Chapter 3. Hammurabi (Units)

 

When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind. …

Code of Laws

1. If any one ensnare another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death. …

59. If any man, without the knowledge of the owner of a garden, fell a tree in a garden he shall pay half a mina in money. …

121. If any one store corn in another man's house he shall pay him storage at the rate of one gur for every five ka of corn per year. …

228. If a builder build a house for some one and complete it, he shall give him a fee of two shekels in money for each sar of surface. …

234. If a shipbuilder build a boat of sixty gur for a man, he shall pay him a fee of two shekels in money. …

239. If a man hire a sailor, he shall pay him six gur of corn per year. …

241. If any one impresses an ox for forced labor, he shall pay one-third of a mina in money. …

257. If any one hire a field laborer, he shall pay him eight gur of corn per year. …

273. If any one hire a day laborer, he shall pay him from the New Year until the fifth month (April to August, when days are long and the work hard) six gerahs in money per day; from the sixth month to the end of the year he shall give him five gerahs per day. …

277. If any one hire a ship of sixty gur, he shall pay one-sixth of a shekel in money as its hire per day. …

282. If a slave say to his master: "You are not my master," if they convict him his master shall cut off his ear.

The Epilogue

Laws of justice which Hammurabi, the wise king, established. A righteous law, and pious statute did he teach the land. Hammurabi, the protecting king am I. I have not withdrawn myself from the men, whom Bel gave to me, the rule over whom Marduk gave to me, I was not negligent, but I made them a peaceful abiding-place. …

 The Code of Hammurabi, ca. 1750 BC [1]

3.1.

I don't believe it! An ancient fire demon channeling bits of wisdom through a chemistry professor? An inspirational arachnid filling up people's heads with cobwebs? And now I guess I'm supposed to be the veritable Ruler of Babylon come back from the dead to enlighten the multitude. What's next, Bible codes?

Look, you need to take all of this mumbo jumbo with a great big grain of metaphorical salt, if you ask me. Since Fire and Earth have given you such a whopping great load of cock and bull, I suppose that I had better try to air things out, as it were. To begin with, I'm not a demon, spirit, hob-goblin, ghost, wraith, or bogeyman of any kind. I'm not going to eat your brain, I don't speak proto-Indo-European or any other ancient tongue for that matter, and I can't remember what happened yesterday, let alone 3,750 of years ago. You're reading a book, for the love of Mike; I'm just a fictional character in it. Cogito etse non sum. Lucifer and Unktomi are also figments of the Author's imagination. The only difference is, he hasn't let them in on that little secret.

The concept for this book started out well enough. The Author began thinking about the notions in his head, recipes, song fragments, advertising jingles, stories, and instructions. He thought about where he got those notions, from friends and family and teachers. He thought about those people getting notions from their friends and family and teachers. Ultimately, he reasoned, there had to be the first person to get any particular notion and it seemed to him that the notion itself had a life of its own. After all, any time a notion passes from one person to another, it's as if the original notion has replicated itself. Some notions are better replicators than others and so there's a struggle for survival among competing notions just as there is among organisms. The Author looked inside his own head a little too closely and what he found was a seething ferment of thought-creatures.

The Author didn't invent the notion of these thought-creatures, of course; he got it from a book, The Selfish Gene[2] by biologist Richard Dawkins. In his book Dawkins promotes the concept that anything which exhibits the properties of fidelity, fecundity, and longevity is subject to the laws of natural selection. A replicator which exhibits fidelity is able to make exact, or nearly exact copies of itself. A high-fidelity replicator which exhibits fecundity is able to make many such copies and a fecund, high-fidelity replicator which exhibits longevity will give rise to significant populations which may compete with other replicators for survival. Most of Dawkins' book applies this theory to genes, but at the end of his book he applies the same theory to the aforementioned thought-creatures, dubbed memes to evoke genetic analogies.

These memes do not replicate biochemically; they replicate by imitation. When one creature is capable of imitating the behavior of another, the entity which passes from one to another is defined as a meme. Dawkins envisioned simple tunes, gestures, postures, and utterances as examples of entities which can be transmitted from one to another by imitation. Only some of these tunes, gestures, postures, and utterances will succeed in being imitated and so there are selection pressures which favor some memes at the expense of others. But in the midst of this competition there can also be cooperation; some memes will gang up on others, forming meme complexes which promote the replication of the entire gang. Philosophies, religions, languages, fashions, and industries each push their own notions over those of their competition and in this sense, the meme complex takes on a life of its own, living in the culture which rose out of the individual memes.

The Author of this book became obsessed with the notion of memes; in fact, you might say that he was possessed by it. He decided to let these memons narrate the book, twisting them into four narrative voices. Personally, I think that the whole alchemical-spirit shtick is a bit on the loony side, but what do I know? I'm just one of those twisted narrative voices so don't imagine that I'm running the show. It may be memetically incorrect, but if you ask me you would be better off skipping the ooga-booga dished out by Fire, Earth and Water in the first section of each of their chapters. I got stuck with air, so all of my paragraphs start out with its alchemical symbol, which looks rather like an "A." When you see it, just think of

The Author has assigned to Lucifer and Unktomi chapters dealing with rather mundane notions like charcoal and stone, leaving me with the more gravitationally challenged, in his mind "airy" topics. One of the most useful of these notions is that of the unit. A unit is nothing to fear; it's just a standard amount of something. The gallon, for example, is a unit of volume; the foot, a unit of length; and the pound, a unit of weight. I don't suppose that units came up very often at the King of Babylon's cocktail parties but units are there in his Code; the ka and the gur are units of volume; the shekel and mina are units of weight; the sar is a unit of area. Who set the rent for a boat of sixty gur? Who put the sar in the Code of Hammurabi? Who charged a gur for a ka-ka-ka-ka-ka? Who said a tree ought to cost a half a mina?

I'd like to shake the hand of whoever came up with units. I mean, just imagine what it must have been like before they came along. There you are, trying to make ends meet in the dog-eat-dog world of Neolithic high-finance. You build a house and offer to store the grain of your neighbor and she agrees to give you some of it for your trouble. The big day comes when your neighbor comes to collect her grain. As she empties room after room you expect her to stop at any minute and say, "Why don't you keep the rest, with my compliments." Only she doesn't stop. Finally, with the house looking as empty as something on the cover of Better Huts and Gardens, she turns and hands you one measly grain. As if you're going to make bread for the Babylonian Circus of Fleas!

The next year you demand 60 sacks of grain for the privilege and she agrees. Next thing you know she's filling up your house from floor to ceiling with grain. There are sacks in the bedroom, sacks in the kitchen, sacks in the living room, sacks in the hallway. You spend the year stepping over, sliding past, heaving aside, and digging things out from under her bountiful harvest. When payday comes you walk through rooms you don't remember having, looking for your share. There, in the corner of the kitchen are 60 Lilliputian sacks, each containing a single grain! Granted, that represents a 6000% increase over the year before, but it hardly seems worth the effort. If only you could be sure of getting a specific quantity of grain for the use of your storage space, it might be remotely possible to make an honest living without losing your shirt. Of course, different people might use different sized sacks or pots or rulers and you would need to be able to factor out the differences between various units. Such an analytical system would require that the factors be standard, that is, high-fidelity. In order for it to work, everyone would have to know them, that is, the factors would have to be fecund. And it would't do you much good if the factors were fickle; they ought to remain constant for long periods of time. If such a notion ever got started, it would probably take on a life of its own, passing from one person to the next, from one culture to the next, and from one generation to the next. We might call this notion "Unit Factor Analysis," or UFA.

Notes

[1]

Reference [13].

[2]

Reference [77].