The Code of Hammurapi is a famous text that celebrates the achievements of king Hammurapi of Babylon (1792-1750 BCE) and, most importantly, includes a long collection of laws that are said to have been promulgated by that king. Although the text was composed in the Old Babylonian period, it became part of the "stream of tradition," and was transmitted uninterruptedly until the Late Babylonian period, in both Assyria and Babylonia.
Its fame was such that a commentary on it was composed at some point of the first millennium. All that survives of that commentary is this small fragment, which in fact represents the only known exegetical treatise on any legal text from ancient Mesopotamia. It was identified and first published by W. G. Lambert.
The fragment belongs to the upper left corner of the tablet, and it contains some lines from near the beginning of the text and some from near the end. A rubric is preserved, which classifies the contents of the tablet as a ṣâtu-commentary on the text "If [a man...]," i.e., the first line of the law section of the Code.
The first preserved lines of the obverse of the fragment comment on the second law of the Code, whereas the last ones before the rubric correspond to the twenty-fifth law. It is uncertain whether commentaries covering all 300 laws of the code ever existed. The tablet to which this fragment belongs did not comment on the prologue of the Code, and it is unknown whether a commentary on it also existed.
The few preserved lines contain several interesting equations. In at least two cases (r 3' and 5') the commentary provides glosses with contemporary equivalents for words that were outdated at the time it was composed: so for instance the Old Babylonian word numātu, "possessions," is explained with the more common word unâtu, "utensils." Line 2', previously undeciphered, contains in fact another contemporizing gloss: the divine River (díd) is equated with the god Ea, an equation that also underlies the ordeal section of the text dubbed King of Justice.
In three of the lines however the commentary seems to be not of strictly philological character, but rather of speculative nature. Thus for instance the very common preposition ina, "in," is rendered by means of the highly learned logogram éš(ku). This logogram was probably then used by the commentator for some other hermeneutical operation. In a similar manner, line 2' of the text (coll.) equates a rather common verb (šalû, "to submerge") with the very uncommon writing gir₅.gir₅, taken from the lexical list Diri. This probably was intended to prove that the apodosis could be deduced from the protasis, i.e., that the clauses were internally consistent, which is also a main concern of the commentaries on divinatory and medical texts.
The fragment was collated in January 2014, and important new collations for lines o 2' and 3' are incorporated in the edition below.