OUR DEBT TO THE STAR-GAZERS OF BABYLON

The Babylonians, believing that it was possible to fore- tell the future by observing the relative positions of the stars, mapped out the planets and fixed names and signs for the stars of the Zodiac. If to-day we scoff at this superstition, we can be grateful for the real advance in astronomy to which it gave rise. The Babylonian religion, in spite of some wider views, remained confined to outward observances. The worshipper was like the king in Hamlet who wished to be pardoned and to retain his guilty gains. To attain this end he had resort to magic, whereby some other object was made the " whipping-boy," to be punished by the gods for the offences of which he himself was guilty. From this practice comes the idea of the scapegoat, to which later religions imparted a lofty allegorical meaning. The greatest king of Babylon was Hammurabi (about 2100 B.C.) whose code of civil and criminal law provides for a complicated social and economic structure. It sounds very modern with its court of first instance and court of appeal. A dissatisfied litigant could even get a third trial by appealing to the king himself. The punishments appear needlessly severe by twentieth-century standards, but they probably represent maximum sentences, and in any case are not more savage than those of our own legal code down to the end of the eighteenth century. The death penalty is laid down not only for murder, but also for various forms of burglary and theft. The primitive method of retaliation in kind (" an eye for an eye ") still existed. A jerry-builder, whose house fell and killed the occupier, atoned for his scamped work by his own death. Women were comparatively free, and could even set up in business on their own account, but it was very much a masculine world, which punished slovenly house-keeping with death by drowning. Marriage was a civil contract which favoured the husband. He was allowed one chief wife, but could take as many concubines for his harem as he could afford. If he wanted a divorce there were few difficulties in his wayhe had paid for his wife and could do as he pleased with his own property. The Kingdom of Hammurabi, after lasting for several centuries, succumbed to a people called the Kassites, who were succeeded in turn by other dynasties until the rise of the Assyrians.