Hillel, but those who frequently challenged Jesus were:
- Wealthy leading Pharisee; the aristocratic elders of this sect,
- Spies for the Herodian families (Herodians) and
- Followers of the School of Shammai
- The Sadducees
As has been previously stated, while the total number of Pharisees was only six thousand, they were quite influential in shaping the religious structure of the culture. Modern students often condemn all of them for being hypocritical, but Jesus said this only of the leaders of the sect. The common Pharisees who ruled the local synagogues were kind and caring men who performed their duties as best as they could. However, many were manipulated by their leadership.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 152.
. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:163-65; Ryken, Wilhoit, and Longman, eds., “Eye, Sight.” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. 255-56.
. See Appendix 26.
. The oldest known code of law is a shorter legal codex known as the Code of Ur-Nammu of ancient Ur. It is of the same geographical area, predates Hammurabi by three centuries (2100-2050 B.C.), and has only 32 laws written in the Sumerian the Law. Law number 22 reads, “If a man knocks out a tooth of another man, he shall pay two shekels of silver.”
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 152.
. Clay, Light on the Old Testament. 207-08. Because the Jews experienced slavery and thankfulness was one (# 10) of their Eighteen Benedictions, for a Jew to call another Jews “a slave” could subject him to excommunication from the synagogue. See Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:304.
. Adams, Ancient Records. 65.
. Packer, Tenney, and White, eds., The Bible Almanac. 380-96.
. Israel National News, July 26, 2010, reprinted in “Hammurabi-like Law Code Found at Hazor.” Artifax 25:4 (Autumn 2010). 8.
. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 412.
. Cited by Smith, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew. 102.
. Dead Sea Scroll Manuel of Discipline 1QS 1:4-10; 9:21-22.
. Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kamma 113B.
. See 15.02.09.Q1
. The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives. See 01.02.04.
. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 2:826.
. Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook. 15.
. Gilbrant, “Matthew.” 99; Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:168.
. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 412; Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 181.
. New International Version Study Bible note on Leviticus 24:20.
. Josephus, Antiquities 17.2.4.