Saturday, February 13, 2016

U.S. Constitution Founded on Babylonian Religion

Hammurabi (standing), depicted as receiving his royal insignia from Shamash (or possibly Marduk).
Hammurabi holds his hands over his mouth as a sign of prayer. Ancient Iraq, by Georges Roux, Chapter 17, p. 266 
No, not really. The Founders were men of a Western European Christian tradition. However, their ideas of government and laws were much more expansive than that.

As relieved as I was that the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge ended without further bloodshed, and grateful for the help of all the negotiators who talked (and talked) the remaining armed occupiers into surrendering, I was still a bit concerned by some of the philosophies of the talkers. The occupiers will be tried for their actions that violated law, not for their beliefs. My concern is that certain beliefs need a bit of education so that they don't lead to further dangerous and illegal actions.

One of those who would not stop talking was Nevada State Legislator, Michelle Fiore, who said as the last occupiers were walking out to be arrested by the Oregon State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation (who share some concurrent jurisdiction over the Wildlife Refuge) that all Americans should read the Constitution like they should read their Bible to help return to the Christian Nation the Founders intended. No. Sorry, Michelle. I've read both the Bible and the U.S. Constitution and you couldn't be more wrong. (I do believe that all Americans should read the Constitution and I'm a big fan of the Bible along with a lot of other good books.)

There is the obvious point that the Bible has been around for a long time and not everybody seems able to agree on what it means. The Constitution has the same problem. We've been arguing it for about 230 years and do not have agreement as to what it says or means. I think it's more about the framework of government and principles of process through checks and balances and protection of rights that make the Constitution such an inspired document.

I won't argue here about what the "no religious test" prohibition in Article VI or the "no law respecting an establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment mean. I just wanted to point out some more expansive views of the origin of our Constitution and our laws.

Back to the Babylonians. In the U.S. Capitol, there are a series of bas reliefs representing "Lawgivers" of history. A group made from the University of Pennsylvania, the Columbia Historical Society of Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress and approved by a special committee of the U.S. House of Representatives selected the lawgivers to be represented. Some are our own "Founding Fathers." Others are from many different heritages and represent significant developments in the history of the rule of law. Much of that comes from religious tradition, but not all of it "Judeo-Christian." This was done in 1949-50 which was a very interesting time in history in the midst of the Cold War and a hot one in Korea.Yes, this was long after the Constitution was written. But the figures were approved by a committee of Congress and do represent the people and the ideas the Founders discussed in their establishment of our inspired Constitution.

(You keep using that word, "inspired." I'm not sure it means what you think it means.) Oh, moving on.

There are some even more controversial figures in Statuary Hall, but that's for another day.

So, without further ado, let me share the bas reliefs from the House Chamber in chronological order:

by Thomas Hudson Jones
This is our Babyonian guy. He was a King from 2067-2025 B.C., and established was is believed to be the earliest surviving law code (based on Sumerian Religion, Ishtar, Shamash, Marduk, etc.)

by Jean de Marco
About 1571-1451 B.C. OK. This should make the Judeo-Christians happier. Our first Jew of the day; although technically a Levite. He, of course, brought down the tablets with the Ten Commandments from the Mountain. And he gave a bunch of other laws - some are still recognized today. Many (thank heavens!) are not.

by C. Paul Jennewein
An old Spartan from about 900 B.C. He wrote the laws and institutions of Sparta. Which were great for history and I, for one, am glad not to live a spartan existence today.

by Brenda Putnam. Nice to see a female artist in
here as we didn't get any female lawgivers.
Another Greek from about 638-558 B.C. He was an Athenian statesman and authored constitutional and legal reforms more enlightened than the Spartans but with a ways to go.

by Joseph Kiselewski
Now, to the Romans. (The Founders were big on their Greeks and Romans. Many of them read Greek and Latin.) Gaius lived about 110-180 and wrote several works including the Institutes, an exposition of the elements of Roman law as a source for Roman civil law.

by Laura Gardin Fraser
Another Roman jurist who died about 212 A.D. was known for his "juridical genius, independence of judgment, lucidity and firmness, and for his sense of right and morality by which he frequently rose above the barriers of national prejudice."* We could use some more Papinian today.

by Gaetano Cecere
Actually, Justinian I (for those who may know II better) 483-565 A.D. He was Emperor of Byzantium (Istanbul, not Constantinople) who compiled Roman law into the Digest of Pandects and the Corpus Juris Civilis which I haven't read but I'll bet were in the libraries of at least Jefferson and Madison.

by Brenda Putnam
It's nice this guy gets credit because he was the head of the commission (chief clerk of the byzantine bureaucracy) that compiled the laws under Justinian I.

by Brenda Putnam
(shaping up as our go-to sculptor here)
Maimonides lived 1154-1204 and compiled Jewish law from the Pentateuch and Talmudic tradition into systemic treatises. A Jew of the Diaspora under Muslim rule, he was born in Spain and moved about in Northern Africa dying in Egypt. Tradition has it that his followers carried his body to be buried on the shores of Galilee in the land of ancient and modern Israel.

by Thomas Hudson Jones
This Pope authored a compilation of canon law that actually carried over and preserved the remnants of Roman law during turbulent medieval times. He live 1147-1241 and it is unlikely he ever met Maimonides.

by Joseph Kselewski
Our Pope No. 2 is Innocent III who lived 1161-1216 and continued in the tradition of Pius IX preserving the remnants of Roman law during the middle ages. I'm not sure how "innocent" he really was as he also promoted the Fourth Crusade that "accidentally" pillaged Constantinople (not Istanbul) which strained relations with the Eastern Church. He also initiated the Albigensian Crusade against some of my probable ancestors of a medieval Protestant tradition in France.

by Gaetano Cecere
Simon de Montfort, 1200-1265 is one of my personal heroes. He led the Second Barons War against the weak King Henry III son of evil King John of the First Barons War and father of the powerful King Edward I (coming up, sigh). He called a "Parliament" (woohoo!) promoting representative government. He was also a friend to the Princes of Wales. He was mercilessly hacked to death under the principles of "the divine right of kings." (Boo!)

by Jean de Marco
King Louis IX of France. I guess if you get a major U.S. City named for you, it helps your P.R. But he did ban medieval "trials by ordeal" and established the "presumption of innocence" in criminal proceedings. He also defeated Henry III in battle for which he gets bonus points.

by Gaetano Cecere
To be known as the "Wise," you have to write a few law books. He lived 1221-1284 and wrote up the Fuero Real and Las Siete Partidas which served as a basis of Spanish law.

by Laura Gardin Fraser
Sigh. Edward I, 1239-1307, wrote a lot of laws, they just weren't very nice laws, especially for the Welsh. But it did move us forward a bit from medieval feudalism. He is not one of my heroes for the ring of stone and iron castles that lorded over my Cymry. I do admit that he shows up in my tree as an ancestor (along with evil King John - oh yeah, I've got some winners) but I also descend from Llywellyn Fawr [the Great] who should have a bas relief up there or at least Hywel Dda (look it up).

by Joseph Kiselewski
Now don't tell donald trump this, but this guy was a Muslim!! With a life-span of 1494-1566, he was the Sultan of Turkey (one of our NATO allies presently) who reformed and improved the Turkish legal codes and is especially noted for bettering protections and legal respect for his Christian subjects.

by C. Paul Jennewein
Hugo Grotius, 1583-1645, was a Dutch statesman (Yay, Holland, and the Netherlands!). He wrote De jure belli ac pacis which my Romance Linguistics background tells me is "of the laws of war and peace" being a treatise on international law. "Horrors!" Some might say (like Michelle Fiore). But just go read US Const. Art. VI again. Yeah, we gotta know that stuff.

by Joseph Kiselewski
Robert Joseph Potheir, 1699-1772, was a French jurist who wrote Pandectae Justinianae in novum ordenem digestae which was a best-seller in the study of Roman law. Some of our Founders maybe even got a signed copy!! (although those words "novum ordenem" scare me a little. You know, trilateral, masonic conspiracies and all - just kiddin'!)

by Thomas Hudson Jones
Along with "Black Acre," the bane of many a law student. Sir William Blackstone, 1723-1780, another contemporary of many of our founders, wrote a famous tome on the British Common Law, Commentaries on the Laws of England. Yes, our founders knew it, read it, and used it. But it still doesn't say that the Sheriff of a County is the ultimate Power of the People (that's just crazy talk).

by Gaetano Cecere
Yes! Finally an actual Founder! George Mason, 1725-1792, drafter of the Virginia Constitution and its Bill of Rights 1776. Also member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and he drafted several Amendments later incorporated into the Bill of Rights under the divinely inspired principle of compromise. Oh yeah! I had to get that in.

by C. Paul Jennewein
Yay! Thomas! (or "Massah Tom" as some called him). In spite of many flaws, an absolute genius in political philosophy! His religion is a little hard to pin down but it was something like "Secular Christian Deist" or borderline Agnostic as we might define it today. But that has and will be argued about as we go along our merry Constitutional way. Here's a quote from the Jefferson Memorial I like:
"I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." - Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800
Which is interesting because I think he's speaking kind of metaphorically here. So I'm with Tom on that. Don't go around telling me what I have to believe with regard to the Bible or the US Constitution. There's more than one way to read them. Duh. (Oh yeah, and free your Slaves!)

One last guy:

by C. Paul Jennewein
Another contemporary of the Founders, 1769-1821. Had I been on the committee I would have strenuously argued against this one because of the whole delusions-of-grandeur-conquer-the-world thing. But he did establish the Napoleonic Code which is a pretty good statement of law which the State of Louisiana followed and many states have referred to. And Jefferson did buy Louisiana from Napoleon when he needed some cash. I mean, he must have had some good qualities because Josephine liked him and all. But I'd better quit while I'm ahead.

In Conclusion.

Without having to slap you aside the head because I am a man of peace and not violence, I hope you can see that there were many influences on our laws and the Constitution in this great Union of States. God (whoever You are or may be, I can leave some room until if and when we meet although I'm pretty sure I've felt Your presence) bless this People of United States! and all of our sisters and brothers of other lands that we may all enjoy the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that is our human aspiration!

*My knowledge of these bas reliefs comes principally from a beautiful book, Art in the United States Capitol, prepared by the Architect of the Capital under the direction of the Joint Committee on the Library [of Congress] (US Government Printing Office, 1978).

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