Middle Assyrian Law Code

Tablet A

Based on a comparison of the translations of

G.R. Driver & J. C. Miles with that of Theophile Meek

This ‘translation’ is based on a comparison of the translations of G.R. Driver & J. C. Miles with that of Theophile Meek. I have not infrequently updated their language from ‘translation English’ to something more in keeping with modern spoken English. If they disagree with each other on a point of translation, I have made a choice and given the other in the notes, often with an explanation for my decision. It has been too many years since I studied Akkadian, so although I looked at it occasionally when there was an issue, I cannot promise I gleaned much from the exercise. It is, in any case, available in the on-line edition of Driver & Miles’s translation. The numbering system (A1, A2, etc.) reflects the fact that this is Tablet A. At some point I will get around to the other tablets which will be numbered B1, C1, etc.
Driver, G. R., & J. C. Miles (1935/1975). The Assyrian laws. Darmstadt?: Scientia Verlag Aalen.
Meek, Theophile, trans. (1969). The Middle Assyrian Laws. In James B. Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern texts: Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
Please report errors to me (link at end of page). -Alan Humm
Summary: This is a collection of casuistic laws, similar to the older and more familiar Code of Hammurabi. This copy is dated from the reign of Tiglath-pileser I of Assyria (12th c. BC). This tablet focuses heavily (although not exclusively) on laws regarding women.

A1 If a woman, either a man’s [1] wife or daughter, enters a temple and steals something from the temple sanctuary and either it is found in her possession or the charges are proven against her and she is found guilty, they are to inquire of the deity and treat her as the deity instructs them.

A2 If a woman, either a man’s wife or daughter, utters a blasphemy or says something disgraceful, that woman alone will be held responsible for her offense; they are not to touch her husband, her sons, or her daughters.

A3 If a man is either ill or dead, and his wife steals something from his house and gives it to either a man or a woman, or to anyone else, they are to kill the man’s wife along with the ones who received [the stolen goods]. And if a man’s wife, whose husband is healthy, steals something from his house and gives it to either a man or a woman, or to anyone else, the man is to prosecute his wife and inflict (appropriate) punishment; the one who received the stolen goods is to return the stolen property, and shall receive the same punishment that the man has imposed on his wife.

A4 If a slave or slave-girl has received anything from a married woman, the slave(girl)’s nose and ears are to be cut off, so that the theft will be avenged and the man shall cut of his wife’s ears. But, if the man lets his wife off, and has not cut off her ears, the slave(girl) is not to lose nose or ears and the theft will not be avenged.

A5 If a married woman has stolen anything from any other man’s house, and has taken property worth more than five minas of lead, the owner of the stolen property is to swear, “I swear that I did not take it and then say that it had been stolen.” If her husband wishes, he may give back the stolen property and ransom her, but he must cut off her ears. If he does not wish to do so, the owner of the stolen property is to take her and cut off her nose.

A6 If the married woman has sold it outside the home, the receiver is to be liable for the stolen property.

A7 If a woman has been convicted of laying hands on a man, she is to pay 30 minas of lead and be caned (20 stripes).

A8 If a woman has crushed a man’s testicle in a brawl, they are to cut off one of her fingers. If, in spite of being bound up by a physician, the second testicle is affected and becomes swollen, or if she has crushed the second testicle in the brawl, they are to tear out both of her nipples(?). [2]

A9 If a man has laid a hand on a married woman, treating her like a little child, and he has been charged and convicted, they are to cut off one of his fingers. If he kissed her, they are to draw the blade of an axe along his lower lip and cut it off.

A10 If either a man or a woman has entered a man’s house and killed either man or woman they shall turn over the murderer to the next-of-kin; [3] He may have them executed, or he may choose to accept compensation in property. Alternatively, if the murderers have nothing of value in their house, either a son or [daughter]…in the house…belonging to….

A11 … of the king, he shall….

A12 If a married woman was walking on the street, and a man has grabbed her, and said to her, “Let me have sex with you,” and if she was not willing and defended herself, but he has taken her by force and raped her—whether they catch him on the wife, or they have testimony [4] that he forced her—the elders are to have him executed. The woman is not to be held responsible.

A13 If a married woman has left her house to visit a man at his abode, and he has had sex with her, knowing that she is married, both the man and the woman are to be executed.

A14 If a man has sex with a married woman either in a temple- brothel or on the street, knowing that she married, the adulterer is to be treated as the husband decides to handle his wife. If the adulterer did not know she was married, he goes free. The husband is to charge his wife, doing to her as he prefers.

A15 If a man has caught his wife with another man, and they have been charged and convicted, both of them are to be executed. <The husband> is not to be held responsible. In the case where he has captured and brought him before the king or judges, and has proven his guilt, if the husband choses to execute his wife, then the man is to be executed as well. [5] If, alternatively, he cuts his wife’s nose off, the man is to be castrated, and his face mutilated. But, if the husband allows his wife to go free, the adulterer is also to be released.

A16 If a man is seduced by a married woman, there is no penalty against him. The <husband> is to impose whatever punishment he wishes on his wife. But if he forced her [6] and has been charged and convicted, he is to share her punishment.

A17 If a man tells another man, “Your wife is promiscuous,” but there are no witnesses, they are to make a contract [7] and go to the river (for the river-ordeal).

A18 If a man tells another man, either privately or in a brawl, “Your wife is promiscuous; I will bring charges against her myself,” but he is unable to substantiate the charge, and cannot prove it, he is to be caned (forty blows), be sentenced to a month’s hard labor for the king, be cut off, [8] and pay one talent [9] of lead.

A19 If a man has secretly started a rumor about his neighbor saying, “He has allowed men to have sex with him,” [10] or in a quarrel has told him in the presence of others, “Men have sex with you,” and then, “I will bring charges against you myself,” but is then unable to substantiate the charge, and cannot prove it, that man is to be caned (fifty blows), be sentenced to a month’s hard labor for the king, be cut off, and pay one talent of lead.

A20 If a man has had sex with his neighbor [11] (and) he [12] has been charged and convicted, (then) he is to be considered defiled [13] and made into a eunuch.

A21 If a man has struck <another> man’s daughter [14] and caused her to miscarry, once he has been charged and convicted, he is to pay two talents and thirty minas of lead, receive fifty blows, and be sentenced to one month’s hard labor. [15]

A22 If a man (other than father, brother, or son) has caused a married woman to go on a business trip with him, as long as he did not know that she was married, he is to swear to this effect and pay two talents of lead to the husband. If he did know that she was married, he is to pay this fine and swear, “I swear that we did not have sex.” However, if the woman says, “We did have sex,” even though he has paid the fine, he is to face the river-ordeal, without contract. If he declines the river-ordeal, he is to be treated as the woman’s husband chooses to treat his wife.

A23 If a married woman has invited another married woman into her house and has given her to a man to have sex with, as long as the man knew that she was married, he is to be treated like anyone who has had sex with a married woman and the situation is to be handled as the husband chooses to treat his adulterous wife. So if the husband does nothing to his adulterous wife, nothing is to be done to the adulterer or the procuress; they are to be released. Alternatively, if the <adulteress> did not know what was going on, but the first woman brought her into her house under pressure [16] and gave her to a man who had sex with her, as long as, when she left the house, she made a complaint that she had been forced, she shall go free; she is guiltless; the adulterer and the procuress are to be executed. If the woman did not make a complaint, however, her husband may impose whatever punishment he prefers on his wife, but the adulterer and the procuress are still to be executed. [17]

A24 If a married woman has deserted her husband, and moved in with an Assyrian, [18] whether it was in the same city or a neighboring city, and he has set her up in a house where she stayed with the mistress of that house three or four nights (while the master of the house was unaware that a married woman was staying there), then, if she is caught, the deserted husband is to cut off his wife’s ears, but take her back. The married hostess is to have her ears cut off as well; her husband may redeem her for three talents and thirty minas of lead, or, if he prefers, she is to be taken away. [19] However, if the host knew that a married woman was staying in his house with his wife, he is to pay an extra third. If he denies it, saying, “I did not know,” they will use the river-ordeal. If the host declines the river-ordeal, he must pay the extra third unless the deserted husband also declines the river-ordeal; in that case the host is ‘off the hook’—it is as if he had been exonerated by the river. If the deserted man chooses not to cut his wife’s ears off, and takes her back, there is to be no punishment inflicted on anyone. [20]

A25 If a woman is still living in her father’s house, but her husband has died, [21] her husband’s brothers (as long as they have not yet divided the inheritance, and there is no son <from the marriage>) are to take any ornaments that her husband gave her, and that she still has. They are to pass what remains before the gods and formally claim it. They are not to be compelled to undergo the river-ordeal or take the oath.

A26 If a woman is still living in her father’s house, but her husband has died, if her husband had sons, [22] they will take any ornaments that her husband has given her, but if he had no sons she will take them herself. [23]

A27 If a woman is still living in her father’s house, and her husband has been making frequent visits, he may take back as his own any marriage-gift which he has given her, but he may not take what comes from her father’s house.

A28 If a widow has remarried into a man’s household, bringing her infant son with her, and that son has grown up in his step-father’s house, but there was never a deed of adoption, he is not to receive from his step-father’s inheritance, or be responsible for his debts. He is to receive his appropriate share from the estate of his natural father.

A29 If a woman has moved in with her husband, her dowry, whatever she has brought from her father’s house, and whatever her father-in-law has given her when she moved in, are reserved for her sons. Her brothers-in-law have no claim to it. But, if her husband survives her, [24] he may distribute it as he wants to his sons.

A30 If a father has brought (or had sent) the betrothal-gift to his son’s prospective father-in-law, but they have not yet married, and then another of his sons (whose wife is still living with her family) dies, he is to give his dead son’s wife as spouse to his other son to whose prospective father-in-law he brought the gift. If the fiancée’s guardian is no longer willing to give his daughter, [25] even though he accepted the betrothal-gift, the father who brought the gift has a right to take the daughter anyway, and give her to his son. But he may, instead, accept back in full whatever he brought <as a betrothal-gift> (lead, silver, gold, or whatever), as long as it was not edible. He will not be allowed to claim things that can be eaten. [26]

A31 If a man has brought the betrothal-gift to his prospective father-in-law’s house but his wife [27] has died, and his father-in-law has other daughters, if his father-in-law [28] prefers he may marry another of the father-in-law’s daughters in place of his dead wife. But, if he prefers, he may, instead, be refunded the money that he gave. But he will not get back grain, sheep, or anything that can be eaten, just the money.

A32 If a woman is still living in her father’s house, but has received her marriage-gift, regardless of whether she has been taken to her father-in-law’s house, she is to be liable for all her husband’s debts, misdemeanors, and crimes.

A33 If a woman is still living in her father’s house, but her husband has died, as long as she has sons, she may live in whichever of their houses she chooses. If she does not have a son, her father-in-law is to give her to whichever of his <other> sons he prefers. ………… or if he [29] wants, he may give her as spouse to her father-in-law. If both her husband and her father-in-law are dead, and she has no sons, she is a legal widow, and may go wherever she wants. [30]

A34 If a man is living together with a widow without having a marriage-contract for two years, she becomes his wife; she may not leave.

A35 If a widow moves in with a man at his house, whatever she brings with her becomes her husband’s. Similarly if a man moves in with a woman at her house, whatever he brings with him becomes hers. [31]

A36 If a woman is still living in her father’s house, or her husband has made her live in separate quarters, and then he has gone to the fields, leaving her no oil, wool, clothing, food, or anything else, nor has he had provisions sent to her from the fields, she is to remain faithful to her husband for five years, not going to live with another husband. If she has sons, who take jobs and earn their own living, she is to respect her husband, not going to live with another husband. If she does not have sons, she is to honor her husband for five years. In the sixth year, she may go to a new husband of her choosing. Her previous husband, on his return, may not claim her; she is available for her new husband. If, however, his return was delayed past five years beyond his control—perhaps he had to flee some adversary, or he was arrested and detained—he may make a claim, provide a women equivalent to his wife, and take his own wife back. Of, if he was on king’s business and it takes longer than the five years, his wife is to respect him and not go to live with another husband. If she has gone to live with another husband before the five years were up, even if she has had children, on his return her previous husband is to take her (along with her children), since she did not respect the marriage-contract, but remarried.

A37 If a man divorces his wife, he may, if he wants, give her something; if he does not want to, he need not give her anything. She will leave empty-handed.

A38 If a woman is still living in her father’s house, and her husband divorces her, he may take back the ornaments that he gave her himself, but may not take back the marriage-gift that he brought, since it permanently belongs to the woman. [32]

A39 If a girl has been given as a pledge for her father’s debt and the creditor gives her to a husband (even though she was not his daughter), [33] then another creditor with an earlier claim comes forward, he is to be paid the value of the girl who was given in marriage. If the second creditor cannot pay, he will himself be taken. If the girl has been treated cruelly, she has no obligation to the man who has mistreated her. If the woman’s husband has indebted himself or become liable in the case, and pays the price of the woman, then the creditor who gave her is off the hook. [34]

A40 Married women, widows, and Assyrian [18] women must not have their heads uncovered when they go out into the street. Daughters of status [35] must be veiled, whether by a veil, a robe, or a [mantle]; they must not have their heads uncovered. When …, …, or…… they need not be veiled, but when the go into the street [alone] they are to be veiled. A concubine [36] on the street with her mistress is to be veiled. A hierodule who has gotten married must be veiled on the street, but a single hierodule must have her head uncovered; she may not be veiled. A harlot is not to be veiled; her head must be uncovered. Any man who sees a veiled harlot is to apprehend her, produce witnesses [37] and bring her to the palace entrance. Although her jewelry may not be taken the one who apprehended her may take her clothing. She will be caned (fifty stripes), and have pitch poured on her head. If a man sees a veiled harlot and lets her go rather than bringing her to the palace entrance, will himself be caned (50 stripes). The one who turned him in may take his clothing. His ears will be pierced, threaded with a cord tied behind him, and he will be sentenced to a full month’s hard labor for the king.
    Slave-girls are not to be veiled either. Any man who sees a veiled slave-girl is to apprehend her and bring her to the palace entrance. Her ears will be cut off, and the man who apprehended her may take her clothes. If a man sees a veiled slave-girl and lets her go rather than bringing her to the palace entrance, and he has been charged and convicted, he is to be caned (50 stripes). His ears will be pierced, threaded with a cord tied behind him, and he will be sentenced to a full month’s hard labor for the king.

A41 If a man wants to veil his concubine, [38] he must assemble five or six of his neighbors and veil her in front of them, and say, “She is my wife.” In this way she becomes his wife. A concubine who has not been veiled in front of witnesses, or whose husband has not said, “She is my wife,” is not a wife; she is still a concubine. If a man has died and has no sons by his veiled wife, his sons by his concubines become <legitimate> sons; they are each to receive a share of his property.

A42 If a man poured oil on the head of a girl of status on a holy-day or brought betrothal-gifts on a festival, the gifts are not returnable.

A43 If a man poured oil on the head of a girl of status or brought betrothal-gifts, but the son for whom he was seeking betrothal has either died or disappeared, he may give her to whichever of his remaining sons that he prefers, from the eldest to the youngest as long as he is at least ten years old; he is to marry her. If there are grandsons less than ten years old, the girl’s father has the option to give his daughter to one of them, or return the gifts equitably. If there are no other sons, he is certainly to return in full whatever he has received—precious stones and anything that cannot be eaten. He is not to return edible goods.

A44 If an Assyrian [18] man or woman is staying in a man’s house as a pledge, or given as payment for a debt (up to its full amount), the <creditor> may flog <the Assyrian>, pluck out his hair, or bore his ears, <if he deserves it>.

A45 If a woman has gotten married, but the enemy has captured her husband, and she has neither father-in-law nor son, she is to remain faithful to her husband for two years. If, during those two years she has no food, she is to come and make a declaration, then she will become a ward of the palace. Her ………is to support her and she will work for him. If she is a peasant’s wife, she ………… is to support her and she will work for him. If her husband had a field and a house in the city as a fief, she is to report to the judges, “I have nothing to live on.” The judge is to make inquiry with the mayor and city elders, and since he had a field in the city as a fief, they will acquire the field and house, in exchange of two years support, and lease them to her. They will provide a contract and she must live there for two years, after which she may go and live with a husband of her choosing; they will provide her with a certificate of widowhood.
    If her missing husband later returns to the country, he is to take his wife back (even though she remarried), but he will not lay claim to the sons she bore to her later husband, rather the later husband is to keep them. He may recover his field and house which were acquired by the state in order to pay for her maintenance, by repaying the cost of the lease (unless he rejoins the king‘s armed service). [39] If, on the other hand, he does not return, but has died in another country, the king may reallocate his house and field as he desires.

A46 If a woman’s husband dies, and she does not wish to leave her house after her husband’s death but her husband has not assigned anything to her in writing, she is to live in whichever of her sons’ houses she chooses. Her husband’s sons are to support her—they are to contract with her to provide her food and drink as if she were a cherished bride. If she is a second wife without her own sons, she is to live with one of her husband’s sons, and they will share her upkeep. If she has her own sons, and the former wife’s sons do not want to provide for her, she will live in one of her own sons’ houses, as she chooses. They will support her, and she will do their <women’s> work. However, if she has married one of her husband’s <other> sons, her husband will provide for her, and her own sons need not do so. [40]

A47 If a man or woman has made magical preparations and they have been found in their possession, they are to be executed. The man who saw them making the magical preparation, or the one who heard of it from an eye-witness (who told him, “I saw it myself”) is to come forward as a hearsay-witness and report it to the king. If the eye-witness denies it, the one he told is to declare it in front of the Bull, son of Shamash, [41] “I swear he said it,” then he has fulfilled his service. The king will interrogate the eye-witness who denied saying it in whatever way he thinks necessary to uncover the truth. <If all else fails,> they will bring the exorcist who will make the man speak. He will say, “You will not be released from the oath that you were made to take in front of the king and his son; you have been warned in accordance with the law [42] that was recited to you in front of the king and his son.”

A48 If a girl has been given as a pledge for her father’s debt and the creditor has her father's permission he may give her to a husband. If the father does not agree, he may not do so. If her father has died, he may ask one of her brothers, who will consult with her other brothers. If one of the brothers announces that he will redeem her within a month, but fails to do so, the creditor may declare the loan in default and give her to a husband, or sell her, depending on the terms of his contract…… her…… him…… them…… them…… him.

A49 ………as a brother……But if the harlot dies, because her brothers declared her in this way…shall divide a share as a brother with the brothers of their mother. [43]

A50 If a man struck a married woman and caused her to miscarry, the striker’s wife will be treated in the same way: he will pay for the unborn child on the principle of a life for a life. But if (the first) woman died, the man is to be executed: he will pay for the unborn child on the principle of a life for a life. If (the first) woman’s husband has no son, and she has been struck causing a miscarriage, the striker will be executed, even if the child was a girl: he will still pay for the unborn child on the principle of a life for a life.

A51 If a man struck a married woman who does not rear her children [44] and caused her to miscarry, he is to pay two talents of lead.

A52 If a man struck a harlot and caused her to miscarry, he is to be struck with the same number and type of blows: in this way he will pay on the principle of a life for a life.

A53 If a woman aborts her own unborn child, and she has been charged and convicted, she is to be impaled and not buried. If she died during the abortion, she is (still) to be impaled [45] and not buried. If some woman hid her when had the abortion, and did not report it to the king………

A54 ………there is not………………slave-girls………

A55 If a man has taken and raped another man’s virgin daughter, dishonoring her (she was living in her father’s house, was not engaged, and her hymen had not been penetrated—since she had not been married), and no one had a claim on the father’s house, [46] the father is to take the rapist’s wife and allow her to be raped, and keep her, not returning her to her husband. It does not matter if the (original) rape was in the city, the open country, at night in the street, in a granary, or at a city festival. The father may give his raped daughter to her rapist. [47] If the rapist has no wife, his to give ‘the third’ in silver (the virgin-price) to her father. [48] Then her rapist is to marry her, and will not be allowed to divorce her. [49] If the father does not approve <of the marriage> he is to be given ‘the third’ in silver for her virginity, and give her to whomever he wants.

A56 If the virgin has given herself to the man (voluntarily), he is to swear to this effect and his wife is to be left alone. The seducer is to give ‘the third’ (the virgin-price) in silver and the father is to treat his daughter as he wants.

A57 Whether it is a beating…………..[of] a married woman, as prescribed in the law, [50] it should be done in the presence of the judges.

A58 In all punishments, from tearing out the nipples, [51] to cutting off (the nose, ears, or fingers) of a married woman, the priest should be called; it should be done as prescribed by law. [50]

A59 Other than prescribed penalties for a man’s wife, a husband may beat his wife, pull out her hair, or mutilate and twist her ears, <when she deserves it>. There is no injunction against this.

The second day of the month Sha-sarate, the eponymy of Sagiu. [52]

Notes

[1] Man throughout is socially upper class, often a property owner. Theophile Meek (ANET, p. 180ff, but also in his other translations of Assyrian legal texts) renders it as seignior. D. Winton Thomas (Documents from Old Testament times) prefers citizen which is better, but still a little stilted in my opinion. I have followed Driver & Miles in simply using man. Other classes of men and women will be indicated in the text by different terms (e.g. slave, etc.). Woman is a female of the same social class as man.

[2] Following Driver & Miles. Meek (with others) reads this as eyes, although nipples seems closer to an ancient’s concept of lex talionis: the testicles impact a man’s ability to reproduce, the nipples are used for child-rearing. The Akkadian tablet is damaged at this point, but even if this is unambiguously eyes, it could still be a euphemism.

[3] Following Meek based on a conjectural restoration. Driver & Miles have owner of the house. Generally revenge issues would be the responsibility (legally recognized) of a surviving male relative. The probability is that the next-of-kin and the house owner were generally the same person.

[4] It is not clear, but likely, that the woman’s own testimony is admissible.

[5] The text does not shift into the passive voice: he is to execute the man. But it is not clear whether he is the cuckold or the judge.

[6] The context is a little strained here: was he seduced or did he rape her? If she was simply raped, she should incur no punishment (see A12), perhaps this means to imply that he has been enticed by her, but has taken it farther than she intended, or alternatively that he seduced (rather than raping) her. The issue continues to strain the courts today. There is not enough here to decide.

[7] The nature of the contract is unclear. Perhaps if the water exonerates the wife, he agrees to some sort of monetary compensation for her embarrassment. It is not clear whether it is the wife or the accuser that must undergo the ordeal (I suspect more likely to be the man).

[8] What will be cut off? Meek thinks he will be castrated, but it is not at all clear. Sometimes this is an expression for being evicted from the community. Being shaved, particularly his beard (a sign of dishonor), is another possibility.

[9] A hefty fine; one talent = 60 minas.

[10] This may be simply an accusation of homo-eroticism. But it may refer to the (more disgraceful) position of simply allowing himself to be used sexually by another man—more or less the role of the modern ‘prison bitch&lrquo; (the proper term is catamite). How common this was in Mesopotamia, I do not know, but it reached a certain level of social acceptability in classical Greece. Whatever it is, it is not regarded positively here. Accusing a man of this (without proof) comes with a slightly stiffer penalty (by ten blows) than accusing his wife of promiscuity.

[11] Or fellow-soldier.

[12] There is some question as to whether the he refers to the man or his neighbor. I suspect the former.

[13] Driver & Miles and Meek both translate this such that it appears that they rape him as part of his punishment. This has a certain logic if we are to understand that he has raped his neighbor in the first phrase. I am assuming that he is labeled a homosexual (with it’s negative cultural baggage), but the third possibility is that the process of turning him into a eunuch defiles him (compare Deut. 23.1).

[14] If she is pregnant, in all likelihood she is married, but note that it is not her husband’s social class in this case, but her father’s that determines the heinousness of the offence.

[15] Presumably laboring for the king, see A19.

[16] Or perhaps false pretenses.

[17] This execution seems to contradict the first judgment of the law which imposes the same penalty on the adulterer and the procuress as the husband chooses to impose on his wife.

[18] An Assyrian is lower class person than what I have translated man and woman. But at least he or she is better than a foreigner.

[19] Divorced.

[20] Although I am not sure how the Assyrian is going to fare in all this.

[21] Under some circumstances (the most likely being that her husband has not yet acquired enough wealth to set up his own house), a married woman may still live in her father’s house, in which case the husband makes conjugal visits. These are the circumstances behind the next three laws.

[22] This may mean sons by an earlier (or higher ranking) wife.

[23] Standing by itself, this contradicts A25, which also allows her brothers-in-law to confiscate the gifts.

[24] Meek reads this as meaning, if her husband divorces her.

[25] Probably because she will now be a second wife, lowering her social ranking in her new family.

[26] This rather convoluted situation is a little hard to follow. Here is the outline:

  1. Son is engaged, so his family has offered an appropriate betrothal-gift to the bride’s family.
  2. Meanwhile another, previously married, son has died.
  3. Under levirate law, the deceased’s wife must be given to his brother. It does not matter that the brother is already engaged (or even married for that matter). Although it was not a general requirement is it appears to be in the Hebrew Bible, apparently it applies here.
  4. This means that the fiancée, if they marry, will have a lower social rank (not so if they had already been married), so her father wants to back out of the deal.
  5. The sons’ father has the option to either force the marriage, or accept the return of the betrothal-gift.

[27] Wife is used throughout this law (rather than daughter, as in the previous law). We are left wondering whether we are to read prospective wife, whether the marriage has gone through, or, for that matter, whether it matters.

[28] This would flow a lot better if father-in-law, in this instance, was the man. We are left frequently wondering who he is at any given moment. If it is the father-in-law’s choice we would expect that he chooses to refund in the second sentence, rather than as it stands in which it appears that the son-in-law chooses to receive the refund.

[29] Somewhere in the longish missing text, the referent of he appears to have changed, probably to her own father (since it would be odd to worded such that the father-in-law gives her to the father-in-law). Note that levitate law does not apply. The difference between this situation and in A30 above may the presence in the former of an unmarried son, but it is not clear. In Jewish law, the issue would revolve around the existence of heirs. There is not indication of that in these laws.

[30] Of course, unless she has money, wherever she wants is not likely to be all that pleasant.

[31] As Driver & Miles read this, the first part (she moves in with him) is marriage, but the second part (he moves in with her) is just for sex, so what he brings with him is payment for sex.

[32] Following Meek. Driver & Miles read this last phrase to mean, He has then met his obligations regarding the woman. This law seems to be in conflict with A27.

[33] Presumably to pay off the debt.

[34] In this extremely confusing law, this is what I think is happening:

  1. A (the father) borrows money from B (the earlier creditor), perhaps without collateral.
  2. He then borrows more money from C (the later creditor) who takes A’s daughter in pledge.
  3. When repayment is not forthcoming C sells (in this case, a better term than gives) her as wife to another man, either for money, or, since he is an investor after all, for some promissory note from the new husband.
  4. Now B comes forward, who actually had first claim on the girl, even if he did not take her.
  5. He can demand from C the proceeds from her marriage-gift.
  6. If C can pay, fine, if all he has is a note from the new husband, he can himself be taken as a sort of pledge, or sold as a slave.
  7. If the husband pays the value of the girl (to C), B gets off, although he is out the money he originally lent to the father (A).
The line about the girl being mistreated seems out of place, but reminds us that contrary to appearances, she is not chattel. It is not clear who is potentially mistreating her: the new husband of the second creditor.

[35] I.e. the daughters of upper class men.

[36] Meek: Lit. a captive woman, the fate of whom was to become a concubine or secondary wife.

[37] Who must be men.

[38] In other words, elevate her to the status of a wife.

[39] Presumably one perk of re-enlisting was that he was able to keep his fief without repaying the state.

[40] In general if a widow remarries she becomes the responsibility of her new husband. This last case is spelled out, just in case her new husband thinks that his brothers should continue to share with him in the cost of supporting her.

[41] The sun-god.

[42] Lit. tablet.

[43] It is not really possible to tell what is going on in this damaged law, but it seems to have to do with circumstances where women inherit or pass on inheritance. My guess is that the harlot is unmarried and that her brothers have declared her a co-inheritor with them. But she has died, so, still guessing, her children divide her portion (of her father’s estate) with her maternal brothers.

[44] The language used here (by both Meek and Driver & Miles) may suggest that she regularly exposes her infants (Roman-style post-partum abortion). Perhaps she has a professional role that prohibits child-rearing. Another translator (unidentified) reads this as in her first stage of pregnancy.

[45] Being impaled is a hard enough way to die, but it was also considered a disgrace, and not being buried falls into the same category. This is why she is still to be impaled (as a public spectacle) even if she has already died.

[46] If there is an unpaid claim, perhaps the rapist can insist he was collecting, for himself or someone else.

[47] On the surface, this seems barbaric, but whether a father chooses this route may depend on his discerning what really happened (but also whether he thinks the man would make a good husband for his daughter). Ancient fathers usually loved their daughters, just as modern ones do.

[48] Either this is a fixed price, or, more likely, the price of virginity was customarily set at a third higher than a comparable non-virgin. How the rapist’s having a wife plays into this, I am not sure, but if he is unmarried, the girl would be joining him as a first-wife, with its accompanying higher status. Perhaps it also buys him some grace.

[49] See Deut. 22.23-27.

[50] Lit. on the tablet.

[51] Same issue as in A8, except here with no lex talonis to lean on. Driver & Miles have breasts, Meek reads it as eyes. I am not in a position to judge between them. Only this: while I am sure the Assyrians were not adverse to poking out eyes, most of the penalties (other than for capital offenses) tend towards disfigurement, rather than making someone a burden on society, so I’m going with nipples.

[52] During the reign of Tiglath-pileser I of Assyria (12th c. BC).

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