Tel Hazor Middle Bronze Age, Clay

It's hard to imagine our life without laws to regulate our behavior. But was this always the case?

It is generally accepted that before the advent of organized society there were no laws, and human beings only took care of their own basic needs and those of their families. With the establishment of society and settled communities, conflicts emerged between people about land ownership and property, sometimes even costing lives. To save human society from a state of total anarchy where "man is a wolf to man," laws were made to enforce accepted values and normative behavior. Human beings began to formulate social contracts, which eventually laid the foundation for the laws created by governments and states.

Among the oldest codes of law known to us are the Hammurabi Codex (written almost 4,000 years ago by the King of Babylon) and the Ten Commandments. Hammurabi's edicts are civil laws, addressing issues of human relationships, punishment, and criminal justice. The Ten Commandments (and other biblical laws) add laws pertaining to the relationship between human beings and God.

Laws are essentially relative, reflecting the norms and values of the culture that creates them, and their role is to set limits to human behavior so as to enable peaceful coexistence. In this context, the fundamental challenge is to find the balance between laws that protect individual liberty and those that protect communal life, and this often raises the question: Are we really all equal before the law?