Hebrew In Israel | All Ye of Black Hair – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | All Ye of Black Hair – Learn Torah

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An interesting term found both in ANE text and Jewish sources is “Black headed peoples”. This term is found in Sumerian poetry and legal documents, and seems to relate to humans as a subject of any specific case discussed.  It is uncertain if it means all humans, and it might be used differently in each document.  We will look at two examples used in ancient sources and see how they are used.

Code of Hammurabi

In the introduction to the law code, Hammurabi states the following:

“When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”


Hammurabi, as a lawgiver, sees himself as a representative of the gods on earth, and has received the right to create laws which are for mankind.  It seems clear that when he made these laws, his intent is for all humans to follow his laws.  Hence we can see that the term “black headed people” is to relate to all men under his rule.  It is possible that this excludes other nations, as we know that peoples of the Zigros Mountains were probably lighter in their colour, and might even have had lighter coloured hair.  This might hint to the possibility that we are looking at a very specific intent in this law.  It is important to remember the fact that though Hammurabi had his gods, it did not exclude the existence of other gods, making his faith non-universal, and as a proxy of this, his laws non-universal.
Our next stage is very interesting, and somewhat surprising.


In the Mishnah Nedarim 3:8 we find the following:

הנודרמשחורי הראש, אסור בקרחין, ובבעלי שיבות; ומתר בנשים, ובקטנים, שאין נקראין שחורי הראש אלא אנשים
Someone who vows [not to benefit from] ‘black-haired people’ is forbidden [to benefit] from bald people and white-haired people, but is permitted to [benefit from] women and children, because only men are called ‘black-haired’.

The term used for people is שחורי הראש which literally means “black heads”.  What is interesting is that the Mishnah limits the meaning of the term to mean specific people, and not all mankind.  The use here is based on a law in the rules of vow taking that we decide what was exactly meant by using common language (T.Bavli, Nedarim 49:b and commentators).  Hence the person who uses this invocation has limited the vow to specific peoples.  This legal practice might indicate that the term only means some people and not all.  This scheme of things might also fit into the ideology of Hammurabi that not all men are equal, and different laws apply to different people.

Survival of a term

Our discussion here, even though it is about a small concepts, demonstrates the linguistic connections between the different cultures of the ANE, and that certain concepts survived throughout the ages.  We see that in the common tongue, people preserved terminology many years after the law was no longer in use.
Another idea which stems from this is the connection between law codes in general, and the later laws presented by different cultures.  The existing connection between law codes in the world has been demonstrated by Salic Law in Europe where laws were based on earlier laws by the Goths.
What we come to learn from this subject is the linguistic and legal connection between different languages (Akkadian and Hebrew) and legal systems.  We see that an old term continued over the centuries to remain in use with a very similar meaning, if not identical.
Photo Attribution: Adapted from User:Captmondo (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Originally Published: 15 Sept 2016

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