The Law Lie - 4 - Contracts

Believe it or not, there is some structure behind this series of posts dealing with “The Law Lie” (itself a part of “The God Lie”). In turn, the structure in these posts follows from the historical structure behind laws.

Thus, before any laws could be promulgated, opinions were required about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (i.e., about morality) and about justice; in addition, the laws of any society usually reflect its customs. Consequently, before addressing the lie that laws are dictated by the gods, it seemed necessary (or at least, useful) to expose 1) the lie that morality is defined by the gods, 2) the lie that justice is the jurisdiction of the gods, and 3) the lie that customs were created by the gods. I therefore focused on those three lies in the previous three posts. In this post, as another preliminary before addressing the lie that laws are dictated by the gods, I want to expose aspects of the Law Lie incorporated in another historical precursor to a substantial body of law, namely, contracts.

Written records show that, for at least the past 5,000 years, contracts have incorporated additional facets of the Law Lie. A facet familiar in many cultures is the lie that oaths are binding when sworn to the gods. One example is the oath commonly sworn by Muslims: “In the name of Allah, the merciful, and he is my witness that I promise this.” Another example is the arguably unconstitutional use by U.S. government officials of the phrase “so help me God.”

That second example is especially noteworthy, because swearing with the oath “so help me God” is probably promoted by the majority of Americans – who are also Christian – and yet, as given at Matthew 5, 33–37, Jesus allegedly prohibited such oaths:
“Again, you have learned that our forefathers were told, ‘Do not break your oath’ and ‘Oaths sworn to the Lord must be kept.’ But what I tell you is this: You are not to swear at all… Plain ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ is all you need to say…”
Another facet of the Law Lie occurs in Christian marriage-ceremony contracts, namely, the lie (from Matthew 19, 6): “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” In reality [“In truth, as God is my witness” (!)], no god is involved in putting together any marriage! That is, in contrast to such lies (such nonsense!), since the knowledge that no god exists (or has ever existed) is even firmer than the knowledge that we humans exist, it follows that no god has (or has ever had) anything to do with any oath or any contract.

When such mistakes first occurred (mistakes that are now lies promoted by conniving clerics of the world) is unknown. Even when humans first entered into contracts is unknown, but surely it was tens of thousands of years ago, e.g., when the first man and woman were married, when the first hunter agreed to share his kill with the craftsman who made arrows, or when the first two tribes agreed not to poach on the other tribe’s hunting area. In fact, even other animals (besides humans) seem to enter into contracts, e.g., herd animals such as elephants and dolphins apparently have “contractual relationships” to protect all young members of the herd, and pack animals such as dogs and wolves commonly enforce “territorial contracts”.

The principal definition for ‘contract’ in the Oxford American Dictionary is a[n]… agreement… that is intended to be enforceable by law. “In the beginning”, however, the only laws available to enforce contracts were what-can-be-called natural laws, i.e., instinctive reactions of humans (and other animals) when they find themselves in undesirable situations, namely, fighting, fleeing, or fencing-off. As examples: 1) if disagreements among human tribes arose about rights to a certain territory, then similar to other pack animals, fights might ensue (i.e., reliance on enforcement of the law of the jungle, “might makes right”), 2) if women and children were threatened, then, similar to other herd animals, members of a human tribe might flee from the intruders, and 3) if a member of a tribe violated a marriage agreement, then the tribe might exile the violator (fencing him or her off from future interactions with the tribe). It therefore seems highly probable that people entered into contracts long before Ezra & Co-conspirators (Ezra & C-C) put together (“redacted”) the first five books (the Pentateuch) of the Old Testament (OT, about 2,400 years ago), long before the first laws were written (about 4,000 years ago), and even long before writing was invented (about 5,000 years ago).

In all early societies, no doubt disputes arose over details of many contracts. Thus, someone may have agreed to trade ten sheep for an ox, but when the time for the trade arrived, disputes could arise, for example, about the age of the sheep or the health of the ox. In many cases, such disputes were probably adjudicated by the tribe’s leader or “council of elders”, with the judgment relying on reports of witnesses to the contract. With the invention of writing, contracts could be “spelled out”, certified by the parties involved and by witnesses, and the record could be used both to decrease the number and intensity of disputes that would need to be adjudicated and to permit more rapid resolution of any disputes that were brought before “the court”. Below, I’ll show examples of ancient contracts that scholars have posted on the internet.

The earliest contracts that I found on the internet were from Ancient Egypt and were apparently assembled by William A. Ward of the Department of Egyptology at Brown University as part of his 1995 “NEH Lecture”. A copy of his lecture, with links to the original contracts, is here. The first document Ward lists, dated to be from about 2600 BC, is the Will of Prince Nikaure, son of King Khafre. In part it states the following, with “[…]” representing missing text, “(text)” and “[text]” representing text added by someone else, and I’ve added a few notes in “curly brackets” {such as these!}:
Year of the 12th Counting of [all] large and small animals [of Upper and Lower Egypt] {i.e., similar to Wills written today, this one starts with a specification of the date}.

Prince Nikaure [.....] makes [this deposition], he being alive on his feet and not being sick {a statement similar to the familiar preamble in Wills today: “being of sound mind and body”}.

{The Will now starts listing the desired disposition of his assets.} Given to the King’s Acquaintance (his wife) Kaen-nebty: in the [.....] Nome (the estate named) ‘Khafre [.....].’

His son, the King’s Acquaintance Nikaure {It’s not clear to me if the expression “the King’s Acquaintance” was similar to the modern phraseology, “citizen of…” or if the King (or Pharaoh) really knew these people – but then, Nikaure was a prince}: in the Northern Nome (the estate named) “Khafre [.....].”

His daughter, the King’s Acquaintance Hetepheres: in the Eastern Nome (the estate named) “Khafre [.....]” and in the Northeast Nome (the estate named) “Khafre [.....].” {This prince certainly had a lot of “estates”!}

[His daughter], the King’s Acquaintance Kaen-nebty the Younger: in the [.....] Nome, (the estate named) “Great is the Power of Khafre,” and in the Dolphin Nome, (the estate named) “Khafre [.....]”.

His beloved wife, the King’s Acquaintance Kaen-nebty {I wonder why this item wasn’t listed earlier, as another item left to his wife}: in the Viper Nome, (the estate named) “Khafre is Goodly,” and in the Pomegranate-tree Nome, (the estate named) “Khafre [.....].”

The tomb for his daughter in the pyramid-cemetery of (King) Khafre.
I trust that the reader is impressed with the above document, not only because it’s more than 4,500 years old (!), i.e., more than 2,000 years older than the Pentateuch, but because it gives important glimpses of Ancient Egyptian society. Thus, it shows not only that “marriage contracts” existed and were honored but also that property was owned (at least by this prince), that it could be disposed through inheritances, and that wives and daughters (as well as sons) could inherit property. In fact, according to Ward, the oldest known biography (dating from ~2700 BCE and found in the tomb of an Egyptian fellow by the name of Metchen) mentions land that he inherited not from his father but from his mother.

From the same source, a second document (from ~1900 BCE) shows the Will of two brothers. The information that I’ve added in “curly brackets” is from the same source (i.e., Ward). By way of introduction, he notes:
There are two documents recorded on this papyrus. The first is a copy made from the original in an official archive. This is the Will of the older of two brothers who has given his property to his younger brother. The copy was necessary to validate the provisions of the second document, the Will of the younger brother, who wishes to pass on the family property to his wife. Note that both brothers have the same given name, though are identified by nicknames so that no confusion would arise in the disposition of the property.

First Will
Copy of the Will made by the Trustworthy Sealer of the Controller of Works Ankh-renef.

Year 44, Month 2 of the Summer Season, day 13.

Will made by the Trustworthy Sealer of the Controller of Works Ihy-seneb, nick-named Ankh-renef, son of Shepsut {Ward adds: “His mother. Egyptian men were as-often-as-not identified as the sons of their mother rather than as the sons of their father.”}

All my possessions in field and town shall belong to my brother, the Priest in Charge of the Duty-shifts (of priests) of (the god) Sopdu, Lord of the East, Ihy-seneb, nick-named Wah, son of Shepsut. All my dependents shall belong to my brother…
It’s not clear if this older brother was married or had any children; by “dependents” he may have meant his slaves, which are mentioned in the Second Will, the Will of the younger brother Wah, made five years later and copied below.
Second Will
Year 2, Month 2 of the Inundation Season, day 18.

Will made by the Priest in Charge of the Duty-shifts (of priests) of (the god) Sopdu, Lord of the East, Wah. {Ward adds: “Priests served in regular 8-hour shifts throughout the 24-hour day. This was to maintain the continuous cycle of ritual as well as astronomical observations during the night hours.”}

I am making a will for my wife, a lady of the town of Gesiabet, Sheftu, nick-named Teti, daughter of Sit-Sopdu {her mother; i.e., daughters were also identified by naming their mother} concerning all the property that my brother Ankh-renef, the Trustworthy Sealer of the Controller of Works, gave to me along with all the goods belonging to his estate that he gave to me. She may give these things as she pleases to any children of mine she may bear. {It’s therefore clear that women in Ancient Egypt were much more liberated than they were in Ancient Israel and Judaea and than they are in “modern” Muslim nations.}

I also give to her the four Canaanites that my brother Ankh-renef, the Trustworthy Sealer of Works, gave to me. She may give (them) as she please to her children. {I assume that these ‘Canaanites’ were the ‘dependents’ mentioned in the Will of his brother, Ankh-renef. These Canaanites might be called ‘slaves’ (just as the Hebrews, who allegedly migrated from Canaan to Egypt at about this time, called themselves ‘slaves’), but consistent with material in the OT, Ward adds the note: “The ‘four Canaanites’ are family dependents. It was customary in Egyptian Wills to care for such retainers [Ward uses the word ‘retainers’ rather than ‘slaves’] and make sure they would remain employed by the family in the future. Many Canaanites and other foreigners migrated to Egypt in search of employment and a better life. Due to the fluid social strata in Egypt, many were able to rise far above the rank of household servants into the professions, high government office, etc.” (I don’t know what evidence Ward has to support that statement, besides the OT.)}

As for my tomb, I shall be buried in it with my wife without anyone interfering therewith. As for the house that my brother Ankh-renef, the Trustworthy Sealer, built for me, my wife shall live therein and shall not be evicted from it by anyone. {That is, as Ward notes: “Sheftu not only receives the security of a home, her ownership of which cannot be contested, but is also assured a proper burial in her husband’s tomb. The latter provision is the duty of the children.”} The Deputy Gebu shall act as the guardian for my son.
If you aren’t impressed by the above two documents, then I’d encourage you to read them again – and again! – and then, think about them! Through 4,000 years (four thousand years!!) of fog and murky mist of history (with stories of religions and wars that have been confused, obscured, camouflaged, and polluted by the smoke and mirrors of politicians and priests) these two Wills, like two brilliant lasers, reveal some truth: someone leaves his property and his household dependents to his brother, and that brother leaves his estate to his wife, with provisions for his children. They’re simple, honest, clear statements of life as it really was ~4,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt – at least for those Egyptians wealthy enough to be concerned about writing Wills.

The above Wills also show the importance of written “contracts”. In contrast, a third document given by Ward and copied below, shows a dispute that arose from inadequacies of oral contracts. Unfortunately, Ward doesn’t give an estimate of the date of this document. In his notes, though, he does add the following information.
This dispute was presented to an oracle; oracles were just as legally binding as cases heard in a regular law court. The oracle in question is that of the deified king Amenhotep I who, with his mother, became the patron saints of the village of Deir el-Medineh where a very active cult was maintained on their behalf.
Given that Amenhotep I ruled from about 1526 to 1506 BCE, this dispute therefore occurred after 1500 BCE.

Although this document is confusing, I’ll just quote it:
Help me, my lord! My mother has caused quarreling with my brothers, saying: “I gave you two shares of copper,” though it was really my father who gave me a copper bowl, a copper razor, and two copper jars. It was the Scribe Pentaweret who gave them to me. But she has taken them and bought a mirror. May my (lord) establish a price in deben for them. My father also gave me 5 sacks of emmer and 2 sacks of barley. They belong to my husband for a period of 7 years, but he has only received 4 sacks. “There is one man and one woman; take 2 shares.” Thus my mother said to me.
Ward adds notes trying to infer what was going on, but if you read the notes, I expect that you’ll continue to be confused – and already, that’s the main point I wanted to make: here was a case where confusion (and a family quarrel) arose, because no written contract was prepared and witnessed.

In contrast, Ward’s next document shows a firm contract between a bridegroom and his father-in-law:
Year 23, Month 1 of the Planting Season, day 5.

This day, Telmontu {the father-in-law} declared to the Chief Workman Khonsu and the Scribe Amon-nakht, son of Ipui {i.e., two “officials”}: “Cause Nakhemmut {the bridegroom} to swear an Oath of the Lord to the effect that he will not depart from my daughter.”

The Oath of the Lord which he {the bridegroom} swore: “As Amon lives, as the Ruler lives, if I should turn away to leave the daughter of Telmontu {the father-in-law} at any time, I will receive a hundred blows and be deprived of all profits that I have made with her…”
Ward adds the note:
The prospective bridegroom here renounces all claim to any community property he and his wife may gain during the coming marriage should he leave his wife. In case of a divorce, the wife is thus better off than under normal circumstances where community property is divided. This is a unique case in the known legal literature, but may represent a common practice.
And I would ask the reader to notice that the bridegroom swore his oath to the god, Amon.

I’ll skip showing Ward’s example of a woman charging her husband with abuse (that is, she was struggling against the law of the jungle that her husband’s might made him right!), but I’d call the reader’s attention to two features of this case. One is that the abused wife apparently relates to “the court” that her husband broke his previous oath:
And he swore (an Oath of the Lord) saying: “As Amon endures, as (the Ruler) endures…”
That is, apparently oaths sworn to the gods were no more binding 4,000 years ago than they are now! And second, consider Ward’s note associated with this document, because it provides information about how the courts of Ancient Egypt functioned:
There was no professional judiciary in Egypt. All tribunals, from the Vizier’s court down to the local village courts, were made up of ordinary citizens who functioned as judges, jury, and attorneys for both defendant and plaintiff. The members of the tribunal are named… in all court proceedings as those responsible for hearing the case and passing judgment. “Judges” were appointed on an ad hoc basis for each individual trial, or, as in the case of village courts, for a full day during which several cases were heard.
I’ll similarly skip over Ward’s other examples, but I’d like to quote two sentences from his Document IX, dealing with the Will of Amonkhau in Favor of His Second Wife. In his “presentation” to the court, Amonkhau states:
For Pharaoh has said: “Each one should do as he wishes with his property.”
Amonkhau also states:
… but Pharaoh has said: “Give the dowry of each woman to her.”
From these two statements it seems clear that the Pharaoh has “proclaimed” various “laws of the land” – although, on the internet, I didn’t find an extensive list of what these laws were. Providing a little more information, Ward adds the note:
A woman’s inheritance was at least her dowry plus one-third of the community property gained during the marriage; this also applied in case of divorce. In the present case, the law seems to be that community property acquired during the second marriage should be inherited by the second wife and not by the first wife or her children.
Such evidence suggests to me that later developments of contracts (and laws and judicial proceedings) by the Ancient Greeks and Hebrews were more primitive (by one or two thousand years!) than those of the Ancient Egyptians.

Meanwhile, though, the people living in Mesopotamia seemed to be as advanced as (or even more advanced than) the Egyptians. Thus, marriage “contracts” were certainly already common in Sumer when they invented writing. For example, as I showed in an earlier post, The Instructions to Ziusudra from his father Curuppag, son of Ubara-Tutu (first written before 2600 BCE) contains the advice:
You should not play around with a married young woman: the slander could be serious. My son, you should not sit alone in a chamber with a married woman.
A host of additional Mesopotamian contracts from the same time period and later has been assembled on the internet by Paul Halsall, History Department, Fordum University. In turn, Halsall identifies his source for these documents as the article by George Aaron Barton entitled “Contracts” in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature: Selected Transactions, With a Critical Introduction by Robert Francis Harper (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1904), pp. 256-276.

Halsall has arranged the various contracts that have been found (on clay tablets) into eleven categories, only some of which I’ll illustrate immediately below (because some of the illustrations he gives are not so ancient). In what follows, I’ll quote both the translations (put in italics and colored purple) from the original tablets along with some of Halsall’s comments (colored blue and in which I’ve changed BC to BCE). In a few cases, to the original contracts I’ve added some notes in brackets […]; notes in parentheses (…) are either Halsall’s or Barton’s. When reading what follows, I hope the reader will pause to consider that, in contrast to the fake contracts (summarized later in this post) that were incorporated in the Pentateuch by Ezra & C-C, what follows are “the real McCoy”: real contracts dealings with real problems between and among real people.
I. Sales and Purchases
1. Contract for the Sale of a Slave, Reign of Rim-Sin, c. 2300 BCE.
In this transaction the sellers simply guarantee to make no further claim upon the slave…

Sini-Ishtar has bought a slave, Ea-tappi by name, from Ilu-elatti, and Akhia, his son, and has paid ten shekels of Silver, the price agreed. Ilu-elatti, and Akhia, his son, will not set up a future claim on the slave. In the presence of Ilu-iqisha, son of Likua; in the presence of Ilu-iqisha, son of Immeru; in the presence of Likulubishtum, son of Appa, the scribe, who sealed it with the seal of the witnesses. The tenth of Kisilimu, the year when Rim-Sin, the king, overcame the hostile enemies.

2. Contract for the Sale of Real Estate, Sumer, c. 2000 BCE.
This is a transaction from the last days of Sumerian history. It exhibits a form of transfer and title which has a flavor of modern business…

Sini-Ishtar, the son of Ilu-eribu, and Apil-Ili, his brother, have bought one third Shar of land with a house constructed, next the house of Sini-Ishtar, and next the house of Minani; one third Shar of arable land next the house of Sini-Ishtar, which fronts on the street; the property of Minani, the son of Migrat-Sin, from Minani, the son of Migrat-Sin. They have paid four and a half shekels of silver, the price agreed. Never shall further claim be made, on account of the house of Minani. By their king they swore. [Notice that, for this contract, the parties didn’t swear an oath to some god but to “their king”.] (The names of fourteen witnesses and a scribe then follow.) Month Tebet, year of the great wall of Karra-Shamash.

II. Rentals
Contract for Rent[ing] a House, One Year Term, c. 2000 BCE.
This is the simplest form of rental, and comes from early Babylonian times.

AKHIBTE has taken the house of Mashqu from Mashqu, the owner, on a lease for one year. He will pay one shekel of silver, the rent of one year. On the fifth of Tammuz he takes possession. (Then follow the names of four witnesses.) Dated the fifth of Tammuz, the year of the wall of Kar-Shamash.

III. Labor Contracts
Contract for Hire of Laborer, Reign of Shamshu-Iluna, c. 2200 BCE.
This is a contract from the reign of Shamshu-iluna of the Akkadian dynasty, c. 2200 BCE. It is [one] of many of like character.

MAR-SIPPAR has hired for one year Marduk-nasir, son of Alabbana, from Munapirtu, his mother. He will pay as wages for one year two and a half shekels of silver. She has received one half shekel of silver, one se (1/180th of a shekel), out of a year’s wages.

IV. Co-Partnerships
Contract for Partners to Borrow Money against Harvest, c. 2000 BCE.
The two farmers who borrow the money on their crop are partners.

SIN-KALAMA-IDI, son of Ulamasha, and Apil-ilu-shu, Son of Khayamdidu, have borrowed from Arad-Sin sixteen shekels of money for the garnering of the harvest. On the festival of Ab they will pay the wheat. (Names of three witnesses and a scribe follow, and the tablet is dated in the year of a certain flood. It is not stated in the reign of what king it was written, but it clearly is from either the dynasty of Ur III or that of Akkad.)

VIII. Marriage
Contract for Marriage, Reign of Shamshu-ilu-na, c. 2200 BCE…
The bride was a slave, and gained her freedom by marriage, and hence the penalty imposed upon her in case she divorced her husband is greater than that imposed on him in case he divorced her.

RIMUM, son of Shamkhatum, has taken as a wife and spouse Bashtum, the daughter of Belizunu, the priestess (?) of Shamash, daughter of Uzibitum. Her bridal present shall be… shekels of money. When she receives it she shall be free. If Bashtum to Rimum, her husband shall say, “You are not my husband, [i.e., if she divorces him] they shall strangle her and cast her into the river. If Rimum to Bashtum, his wife, shall say, “You are not my wife,” he shall pay ten shekels of money as her alimony. They swore by [the gods] Shamash, Marduk, their king Shamshu-ilu-na, and Sippar [There was a city, Sippar (now Tell Abu Habbah, Iraq); did they swear also on the city?]

X. Adoption
Contract for Adoption, c. 2000 BCE.

ARAD-ISKHARA, son of Ibni-Shamash, has adopted Ibni-Shamash. On the day when Arad-Iskhara to Ibni-Shamash, his father, shall say, “You are not my father,” he shall bind him with a chain and sell him for money. When Ibni-Shamash to Arad-Iskhara, his son, shall say, “You are not my son,” he shall depart from house and household goods; but a son shall he remain and inherit with his sons.
Next, consider some examples of Mesopotamian contracts during the time period when the Jews were in Babylon and the Pentateuch was being “redacted” by Ezra & C-C. These examples are from the same source and I’ll use the same format as for the examples given above.
I. Sales and Purchases
Contract for the Sale of a Slave, 8th year of Nebuchadnezzar II, 597 BCE.
This tablet affords a good example of the sale of a slave. In this case the persons who sell guarantee that the slave will neither become insubordinate, nor prove to be subject to any governmental claims, nor prove to have been emancipated by adoption. The word rendered “emancipation” means literally “adoption,” but adoption by a freeman was an early form of emancipation…

SHAMASH-UBALLIT and Ubartum, children of Zakir, the son of Pashi-ummani, of their free-will have delivered Nanakirat and her unsveaned son, their slave, for nineteen shekels of money, for the price agreed, unto Kaçir and Nadin-Marduk, sons of Iqisha-aplu, son of Nur-Sin. Shamash-uballit and Ubartum guarantee against insubordination, the claim of the royal service, and emancipation. Witnesses: Na’id-Marduk, son of Nabu-nacir, son of Dabibi; Bel-shum-ishkun, son of Marduk-zir-epish, son of Irani; Nabu-ushallim, son of Bel-akhi-iddin, son of Bel-apal-uçur. In the dwelling of Damqa, their mother. And the scribe, Nur-Ea, son of Ina-Isaggil-ziri, son of Nur-Sin. Babylon, twenty-first of Kisilimu, eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.

Contract for the Sale of a Standing Crop, 7th year of Cyrus, 532 BCE.
This contract belongs to a class intermediate between rental and the sale of land. Instead of either, the standing crop is sold.

From a cultivated field which is situated on the alley of Li’u-Bel, Itti-Marduk-balatu, the son of Nabu-akhi-iddin, the son of Egibi, has made a purchase from Tashmitum-damqat, daughter of Shuzubu, son of Shigua, and Nadin-aplu, the son of Rimut, son of Epish-Ilu. Itti-Marduk-balatu has counted the money, the price of the crop of that field for the seventh year of Cyrus, King of Babylon, king of countries, into the hands of Tashmitum-damqat and Nadin-aplu. (The names of two witnesses and a scribe then follow) Babylon, Ululu thirteenth, the seventh year of Cyrus.

Contract for the Sale of Dates, 32nd year of Darius, 490 BCE.
Shibtu, the place of this transaction, was a suburb of Babylon. This shows how women, especially of the lower rank, carried on business for themselves. The father of Aqubatum, as his name, Aradya (“my slave”) shows, had been a slave.

One talent one qa of dates from the woman Nukaibu daughter of Tabnisha, and the woman Khamaza, daughter of _______, to the woman Aqubatum, daughter of Aradya. In the month Siman they will deliver one talent one qa of dates. Scribe, Shamash-zir-epish, son of Shamash-malku. Shibtu, Adar the sixth, thirty-second year of Darius, King of Babylon and countries.

Contract for the Sale of Wheat, 35th year of Darius, 487 BCE.
This tablet is a good illustration of the simple transactions in foodstuffs, of which we have many… The farmers usually contracted as in this document the sale of their produce far in advance of the harvest. In this instance the sale was made six months before the grain would be ripe and could be delivered.

Six talents of wheat from Shamash-malku, son of Nabu-napshat-su-ziz, to Shamash-iddin, son of Rimut. In the month Siman, wheat, six talents in full, he will deliver in Shibtu, at the house of Shamash-iddin. Witnesses: Shamash-iddin, son of Nabu-usur-napishti; Abu-nu-emuq, son of Sin-akhi-iddin; Sharru-Bel, son of Sin-iddin; Aban-nimiqu-rukus, son of Malula. Scribe, Aradya, son of Epish-zir. Shibtu, eleventh of Kislimu, thirty-fifth year of Darius king of countries.

II. Rentals
Contract for Rent & Repair of a House, One Year Term, 35th year of Darius, 487 BCE.
This contract is most interesting. Iskhuya, apparently a tenant of Shamash-iddin, undertakes to repair the house in which he is living. In addition to the rent for the year he is to receive fifteen shekels in money, in two payments, at the beginning and the completion of the work. The last payment is to be made on the day of Bel, which seems to be identical with the first of Tebet, a week later than the contract was made. In case the repairs were not then completed, Iskhuya was to forfeit four shekels. Such business methods are not, therefore, altogether modern.

In addition to the rent of the house of Shamash-iddin, son of Rimut, for this year, fifteen shekels of money in cash (shall go) to Iskhuya, son of Shaqa-Bel, son of the priest of Agish. Because of the payment he shall repair the weakness (of the house), he shall close up the crack of the wall. He shall pay a part of the money at the beginning, a part of the money at the completion. He shall pay it on the day of Bel, the day of wailing and weeping. In case the house is unfinished by Iskhuya after the first day of Tebet, Shamash-iddin shall receive four shekels of money in cash into his possession at the hands of Iskhuya. (The names of three witnesses and a scribe then follow.) Dated at Shibtu, the twenty-first of Kislimu, the thirty-fifth year of Darius.

III. Labor Contracts
Contract for Production of a Coat of Mail, 34th year of Darius, 488 BCE.
This tablet is dated in the thirty-fourth year of Darius I (488 BCE) and was regarded as an important transaction, since it is signed by four witnesses and a scribe.

One coat of mail, insignum of power which will protect, is to be made by the woman Mupagalgagitum, daughter of Qarikhiya, for Shamash-iddin, son of Rimut. She will deliver in the month Shebat one coat of mail, which is to be made and which will protect.

Contract of Warranty for Setting of a Gold Ring, 35th year of Artaxerxes, 429 BCE.
The transaction needs no comment. The wealthy representative of the house of Murashu obtained from the firm of jewelers which sold him the ring a guarantee that the setting would last for twenty years; if it does not, they are to forfeit ten manas.

Bel-akha-iddin and Bel-shunu, sons of Bel-_______ and Khatin, son of Bazuzu, spoke unto Bel-shum-iddin, son of Murashu, saying: “As to the ring in which an emerald has been set in gold, we guarantee that for twenty years the emerald will not fall from the gold ring. If the emerald falls from the gold ring before the expiration of twenty years, Bel-akha-iddin, Bel-shunu (and) Khatin will pay to Bel-shum-iddin ten manas of silver.” (The names of seven witnesses and a scribe are appended. The date is) Nippur, Elul eighth, the thirty-fifth year of Artaxerxes.

IV. Co-Partnerships
Contract for a Partnership, 36th year of Nebuchadnezzar II, 568 BCE.
Nabu-akhi-iddin was an investor – a member of the great Egibi family. He contributed four manas of capital to this enterprise, while Bel-shunu, who was to carry on the business, contributed one half mana and seven shekels, whatever property he might have, and his time. His expenses in the conduct of the business up to four shekels may be paid from the common funds.

Two manas of money belonging to Nabu-akhi-iddin, son of Shula, son of Egibi, and one half mana seven shekels of money belonging to Bel-shunu, son of Bel-akhi-iddin, Son of Sin-emuq, they have put into a co-partnership with one another. Whatever remains to Bel-shunu in town or country over and above, becomes their common property. Whatever Bel-shunu spends for expenses in excess of four shekels of money shall be considered extravagant. (The contract is witnessed by three men and a scribe, and is dated at) Babylon, first of Ab, in the thirty-sixth year of Nebuchadnezzar.

V. Loans and Mortgages
Contract for Loan of Money, 40th year of Nabopolassar, 611 BCE.
This is a mortgage on real estate in security for a loan. The interest was at the rate of eleven and one-third per cent.

ONE mana of money, a sum belonging to Iqisha-Marduk, son of Kalab-Sin, (is loaned) unto Nabu-etir, son of _____, son of _____. Yearly the amount of the mana shall increase its sum by seven shekels of money. His field near the gate of Bel is Iqisha-Marduk’s pledge. (This document bears the name of four witnesses, and is dated) at Babylon, Tammuz twenty-seventh, in the fourteenth year of Nabopolassar, (the father of Nebuchadnezzar).

Contract for Loan of Money, Sixth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, 598 BCE.
The rate of interest in this case was thirteen and one-third per cent.

One mana of money, a sum belonging to Dan-Marduk, son of Apla, son of the Dagger-wearer, (is loaned) unto Kudurru, son of Iqisha-apla, son of Egibi. Yearly the amount of the mana shall increase its sum by eight shekels of money. Whatever he has in city or country, as much as it may be, is pledged to Dan-Marduk. (The date is) Babylon, Adar fourth, in Nebuchadnezzar’s sixth year.

Contract for Loan of Money, 5th year of Nabonidus, 550 BCE.
This loan was made Aru third, in the fifth year of Nabonidus. No security was given the creditor, but he received an interest of twenty per cent. [Wow! Either there was serious inflation or the guy was a loan shark!]

One and a half manas of money belonging to Iddin-Marduk, son of Iqisha-apla, son of Nur-Sin, (is loaned) unto Ben-Hadad-natan, son of Addiya and Bunanit, his wife. Monthly the amount of a mana shall increase its sum by a shekel of money. From the first of the month Siman, of the fifth year of Nabonidus, King of Babylon, they shall pay the sum on the money. The call shall be made for the interest money at the house which belongs to Iba. Monthly shall the sum be paid.

VI. Bankruptcy
Contract for Purchase of Mortgage, 2nd year of Evil-Merodach, 560 BCE.
[This contract] exhibits how in a case of bankruptcy the interests of the creditor were conserved in the sale of the mortgaged property. It also proves that in Babylonian law the value of the estate was not in such cases sacrificed to the creditor, but that the debtor could obtain the equity in his property which actually belonged to him.

Two thirds of a mana of money, a loan from Bel-zir-epish, son of Shapik-zir, son of the smith, to Nabu-apla-iddin, son of Balatu, son of the _____, a loan upon the Gin (of land) which was delivered unto the creditor, and (on) the house of Nabu-apla-iddin, (which) Nergal-sharra-usur, son of Bel-shum-ishkun, has bought for money. One-third mana of money for the payment wherewith the creditor to be paid Marduk-apla-iddin, son of Bel-zir-epish, son of the smith, has received as agent for Nergal-sharra-usur, from Nabu-akhi-iddin, son of Shula, son of Egibi. The receipt for two-thirds manas (which) Bel-zir-epish (loaned) to Nabu-apla-iddin, Marduk-apla-usur, his son gave to Nergal-sharra-usur. Until Marduk-apla-usur unto the scribes of the king shall speak and shall receive the seal of possession, Nabu-akhi-iddin, son of Nabu-shum-iddins, son of Bel-shuktanu, shall hold the certificate of the receipt of the two-thirds manas of money. (This instrument is dated) Babylon, Nisan twenty-sixth, of the second year of Evil-Merodach.

VII. Power of Attorney
Contract for Power of Attorney, 12th year of Artaxerxes, 452 BCE.
…It appears that the two brothers mentioned in [this contract] wished to make provision for a slave of one of them, who was perhaps being cared for at the Temple of Sharru. One man, perhaps their tenant, was empowered to pay to another the rent of a house of theirs; he in turn was to take it to the temple and see that certain men receive it.

Eighteen shekels of money, rent belonging to Arad-Anu-ilu-la-ilu-iprus and Shapi, sons of Arad-belanu, of _____. From the month Tebet, of the twelfth year of Artaxerxes, Bel-akhi-iddin, son of Bel-abu-akhi, shall receive eighteen shekels of money from the empowered attorney, Imsa-sharru-arda, son of Bel-iddin, on behalf of Arad-Anu-ilu-la-ilu-iprus and Shapi. He shall enter in the Temple of Sharru, into the little temple, the shrine, and shall deposit in the treasury the money, and the singer and the scribe shall receive it for the exalted divinity [and what the “exalted divinity” didn’t want, no doubt the clerics would put it to “good” use!] from the hand of Bel-akhi-iddin, son of Bel-abu-akhi, on behalf of Khuru, the slave of Arad-Anu-ilu-la-ilu-iprus, and Sharru-shu, son of Dan-ila.

VIII. Marriage
Contract for Marriage, 13th year of Nebuchadnezzar II, 591 BCE.
This contract is dated at Babylon, in the thirteenth year of the Biblical Nebuchadnezzar, and is an example of marriage by purchase – a form of marriage which had practically fallen into disuse at this time [to be resurrected ~1200 years later in Islam!].

Dagil-ili, son of Zambubu, spoke to Khamma, daughter of Nergal-iddin, son of Babutu, saying: “Give me Latubashinni your daughter; let her be my wife.” Khamma heard, and gave him Latubashinni, her daughter, as a wife; and Dagil-ili, of his own free-will, gave Ana-eli-Bel-amur, a slave, which he had bought for half a mana of money, and half a mana therewith to Khamma instead of Latubashinni, her daughter. On the day that Dagil-ili another wife shall take, Dagil-ili shall give one mana of money unto Latubashinni, and she shall return to her place – her former one. (Done) at the dwelling of Shum-iddin, son of Ishi-etir, son of Sin-damaqu.

IX. Divorce
Contract for Divorce, 3rd year of Nabonidus, 552 BCE.

NA’ID-MARDUK, son of Shamash-balatsu-iqbi, will give, of his own free-will, to Ramua, his wife, and Arad-Bunini, his son, per day four qa of food, three qa of drink; per year fifteen manas of goods, one pi sesame, one pi salt, which is at the store-house. Na’id-Marduk will not increase it. In case she flees to Nergal [i.e., she dies], the flight shall not annul it. (Done) at the office of Mushezib-Marduk, priest of Sippar.

X. Adoption
Contract for Adoption, 9th year of Nabonidus, 544 BCE.
This document illustrates not only the method of adoption, but the way in which that process might be made impossible by the will of an ancestor in cases involving property.

Bel-kagir, son of Nadinu, son of Sagillai, spoke thus to Nadinu, his father, son of Ziri-ya, son of Sagillai: “To Bit-turni you did send me and I took Zunna as my wife and she has not borne me son or daughter. Bel-ukin, son of Zunna, my wife, whom she bore to her former husband, Niqudu, son of Nur-Sin, let me adopt and let him be my son; on a tablet record his sonship, and seal and bequeath to him our revenues and property, as much as there is, and let him be the son taken by our hands.” Nadinu was not pleased with the word Bel-kagir, his son, spoke to him. Nadinu had written on a tablet, “For the future any other one is not to take their revenues and property,” and had bound the hands of Bel-kagir, and had published in the midst, saying: “On the day when Nadinu goes to his fate, after him, if a son shall be born from the loins of Bel-kagir, his son shall inherit the revenues and properties of Nadinu, his father; if a son is not born from the loins of Bel-kagir, Bel-kagir shall adopt his brother and fellow heir and shall bequeath his revenues and the properties of Nadinu his father to him. Bel-kagir may not adopt another one, but shall take his brother and fellow-heir unto sonship on account of the revenues and properties which Nadinu has bequeathed.” (From this point the tablet is too broken for translation until we reach the witnesses. It was dated) at Babylon in the ninth year of Nabonidus.

XI. Inheritance
Contract for Division of an Estate, 3rd year of Cyrus, 535 BCE.
A good example of a will has already been given above. It appears there that wills like that of Nadinu [immediately above] would stand in spite of the wishes of some of the heirs. We may here illustrate the division of estates among the heirs. This instrument was executed at Borsippa in the third year of Cyrus.

TABLET concerning the division into gin of an estate the dowry of Banat-Esaggil, their mother, which Marduk-iddin-akhi, son of Nabu-bel-shinati, son of Nur-Papsukal, divided and of which he gave to Tukultum-Marduk, son of Nabu-bel-shinati, son of Nur-Papsukal, his brother, his portion. Thirty-three and two-thirds cubits, the upper long side on the north, twenty cubits bordering on the street of _____, the side of the house of Ina-qibi-Bel, son of Balatu, son of the Rab-Uru, and the side of the house of Nabu-uballit, son of Kabtiya, son of Nabu-shimi; thirty-three cubits and eight hands, the lower long side on the south, by the side of the house of Marduk-iddin-akhi, son of Nabu-bel-shinati, son of Nur-Papsukal; thirteen cubits eight-hands, the upper short side on the west, bordering on the street Katnu-agu, thirteen cubits eight hands, the lower short side on the east, eight cubits eight hands (being on) an alley which is eight fingers wide, on the side of the streets; Katnu-la-acu; the sum is eight and two thirds gin, the measurement of the estate, the portion of Tukultum-Marduk, together with two gin, the difference _____ which the chief justice, the shukkaltum and the judges have written upon the tablet and have granted to Tukultum-Marduk, son of Nabu-bel-shanati, son of Nur-Papsukal, from Marduk-iddin-akhi, son of Nabu-bel-shanati, his brother. Marduk-iddin-akhi has thus given it to Tukultum-Marduk. An exit, an inalienable privilege which belongs to the share of Tukultum-Marduk, Marduk-iddin-akhi, son of Nabu-bel-shanati, son of Nur-Papsukal, will not remove from Tukultum-Marduk, his brother. Their suit with one another concerning their estate is ended. They will not move against one another on the basis of the suit about the estate. In order that neither may undertake it they have issued duplicate (tablets).
It’s interesting (at least to me) that, in contrast to the quoted contracts from Ancient Egypt, essentially all of the above Mesopotamian contracts didn’t invoke any gods. But as the following (and my final) example shows, the Ancient Arabs (similar to the Ancient Egyptians) did invoke their gods to “witness” their contracts – at least, for the case shown, pledging friendship. This example is described in The History, which was written in 440 BCE by “the world’s first historian”, Herodotus:
The Arabs keep such pledges more religiously than almost any other people. They plight faith with the forms following. When two men would swear a friendship, they stand on each side of a third: he with a sharp stone makes a cut on the inside of the hand of each near the middle finger, and, taking a piece from their dress, dips it in the blood of each, and moistens therewith seven stones lying in the midst, calling the while on [the gods] Bacchus and Urania. After this, the man who makes the pledge commends the stranger (or the citizen, if citizen he be) to all his friends, and they deem themselves bound to stand to the engagement. They have but these two gods, to wit, Bacchus and Urania… Bacchus they call in their language Orotal, and Urania, Alilat.
This pledge of friendship is similar to the “blood-brother pledge” of Native Americans – although the method used by the Ancient Arabs was obviously more sanitary!

In fact, Herodotus’s above description of the pledge of friendship among Ancient Arabs brings to mind a Calvin & Hobbs comic strip by a genius of our time, Bill Watterson. The strip is shown below; all figures in this post are © Bill Watterson; below each strip I’ve typed the text of each caption (not only because Google’s translator won’t translate the text in figures but also because, this morning, Google’s blogspot is being a pain).

[1) Calvin (C): Here, Hobbes, I’ve drawn up a friendship contract for you to sign. Hobbes (H): A contract? 2) C: Right. It codifies the terms of our friendship. You can renegotiate in 20 years. 3) H: People are friends because the want to be, not because they have to be! 4) C: That’s what this fixes. H: If your friends are contractual, you don’t have any.]

It might be of interest if some information was added about the two gods on whose names the Ancient Arabs swore their oaths of friendship, since Herodotus wrote his book approximately 1,000 years before Muhammad declared “There is only one god but Allah.” As seen in the above quotation from Herodotus, the two gods were Orotal (whom he considered to be the same as the Greek god Bacchus or Dionysus) and Alilat (or Allāt, al-Lāt, or al-’llāhat, whom he considered to be similar to the Greek goddess Urania or Aphrodite). Aremen Rizal adds:
In pre-Islam era, Allah is the name of the highest deity of Mecca people. He is the protector god of Mecca and was worshipped along with his daughters (female deities) Allat, Al-Uzza, and Manat. Herodotus, the Greek historian from about 450 BCE, tells us that the North Arabians had a god and goddess named Orotal and Alilat. Orotal is simply a corruption of Allah, or Allah Ta’al, Allah The Most High.
Wikipedia gives the following translation for a relevant sentence in Herodotus’s Histories (III:38)
They [the Ancient Arabs] believe in no other gods except Dionysus and the heavenly Aphrodite; and they say that they wear their hair as Dionysus does his, cutting it round the head and shaving the temples. They call Dionysus, Orotal; and Aphrodite, Alilat.
More than a thousand years later, as part of his Islamic revolution in the 7th Century CE, Muhammad elevated Allah to the position of sole, creator god, and simultaneously, he “dethroned”, “disrobed”, and discarded all goddesses, such as the pre-Islamic Allah’s three daughters al-‘Uzzá, Manāt, and al-Lāt (or Alilat or Aphrodite).

The Hebrews had a similar “heave-ho”. During the 7th Century BCE (as described in the OT at 2 Kings 23), the misogynist Jewish clerics discredited, abused, and discarded Yahweh’s female companion i.e., the goddess Asherah. Archeological evidence to support that statement is given by William Dever in a question and answer session associated with the PBS-NOVA TV program “The Bible’s Buried Secrets”:
Q: Are there any images of Asherah?

Dever: For a hundred years now we have known of little terracotta female figurines. They show a nude female; the sexual organs are not represented but the breasts are. They are found in tombs, they are found in households, they are found everywhere. There are thousands of them. They date all the way from the 10th century to the early 6th century. They have long been connected with one goddess or another, but many scholars are still hesitant to come to a conclusion. I think they are representations of Asherah, so I call them Asherah figurines.

Q: There aren’t such representations of Yahweh, are there?

Dever: No. Now, why is it that you could model the female deity but not the male deity? Well, I think the First and Second Commandments by now were taken pretty seriously. You just don’t portray Yahweh, the male deity, but the Mother Goddess is okay. But his consort is probably a lesser deity.

We found molds for making Asherah figurines, mass-producing them, in village shrines. So probably almost everybody had one of these figurines, and they surely have something to do with fertility. They were no doubt used to pray for conceiving a child and bearing the child safely and nursing it. It’s interesting to me that the Israelite and Judean ones are rather more modest than the Canaanite ones, which are right in your face. The Israelite and Judean ones mostly show a nursing mother.

Q: This has been something of a lightning rod, has it not?

Dever: This is awkward for some people, the notion that Israelite religion was not exclusively monotheistic. But we know now that it wasn’t. Monotheism was a late development . Not until the Babylonian Exile and beyond does Israelite and Judean religion – Judaism – become monotheistic.
All of which brings to mind another of Bill Watterson’s creations:

[1) C: Hi Susie! Would you sign this legal document? Susie (S): What is it? 2) C: In essence, it annuls our knowledge of each other’s existence and it prohibits any future social interaction. 3) C: Specifically, it states that I’ll never ask you out on a date, and it imposes severe penalties on any party that attempts to engage the other in conversa… 4) C: It’s almost insulting how fast she signed that.]

And actually, the more Calvin & Hobbs strips I review, the more they seem to illustrate the Pentateuch! To see what I mean, consider this. Apparently the Hebrews exiled in Babylon found themselves living in a culture inundated by contracts (as illustrated earlier in this post). As a result, Ezra & C-C apparently became so enamored by contracts that they decided to concoct a “holy book” (the Pentateuch) that spelled out contracts (or “covenants”) between them and their god! To see links with Calvin & Hobbs cartoons, consider the following illustrations.

1. In the Adam & Eve story of Genesis 2 & 3, the authors have the tyrant-teacher (Yahweh) order the kids (Adam & Eve) not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – thereby preventing them from learning that it was “good” to obey his orders! Subsequently, a more honest teacher (a talking snake) told the kids the truth, that Yahweh had lied when he said (Genesis 2, 16): “You may eat from every tree in the garden, but not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for on the day that you eat from it, you will certainly die.” The following Calvin & Hobbs version is somewhat restricted – but then, in contrast to the creators of the Bible, it was a part of Watterson’s brilliance to keep his cartoons realistic, not resorting to silly stunts such as talking snakes.

[1) C: Miss Wormwood (MW). I’d like you to sign this contract. 2) C: It’s an agreement that you’ll compensate me for any loss of job income I may suffer as an adult because of a poor first-grade education. 3) MW: If you get a poor first-grade education, it will be from your lack of effort, not mine. Get back to your desk. 4) C: By golly, somebody ought to pay me if I don’t learn anything.]

2. In the Bible’s version of the flood story (plagiarized from earlier Mesopotamian myths), the bully Yahweh hideously kills essentially everyone. Upon realizing that he had made major mistakes (i.e., that he had “sinned”, big time), Yahweh then enters into a contract with the patriarch survivor (Noah, or in earlier versions of the myth, Ubar-Tutu, Ziusudra, Curuppag, Atrahasis, or Utanapishtam). Specifically, Yahweh promises (Genesis 9): “never again will all living things be wiped out by the waters of a flood” – provided 1) that people “not eat meat with its life (that is, meat with blood in it)” [but, but… all meat has blood in it!] and 2) that people not “shed human blood” [apparently, then, people who participate in wars are risking the destruction of us all!]. To remind himself that he entered into this contract (or “covenant”), the bully Yahweh (who apparently has a failing memory) stated (Genesis 9, 14): “Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, then I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures of all kinds.” I think Watterson captured the essence of this biblical nonsense with the following:

[1) C: Hold it, Moe (M)! Before you wallop me, I’m afraid you’ll have to sign this form. 2) M: What’s this? C: It’s a statement acknowledging responsibility for your behavior. 3) C: You agree that hitting me entitles me to unlimited compensation for medical treatment as well as reasonable damages for pain and suffering. You affirm that you’re insured for these costs and… 4) C: Nobody takes responsibility for his actions anymore.]

3. Then, there’s Ezra & C-C’s concocted “covenant” (a fancy synonym for ‘contract’) between Abraham and the giant father-in-the-sky, Yahweh, namely (Genesis 17, 4): “You [Abraham] will be the father of a multitude of nations.” To seal this contract, the giant father-in-the sky added (Genesis 17, 10): “This is my requirement that you and your descendants after you must keep: every male among you must be circumcised.” In my view, Watterson summarized such stupidity beautifully:

[1) C: Here, Dad (D) I’d like you to sign this form and have it notarized. 2) D (reading): “I, the undersigned Dad, attest that I have never parented before, and insofar as I have no experience in the job… 3) D (continuing to read): I am liable for my mistakes and I agree to pay for any counseling, in perpetuity, Calvin may require as a result of my parental ineptitude.” 4) C: I don’t see how you’re allowed to have a kid without signing one of those.]

4. And to top it off, there’s Ezra & C-C’s fictitious contract between the tyrant Yahweh and the fictitious group of 600,000 Hebrews (males, alone) who allegedly were led out from Egypt by the fictional character Moses. Specifically, at Exodus 15, 26, Yahweh allegedly states: “If only you will obey the Lord your God, if you will do what is right in his eyes, if you will listen to his commands and keep all his statutes, then I will never bring upon you any of the sufferings which I brought on the Egyptians…” But (so the clerical story goes) the Israelites didn’t keep their part of the bargain (witness the golden calf episode) – which I think Watterson illustrated clearly:

[1) Moe: Get off the swing, Twinky. C: Forget it, Moe, wait your turn. 2) PUNCH! 3) C: It’s hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning.]

Of course, though, it wasn’t just Jewish clerics who concocted such silly contracts with some giant Jabberwock in the sky. For example, when considering the following Watterson creation, think of the con game run by Christian clerics:

[1) C: Whee hee hee 2) SPLOOSHH 3) C: Oh, what an awful thing I did! How I regret it now! I hereby resolve to change my evil ways! Oh remorse, remorse! 4) C: My penitent sinner shtick needs work.]

Eventually, the Arabs caught on, and Muslim clerics got their con game up and running, too:

[1) C: I want the last piece of pie! Don’t divide it up! Give it to me! Calvin’s Mom: Don’t be selfish Calvin. 2) C: So, the real message here is “Be dishonest”? 3) (Big-grin Calvin wins again!)]

It’s enough to make a person question the existence of any god – especially since any god idea just doesn’t make sense:

[1) C: This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn’t make sense. 2) C: Why all the secrecy? What all the mystery? If the guy exists, why doesn’t he ever show himself and prove it? 3) C: And if he doesn’t exist, what’s the meaning of all this? 4) H: I dunno… isn’t this a religious holiday? C: Yeah, but actually, I’ve got the same questions about God.]

But then, an amazing number of people can apparently rationalize their way to accept almost any wild idea – if they’re given sufficient incentive:

[1) C: Well, I’ve decided I do believe in Santa Claus, no matter how preposterous he sounds. 2) H: What convinced you? C: A simple risk analysis. 3) I want presents, lots of presents. Why risk not getting them over a matter of belief? Heck, I’ll believe anything they want. 4) H: How cynically enterprising of you. C: It’s the spirit of Christmas.]

A slight problem can arise, however: even if you’re willing to ignore the lack of evidence, ignore reason, and worship some god, then still, which one to choose?

[1) C: Can we burn these leaves? C’s father (F): No, that pollutes. 2) C: But how can we appease the mighty snow demons if we don’t sacrifice any leaves?! We’ll have a warm winter! 3) C’s F: I don’t know whether your grasp of theology or meteorology is the more appalling. C: I guess I’ll go light some candles around the toboggan and beg for mercy.]

I mean, think about it:

[1) C: What if we die and it turns out God is a big chicken?? What then?! 2) C’s Mom: Just eat your dinner, OK? C: Eternal consequences, that’s what!]

But let’s face it: some people apparently prefer to live by rules and contracts set by others – although, Calvin apparently wasn’t one of them:

[1) C: What a ripp-off! They say if you connect these dots, you get a picture. But look! I did it and it’s just a big mess! 2) H: I think you’re supposed to connect them in the order that they’re numbered. 3) C: Oh. 4) C: Everything’s gotta have rules, rules, rules!]

But meanwhile, it’s not as if we didn’t have enough to worry about, without attempting to live according to rules and regulations concocted by clerical con artists and without worrying about the existence of silly, clerically-concocted contracts with their fictitious gods:

[1) C: Trick or treat! Homeowner: Where’s your costume? What are you supposed to be? 2) C: I’m yet another resource-consuming kid in an overpopulated planet, raised to an alarming extent by Madison Avenue and Hollywood, poised with my cynical and alienated peers to take over the world when you’re old and weak! 3) C: Am I scary or what?]



The Law Lie - 3 - Customs

In the previous two posts in this series I tried to show some history of two parts of what I call “the Law Lie” (itself a part of what I call “the God Lie”), namely, 1) the lie that morality is defined by the gods and 2) the lie that justice is the jurisdiction of the gods. In this post I want to show a little history of a third part of the Law Lie: 3) the lie that customs were created by the gods. We can be extremely confident that the above (and the many other parts of the God Lie) aren’t valid descriptions of reality, simply because (as I’ve argued elsewhere) the firmest knowledge that we have – even firmer than the knowledge that we exist! – is that no god exists or has ever existed.

I admit, however, that there’s only circumstantial evidence that such “untruths” are also lies (rather than mistakes). This “circumstantial evidence” includes the existence of a huge number of clerical parasites who profit from promoting such silliness, even though ample evidence is readily available to demonstrate that the concepts are wrong. Nonetheless, most clerics may be fools rather than liars; that is, the liars may be only those few clerics who aren’t fools.

In any event, it’s easy to imagine how primitive people reached the mistaken conclusion that, for example, customs were created by the gods. Having convinced themselves that the gods were “the cause” of everything unknown (from the cause of the wind to the reason for the lights in the sky), then upon finding their societies in possession of a host of cultural peculiarities (from sharing food with others to prohibitions against eating certain foods, and from the existence of the concept of marriage to prohibitions against specific sexual activities), it was then logical to deduce (based on the faulty premiss that gods exist) that the gods created their society’s customs.

Now, to investigate the real origins of all customs of any particular society would be an absolutely humongous task; therefore, I plan to severely restrict this post. My goal is to provide some evidence for the origins of only a few of the customs that the authors and “redactors” of the Old Testament (OT) claimed were given to them by their god. The few customs on which I plan to focus are, however, arguably the most important, namely, the customs revealed in “the wisdom literature” of the OT’s Proverbs.

By restricting the scope of this post to customs depicted in the OT’s Proverbs I’m not suggesting my disinterest in origins of other facets of Ancient Hebrew culture. Elsewhere, I’ve already commented (at least a little) on their male chauvinism, which (by the way) is still practiced by most Muslims and which seems to have been derived as a part of the cultural transition from rural to urban life, with associated shift in emphasis from fertility (and female fertility goddesses) to trade and intercity warfare (and associated male gods). Also, in a later post, I plan at least to glance at how the Hebrews apparently combined Egyptian, Persian, and Greek ideas about the gods to (erroneously) conclude that there was only a single god.

Readers interested in other peculiarities of Hebrew culture, such as their aversion to pork and their brutal practice of male circumcision, might want to start by reading The History by Herodotus (who reports in Paragraphs 2.36, 2.37, and 2.47 that both customs were earlier practiced in Ancient Egypt) and then explore further on the internet to find, for example, that the first historical record of male circumcision is associated with the Egyptian physician Ankhmahor (c. 2300 BCE). Originally, the practice of male circumcision seems to have been a part of any boy’s “coming of age” initiation rite, starting in Africa tens of thousands of years ago and spreading worldwide with the aborigines of Australia and South America.

In defense of my plan to focus on Hebrew customs revealed in the OT’s Proverbs, I would not only point to the need to restrict the length of the post but also claim that a substantial portion of the customs of any culture is revealed by its “wisdom literature.” For what follows, my plan is first to display the wisdom literature of earlier, Sumerian and Egyptian cultures, then display some of the Hebrew wisdom literature as given in the OT’s Proverbs, and then, finally, ask the reader to consider clerical claims that the wisdom of the Hebrews was derived not from the people’s experiences but from the first symmetry-breaking fluctuation in the total void that led to the Big Bang (i.e., from “God”).

The first clear record of existing customs appeared when writing was invented, about 5,000 years ago in Sumer, in what’s now called southern Iraq (“Sumer” means “from the south”). Examples of Sumerian customs are contained in their many proverbs available at the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. In that source, I found particularly informative the following proverbs, which I’ve grouped under the indicated headings. Question marks (?) indicate translation uncertainties and (. . .) indicates missing text. Although it’s unknown when these proverbs were developed, they’re obviously from a time period at least twice as long ago as the time period when the OT was put together.

General Sumerian Customs
A good word is a friend to numerous men.

You speak to me – and I will speak to you!

He who insults is insulted. He who sneers is sneered at.

Putting unwashed hands to one’s mouth is disgusting.

One city does not greet another, but one person greets another person.

A hand will stretch out towards an outstretched hand. A hand will open for an opened hand.
Sumerian Family Life
“I’m going home” is what he prefers.

Marry a wife according to your choice. Have children to your heart’s content.

He who does not support a wife, he who does not support a child, has no cause for celebration.

Children and wives and trading agents! How they use up silver! And how they use up barley!

To be sick is acceptable; to be pregnant is painful; but to be pregnant and sick is just too much.

Hand added to hand, and a man’s house is built up. Stomach (?) added to stomach (?), and a man’s house is destroyed.

A malicious wife living in a house is the worst of all afflictions.

When I married a malicious husband, when I bore a malicious son, an unhappy heart was assigned to me.

I will feed you even though you are an outcast (?). I will give you drink even though you are an outcast (?). You are still my son, even if your god has turned against you.

A brewing (?) trough not previously tried is put to the test by means of salt. A mixing jar (?) not previously tried is put to the test by means of water. A son-in-law whose behavior (?) is unknown is put to the test by means of quarrels.

A man’s waterskin is his life. A man’s sandals are his eyes. A man’s wife is his supervisor (?). A man’s son is his protective shade. A man’s daughter is his eager servant (?). A man’s daughter-in-law is his policeman.

The joy of a daughter-in-law is anger.

As for the fiancé, what has he brought? And as for the father-in-law, what has he sorted out?

For his pleasure he got married. On his thinking it over he got divorced.

The married man, having divorced his wife, examined her: “At least I am taking away my dignity!”

An unfaithful penis matches (?) an unfaithful vagina.

No one walks together with him or directs their steps towards him. Life {passes him by like water} {(1 ms. has instead:) eludes him just as he avoids others}. He is dear to no just man, {plague prevails over him} {(1 ms. has instead:) life is not given to him}. Like a worthless penny, {......; no one ......} {(1 ms. has instead:) he is thrown away; no one cares about him}. He is clothed with a garment as if a heavy punishment were assigned to him. {Who is he? His name? A man sleeping with someone’s wife.} {(1 ms. has instead:) Who is he? He is a man who slept with someone’s wife.}
Sumerian Work & Professional Life
While you still have light, grind the flour.

The warrior is unique; he alone is the equal of many.

The axe belongs to the carpenter, the stone belongs to the smith, the good ...... belongs to the brewer.

He who has silver is happy. He who has grain feels comfortable. But he who has livestock cannot sleep.

He who has silver, he who has lapis lazuli, he who has oxen, and he who has sheep wait at the gate of the man who has barley.

He who shaves his head gets more hair. And he who gathers the barley gains more and more grain.

It is on account of being the boss that you bully me.

If the foreman does not know how to assign the work, his workers will not stop shaking their heads.

How will a scribe who does not know Sumerian produce a translation?

The idleness of a low-life causes losses; his shying away (?) from work is perpetual.

Although you poured out water from a river of mighty waters, it did not cool my temper. It did not put an end (?) to the sorcery affecting me.

When battle approaches, when war arises, the plans of the gods, beloved by the gods, are destroyed. You cause fire to devour the Land. May my god know that my hand is suited to the stylus.

A disgraced scribe becomes an incantation priest. A disgraced singer becomes a flute-player. A disgraced lamentation priest becomes a piper. A disgraced merchant becomes a con-man. A disgraced carpenter becomes a man of the spindle. A disgraced smith becomes a man of the sickle. A disgraced mason becomes a hod-carrier.

“You should serve me” is typical of purification priests. Bowing over your hips is typical of leather-workers. To be stationed in all corners is typical of lukur women [“sacred prostitutes”]. “I will be there with you” is typical of gardeners. “I swear by Enki that your garments will take no time in this establishment” is typical of fullers.
General Sumerian Wisdom
The fool is garrulous.

Flies enter an open mouth.

He turns things upside down.

Your role in life is unknown.

Not to know beer is not normal.

The time passed, and what did you gain?

The stupidest of all shameless men.

In the city with no dogs, the fox is boss.

In the city of the lame, the cripple is a courier.

The mighty man is master of the earth.

A palace will fall of its own accord.

Strength cannot keep pace with intelligence.

Who could compete with righteousness?

Good is in the hands. Evil is also in the hands.

A millstone will float in the river for a righteous man.

When righteousness is cut off, injustice is increased.

The expenses (?) of those who neglect justice are numerous.

Let just men be born in good health, and let their lives last long.

The just man’s life lasts long. Life is the gift awarded for it.

What comes out of one’s mouth is not in one’s hand.

Tell a lie and then tell the truth: it will be considered a lie.

As long as you live you should not increase evil by telling lies; for if you do, to succumb will be your lot.

Talking endlessly is what humankind has most on its mind.

Whatever the man in authority said, it was not pleasant.

The poor man inflicts all kinds of illnesses on the rich man.

That which the thief has taken was made by an honest man.

The beloved true commander distributes the leadership (?).

Let great men stir up the conflict for lesser men to fight out.

Is my ox to provide milk for you?

Moving about defeats poverty.

A stranger is leader in a foreign city.

Like an ox, you do not know how to turn back.

He who keeps fleeing, flees from his own past.

Because he always went, because he always ran, “He carried away. He carried away!” is the name assigned to him. A fool.

A fettered dog is quarrelsome.

When a dog snarls, throw a morsel into his mouth.

Don’t start a fight with a dog. Will that dog not bite you?

“Like the wild bull, you only do what pleases you.”

He who says “I will live for today” is bound like a bull on a nose-rope.

A fox urinated into the Tigris. “I am causing the spring flood to rise,” he said.

Brotherhood is founded on the words of a quarrel. At the witness box, friendship becomes known.

Although I spoke, what did I gain? Although I spoke, what did it add? I covered up for myself, but what success did it bring me?

What is in mankind’s mouth is as difficult to hide as a wall. The boy who grew up in your town ...... on you – don’t let your mouth accuse him; don’t slander him; don’t encourage violent retaliation against yourself.

One should pay attention to an old man’s words and one should reap the benefits.

By following craftiness, one learns how to be crafty. By following wisdom, one learns how to be wise.

A child should behave with modesty toward his mother. He should take the older generation into consideration.

A younger brother should honor an older brother. He should treat him with human dignity.

Should not intelligence, wisdom and understanding become perfect ...... to the mouth ...... mankind.

Let the favor be repaid to him who repays a favor.

He who can say “Let him hurry, let him run, let him be strong, and he will carry it!” is a lucky man.

When present, it was considered a loincloth; when lost, it is considered fine clothing.

To eat modestly doesn’t kill a man, but to covet will murder you. To eat a little is to live splendidly. When you walk about, keep your feet on the ground!

The ditches of the garden should not flow with water, or there will be vermin.

Don’t cause the oven in a man’s house to smoke. The smoke will ruin (?) the bread.

Because of his arrogance, may his head be bowed to his neck like a damp reed.

He who possesses many things is constantly on his guard.

A wealthy man had accumulated a fortune. “I am spending it for him.” That said, it was dispersed. Afterwards he could not work out what went wrong. Things change. No one knows what will happen.

My fingernail that hurts is clutched in my embrace. My foot that hurts is in my sandal. But who will find my aching heart?

Let me tell you about my fate: it is a disgrace. Let me tell you of my condition: it makes a man’s mouth taste bitter.

A child without sin was never born by his mother. The idea was never conceived that there was anyone who was not a sinner. Such a situation never existed.

Although the number of unhappy days is endless (?), yet life is better than death.

Pleasure is created. Sins are absolved. Life is rejuvenated.
Notice that none of the above Sumerian proverbs emphasized the gods; in contrast, those listed below emphasize the gods indicated by the headings. For further information on the Sumerian gods see here.

General Gods
… the gods are three. So it is said, so let it be.

A man without a god – for a strong man it is no loss.

To appreciate the earth is for the gods; I am merely covered in dust.

What has been destroyed belongs to a god. No one is able to take it away.

To be wealthy and demand more is an abomination to a god.

Accept your lot and make your mother happy! Run fast and make your god happy!

Should someone clever not act cleverly, then I ......; man’s intelligence comes from god.

Thanks to the word of his personal god, the fate of the man who speaks just words is favorable, and he is with him throughout the day.

A man without a personal god does not procure much food, does not procure even a little food. Going down to the river, he does not catch any fish. Going down to a field, he does not catch any gazelle. In important matters he is unsuccessful. When running, he does not reach his goal. Yet were his god favorable toward him, anything he might name would be provided for him.
The god Utu (Shamash in Akkadian), the Sun god and god of justice
If wickedness exerts itself, how will Utu succeed?

Whenever wickedness may cause trouble, Utu will not be idle!

Uncleared debts ...... are something which makes debts to Utu.

When a trustworthy boat is sailing, Utu seeks out a trustworthy harbor for it.

Adding an inheritance share to an inheritance share is an abomination to Utu.

The palace is an ox; you should catch it by the tail. Utu is lord; you should fix your gaze on him.

He who despises a just decision, who loves wicked decisions, is an abomination to Utu.

Utu, the lord who loves justice, extirpates wickedness and prolongs righteousness.

Utu’s glance is prayerful. Utu’s heart is compassionate. A devotee of Utu is among the holy. Allotted by Utu to be fortunate, a ...... ship reaches the quay.

When a man comes forward as a witness, saying: “Let me tell you what I know,” but does not know the relevant information, it is an abomination to Utu.

A judge who despises justice, cursing with the right hand, and the chasing away of a younger son from the house of his father are abominations to Utu.

Oh Utu, you are my judge: pronounce my judgment! You are my decision-maker, decide my case! The dream that I have seen – turn it into a favorable one!

To spit without covering it up with dust and to use the tongue at midday without protection are abominations to Utu.

To serve beer with unwashed hands, to spit without trampling upon it, to sneeze without covering it with dust, to kiss with the tongue at midday without providing shade are abominations to Utu.

The wolf wept before Utu: “The animals frisk around together, but I am all alone.”

Imagine a wolf is eating. Utu looks down on it and says: “Provided you praise me you will grow fat” would be the reply.

While the wolf sat stuck in a trap, he said to Utu: “When I come out, let me henceforth eat no more sheep. When I am hungry, the sheep I’ve taken, whatever you mention – what will they mean to me? I shall be bound by a righteous oath. – Now, what can I eat?”
Enlil, the god of the Earth, wind, and storms (one of the three great gods, the others two being the sky god Anu and the water god Enki or Ea)
The fox lies (?) even to Enlil.

Enlil’s greatest punishment is hunger.

… you shouldn’t give a lame man a staff. Enlil is his helper.

Don’t give the halt man a club for his arm. Enlil shall be the one to help him!

A fox demanded of Enlil the horns of a wild bull. While it was wearing the wild bull’s horns, it started to rain. But the horns rose high above him, so he could not enter his burrow. Until midnight the wind kept blowing, and the clouds brought rain. Afterwards, when it had stopped raining on him, and he had dried off, he said: “I shall return this feature to its rightful owner!”
Suen, the Moon god and god of wisdom (called Nanna or Sin in Akkadian)
… if the hand touches a woman’s genitals over her clothes – it is an abomination to Suen.

When a man sailing downstream encounters a man whose boat is traveling upstream, an inspection is an abomination to Suen.

When a man comes forward as a witness, saying: “Let me tell you what I know about him”, but does not know the relevant information, it is an abomination to Suen.

The north wind is a satisfying wind; the south wind is harmful (?) to man. The east wind is a rain-bearing wind; the west wind is greater than those who live there. The east wind is a wind of prosperity, the friend of Naram-Suen.
Inana (Akkadian, Ishtar), goddess of fertility, represented by Venus
May Inana pour oil on my heart that aches.

For him who is rejected by Inana, his dream is to forget.

Carrying bread to the oven whilst singing is an abomination to Inana.

May Inana make a hot-limbed wife lie with you! May she bestow upon you broad-shouldered sons! May she find for you a place of happiness!
Ninurta, healing god and god of the South Wind
To take revenge is the prerogative of Ninurta.

To take revenge is an abomination to Ninurta.

Refusing to talk is an abomination to Ninurta.

To remove something from its proper place is an abomination to Ninurta.

They treated an immigrant badly. [1 line fragmentary] It is an abomination to Ninurta.

Coveting and {reaching out for things} {(1 ms. has instead:) spying} are abominations to Ninurta.

The chasing away of a younger son from the house of his father is an abomination to Ninurta.

A judge who despises justice, cursing with the right hand, and the chasing away of a younger son from the house of his father are abominations to Ninurta.
Other Gods
I part the waters (?) like Nirah [a snake deity].

You should not say to Ninjizzida [god of nature]: “Let me live!”

When the authorities are wise, and the poor are loyal, it is the effect of the blessing of Aratta [the land].

He who slanders… for the liar – Ninegala [Ningal (?), the Moon goddess?] will crush his head…

A plant as sweet as a husband, a plant as sweet as a mother; may Ezina-Kusu (the grain goddess) dwell in your home.

The god of the river ordeal will admire the hearts of those who bear words of truth.
Similar sayings were undoubtedly available in Ancient Egypt (and other regions), but most Egyptian writings were recorded on papyrus, which (of course) was much more perishable than clay tablets. Some Egyptian sayings were also carved in stone (e.g., on tombs and in pyramids), but of course, such carvings emphasized the “afterlife” of the dead person. Some of the tomb inscriptions, however, provide at least a glimpse of early Egyptian customs – at least, those customs followed (or claimed to be followed!) by the aristocrats buried in the tombs. An example of a tomb inscription that does convey some ideas about Ancient Egyptian culture is the following.
Inscriptions of Harkhuf, The Explorer (~2525 BCE)
I came today from my city, I descended from my nome, I built a house, I set up the doors. I dug a lake, and I planted trees. The King praised me. My father made a will for me, for I was excellent . . . one beloved of his father, praised of his mother, whom all his brothers loved. I gave bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, I ferried him who had no boat.

I was one saying good things and repeating what was loved. Never did I say aught evil, to a powerful one against any people, for I desired that it might be well with me in the great god’s presence. Never did I judge two brothers in such a way that a son was deprived of his paternal possession.
A much more significant indication of Ancient Egyptian culture is available on “the world’s most precious and oldest papyrus known”, namely, the Prisse Papyrus (named after the Frenchmen who purchased it). It contains The Precepts [or The Maxims of Good Discourse] of Ptah-Hotep.

Actually, the identity of the author isn’t known. There was a vizier under King Isesi called Ptah-Hotep (or Ptahhotep, which seems to mean Ptah is “at peace” or “is satisfied”, where Ptah was claimed by the clerics of Memphis to be the creator god). If this Ptah-Hotep was the author of The Precepts, then they are from 2450–2300 BCE. On the other hand, The Precepts may be a “literary construct”, as apparently were other Instructions of fathers to their sons; if so, then The Precepts may be from ~2300–2150 BCE and by an unknown author. In any case, the author probably relied on available Egyptian proverbs, possibly including those from the time of the first recognized genius in history, the “first engineer, architect, and physician”, Imhotep, c. 2600 BCE.

The full text of The Precepts is available at many places on the web, including here, here, and at The Internet Ancient History Source Book. What follows is an abbreviated form of the text copied from here. I’ve taken the liberty to italicize portions of the text that I found to be particularly perceptive.
Precepts of the Prefect, the lord Ptah-hotep, under the Majesty of the King of the South and North, Assa, living eternally forever.

Beginning of the arrangement of the good sayings, spoken by the noble lord, the divine father, beloved of Ptah, the son of the king, the first-born of his race, the prefect and feudal lord Ptah-hotep, so as to instruct the ignorant in the knowledge of the arguments of the good sayings. It is profitable for him who hears them; it is a loss to him who shall transgress them. He says to his son:

Be not arrogant because of that which you know; deal with the ignorant as with the learned; for the barriers of art are not closed, no artist being in possession of the perfection to which he should aspire. But good words are more difficult to find than the emerald, for it is by slaves that that is discovered among the rocks of pegmatite…

If you find a disputant while he is hot, do not despise him because you are not of the same opinion. Be not angry against him when he is wrong; away with such a thing. He fights against himself; require him not further to flatter your feelings. Do not amuse yourself with the spectacle which you have before you; it is odious, it is mean, it is the part of a despicable soul so to do. As soon as you let yourself be moved by your feelings, combat this desire as a thing that is reproved by the great…

If you have, as leader, to decide on the conduct of a great number of men, seek the most perfect manner of doing so that your own conduct may be without reproach. Justice is great, invariable, and assured; it has not been disturbed since the age of Ptah. To throw obstacles in the way of the laws is to open the way before violence…

Inspire not men with fear, else Ptah will fight against you in the same manner. If any one asserts that he lives by such means, Ptah will take away the bread from his mouth; if any one asserts that he enriches himself thereby, Ptah says: I may take those riches to myself. If any one asserts that he beats others, Ptah will end by reducing him to impotence. Let no one inspire men with fear; this is the will of Ptah. Let one provide sustenance for them in the lap of peace; it will then be that they will freely give what has been torn from them by terror…

If you are a farmer, gather the crops in the field which the great Ptah has given you, do not boast in the house of your neighbors; it is better to make oneself dreaded by one’s deeds. As for him who, master of his own way of acting, being all-powerful, seizes the goods of others like a crocodile in the midst even of watchment, his children are an object of malediction, of scorn, and of hatred on account of it, while his father is grievously distressed, and as for the mother who has borne him, happy is another rather than herself. But a man becomes a god when he is chief of a tribe which has confidence in following him…

Be active during the time of your existence; do no more than is commanded. Do not spoil the time of your activity; he is a blameworthy person who makes a bad use of his moments. Do not lose the daily opportunity of increasing that which your house possesses. Activity produces riches, and riches do not endure when it slackens…

He is a god who penetrates into a place where no relaxation of the rules is made for the privileged…

If you are a leader, setting forward your plans according to that which you decide, perform perfect actions which posterity may remember, without letting the words prevail with you which multiply flattery, which excite pride and produce vanity.

If you are a leader of peace, listen to the discourse of the petitioner. Be not abrupt with him; that would trouble him. Say not to him: “You have already recounted this.” Indulgence will encourage him to accomplish the object of his coming. As for being abrupt with the complainant because he described what passed when the injury was done, instead of complaining of the injury itself let it not be! The way to obtain a clear explanation is to listen with kindness.

If you desire to excite respect within the house you enter, for example the house of a superior, a friend, or any person of consideration, in short everywhere where you enter, keep yourself from making advances to a woman, for there is nothing good in so doing…

If you desire that your conduct should be good and preserved from all evil, keep yourself from every attack of bad humor. It is a fatal malady which leads to discord, and there is no longer any existence for him who gives way to it. For it introduces discord between fathers and mothers, as well as between brothers and sisters; it causes the wife and the husband to hate each other; it contains all kinds of wickedness, it embodies all kinds of wrong. When a man has established his just equilibrium and walks in this path, there where he makes his dwelling, there is no room for bad humor.

Be not of an irritable temper as regards that which happens at your side; grumble not over your own affairs. Be not of an irritable temper in regard to your neighbors; better is a compliment to that which displeases than rudeness. It is wrong to get into a passion with one’s neighbors, to be no longer master of one’s words. When there is only a little irritation, one creates for oneself an affliction for the time when one will again be cool.

If you are wise, look after your house; love your wife without alloy. Fill her stomach, clothe her back; these are the cares to be bestowed on her person. Caress her, fulfill her desires during the time of her existence; it is a kindness which does honor to its possessor. Be not brutal; tact will influence her better than violence; her . . . behold to what she aspires, at what she aims, what she regards. It is that which fixes her in your house; if you repel her, it is an abyss. Open your arms for her, respond to her arms; call her, display to her your love.

Treat your dependents well, in so far as it belongs to you to do so; and it belongs to those whom Ptah has favored…

Do not repeat any extravagance of language; do not listen to it; it is a thing which has escaped from a hasty mouth. If it is repeated, look, without hearing it, toward the earth; say nothing in regard to it. Cause him who speaks to you to know what is just, even him who provokes to injustice; cause that which is just to be done, cause it to triumph. As for that which is hateful according to the law, condemn it by unveiling it.

If you are a wise man, sitting in the council of your lord, direct your thought toward that which is wise. Be silent rather than scatter your words…

If you are powerful, respect knowledge and calmness of language. Command only to direct; to be absolute is to run into evil. Let not your heart be haughty, neither let it be mean. Do not let your orders remain unsaid and cause your answers to penetrate; but speak without heat, assume a serious countenance. As for the vivacity of an ardent heart, temper it; the gentle man penetrates all obstacles. He who agitates himself all the day long has not a good moment; and he who amuses himself all the day long keeps not his fortune…

Disturb not a great man; weaken not the attention of him who is occupied. His care is to embrace his task, and he strips his person through the love which he puts into it. That transports men to Ptah, even the love for the work which they accomplish. Compose then your face even in trouble, that peace may be with you, when agitation is with . . .These are the people who succeed in what they desire.

Let your love pass into the heart of those who love you; cause those about you to be loving and obedient…

If you are annoyed at a thing, if you are tormented by someone who is acting within his right, get out of his sight, and remember him no more when he has ceased to address you.

If you have become great after having been little, if you have become rich after having been poor, when you are at the head of the city, know how not to take advantage of the fact that you have reached the first rank, harden not your heart because of your elevation; you are become only the administrator, the prefect, of the provisions which belong to Ptah. Put not behind you the neighbor who is like you; be unto him as a companion…

Do not plunder the house of your neighbors; seize not by force the goods which are beside you…

If you aim at polished manners, call not him whom you accost. Converse with him especially in such a way as not to annoy him. Enter on a discussion with him only after having left him time to saturate his mind with the subject of the conversation. If he lets his ignorance display itself, and if he gives you all opportunity to disgrace him, treat him with courtesy rather; proceed not to drive him into a corner; do not . . . the word to him; answer not in a crushing manner; crush him not; worry him not; in order that in his turn he may not return to the subject, but depart to the profit of your conversation.

Let your countenance be cheerful during the time of your existence…

Know those who are faithful to you when you are in low estate…

If you take a wife, do not . . . Let her be more contented than any of her fellow-citizens. She will be attached to you doubly, if her chain is pleasant. Do not repel her; grant that which pleases her; it is to her contentment that she appreciates your work…

When a son receives the instruction of his father there is no error in all his plans. Train your son to be a teachable man whose wisdom is agreeable to the great. Let him direct his mouth according to that which has been said to him; in the docility of a son is discovered his wisdom. His conduct is perfect while error carries away the unteachable. Tomorrow knowledge will support him, while the ignorant will be destroyed.

As for the man without experience who listens not, he effects nothing whatsoever. He sees knowledge in ignorance, profit in loss; he commits all kinds of error, always accordingly choosing the contrary of what is praiseworthy. He lives on that which is mortal, in this fashion. His food is evil words, whereat he is filled with astonishment. That which the great know to be mortal he lives upon every day, flying from that which would be profitable to him, because of the multitude of errors which present themselves before him every day.

A son who attends is like a follower of Horus; he is happy after having attended. He becomes great, he arrives at dignity, he gives the same lesson to his children…

Let your thoughts be abundant, but let your mouth be under restraint…
Another important, surviving Egyptian papyrus contains The Instructions of Amenemope. It was written in the eleventh century BCE, mostly in the standard “negative declarations” of the time. The text states that it was “Written by the superintendent of the land, experienced in his office; the offspring of a scribe of the Beloved Land, the superintendent of produce, who fixes the grain measure, who sets the grain tax amount for his lord… Amenemope, the son of Danakht… for his son… [who is also] the son of the… chief singer of Horus, the Lady Tawosret.” Some of the text follows; again I’ve added the italics to emphasize ideas that impressed me.
Chapter 1: Give your years and hear what is said, give your mind over to their interpretation… If you spend a lifetime with these things in your heart, you will find it good fortune; you will discover my words to be a treasure house of life, and your body will flourish upon earth.

Chapter 2: Beware of stealing from a miserable man and of raging against the cripple… Don’t let yourself be involved in a fraudulent business, nor desire the carrying out of it… Something else of value in the heart of God is to stop and think before speaking.

Chapter 3: Do not get into a quarrel with the argumentative man nor incite him with words; proceed cautiously before an opponent, and give way to an adversary; sleep on it before speaking, for a storm come forth like fire in hay is the hot-headed man in his appointed time. May you be restrained before him; leave him to himself, and God will know how to answer him.

Chapter 4: The truly temperate man sets himself apart…

Chapter 5: Do not take by violence the shares of the temple, do not be grasping, and you will find overabundance… 
Do not say today is the same as tomorrow, or how will matters come to pass? When tomorrow comes, today is past… Fill yourself with silence, you will find life, and your body shall flourish upon earth.

Chapter 6: Do not displace the surveyor’s marker on the boundaries of the arable land, nor alter the position of the measuring line; do not be greedy for a plot of land, nor overturn the boundaries of a widow… As for the road in the field worn down by time, he who takes it violently for fields, if he traps by deceptive attestations, will be lassoed by the might of the moon… Take care not to topple over the boundary marks of the arable land, not fearing that you will be brought to court; man propitiates God by the might of the Lord when he sets straight the boundaries of the arable land… Desire, then, to make yourself prosper, and take care for the Lord of all; do not trample on the furrow of someone else; their good order will be profitable for you… So plough the fields, and you will find whatever you need, and receive the bread from your own threshing floor: better is the bushel which God gives you than five thousand deceitfully gotten, they do not spend a day in the storehouse or warehouse, they are no use for dough for beer, their stay in the granary is short-lived, when morning comes they will be swept away. Better, then, is poverty in the hand of God than riches in the storehouse; better is bread when the mind is at ease than riches with anxiety.

Chapter 7: Do not set your heart upon seeking riches, for there is no one who can ignore Destiny and Fortune. Do not set your thoughts on external matters: 
 for every man there is his appointed time… Do not exert yourself to seek out excess and your wealth will prosper for you; if riches come to you by theft, they will not spend the night with you; as soon as day breaks they will not be in your household… Do not be pleased with yourself (because of) riches acquired through robbery, neither complain about poverty…

Chapter 8: Set your good deeds throughout the world that you may greet everyone… Keep your tongue safe from words of detraction, and you will be the loved one of the people… set a good report on your tongue, while the bad thing is covered up inside you.

Chapter 9: Do not fraternize with the hot-tempered man, nor approach him to converse… take care of speaking thoughtlessly; when a man’s heart is upset, words travel faster than wind and rain.

Chapter 10: Do not address your intemperate friend in your unrighteousness, nor destroy your own mind; do not say to him, “May you be praised,” not meaning it, when there is fear within you. 
Do not converse falsely with a man, for it is the abomination of God. Do not separate your mind from your tongue; all your plans will succeed. You will be important before others, while you will be secure in the hand of God. God hates one who falsified words, his great abomination is duplicity.

Chapter 11: Do not covet the property of the dependent nor hunger for his bread…

Chapter 12: Do not covet the property of an official, and do not fill (your) mouth with too much food extravagantly… Do not deal with the intemperate man, nor associate yourself to a disloyal party.

Chapter 13: Do not lead a man astray reed pen or papyrus document: it is the abomination of God. Do not witness a false statement… Better it is to be praised as one loved by men than wealth in the storehouse; better is bread when the mind is at ease than riches with troubles.

Chapter 14: Do not pay attention to a person, nor exert yourself to seek out his hand, if he says to you, “take a bribe”… another time he will be brought (to judgment).

Chapter 15: Do well, and you will attain influence…

Chapter 16: Do not unbalance the scale nor make the weights false, nor diminish the fractions of the grain measure… Do not get for yourself short weights… If you see someone cheating, at a distance you must pass him by. Do not be avaricious for copper, and abjure fine clothes. What good is one cloaked in fine linen woven as med, when he cheats before God?…

Chapter 17: Beware of robbing the grain measure to falsify its fractions; do not act wrongfully through force…

Chapter 18: Do not go to bed fearing tomorrow, for when day breaks what is tomorrow? Man knows not what tomorrow is! God is success; Man is failure… Do not say, “I am without fault,” nor try to seek out trouble… Be strong in your heart, make your mind firm…

Chapter 19: Do not enter the council chamber in the presence of a magistrate and then falsify your speech… Tell the truth before the magistrate, lest he gain power over your body…

Chapter 20: Do not corrupt the people of the law court, nor put aside the just man; do not agree because of garments of white, nor accept one in rags. Take not the gift of the strong man, nor repress the weak for him. Justice is a wonderful gift of God, and He will render it to whomever he wishes… Do not falsify the oracles on a papyrus and (thereby) alter the designs of God. Do not arrogate to yourself the might of God as if Destiny and Fortune did not exist… Hand property over to its (rightful) owners, and seek out life for yourself…

Chapter 21: Do not say, I have found a strong protector and now I can challenge a man in my town. Do not say, I have found an active intercessor, and now I can challenge him whom I hate. Indeed, you cannot know the plans of God; you cannot perceive tomorrow… Empty not your soul to everybody, and do not diminish thereby your importance; do not circulate your words to others, nor fraternize with one who is too candid. Better is a man whose knowledge is inside him than one who talks to disadvantage…

Chapter 22: Do not castigate your companion in a dispute, and do not him say his innermost thoughts… May you first comprehend his accusation and cool down your opponent…

Chapter 23: Do not eat a meal in the presence of a magistrate, nor set to speaking first. 
If you are satisfied with false words, enjoy yourself with your spittle. Look at the cup in front of you, and let it suffice your need…

Chapter 24: Do not listen to the accusation of an official indoors, and then repeat it to another outside. 
Do not allow your discussions to be brought outside, so that your heart will not be grieved…

Chapter 25: Do not jeer at a blind man nor tease a dwarf, neither interfere with the condition of a cripple…

Chapter 26: Do not stay in the tavern and join someone greater than you, whether he be high or low in his station, an old man or a youth; but take as a friend for yourself someone compatible… When you see someone greater than you outside, and attendants following him, respect (him). 
And give a hand to an old man filled with beer: respect him as his children would. The strong arm is not weakened when it is uncovered, the back is not broken when one bends it; better is the poor man who speaks sweet words than the rich man who speaks harshly.

Chapter 27: Do not reproach someone older than you, for he has seen the Sun before you; do not let yourself be reported to the Aten when he rises, with the words, “Another young man has reproached an elder”…

Chapter 28: Do not expose a widow if you have caught her in the fields, nor fail to give way if she is accused. 
Do not turn a stranger away your oil jar that it may be made double for your family. 
God loves him who cares for the poor, more than him who respects the wealthy.

Chapter 29: Do not turn people away from crossing the river when you have room in your ferryboat…

Chapter 30: Mark for your self these thirty chapters: they please, they instruct, they are the foremost of all books; they teach the ignorant. 
If they are read to an ignorant man, he will be purified through them…
Now, consider the OT’s Proverbs. Below, I’ve arranged a number of them in three groups, in an attempt to illustrate that: 1) Similar to the claims made one to two thousand years earlier by the Sumerians and Egyptians, the Jewish clerics claimed that their customs came from their god, 2) Some of the proverbs certainly contain wisdom (reflecting the best customs of the Jews), and 3) Some of the proverbs are quite unwise. I’ve copied these proverbs from the digitized NET version of the Bible and added a few notes in brackets (especially to explain my reasons for claiming that some of the proverbs are unwise).

I. The claim in the OT’s Proverbs that God is the source:
2.6 For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.

6:16 There are six things that the Lord hates, even seven things that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift to run to evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who spreads discord among family members.

8:22 The Lord created me [Wisdom] as the beginning of his works, before his deeds of long ago. From eternity I was appointed, from the beginning, from before the world existed.

11:1 The Lord abhors dishonest scales, but an accurate weight is his delight.

12:2 A good person obtains favor from the Lord, but the Lord condemns a person with wicked schemes.

14:31 The one who oppresses the poor insults his Creator, but whoever shows favor to the needy honors him.

15:9 The Lord abhors the way of the wicked, but he loves those who pursue righteousness.

16:33 The dice are thrown into the lap, but their every decision is from the Lord.

17:15 The one who acquits the guilty and the one who condemns the innocent – both of them are an abomination to the Lord.

18:22 The one who finds a wife finds what is enjoyable, and receives a pleasurable gift from the Lord.

19:14 A house and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.

20:12 The ear that hears and the eye that sees – the Lord has made them both.
II. Some wise sayings in the OT’s Proverbs:
1:10 My child, if sinners try to entice you, do not consent!

1:32 For the waywardness of the simpletons will kill them, and the careless ease of fools will destroy them.

3:27 Do not withhold good from those who need it, when you have the ability to help. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go! Return tomorrow and I will give it,” when you have it with you at the time. Do not plot evil against your neighbor… Do not accuse anyone without legitimate cause, if he has not treated you wrongly. Do not envy a violent man, and do not choose to imitate any of his ways…

3:13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who obtains understanding.

4:24 Remove perverse speech from your mouth; keep devious talk far from your lips.

9:7 Whoever corrects a mocker is asking for insult; whoever reproves a wicked person receives abuse. Do not reprove a mocker or he will hate you; reprove a wise person and he will love you.

10:12 Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all transgressions.

10:19 When words abound, transgression is inevitable, but the one who restrains his words is wise.

11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

12:11 The one who works his field will have plenty of food, but whoever chases daydreams lacks wisdom.

12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own opinion, but the one who listens to advice is wise.

12:16 A fool’s annoyance is known at once, but the prudent overlooks an insult.

13:11 Wealth gained quickly will dwindle away, but the one who gathers it little by little will become rich.

13:20 The one who associates with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.

14:15 A naive person believes everything, but the shrewd person discerns his steps.

14:23 In all hard work there is profit, but merely talking about it only brings poverty.

14:29 The one who is slow to anger has great understanding, but the one who has a quick temper exalts folly

14:30 A tranquil spirit revives the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones.

15:1 A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath

15:23 A person has joy in giving an appropriate answer, and a word at the right time – how good it is!

16:8 Better to have a little with righteousness than to have abundant income without justice.

16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

17:1 Better is a dry crust of bread where there is quietness than a house full of feasting with strife.

17:28 Even a fool who remains silent is considered wise, and the one who holds his tongue is deemed discerning.

17:25 A foolish child is a grief to his father, and bitterness to the mother who bore him.

18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in disclosing what is on his mind.

18:9 The one who is slack in his work is a brother to one who destroys.

19:2 It is dangerous to have zeal without knowledge, and the one who acts hastily makes poor choices.

19:11 A person’s wisdom makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

20:1 Wine is a mocker and strong drink is a brawler; whoever goes astray by them is not wise.

21:9 It is better to live on a corner of the housetop than in a house in company with a quarrelsome wife.

21:19 It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and easily-provoked woman.
III. Some unwise sayings in the OT’s Proverbs:
1:7 Fearing the Lord is the beginning of moral knowledge. [No! Fear of death and desire to live are the beginning of moral knowledge! Recall from the Precepts of Ptah-hotep: “Let no one inspire men with fear; this is the will of Ptah.”]

2:1 My child, if you receive my words, and store up my commands within you… then you will understand how to fear the Lord, and you will discover knowledge about God. [Instead of trying to understand how “to fear the Lord”, try to understand by applying the scientific method!]

3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. [It’s terrible to advise people not to rely on their own understanding (and to increase their understanding) and to “trust the Lord” rather than trust themselves!]

3:9 Honor the Lord from your wealth… [a ploy by clerics to increase their revenue stream!]

3:19 By wisdom the Lord laid the foundation of the earth; he established the heavens by understanding. By his knowledge the primordial sea was broken open, and the clouds drip down dew. [Riiiiight. And where did you say the data supporting that speculation were hidden?]

9:10 The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord, and acknowledging the Holy One is understanding. [Terrible, again!]

10.1 A wise child makes a father rejoice, but a foolish child is a grief to his mother. [That’s just male chauvinism.]

10:4 The one who is lazy becomes poor, but the one who works diligently becomes wealthy. [Would that it were so!]

13:24 The one who spares his rod hates his child… [That’s horrible!]

15:20 A wise child brings joy to his father, but a foolish person despises his mother. [More male chauvinism!]

16:12 Doing wickedness is an abomination to kings, because a throne is established in righteousness. [Riiiight. It’s another part of the Law Lie.]

16:15 In the light of the king’s face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds of the spring rain. [More of the same – an indication of “slave mentality”.]

16:31 Gray hair is like a crown of glory; it is attained in the path of righteousness. [Would that it were so!]

17:8 A bribe works like a charm for the one who offers it; in whatever he does he succeeds. [Maybe that’s a misprint!]

20:24 The steps of a person are ordained by the Lord – so how can anyone understand his own way? [What stupidity!]

20:30 Beatings and wounds cleanse away evil, and floggings cleanse the innermost being. [What evil!]

21:14 A gift given in secret subdues anger, and a bribe given secretly subdues strong wrath. [So, it wasn’t a misprint – it’s corruption!]

21:31 A horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory is from the Lord. [Another part of the God Lie.]

22:4 The reward for humility and fearing the Lord is riches and honor and life. [Show me the data!]

22:6 Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. [Part is correct (the part about the persistence of childhood indoctrination), but the premiss should be investigated. Does the author know how to “train a child in the way that he should go”? As Schopenhauer suggested, probably the best procedure is to train children not to be “trained” (!) and, instead, to encourage them to learn by themselves via experience.]

22:15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him. [More hideousness!]
And so on it goes (through Proverbs 31), as readers can attest. If readers do so, I hope they’ll notice that the “Thirty Sayings” [Proverbs 22:17 – 24:22] are similar (and in some cases almost identical) to the Egyptian Instructions of Amenemope. In addition, there are many repetitions through the rest of Proverbs (repetitions that become quite boring), although the final set (Proverbs 31:10 – 31:31) is a refreshing change: they describe a “Wife of Noble Character”.

Finally, I'd ask readers to compare the above illustrations from “the wisdom literature” of the Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, and Hebrews, and then, chose the one of the following two options that, in your opinion based on the evidence presented, seems most likely to have occurred:
1) That God (i.e., the first symmetry-breaking quantum fluctuation in the total void that led to the Big Bang) dropped in (about 14 billion years later) to provide advice to the authors of the Bible about Jewish cultural norms, or

2) That after living in groups for tens of thousands of years, people slowly developed knowledge about how to live together productively, passed their wisdom along to their offspring, recorded their thoughts when writing finally became available, and unsure about the origin of their customs, mistakenly concluded that their customs must have been decreed by their gods.
For readers who chose the first option, I hope that they’ll reread, especially, the quoted Sumerian proverbs – and I hope that all readers will join me in thanking the many scholars who worked so diligently and competently to decipher the ancient literature.