While reading the Code of Hammurabi in preparation for Western Civ lectures this week, I was reminded of this gem from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). (Can anything top John Cleese's timing with the lines about his recovery?)
And why was I reminded of this? Because the notion that criminal justice relies upon the power of water to distinguish guilt from innocence is a lot older than I would have guessed:
If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.Okay, the polarity is reversed: Europeans believed that witches would not sink in water, while under the Code of Hammurabi, if the accused sinks, he's guilty. Still, it's interesting to see how far back some traditions go.