Shades of Hammurabi
FEBRUARY 01, 1958 by ROBERT LEFEVRE
Mr. LeFevre, President of The Freedom School, Inc., also writes the editorials for the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph.
Senator Ralph W. Allhorn stood straight and tall in the vestibule as he held the door for his wife, Sarah, and her sister, Martha. He had the feeling of supreme accomplishment, a trace of which feeling pushed up the corners of his mouth as he stood there gallantly waiting for the ladies to precede him.
The dinner meeting held by the party had had a magnificent turnout. In his mind’s eye he could still see the immaculate linen, the glittering goblets and silver, and the upturned faces of his fellow party members. It had been not only a victory dinner, in honor of the party’s accomplishments during the past legislative season, but also, in essence, an opening salvo for the new campaign which would get underway in earnest within a few weeks. As the party’s senior officeholder within the state, he had been the principal speaker.
His ears still thrummed pleasantly to the words of the chairman as he had been introduced. "Fellow Americans and loyal party workers: Tonight I have the great privilege and honor to bring you the man who…" The Senator glowed inwardly at the bountiful recognition that had poured from the lips of Steve Crain, attorney and head of the 34th assembly district. Steve had laid it on a little thick. But that was politics for you. And it wasn’t that what he said was overdone. Steve simply had reference to his record in checking off some of the iridescent phrases: leader of patriots; emblem of statesmanship; prime mover for good government; lover of the common man; fearless champion of equal rights. Of course, when things like this were brought up in public, they always sounded a trifle garish. But, the Senator asked himself candidly, how could his achievements have been brought to the attention of the party without descriptive phrases which told the story?
Actually, Steve had chosen his words wisely and with economy. That was it. Economy of words. Clearly, concisely, Steve Crain had let it be known how much the party, the state itself, even the whole of the American people owed to the Senator’s courageous efforts.
Inside the expansive and friendly drawing room of the Senator’s home the two ladies were fluttering about, checking drapes and turning on lamps.
The Senator preened himself before the large mirror over the mantel of the fireplace, which was now aglow with flaming gas jets shedding their warmth and cheer. Gray at the temples, with large features rather craggy but lined with purpose, he well knew that some of his popularity could be traced directly to that rather rugged physiognomy with which nature had equipped him.
"Oh, Ralph, you were simply wonderful," sighed his wife, corning over and standing proudly beside him. "Don’t you think so, Martha?"
"Indeed, I do." Martha was most emphatic. "In fact, I just don’t see how the other party can accomplish a thing with you doing such an outstanding job."
The Senator smirked a bit. "Well, quite candidly, Martha, they don’t seem to be doing too much in any case. But, of course, we can’t say that their own failures to measure up can be traced to me."
This was surely an invitation, and Martha accepted it with good grace. "Don’t belittle your own efforts, Ralph. You’re good. You know you are. And the people should be grateful for the fight you have made all these years for them."
Into the drawing room now came the Senator’s two children, Robert, 14, with horned-rimmed glasses and a studious expression, and Barbara, 12, pretty but with braces on her teeth and a provocative upturned nose generously freckled.
Barbara ran to her father and threw her arms around him in girlish joy. Robert, on the other hand, halted in the doorway and with a teenage show of dignity declared, "Greetings, pater. Hello, Mom and Aunt Martha."
"Goodness," said Sarah, "why aren’t you children in bed?"
"Ah, Mom," protested Barbara, snuggling her head against her father’s vest, "it isn’t late. And I’ve just got to talk to Daddy." She looked up into her father’s face with adoration. "You’re away so much I hardly ever get to see you."
The Senator sighed and ran his fingers absently through the long locks so close to him. Life was very good, he decided. A fine wife. Wonderful children. And a successful career. What more could any man want? Further, he had to admit, his wasn’t just any career. He had always placed public service ahead of everything else. He had seen his duty and he had done it.
But Robert from the doorway was looking disdainfully at his sister. "Aw, Barb… cut out that mush with Dad. Don’t be so so juvenile."
Sarah was not to be put off. "It’s a way past your bedtime, youngsters. Off you go."
"Don’t be like that, Mom." Robert was as stiffly erect as his father. His voice was changing and the unexpected soprano notes that intruded occasionally gave him considerable embarrassment, but he manfully strove not to notice. "It’s only ten. And besides, I’ve got some studying to do. Come, Barb."
Reluctantly Barbara pulled herself away from her father, and the two children retired to a corner of the drawing room where some bookshelves held works of considerable fascination, at least insofar as the scion of the family was concerned.
With the children temporarily effaced, Sarah turned again to her husband. "Your speech was wonderful, Ralph. The people love you and trust you. And I’m very proud."
"Yes," said the Senator expansively, "it was a pretty good speech."
"Pretty good!" snorted Martha. "It was magnificent. I particularly liked that part about preventing the strong — the free enterprisers — from oppressing the weak. That was superb."
"Did I say that?" The Senator beamed with pleasure. "Whereabouts in my talk was that?" "Just ask Martha, Ralph," chimed in Sarah. "I think she just about memorizes everything you say."
"All right, Martha. Just how did I put it?"
"You said," and Martha couldn’t resist a hint of the Senator’s own histrionics as she spoke, " ‘We must cause justice to prevail in the land. To obtain justice, the wicked and evil must be destroyed. This means that the selfish interests, the free enterprisers who have fought so diligently to prevent the building of the great Conswerve Dam, had to meet the full measure of their own wrong doing. This I have done. I have prevented the strong from oppressing the weak. I have furthered the welfare of the people. The dam is going forward, backed by federal funds so that all the people shall benefit by the free use of what all the people own.’ "
The Senator nodded. "That was pretty strong. But it was true. I’m glad I put it just that way."
Martha was now in her element. "That wasn’t the only part of what you said that was strong and to the point. Really, Ralph, you were tremendous. You even brought tears to my eyes. You said: ‘God has seen fit to grant that the people, in their wisdom, have returned me to office a second time. This, as I interpret it, bestows upon me a sacred trust, ordained from the Most High. It is my solemn pledge that I shall support the people in their need. I shall stand foursquare for government owned and operated water power, water conservation, irrigation, and flood and storm control. Let it be emblazoned on my record that I have stood for the abundance of my constituents. I have supported the farmer in his plight,
the businessman against unfair competition, the student by insisting on larger, more modern, and more adequate school construction. And as God is my witness, I stand forever on the firm rock of international peace and good will by means of the United Nations.’ "
Even the Senator was moved by this mirror of his own eloquence. He was speechless for a moment; Sarah sighed and leaned against him, and the world was his.
But there was a disturbance from the corner into which the two children had retired.
With an intense whisper Barbara was saying, "He did not!"
And with equal intensity her brother hissed back, "He did, too!"
"He did not!"
"He did, too!"
"Children!" Sarah was most stern. "What is that all about?"
"Well, Mom," explained Robert, "Barb says that Hammurabi never said anything at all like what Dad said at the meeting tonight. But he did!"
"Who, in heaven’s name, is Hammurabi?" inquired the Senator. The name sounded foreign. Probably some congressman from a neighboring state. He never could keep track of the names of all the congressmen. There were so many of them. "Has someone been parroting my remarks?"
Barbara was almost in tears. "It’s not fair. Rob is trying to… to belittle Daddy. He’s … he’s smearing him, that’s what he’s doing!"
Martha was aghast and Sarah was frowning seriously. "Tell me this minute what this is all about. I will not have you children sitting in judgment on your father. He is a great man. Much of what he talks about is away over your heads, so don’t you try to … to… well, to compare him with others. You just don’t know what you are talking about."
"But I do know, Mom." Robert was firmly in charge of the situation. "It’s all down in writing."
He came from the corner lugging a large volume bound in black. "See, it’s right here."
The book was Our Oriental Heritage by Will Durant, and Robert had it open to page 219. "Let me read it to you."
Clearing his throat and striking a dramatically awkward pose, Robert proceeded: "At that time Anu and Bel called me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, the worshiper of the gods, to cause justice to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak . . . to enlighten the land and to further the welfare of the people. Hammurabi, the governor named by Bel, am I, who brought about plenty and abundance; who made everything for Nippur and Durilu complete . . . who gave life to the city of Uruk; who supplied water in abundance to its inhabitants . . . who made the city of Borsippa beautiful . . . who helped his people in time of need; who establishes in security their property in Babylon; the governor of the people, the servant, whose deeds are pleasing to Anunit."
There was silence in the room, intruded upon only by the gentle hissing of the gas jets in the fireplace.
The Senator was the first to recover. "Let me see that." Dutifully, Robert handed over the volume.
"It’s not at all like what Daddy was saying, is it?" cried Barbara. "It is so," insisted Robert. "It’s almost exactly alike. That’s all I’m trying to show you."
"Let me look too, Ralph." Martha came forward and the three adults bent their heads over the large pages.
"Well . . . er, ah . . . well . . ." The Senator was struggling for words. "This does seem to paraphrase what I was getting at tonight, doesn’t it, Martha?"
"What if it does?" Martha was defiant. "As far as I’m concerned, it just goes to show how truly great you are. This Hammurabi, whoever he was, must have been a very great man."
"Isn’t that true, Robert?" His mother was accusing.
"Well, in a way, it is true." Robert now felt that everyone was against him and that in some way he was personally responsible for what Mr. Durant had written. "But actually, he was a liar."
"Oh, Robert," gasped Sarah, "how could you ever say such a thing?"
"But it’s true, Mom. Honest. I’m not trying to say that Dad is a liar. I’m just trying to show you that Hammurabi was a liar. And it’s true that what Dad said and what Hammurabi said were the same."
"That will be all!" Sarah’s eyes were blazing. "Your father, the Senator, is loved and respected by everyone. I will not have him held up to scorn and ridicule in his own home. Go to your room!"
But the Senator intervened. "Now, Sarah. Robby doesn’t mean to make it sound as badly as it did. Tell us about Hammurabi, son. Why do you say he was a liar?"
Robert stood his ground. "My history teacher said he was a liar, Dad. And what he said and what happened afterwards prove it. That part in there that I read to you is just something taken from a big stone cylinder that Hammurabi had made when he was king in Babylon. That was about 2000 B.C. Hammurabi, my history teacher said, was a ‘do-gooder.’ He caused all the people to be taxed so that big expensive palaces could be built for him to live in. He said he was doing it for the people, but the people lost their money and lived in bondage under him and the other kings who came after him.
"He said he brought water to the people of his area. But that isn’t true. Some French archeologists dug up the remains of a very ancient civilization not far from the site of Babylon . And they discovered in the mummified remains of some workmen that they found, grains of millet. And by that process they were able to determine that the land around Babylon had been irrigated with lots of water for centuries before Hammurabi was made king. He just took the credit for things other people had done.
"And then, if you read further in there, you’ll see that he claims to have established a permanent government and peace and security for all future time to come. And that makes him a liar, Dad, because the civilization he was talking about is no more. So he couldn’t have done what he said he did, because if he had, it would still be there."
This was quite a speech for Robert. But now that he’d said what he had, his position seemed suddenly immaterial. He didn’t want to hurt his father. He just had a passion for truth and it had seemed to him that his father had been a little too self-satisfied. Now he was afraid. And tears came to his eyes, which the adults didn’t see because of those enormous glasses.
"Very interesting," commented the Senator. But his mind was in a whirl. If some opponent of his had made charges such as this, he could have employed all of his political sagacity and charm in skirting the issue, misleading the audience, ridiculing his opposition. But in his own home . . . he didn’t know where to begin. And there was a most uncomfortable feeling which was beginning to bring a flush under his collar that Robert was right.
Sarah now took charge. "All right, Robert. Thank you for helping us with our education. I don’t see that anything you have said makes any difference at all." And with a real show of authority she bustled the children out and upstairs.
After a few awkward moments Martha, too, excused herself and retired to her room, leaving the Senator alone with his thoughts.
In addition to Will Durant’s Our Oriental Heritage (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1935), the following references may throw further light on the nature of Hammurabi’s reign:
Harper, R. F. Code of Hammurabi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Callaghan & Co., 1904.
Assyrian and Babylonian Literature. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1901.
Jastrow, Morris. Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1915.
Rawlinson, George. The Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World.
Dawson, Christopher. Enquiries into Religion and Culture. New York : Sheed and Ward, Inc., 1933.