Friday, August 15, 2014

Ancient Building Code



Iraq and Iran have of course been in the American news for the last decades and for evident reasons. These troubled nations’ stories and histories hardly begin in the modern era. Like many of the extant countries in the Middle East and quite a few of those that have faded from sight and been destroyed or assimilated into other people groups and nations, these regions of ancient Syria, Elam, Assyria, and Babylonia have a deep, storied past.

In December of 1901 and January 1902, three large fragments of a block of black diorite stone were discovered by J. de Morgan at the ancient Acropolis of Susa, the ancient Persepolis, the one-time capital of an independent kingdom (of the Elamites – approximately SW Iran where it butts up to modern SE Iraq). When fitted together, these formed a stele 2.25 meters high and approximately 1.75 meters in breadth. (A high dive is three meters off of the water!) The cuneiform writing on the stele dates to approximately (disputed) the late third millennium BC. The relief on the top of the stele indicates that the sun god Shamash revealed a set of laws to the King of Mesopotamia (Babylonia) by the name of Hammurabi.  

Put simply: the stones discovered in 1901-02 date to about the BC 2200 period and contain a set of laws similar to the Old Testament Pentateuch collection of laws (which are about a thousand years younger than Hammurabi’s laws) or even of laws seen today in modern municipalities.

OK, so what?!

Building codes are rules established to ensure competent, safe, minimum construction practices and products. Perhaps you have built something under a permit-to-build, and have dealt with the conditions that guided your construction product. Perhaps you have built something (or "inherited" something at your home that was built in slipshod manner without a permit!) yourself without a permit that is of questionable integrity. Perhaps also you have dealt with a code inspector – the person designated in any given municipality to ensure compliance with code rules. (And of course these persons come in various types from the redneck small town power junkies to those more balanced, objective, and professional. . .) Thousands of years ago, part of the Code of Hammurabi contains material that deals with ancient building code. Consider:

228. If a builder has built a house for a man and has completed it, [the recipient] shall give [the builder] as his fee two shekels of silver per [building unit] of house [constructed].
229. If a builder has built a house for a man and has not made strong his work and the house he built has fallen and he has caused the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death. (Ancient "eye for eye" legislation!)
230. If [the builder] has caused the son of the owner of the house to die, the son of that builder shall be put to death.
231. If [the builder] has caused the slave of the owner of the house to die, [the builder] shall give slave for slave to the owner of the house.
232. If a builder has built a house for a man and has not jointed his work and the wall has fallen, that builder at his own cost shall make good that wall.
[The legislation then moves on to similar rules for boatbuilders and the integrity of their work.]

The theme of this article is inspired by the sui homo Gloriosus of greater Clatsop County, Clatsop's community college, this state, country, and of international repute – that incessant iactator (perhaps this word as the origin of the name “Jack”?), the eminently qualified and certified balatus balatro Mr. Apfelgrate.
The article specifics from C. H. W. Johns, “Code of Hammurabi,” A Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 5, Supplement; ed. J. Hastings; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1898; [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson], 1988 repr., 584-612).