The Writings of Confucius, Hammurabi, and the Book of the Dead


Three of the most famous writings from ancient
civilizations are the writings of Confucius, Hammurabi's
code of laws, and Egypt's Book of the Dead. At first, they
seem very different, they're from different times, regions,
and religions, but they all offer a peek into what values
ancient people considered important. 

One of the values that all three civilizations is justice
and fairness. I feel that this is best viewed in
Hammurabi's laws. All of the penalties for the crimes are
very stiff, but fair. I feel that it is fair that "If he
has broken the limb of a patrician, his limb shall be
broken" It's like in the Bible "An eye for an eye, and a
tooth for a tooth." In Egypt, in the Book of the Dead, a
man couldn't proceed into the after life unless he was
found innocent of any wrong doing on Earth. In Confucius'
writings, he never actually says the word "justice", but he
does say "Great Man cherishes excellence; Petty Man, his
own comfort. Great Man cherishes the rules and regulations;
Petty Man special favors." To me, that mean "Great Man is
fair, Petty man is unfair." 
The second of these three values is responsibility and
respect to one's family and elders, and responsibility and
respect to others families and elders. This is most evident
in Confucius' writings. He is constantly stressing family
values and responsibility. One quote that shows this is
"Let the sole sorry of your parents be that you might
become ill." This stresses personal responsibility and
respect to your parents. Hammurabi showed responsibility by
saying "If a builder has built a house for a man, and has
not made his work sound, and the house he built has fallen,
and caused the death of the man's son, the builder's son
shall be put to death." That quote shows a man's
responsibility for himself and his family. In Egypt, during
the ritual of the dead, it is said that the dead man, in
order to pass into the afterlife, must profess that he has
not done anything to hurt anyone. This shows responsibility
because if the man did not tell the truth, he was
responsible for not entering the afterlife. Knowing that
they would be responsible for their actions, the Egyptians
tried not to hurt people in their mortal lives. 
The final value that all three cultures had in common was
being truthful. All three cultures relied heavily on the
truth. In Hammurabi's laws, it says "If a man has borne
false witness in a trial, or has not established the
statement that he has made, if that case be a capital
trial, that man shall be put to death." In other words "If
you lie, you die." When Confucius examined himself every
day, he asked the question "have I been false with my
friends?" In Egypt, it was important that a man be truthful
when brought before Osiris, because if they didn't tell the
truth, they would be banished from the afterlife. One of
the lines of the Book of the Dead reads "I have not
committed sin in the place of truth," which I read as "I
have not lied." Each one of these three civilizations
used different methods to enforce them. In Sumer,
Hammurabi's strict punishments kept people from disobeying
them. On the other hand, Egypt didn't use any kind of
physical punishment, but they used threats. The people
thought that if they went against the values, Osiris, god
of the afterlife, would punish them after their died. In
China, the values weren't enforced, but they were protected
by the government. In the second century B.C., Confucianism
became the official philosophy of China, thus preserving it
for the future. 
I am greatly impressed by Hammurabi's ideas. His laws may
sound harsh, but they had to be. In ancient Sumer, you had
to be harsh or people wouldn't even listen. I don't agree,
however, with his double standards. I feel that a life is
worth just as much whether it's a patrician or a plebeian.
I think that Confucius' ideas are the ones that come the
closest to my own beliefs. I like the fact that Confucius'
ideas are still just as relevant today as they were in
ancient China. 


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