Violence and Religion written by Stanley Wilkin at

Violence And Religion

Violence and Religion

Law codes, kings, martial gods and divine warriors

written by: Stanley Wilkin



‘……Crusading answered a deep need in the Christians of Europe. Yet today most of us would unhesitatingly condemn the Crusades as wicked and unchristian. After all, Jesus told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. He was a pacifist and had more in common with Gandhi, perhaps, than with Pope Urban. Yet I would argue that Holy War was a deeply Christian act. Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity had an inherent leaning towards violence, despite the pacifism of Jesus. ………………..All three religions are dedicated in some way to love and benevolence and yet all three have developed a pattern of holy war and violence that is remarkably similar and which seems to surface from some deep compulsion that is inherent in the tradition of monotheism…….Armstrong, Karen: Holy War: 1988: MacMillan London Ltd. Page 4.


This paper looks at the growth of state violence in the ancient Middle East, the appearance of violent punishment within law codes, including Talion law, connecting all with kingship and religious development. It attempts to prove that such punishments went hand in hand with the appearance of powerful rulers and martial creator gods in Mesopotamia, evidencing a change in power relationships within ancient societies, and a renewal of religious belief mainly associated with the Abrahamic cults that emerged in the middle or later part of the 2nd millennium BCE. To argue this, changes in the characters and behaviour of deities will be analysed and ancient law codes considered. In effect, this paper rebuts the idea of ‘Not in the Name of God’, and demonstrates that it is historically within religious societies, especially ones where god(s) have monarchical attributes, that violence is most intense.

Sumerian gods/goddesses
The earliest Sumerian gods, including the fish or fish like deities of early Eridu , were based upon natural powers and other phenomena essential for economic and social survival (Jacobsen: 1976: page 21). Each god/goddess was assigned their own personality based upon the elements or phenomena they represented. In the 4th millennium, the dying god, power of fertility and plenty is a typical construct. An important god, for example, is Damuzi or Tammuz, the god of fertility and new life, the husband of Inanna, who in a fit of jealousy delivered him up to the nether world.
It is difficult to know how Uruk, the first genuine urban centre, was administrated in its early period, and thereby there are several differing viewpoints. Some commentators believe that in its central sites, Uruk was hierarchically organised by a professional elite (perhaps with one ruler), exerting power over the population through control of administration and religious life . Petr Charvat, a Czech Assyriologist, argues that it was an egalitarian society, a kind of welfare state in which responsible people distributed resources according perhaps to effort and degrees of responsibility.  Charvat points out that the archaeological record shows none of the usual indicators of social differentiation, with no signs of elite families. The pantheon of the period can be seen as equals, or almost equals, tending to their specific duties. The easy access to important buildings in Uruk in the 4th millennium (Leick, 2001), with areas open to the public and the apparent parity of the sexes does indeed suggest a more open society than in the following millennium. During this period there are traces of communistic values and of democratic tendencies . In effect, it may have been a time when the temples provided state administration and took care of the city population.  There seems little institutional violence in early Sumeria. Uruk was constructed around temples to An (u), the chief god, and Inanna, goddess of love and war. This became the model for later, emerging Mesopotamian cities. Uruk developed a trading empire that transmitted its urban ideas throughout the middle-east and by the end of the 4th millennium new cities emerged and prospered between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
By the 3rd millennium, approximate to the Early Dynastic Period of Sumerian history, gods/goddesses begin to represent rulers/kingship and the states they were most revered in-for example, the ruler gods of Nippur. Sumerians began identifying with the city they lived in and with the gods who patronised them. Bottero (1998, page 42) describes Mesopotamian religion as henotheism, that is many gods but one which was more revered by each city-state, and held to be above all others. They may thereby represent some quality identified by each city or its rulers as each deity was held to be responsible for and represent a natural phenomenon, a human concept or trait. They were driving forces. An (u) personified heaven, and was the god who ruled over it: Namtar personified decisions, or destiny, and was also the god who ruled over destiny: Misaru was justice and the god who ruled over it (Bottero, 1998: p44-45).
At approximately the same time kingship began to develop either from internal models,  including the construction of palaces, indicating either an internal development with an elite group (s) gaining political control from the temples, or from chieftains to the north. The early kings were often temporary, provided with overall authority during a time of war.  Mesopotamian local deities were hieratically organised to resemble royal dynasties, with family relationships created, and marriages arranged between suitable supernatural couples. Relationships between the gods concerned both theology and politics. Sumerian deities engaged mainly in family squabbles that demonstrated the etymology of a plant or tradition and did not regularly encourage war. Those deities expressing violent attributes did so in accordance with other attributes.
By the Early Dynasties, there appeared an exception to this happy picture, although violence was not even here fully institutionalised but reflected aspects of the world and man. Jacobsen (1970: pp 30-38) asserts that the single divine family connected to farming north of the central grasslands, that of Enlil in Nippur, exhibited warlikeness in the male gods, evident in Enlil’s destructive tendencies. Jacobsen notes also the number of warrior gods associated with Akkad, now remembered for its empire.
Jacobsen (1976), describes the personal gods that emerged in the 2nd millennium, but avoids the equally important phenomena of Living Gods based upon the emergence and growth of empires, and thereby the growth of individual power invested in a king.  In the latter half of the 2nd millennium national gods appeared, identified with narrow national political aspirations exemplified by a powerful king. Gods became masculinised, ruthless, and violent. Kings are portrayed as muscular, often leading armies. Jacobsen (1976: page 21) writes ‘a dark age closed down on Mesopotamia. The old framework within which to understand the workings of the cosmos survived, but it moved from the interplay of many divine wills to the wilful whim of a single despot.’  He further concludes: ‘There was a corresponding coarsening and barbarization of the idea of divinity, no new overarching concepts arose, rather doubts and despair abounded.’   While this paper acknowledges the truth of much of this statement, and that its relevance must be extended into present-day religious fanaticism, this paper will also consider that in the Middle East there continued to exist an embattled dichotomy between religion based upon fertility, with underlying feminine traits, and that of power-largely or purely containing masculine references based upon the patriarchal construct evident from the middle of the 3rd millennium, based it seems upon property-ownership and object-possession.

Marduk seems to have been, along with Ashur, the city-god of Ashur and national god of Assyria, the first of several gods to occupy the foreground. Although Marduk may have originally been a Sumerian god, he was quickly assumed by the Amorite conquerors of Babylon. Jacobsen (1970: page 36), believes that the Babylonian creation, based around Marduk, with its central conceit of a battle between the gods is based on more western notions. The Amorites are thought to have come from Syria.
Although both Inanna and Nergal are shown as warlike, Marduk is first and foremost a warrior king. War was referred to as ‘the dance of Inanna’, reflecting her encouragement of war between rival lovers with her as the prize. In hymns, she was presented as leading armies.
In an Akkadian text, Marduk is shown as conquering the gods:
Lo (rd En lil that is Marduk as supreme god), prince surpassing of perception.
Battle formation and warfare are in the hand of the sage of the gods, Marduk,
He at whose warfare the heavens quake,
At whose cry the depths are roiled
At whose blade edge the gods retreat
There was none came forth against his furious onslaught.
Awe-inspiring lord, none like whom has arisen among the gods,
Stately is his progress through the shining firmament, (Bettero, 1998).

Towards the end of the second millennium, Marduk was increasingly celebrated as the greatest of all the gods, the god of gods.
Marduk is Ninurta, the god of agriculture;
He is Nergal, the god of battles;
Zababa, the god of war;
Nabu, the god of accountants;
Enlil, the god of governing;
Sin, the god who lights the night;
Samas, the god of justice; (Bottero, 1998:57)

If, as likely, the gods and the stories attributed to the gods reflect cultural change, Marduk represents a powerful king, a conqueror and empire-builder, a warrior and general. To be a god involves not just the overseeing and preservation of nature (Asnan), justice and light (Samas), thinking and intelligence (Enki) but principally concerns martial qualities. The cosmos had become a great state in which the gods held supreme offices wielding power and authority (Jacobsen: 1970: pp 37-38). It reflected a political construction, leading to a supreme autocratic god who not only invested in war but enjoyed a growing sideline in violence and genocide.  Another view holds that the apparent change of perception occurred as a consequence of the appearance of Amorite tribesmen in Mesopotamia, moving from the western deserts at the end of the third millennium. It was the Amorites who established Babylon. The chapters above suggest instead that the cultural movement towards violence replicated the increasing power of individual monarchs.

Sumerian/Akkadian/Babylonian Law Codes: exchange and temperance.
This section looks at the law codes of the 3rd millennium and evidence of cultural change towards greater internal violence, expressed as violent punishments for crimes and misdemeanours.
Claus Wilcke  shows that the first private legal transactions appeared approximately 500 years after the invention of writing, in late Eruk 111 or in ED 1. Recording changing property rights, they were not to complete the deal of exchange, but to provide divine protection for the deals in line perhaps with the reciprocal nature of early seals and mystical signalling of ownership. The OS Lagas rulers En-namma.k and Irikagina.k (24th/25th century) issued edicts against social inequality and, in the case of the latter, abuse of administrative power.  En-metena.k using terms such as freedom and liberation, and also ‘return to the mother’, return to the god, supposes this concerns corvee labour, imprisonment for debt and debt bondage. Wilcke (page 21) believes this means the reunification of nuclear families separated by corvee labour (temple building), imprisonment for debt and debt bondage.  Similar claims are found in Irikagina.k’s edicts, which present previous abusive customs or rules that are abolished or replaced with new precepts. Upon achieving kingship, possibly by usurpation, the king declared general amnesty and states his deep-seated interest in creating justice without regard to rank or status. He cleared the prisons of those imprisoned for debt and those who could not pay their taxes. He made a contract with (the god) Nin-girsu.k that he ‘will not deliver to the powerful the orphan and the widow.’
The evidence demonstrates that the Sumerians invented the legal contract. These can be found on stone monuments, in sculpted relief scenes, the oldest of which are the Blau monuments that date to c3000-2900 BCE. A little later, c2,800, the Ushumgal stela record sculpted individuals and multiple transactions involving real estate.  Clearly, contracts were essential documents in early Sumerian society. Bound up with relationships within society, rights, obligations, they reflected concepts of ownership and exchange. According to Israel Drapkin a growing need was to define the rights and obligations of individual members of the community due to a change from communal to private ownership, although there is ample evidence of individual ownership prior to the appearance of large urban centre. If apparent communal values of the earliest large Sumerian urban centres were a response to an increased population, competing demands of the citizens and how best to meet the needs of an increasing population, then renewed individualistic economic activities based on a patriarchal vision of the household  required a series of written as well as unwritten contracts transmitted obliquely through religious observance and kingship.
Crime was usually punished although theft and murder are met with imprisonment in Irikagina’s ‘reform texts’, probably forced labour for the city authorities, the victim or the victim’s family, and compensation. ‘He cleared the prisons of indebted <children of Lagas>, of those having committed gur-gub-and se-si.g-offences,  of those having committed theft or murder. He determined their liberation (ama-r gi4) (Wilcke: page 22)‘  At this point in time, crimes are not, it appears, punished with death. By the time of the law code of Ur-Nammu (2112-2095), founder of the 3rd Dynasty of UR111 uniting Sumer and Akkad, there is imprisonment for only one offence and the death penalty for only four offenses, homicide, rape, adultery,  and lawless behaviour. According to Jacobson (1970: page 194), by the Agade dynasty, royal judgements were protected by severe monetary sanctions. Five hundred years later, Jacobson (1970: pages 206-208) shows that lynch mentalities were evident, and people could be sentenced to death by courts, here seen as a group of nine, for murder. Apropos of this paper’s claims, the Hammurabi Code advised that in cases where a wife is complicit in her husband’s murder, she should be impaled. Many legal records deal with commercial transactions, often of property or slaves, men, women and children but overall the laws (regulations) and society seems to have become increasingly brutal and barbaric.
According to Van de Mieroop (1997), the rulers in the middle of the third millennium did away with the two sources of power that had come to distinguish Sumerian cities, temple and kingship, and merged them into one. The above edicts of En-namma.k and Irikagina.k testify perhaps to the appropriation of temple power. Urukagina’s reforms, edicts to protect the people from official’s abuse, claim also that the king restored domains that since time-immemorial had been owned by the city ruler and his wife to the gods Ningirsu and Bau, suggesting not that they were given back to the temple authorities but placed in Urukagina’s hands in a gradual process of secularisation that can be also observed in the Epic of Gilgamesh, probably written down in the Ur 111 period.
Up to Ur 111, there is not only little clear evidence of violent punishments for rule breakers, but nor does the invocation of gods appear within the laws applied.  The introduction of violence into law codes, or judgements, is perhaps due to kingly power and change in status. Ur-Namma, although capital punishment is rare in his code, was the king of Sumer and Akkad, not the king of a city state. While women were punished with death in the later laws, as Drapkin (1989) asserts out of a fear of another male intruding into the family unit, past and present, it seems equally tied up with a powerful concept of possession. With increasing power-relationships within later Sumerian society, female slaves are viewed as sexual objects for the use of their masters.
Law codes remain largely a secular process. The king, as in many ancient societies, was seen as the highest judicial authority and there is limited evidence for courts sitting in the modern sense. This corresponds to the separation between humans and gods that may reflect the growth of kingship or simply an intellectual reassessment of the relationship between gods and human beings. As above, the more power kings had, the greater their resort to capital punishment. In the seal of Gudea, the king requires the intersession of his personal god in order to approach the divine patron of his city state, while Ur-Namma stands directly before the divine patrons of his capital city. He is represented as part of the chain of authority coming down from Enlil, after Anu the leading god, and not as a supplicant. The stela of Naramsin’s victory over the Lullubi of the Zagros mountains shows the giant figure of the king, more god than man, ascending the mountain surrounded by much smaller figures, the gods represented by astral bodies and on his head he wears the horned helmet, a visual sign of his divinity.  Here, the king has claimed god-like status. The nature of kingship changed as kings became more powerful.
Are the Codes truly Law codes?
Doubt has recently been passed on the true nature of the law codes found on stela and clay tablets from Sumeria, and variously they are now seen as kingly propaganda, statements by new rulers after revolutions, usurpation or conquest. Both the laws of En-namma.k and Hummurabi appear to fit the latter pictures. According to Bottero the laws that remain, many having it seems been lost, were written to regulate the social conduct of the kingdom’s inhabitants. Each article or ‘law’ begins with the conjunction ‘if’ and presents a concrete situation, a state of circumstantial elements in the past or present tense (Bottero, p 158).  The articles were grouped together according to aspects of communal life: thereby, 5 paragraphs concerning false testimony: 20 devoted to theft: 16 to tenure of royal fiefs: 25 to agricultural work: 10 approximately referencing dwellings: 24 to commerce: 15 to deposits and debts: 67 to wives and the family: 20 to assault and battery: 61 referencing professions and subordinate professions: finally, 5 to slaves.
Bottero denies the validity of Hummurabi as a law code, in the modern sense as representing agreed laws of the land, based upon the absence of the organisation of justice or any attempt by authorities to deal with those breaking any part of the code. It seems those offended or their relatives have to inflict the advised punishments. There is, for Bottero, no genuine trace of criminal law. He examples the codes on assault and battery, death in brawls (207) and of pregnant women who lose their unborn child through beatings and consequently die (2009). Bottero points out that in the administrative and legal literature of the time there are innumerable problems of which the code is silent. Each case is specific (Bottero, p 162). It provides a concrete example rather than say ‘all fraud must be punished with imprisonment.’ Bottero looks at illogical judgements, such as 229 where if a master builder constructs a house that then collapses and a son of the house owner dies, then the son of the master builder dies also. Suppose the master builder did not have a son, therefore he receives no punishment, and why should only a son die? Apart from these clear discrepancies, contemporary documents show that in many similar circumstances in the Code different decisions are taken as if the Code did not exist.
Bottero decides that the Code contains verdicts not laws, probably taken by the king. The Code is there to offer examples to the inhabitants on how to resolve conflict and other social problems. It is therefore an instance of kingly power and control. Bottero also demonstrates how the employment of the conditional clause made up of protasis and apodosis is similar to scientific tracts of the time such as medical treatises that employ the same methods-hypothesis is followed by a possible remedy. According to Bottero, both the medical treatise and Code are examples of empirical reasoning, whereby a specific case is stated and a remedy offered. Investigation of crimes is employed and witnesses called before judgements are declared.

The Laws of Hammurabi (ca. 1750 BCE) contain many examples of violent punishment and, in addition, may indicate a different view of the world. This was a time when Marduk was the supreme god, in effect replacing An (u) and Enlil. In the introduction to his laws, Hammurabi describes himself as a pious prince who desires to abolish the wicked and evil, prevent the strong from oppressing the weak. As suggested above, this is the position taken by a conqueror. False accusation can be met with death, also the fate of an adulterous woman and her lover, with occasional evidence of talion law with limbs and facial features, at times, liberally disposed of. There is little documented evidence at the time of why there was this apparently sudden change from compensatory to talionic punishments. Nevertheless, this is mild in many ways, and remains the work of an extremely powerful king who reflects the power of Marduk, his god.

As with prior Sumerian laws, Hammurabi’s laws were concerned with contracts, social regulation, regulation of relationships both private and professional, protection of the weak, family life and the role of women.  According to David P. Wright the Covenant Code (Exodus 20:23-23:19), the most important part of the revelation at Mount Sinai, is ‘directly, primarily, and throughout dependent upon the Laws of Hammurabi’ (page 3). While this is curiously obvious, the implications have been equally curiously avoided. In the context of this paper, the secular laws of Hammurabi were plagiarised by the ancient Hebrew priests with some of the important areas changed.

Hebrew law and history:
It seems probable that the Hebrews emerged as a group in Palestine by the 12th century BCE, speaking a Canaanite dialect and living in small settlements. By tradition, Abraham, the first Hebrew, left Ur in a family group led by Terah, his father, and travelled to Haran, an Amorite settlement in north western Mesopotamia, and from there to Canaan c1800 BCE. Although, it is not impossible that the above is a correct narrative of the earliest Hebrew, our knowledge of oral traditions and its close connection to actual events, encourages considerable scepticism. Narratives, even today, contain only elements of truth as the nature of memorable story-telling requires a variety of methods: a journey, as in many examples of earlier Mesopotamian literature, and early Greek literature such as the Iliad: water as a cleansing agent of separation: magical numbers: adventures and growth: the supernatural. For example, newspaper stories carry motifs and patterns that present a story in a particular manner dictated by the newspapers pre-conceptions and prejudices. History provides narrated events that establish personal and cultural consciousness. Of course, the historical truth of Abraham is intimately bound-up with group identity and belief. As a hero, a motif developed by the Sumerians, Abraham is called upon to do great deeds in order to establish a profound relationship with a god. Whatever the actuality of Abraham, he may share with Gilgamesh and Achilles the symbolic reality of religious change, and his achievements were more mundane.
Armstrong holds that these early narratives are examples of political philosophy as much as of religious devotion, dealing with the problem of how a small nation or tribal grouping survives amongst agrarian cultures ruled by aristocracies. She points to the Patriarch’s uncertain ethics, especially regarding sex and women, affirming nevertheless their scrupulousness regarding community values. Abraham observed property rights, a Sumerian focus, his refusal to retain booty gained in raids, his kindness and hospitality to strangers, and his objection to god’s spilling of blood when told of his plan to destroy Sodom. According to Armstrong (page 97) the last observation demonstrated a rejection of kingship for kings were indifferent to the deaths of those they ruled. In El, YHWH, Allah, I have commented on the conflict between the followers of Bal, who popularised cities and kingship, and those of El (the early Israelites) who popularised less centralised aspects of communal living. Abraham’s pragmatic sexual morals and dislike of extreme violence suggests El, and in many ways Abraham resembles the very ancient West Semitic god. If Abraham’s father left Ur, in reality or fiction, to sustain his ancestor’s culture, the antipathy of city life, then the stories of the Patriarch’s can be seen as political instruction on how to avoid kingship, a political institution employed by all other early societies.
If the biblical saga of Abraham has some truth in it, then he and his clan had long absorbed elements of Sumerian, or perhaps, Amorite culture.  As we know, by then Sumerian literature was capable of recording complex stories.
The story of Moses and the Egyptian exodus has more problems than even the Abraham story above, due to the lack of evidence for such an apparently momentous event. Comparing the Moses narrative to other narratives of the time and later, again it is probable that the events have only a marginal basis in actual events. Scholars look now to the Hyksos, who migrated into Egypt and took over the delta region in 1730 as the possible background to both Abraham and Moses.
It is possible that the Moses narrative involves a number of stories, obtained from several sources, pieced together. They may once have enjoyed an independent life. The early life of Moses bears clear similarities with that of Sargon the Great and represents the outsider, interloper, into a traditional environment that they will in time subvert, heralding thereby a new beginning.  Moses, brought up as an Egyptian aristocrat, infused entitlement into the Israelite mentality. It is also reflected in the story of Horus, who was protected from Seth, the ruler of Egypt by his mother Isis.  Moses’ princely rebellion was an anxiety of the time, especially for aging kings. Moses’ construction of an ethnic group, separating it in his rebellion from larger groups, also expressed kingly fears of separation with a basis in religion as well as the secular world. There are in fact elements of Sinuhe, the Egyptian tale of a rebellious prince, in the Moses narrative between his leaving Egypt living in Midian and his return. During the Israelites wanderings in the desert, they are supposed to have received the Ten Commandments (in fact, there were many more), according to Drapkin (1989) and many other commentators the moral and legal foundations of Western civilisation, although this paper disputes this and wonders, if this assertion is true, if it was a wise thing anyway. As above, this paper will present the laws associated with the Covenant as inferior in form and intention to the earlier Sumerian laws and in direct contrast, and thereby inferior, to the Egyptian laws of the time. An archetypal hero, the hand of god, Moses initiated genocide (Numbers 31).  After defeating the Midianite army, Moses was appalled that his men had spared the Midianite women. He ordered that they be killed, apart from virgins who were given as sex slaves to his men.
Was the exodus story an attempt to separate YHWH from ‘El, the Canaanite supreme deity ‘the god of eternity’ the ‘ancient god’, the creator god of Jerusalem, and thereby establish a clear identity for the Israelite or rather Judaic version? ‘El had benevolent characteristics that the early YHWH lacked. YHWH became king and creator of the cosmos as a result of his victory over his enemies in a cosmogonic struggle, very similar to the Canaanite myth of Ba’l’s ascendency.  Psalm 24 describes YHWH as the Divine Warrior and Warrior-King, relevant in a land still given up to Patriarchal ‘El cults and ‘El shrines (Cross, 1997)-who was long described as the Compassionate One.
One of the essential commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai included ‘Thou shalt not kill’. This is an important step in ethical development. The command is not ranged about with reciprocal contracts or possible benefits. In contradiction, once the Israelites reached the Promised Land, YHWH informed them that to obtain it the Israelites would have to engage in an unremitting war of extermination. Effectively, Canaan was to cleansed of those who held different values to the Israelites and would oppose YHWH’s plan (Deuteronomy 7: 1-6). Canaanites were relieved of normal human rights (Armstrong: 1988: 6). According to Armstrong (page 6), in order to rescue the Israelites from Egypt, YHWH suspended the normal laws of nature, and in order to fulfil his promise (surely already fulfilled during the time of Abraham and his immediate descendants?) he suspended the normal laws of morality. Like the merchants and rulers of Mesopotamia, YHWH had to complete his contract-especially as it involved real estate, of immense importance to the Sumerians.
It is likely that the Moses story is fantasy, dealing with a renewed contract with a powerful god, YHWH rather than El, with whom the original contract was made, and enabling the Israelite group of tribes to attain that transference. By leaving Canaan, Abraham’s descendants had broken the first contract anyway. The Egyptian sojourn may indicate the brief period in the Late Bronze Age when Egypt controlled Canaan and representations of its gods were commonplace. The narrative of the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt may concern the involvement of the Israelites with Egyptian culture, which all but disappeared from Canaan at the turn of the millennium. The Moses narrative in addition allowed the Israelites to assume martial attributes while at the same time ejecting the benevolent, pacifist god El. In Moses a decisive, driven leader was constructed who claimed authority from god, not from secular sources. This solved the problem of inherited rule for kingship (El, YHWH, Allah: 2015) had long been contentious amongst the followers of EL.

Covenant Code:
The Covenant Code appears to have been based upon the Hammurabi code, although Drapkin concludes that it bears even greater resemblance to the laws of Eshnunna that preceded it by a few decades . Both these earlier codes may have been derived from older, now lost law codes.  The difference between them is in derivation. In Hammurabi Code, the laws come from the king, while in the Hebrew law codes they are ‘the words of God.’ The entanglement of man and god (s) has reached here some kind of conclusion. While they became in their own propaganda living gods, the roles and responsibilities of kings became those of a god. God (s) acquisition of vast kingly powers may have been a solution to the living god construct.
The code is now largely considered an end product of a tradition-historical process and energy has been expended on discerning what is from the Mesopotamian Legal Tradition and what came from Hebrew culture. Van Setters, referencing A. Alt’s ‘The Origins of Israelite Law’ in Essays on Old Testament History and Religion (Oxford:Blackwell, 1966), asserts that the casuistic (civil) laws came from Canaanite societies while the apodictic laws emanate from the Israelites settled in Palestine. Robert Pfeiffer meanwhile has stressed that the casuistic laws were inserted in the 5th century BCE. He, as with this paper, suggests both the Covenant Code and Deuteronomy share aspects of the Hammurabi Code, and that Deuteronomy used the latter code for its assemblage of laws. E. Gerstenberger asserts that the apodictic prohibitive can be traced back to wisdom literature of both the Near East and Egypt-another claim of this paper. Van Setter considers with greater enthusiasm the idea that the Covenant Code came wholesale from the Babylonian exile, where Israelite lawmakers became familiar with the Mesopotamian Law Traditions. According to Van Setters (2003: 31), there is no evidence of legal continuity between Mesopotamian law codes and an early Covenant Code, and the exilic period in Babylon fits the overall picture because Mesopotamian civilisation has a clear, shared law tradition.
In original versions of Moses completing the pact with god, dating back to the 8th century BCE, there is no mention of the 10 Commandments (Armstrong: 2014: 97) just a powerful religious experience on Sinai that Moses shared with Israelite elders. The Commandments appear to have been inserted into the text by 7th century reformers.

Sumerian pantheon: from life to death.
There appears to have been a greater focus on war in the 2nd millennium exampled by the martial gods that emerged, likely as not through a process of social evolution or change. This section will briefly consider the earlier godly forms and contrast them with the later ones.
Jacobsen (1976), views the first millennium, in which YHWH probably emerged, as one focused on death and its powers. He references the myth ‘Dynasty of Dunnum’ , which tells of succeeding generations of gods taking power through parricide and living in incest with mother, sister, or both. As evidence, he also provides the Erra Epic where the warrior, unlike in earlier millennium where he is seen as a protector, is portrayed as a threat, a killer. Erra (Jacobsen: 1976: page 227), first identified with Nergal (an Akkadian god), god of sudden death and ruler of the realm of the dead, is the god of riot and indiscriminate slaughter. In the narrative, revealed in a dream by its author Kabti-ili-Marduk, he is roused from his sleep by his weapon ‘the heptad’ or ‘seven gods’ who wants to go on a campaign. Erra convinces Marduk, described now as old, to give him temporary charge of the universe and once in power, taking human shape, he foments rebellion in Babylon. The ordinary people, unused to fighting, gather weapons to hand. Erra then incites the city commandant to attack the crowd, and slaughter ensues, which then spreads across the world. The gods’ cruelty is now everywhere in evidence, indulging in practices that would probably have both terrified and horrified the kings of Ur in the late 3rd millennium. Jacobsen (1976: page 237) lastly considers the development of quietistic piety whereby a ruler puts their faith in the divine, taking no action themselves which contributed to peace in settled times but increased violence during times of war.
A god, such as YHWH, who demands destruction and death, and is described as a ‘man of war’ exhibits a nastiness unknown to the earliest civilisations but increasingly obvious in the 1st millennium. Chalmers (2008) identifies ‘El as the god of Exodus, but perhaps later priests inserted instead the warrior god YHWH. None of the above earliest deities pursued war and death, but fought with the same enthusiasm as they drank, ate and made love. Although wars were fought in Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium, the ‘other’ was not a rational for either battle or subsequent murder. Although Sumeria became a land of the Sumerians and Semitic peoples, no racialism appears to have been evident.  This becomes a factor in Palestine expressed through mutually antagonistic gods, or just as likely, priests. In Sumeria, even under Sargon, while the gods demand conquest they do not necessarily demand additional bloodshed, and warlike postures were commonly assumed by king-gods. Marduk, the Amorite creator god, expresses conquest and authority, but not death-lust.

A religion(s) of violence:
The Bible is described in Religion and Violence  as a dangerous and violent book. Although violence can be viewed in a number of ways, that is by individuals or groups with power on those within their own social environment thereby imposing control , justice or adjusting behaviour, violence as a form of trade control, beating and intimidating a competitors forces, violence to radically reduce another group’s numbers. All these involve wounding, extreme mutilation and death. Such violence can be seen in one degree of intensity or another in pre-biblical societies. Nevertheless, the Bible introduces two possibly original forms of violence: genocide and death for thinking/believing/behaving differently. Of consequence is that the Bible presents one form of Abrahamic religious belief, and a version of Mesopotamian law and social systems. While this paper accepts that the genocide waged against Canaanite tribes by Moses may be fictitious, and in fact may reflect the Assyrian intimidation of Canaanite and Hebrew peoples , it presents a worrying example as each massacre is directed by a/the god (see above). The reiterated premise in the Bible, from Moses onward, is the extermination of peoples in order to re-populate or politically control an assigned piece of land in which a/the god can be revered or simply reign.
Destruction of others, fully exampled in the sociological construct of the ‘other’, those of different culture or gods, while intermittently seen in other ancient cultures, appears intensely within the Bible. In The Search For Violence In Israelite Culture And In The Bible (Religion and Violence: The Biblical Heritage, 2007) Ziony Zevit provides rational reasons for many of the Bible’s violent incidents, putting them down to the consequences of war, such as genocide in Deuteronomy 7 and Deuteronomy 20. In Deuteronomy 7 God commands the Israelites to completely destroy the peoples they meet, and in Deuteronomy 20 the Canaanites are declared by God to be exempt from any mercy; they must therefore be destroyed. Although Zevit asserts that the extermination of the Canaanites is not described as a holy war, as it is charged by God, surely that it what it was? Zevit demonstrates that the vaunted extermination of the Canaanites was the consequence of the seductiveness of their religion, which might tempt the Israelites into joining Canaanite cults. Again, surely this is one expression of holy war-preserving the ideology from contamination? To the alluring ‘otherness’ of the Canaanites can be added their apparent sexual perversity and rampant homosexual practices. These provide a further reason for genocide. As in present developments in the Middle East, different social behaviour is a good reason for believers to destroy those exhibiting such behaviour.
According to Zevit, genocide was common in the Near East, and the term herem, meaning ‘utterly destroy’, was widely used. Philip D. Stern declares the herem as ‘an intensely moral-religious act, reasserting the rule of the god(s) and reflecting the victory of Kemosh and Mesha over the ‘monsters of choas’-YHWH and Israel. Zevit holds that genocide, often achieved for religious reasons, was common from the second millennium BCE, although clear evidence of genocide is difficult to find in the texts available to us.
Did Talion law become part of the Covenant Code because the ancient Hebrews identified with the aggressor, as suggested by Stephen A. Marini. They are a ‘symbolic reconfiguration of political ideology in face of international domination.’ As always, religion reflects the politics of a particular period in time, with YHWH a powerful individual, remote, all-seeing and censorious like, for example, the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian kings. This observation does not thereby separate religion from violence, as Jonathan Sacks holds. It connects religion to the evolution of society and development of politics, excluding separate developments. Our gods are us. In societies where god(s) are weak, violence is negligible. In societies where god(s) assume an autocratic persona (dictator, emperor, king), violence is commonplace.
Monotheism, as exampled by the Bible, goes hand in hand with warfare. The Exodus-Conquest, or ritual conquest, finds expression in ‘Songs of the Wars of Yahweh’, but, as Cross claims, the roots of this horrifying holiness can be found in ancient Canaanite culture (1997: page 99:30) and in the bronze age cult of King El. He holds, and this paper agrees, that the coupling of Yahweh with kingship was not a late development but can be traced close to the religion’s roots. Many of the Biblical songs celebrate YHWH as a general leading armies (Cross: page 109), principally as the Divine Warrior, borrowed it seems from Canaanite theophany of Ba’l as storm god. Like YHWH, Ba’l achieves ascendency through battle. Descriptions of Yahweh’s ascendency reveal evidence of Ba’l’s conflict with chaos, Yamm or Lotan, although in the Bible YHWH battles with geographic locations containing opposing groups or states (Cross: page 155).  Yet, the real change here is perhaps not YHWH’s bloodlust but that the Covenant Code is owned by a god, and is a god’s literary expression, his testimony to reform, not that of a king. These laws, are fixed and immutable as they belong to god, expressing a kind of morality, one that equates murder and adultery, and places the specific god at the centre of all human transactions.

The Old Testament  texts are clear in their approval of many facets of violence, whether in Moses’ several murders, Isaac’s approval (Genesis 27:33-40) of Esau’s ability with the sword, the Israelite’s delight in the death of the Egyptians (Exodus 15: 1-6), the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah for enjoying different customs, the association in general of sexual behaviour and retribution. Of course, this is a small example. But nevertheless here we have in turn the exaltation of both an arrogant ruffian and the warrior/thug, absence of empathy for other’s deaths, and sadistic enjoyment in the deaths of hedonists. As Armstrong (2014) suggests, religious violence met a political need. At times, Hebrews/Israelites are portrayed as voyeurs in the bloody exercise of power of their driven, proud and nasty god. Apparently, this is regarded as Ethical Monotheism, the exercise of power, the employment of murder, to embed a code of behaviour-in fact the behaviour of over-powerful kings from Sargon the Great to Xerxes, Augustus (whose nature is portrayed as similar to An or other remote gods, instituting marital behaviour at one point through punishment), and Caligula. The Hebrews overcame their dislike of systemic political authority by deriving brutal political decisions from their god, thus transforming their religion and themselves.

Uruk, in its earliest manifestation, appears to have been a mainly egalitarian, even benevolent community with ideas concerning the protection and nurturing of its population. Although some commentators hold that it had an elite group of rulers, many archaeologists appear prejudiced towards such constructs and rarely conceive of early societies without big men, chiefs, and kings, without thereby appreciating the conditions of ownership that may be required for such institutions. Nevertheless as such constructs appeared and power entered human relations in a tangible, concrete fashion rulers emerged. Competition between city states produced warrior kings and a pantheon that expressed concepts such as justice. According to Jacobsen, it also produced a dynastic family of warrior gods in Nippur, amongst the farming communities of northern Sumeria, lead by Enlil. During the period of the Akkadian Empire, under the living-gods such as Narum-Sin, Mesopotamian law codes, long the literary expression of kings, became crueller. Where before punishment had been compensatory, death became now more common and was at times the punishment for breaking social taboos such as adultery. As kings grew more individually powerful, martial creator gods came to the fore, overshadowing other deities, and law codes grew more violent.
The move towards greater violence between and within human groups occurred when gods assumed the political apparatus of powerful kings; kings and martial, national, gods melded into one. In Canaan, this resulted in gods identified with land, territory entwined with geography. As a possible consequence of identification with particularly violent Mesopotamian aggressors throughout the first millennium, the Hebrews may, some commentators believe, have annexed aspects of the Hammurabi laws, including talion law, and it became part of the Covenant Code and Deuteronomy. Once a god, such as YHWH, had defeated all other gods, they directed their acolytes to destroy all those not within the cult and claim their territory. Quietistic piety allowed the murderers not to feel any responsibility for their actions, as all such actions were directed by god.
Ziev holds that as the political situation in Canaan and its surrounds caused the use of genocidal tactics against enemies, and that deities’ names were merely assigned to such actions, religion cannot be blamed for subsequent slaughter. There is confusion between politics and religion. This paper insists instead that politics and religion have always been, and remain, intertwined and that ‘not in god’s name’, an expression that allows for distancing from religious violence, appears to take the view that religious experience is pure and has no clear connection to its consequences. Although not examined here, this paper holds that secularism has reshaped religious thought and expression, to its benefit. The melding together of kingship and religion, particularly under Monotheism, has led to intolerance, death-cults, and enhanced constructs of power. Although Islam was initiated by growing economic divisions in Arabia, particularly Mecca, with implied injustices and threats to community life, it was faced directly, like the much earlier Hebrews, with the role of violence within their new world. In fact, there is no univocal or systemic Qu’ranic teaching about military violence (Armstrong: 2014: 166). Some verses give Moslems the right to fight, others reject such a right, in some verses defensive warfare is condoned, in others offensive warfare. Some scholars hold that pacifism, as in Christianity, was suitable when Moslems were vulnerable and in a minority, but not necessary when the tribes were powerful. This places the matter in a political context, where it has since lain. Other scholars hold that there were different Moslem groupings that held different views on violence. Those who believed in peace and were unwilling to fight were called ‘laggers’ and ‘liars.’ According to Armstrong (2014:  167), militancy eventually prevailed accommodating the Islamic Empires of the day. While Christianity emerged from the status of a lowly cult through its engagement with the Roman Empire, Islam emerged from the same likely fate through its military adventures.
The most powerful commodity of such religious expression is, well, power. That each, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam insist on the primacy of both their god/s and the essentiality of the day to day behaviour they propagate, based as they largely are on Bronze Age Mesopotamian mores, war is at the core of each. While each believes that other’s thinking is wrong, subversive or corrupt, founded in contracts and control of land, that is real estate, each at some point will instigate extreme and unnecessary conflicts no matter how powerful their peaceful reflexes. The growing present tolerance of other cultural phenomenon is secular in origin.


The core of violence in Abrahamic religions.

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