Divine Legislators

Divine Legislators

God-Given Legislators

Like the divine birth, another ubiquitous tradition was that of civilizing laws and texts passed from a deity to a prophet or holy man, as demonstrated in the quote by Diodorus at the head of this chapter. The common divine lawgiver myth is summarized likewise by Dr. Henricus Oort, a Dutch theologian and professor of Hebrew Antiquities at the University of Leiden:

No one who has any knowledge of antiquity will be surprised at this [attribution of civilization] to one or more great men, all of whom, without exception, were supposed to have received their knowledge from some deity. Whence did Zarathustra (Zoroaster), the prophet of the Persians, derive his religion? According to the belief of his followers, and the doctrines of their sacred writings, it was from Ahuramazda (Ormuzd) the god of light. Why did the Egyptians represent the god Thoth with a writing tablet and a pencil in his hand, and honor him especially as the god of the priests? Because he was “the lord of the divine word,” from whose
inspiration the priests, who were the scholars, the lawgivers, and the religious teachers of the people, derived all their wisdom. Was not Minos, the law-giver of the Cretans, the friend of Zeus, the highest of the gods? Nay, was he not even his son, and did he not ascend to the sacred cave on Mount Dicte to bring down the laws which his god had placed there for him?

Referring in the first century BCE to the “dual law,” as in deuteronomy, Strabo (Geo. 16.38–40) discussed various lawgivers of antiquity, among them Moses:

Law is twofold, divine and human. The ancients regarded and respected divine, in preference to human, law; in those times, therefore, the number of persons was very great who consulted oracles, and, being desirous of obtaining the advice of Jupiter, hurried to Dodona, “to hear the answer of Jove from the lofty oak.” The parent went to Delphi, “anxious to learn whether the child which had been exposed (to die) was still living;” while the child itself “was gone to the temple of Apollo, with the hope of discovering its parents.” And Minos among the Cretans, “the king who in the ninth year enjoyed converse with Great Jupiter,” every nine years, as Plato says, ascended to the cave of Jupiter, received ordinances from him, and conveyed them to men. Lycurgus, his imitator, acted in a similar manner; for he was often accustomed, as it seemed, to leave his own country to inquire of the Pythian goddess what ordinances he was to promulgate to the Lacedæmonians.

What truth there may be in these things I cannot say; they have at least been regarded and believed as true by mankind. Hence prophets received so much honour as to be thought worthy even of thrones, because they were supposed to communicate ordinances and precepts from the gods, both during their lifetime and after their death; as for example Teiresias, “to whom alone Proserpine gave wisdom and understanding after death: the others flit about as shadows.”…

Such were Amphiaraus, Trophonius, Orpheus, and Musæus: in former times there was Zamolxis, a Pythagorean, who was accounted a god among the Getæ; and in our time, Decæneus, the diviner of Byrebistas. Among the Bosporani, there was Achaicarus; among the Indians, were the Gymnosophists; among the Persians, the Magi and Necyomanteis, and besides these the Lecanomanteis and Hydromanteis; among the Assyrians, were the Chaldæans; and among the Romans, the Tyrrhenian diviners of dreams.

Such was Moses and his successors; their beginning was good, but they degenerated.

Thus, the ancient world was well aware of the divine lawgivers and their twofold law. Here we see an ancient comparison from 2,000 years ago between Moses and numerous other lawgivers, such legislators often said to be born of a mortal and a god.

Philo too (Moses 2.3.12) revealed he was aware of legislators of other nations but insisted that Moses was the “most admirable of all the lawgivers who ever have lived in any country either among the Greeks or among the barbarians, and that his are the “most admirable of all laws and truly divine.” Such efforts constitute obvious propaganda designed for legal hegemony and cultural supremacy.

The following list includes lawgivers around the Mediterranean, Africa, Europe and Asia over the last several thousand years. This roster of the renowned represents not only godly prophets and supposedly mortal heroes but also deities themselves said to be imbued with the power of legislating. The list is not exhaustive, as there are many more such sacred figures purported to have founded numerous civilizations, cultures or ethnicities, including, for example, in the Americas.

1. Achaicarus/Ahiqar/Ahika of Assyria

2. Adar/Ninib of Nippur

3. Amasis of Egypt

4. Amphiaraus of Argos

5. Apollo of Greece

6. Baal Berith of Canaan

7. Boccharis/Bocchoris/Bakenranef of Egypt

8. Buddha of India/Asia

9. Charondas of Sicily

10. Decæneus of the Byrebistas

11. Demeter and Kore of Greece

12. Dionysus of Greece

13. El/Ilu of Canaan/Ugarit

14. Enki/Enlil of Mesopotamia

15. Gilgamesh of Mesopotamia

16. Hammurabi of Babylon

17. Hermes of Egypt/Greece

18. Inana/Inanna of Sumer

19. Isis of Egypt

20. Lawspeaker of Scandinavia

21. Lycurgus of Sparta

22. Manes of Maeonia/Lydia

23. Manis of Phrygia

24. Mannus of Germany

25. Manu of India

26. Mercury of Rome

27. Minos of Crete

28. Mneves/Menes/Menas of Egypt

29. Monius of Egypt

30. Moses of Israel

31. Moso of Israel

32. Musaeus of Greece

33. Neba or Nebo of Babylon, Borsippa and Sumeria

34. Nimrod of Babylon

35. Orpheus of Greece

36. Osiris of Egypt

37. Plato of Greece

38. Pygmy lawgiver of the Congo

39. Romulus of Rome

40. Sasychis of Egypt

41. Sesoösis of Egypt

42. Shamash of Babylon

43. Shapash of Ugarit

44. Shu of Egypt

45. Solon of Greece

46. Thoth of Egypt

47. Trophonius of Boetia

48. Ur-Nammu of Sumeria

49. Þorgnýr of Iceland

50. Zalmoxis of the Getae

51. Zarathustra/Zoroaster of Persia

52. Zeus of Greece

To reiterate, some of these divine lawgivers were gods, while others were said to be heroes or prophets who allegedly received the laws from a god or goddess. In certain instances, both occur, such as with Apollo, who himself is a divine lawgiver but who was claimed also to use human agents such as Lycurgus of the Lacedaemonians/ Spartans. The same development occurred with Ahura Mazda, Shamash, Zeus and Hermes/Thoth, said to be the civilizing entities themselves but also to employ human intermediaries to convey the legislation. Traditionally, it is the sun who gives the law to mankind; thus, Apollo, Shamash, and so on.


As part of lawgiver literature extending back thousands of years, the Sumerian legislator myths were recorded on cuneiform tablets from the late third to early second millennia BCE, centuries before the purportedly historical Moses allegedly climbed Mt. Sinai and served as the prophet for the Jewish heavenly ruler of the universe, Yahweh.

Citing the Sumerian figure of Ur-Nammu (fl. c. 2112–2095), in History Begins at Sumer Dr. Samuel N. Kramer included an entire chapter entitled, “The First ‘Moses,’” in which he remarks, “There are indications that there were lawgivers in Sumer long before Ur-Nammu was born.” He also states that the literature of the Sumerians “left its deep impress on Hebrews,” clarifying that the influence was indirect, through the Canaanites, Babylonians and others subsequent to the Sumerian culture.


Fig. 55. Sumerian king Ur-Nammu approaches the god Enlil, c. 21st cent. BCE. Stele from Mesopotamia

Ur-Nammu was the builder of the Great Ziggurat at Ur, the best preserved and most famous of these striking Mesopotamian edifices, which was dedicated to the city’s patron deity, the moon god Nanna. Ur-Nammu is known also for descending into the underworld in a myth 2,000 years older than the same tradition regarding Jesus Christ. His legal code is the oldest surviving and contains several laws very similar to those in Hammurabi’s code and the much later Mosaic law.

Menes/Manes, Manis and Mannus

Even earlier than Ur-Nammu was the Egyptian king Μήνης Menes, as Herodotus and Manetho style him, thought to have lived at some point between 5867 and 3000 BCE, this latter date representing the First Dynasty’s founding, as accepted by modern consensus. Menes, also known as Hor-Aha Men and Tusu-Menna, is said to have founded the city of Memphis, as well as uniting Upper and Lower Egypt. Egyptologists surmise that this “name,” Menes, may be in reality a title for the pharaoh known as Narmer, historical founder of the First Dynasty, as well as for other individuals.

In his quest, Menes led his army “across the frontier and won great glory.” Menes’s tale sounds like a basic archetypal framework upon which the Moses/Promised Land and other such lawgiver/prophet stories were woven, some of these with similar names or titles.

For example, there is also Manes the first king of Maeonia/Lydia, as well as Manis, first king of Sumeria and Phrygia, and Mannus, divine lawgiver of the Germans. Although he seems to drop out of sight afterwards, Mannus was discussed by Tacitus (Germania 2), speaking firstly of the Germans:

In their ancient songs, their only way of remembering or recording the past, they celebrate an earth-born god, Tuisco, and his son Mannus, as the origin of their race, as their founders. To Mannus they assign three sons, from whose names, they say, the coast tribes are called Ingævones; those of the interior, Herminones; all the rest, Istævones. Some, with the freedom of conjecture permitted by antiquity, assert that the god had several descendants, and the nation several appellations, as Marsi, Gambrivii, Suevi, Vandilii, and that these are genuine old names.

The genealogy assigned to Mannus and his three sons is reminiscent of Noah and his three sons, possibly representing a very ancient legendary archetype that predates both cultures by thousands of years. The native Teutonic tribal word for “Germans,” Alemanni, appears to derive from Mannus, as does the German alle Männer, meaning “all men.” In this regard, Mannus was considered to be the “first man,” a common role for a lawgiver, such as Menu in the Indian mythology.


The original Moses has been traced also to Menu or Manu, the Sanskrit word manu meaning not only “man” but also “wise,” “intelligent” and “thinking,” as in the Latin-derived “mentation.” Like Menes, apparently, manu is not necessarily a name of a particular person but a title signifying the “Man par excellence or the representative man and father of the human race,” also the “legislator” or “lawgiver.” This title denoting lawgiver, we are told, was “aspired to by all the leaders of antiquity.”


Another of the aforementioned versions of this archetype is the Cretan king Minos, a title said to derive from Menes. Regarding this “Cretan Moses,” famed archaeologist Sir Dr. Arthur J. Evans, excavator of the site of Knossos on Crete, remarked:

...it is as the first lawgiver of Greece that [Minos] achieved his greatest renown, and the code of Minos became the source of all later legislation. As the wise ruler and inspired lawgiver there is something altogether biblical in his legendary character. He is the Cretan Moses, who every nine years repaired to the cave of Zeus, whether on the Cretan [Mount] Ida or on [Mount] Dicta, and received from the god of the mountain the laws for his people. Like Abraham, he is described as the “friend of God.”

Various important attributes of both Moses and Abraham thus are not original or unique to them, as can be said of many other Mosaic and Abrahamic motifs and characteristics.

Pygmy Lawgiver

The idea of a divine lawgiver dates back millennia, possibly to the earliest human communities. Among these groups would be the Pygmies of Central and South Africa, whose legends were recorded in modern times by Belgian anthropologist Dr. Jean-Pierre Hallet (1927–2004). For decades, Hallet lived on and off among the peaceful Pygmy people of the Congo named Efé, recording their traditions as pristinely as possible and demonstrating they had not been influenced by biblical tales at that point.

In this regard, Hallet’s entire book Pygmy Kitabu is dedicated not only to recording these stories but also to showing that there is no reason to attribute them to the Bible and any possible missionary activity. On the contrary, these myths seem to represent far older archetypal germs of biblical, Egyptian and Near Eastern stories, among others.

As concerns the antiquity of the legislator and law motif, regarding the Book of the Dead and Mosaic law Hallet and his assistant Alex Pelle remark:

Osiris’s legal code rather strikingly resembles the Pygmies’ Sinaistyle commandments. The legendary history of Osiris echoes the Pygmy stories of the ancestral lawgiver. The Efe legends tell of how this civilizing hero ascended to heaven and assumed his role as the patron saint or angel of the moon. A similar ascent was attributed to Osiris and to another Egyptian divinity, Thoth, who may represent Osiris in the specific role of moon-god, since he was portrayed like Osiris as the civilizing hero and the “begetter of law.”

As noted, Philo wrote about Moses’s ascension, as an immortal to sit with God, and the New Testament represents the Hebrew lawgiver appearing at Jesus’s transfiguration as an immortal in heaven. (Mt 17:3) As we can see, the divine legislator appears to be pre-historic and initially reflective of archaic lunar mythology possibly dating to many thousands of years ago.

Hallet and Pelle devote considerable space to the lawgiver legends, remarking:

…The Egyptian founders of man’s oldest historic civilization identified the Pygmies with their great ancestral gods.

The God of these beautiful Pygmy “gods” is represented as the Giver of the Law. “In the beginning,” say the Pygmies, “God lived with men and gave them his commandments.” The religion of the gods is practiced by every person who observes the Pygmies’ Sinai-style commandments. About their legal code, [anthropologist] Schebesta says, “The commandments and prohibitions of the Supreme Legislator are another thing from taboo, and are not merely economic or social precepts: they are of an ethical nature.”…

…God is usually represented as the original source of the commandments, the lunar angel as the intermediary who transmits the deity’s laws to the primordial Pygmy nation.

Hallet and Pelle go on to explain that the first man is the lunar angel who receives the law and commandments from God. They also say: “Like Thoth and Osiris, the ancestral Efé lawgiver is represented as the inventor of all the arts and sciences.”849 These arts and sciences included astronomy, botany, medicine, music and zoology, remnants of which possibly were passed along from remote ages and carried with migrations out of Africa. These observations would change, of course, based on the natural environment as peoples migrated. Since these origin stories are incorporated into religion in countless ways, religious ideas too accompanied peoples migrating for thousands of years, likewise mutating according to environment and era.

Mountains of the Moon

As stated by Hallet and Pelle, the Pygmies claimed that “in ancient times their lawgiving father-god-king reigned near Ruwenzori, the Mountains of the Moon.” The scholars further remark:

In this neighborhood, according to the Pygmies, they received the deity’s laws and commandments. Moses’ book of Exodus locates the lawgiving scene at a mountain called Sinai. Its name has wellknown connections with Babylonian Sin, the god of the moon. The Britannica article on this god says that “in Arabia and throughout the Semitic races of Western Asia the moon god was from the beginning the most important deity.” By placing the lawgiving scene at Sinai, the mountain of Sin, the Bible seems to confirm that the commandments were handed down from the Mountain of the Moon.

Hence, we have a lawgiver associated with mountains. Indeed, the mountain of the moon would be called “Sin” in Semitic, the name of the moon god, said to be related to the Sinai of biblical myth. Hallet and Pelle further point out that the volcanic scenes in the biblical tale are inappropriate for the region of the Levant and Arabia; these very ancient stories likely come from elsewhere, therefore, possibly the “still-active Virunga volcanoes…located within easy reach of the Pygmy-populated forest near the Mountains of the Moon.”

When factored in with all the other research by Hallet, Pelle and others regarding the Pygmies, along with what we know about comparative religion elsewhere, it is reasonable to see in these myths evidently very ancient germs of stories handed down to us in literature from other locations and later epochs.


The archetypal lawgiver myth as discussed throughout the current chapter takes the following basic framework:

1. The hero goes on an arduous journey.

2. He must cross an impassable body of water.

3. He climbs a mountain.

4. There he speaks with the great or most high god.

5. He receives a law or civilizing code.

6. He proceeds into the “promised land,” where he teaches the people.

Not all lawgivers possess all of these attributes, while some have more. Many details differ, as does order, based on location, era, ethnicity, language and so on.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the idea of a man, woman or deity transmitting a divine law code to humanity ranks as very ancient and pre-Mosaic, resolving to a mythical archetype expressed in many places. Moreover, several of these figures have a great deal in common with Moses in numerous details but precede his appearance in the historical record, which occurs centuries after his purported era.