The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
said a great deal about the death penalty. The Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible)
required this punishment for many transgressions, both civil and religious.
was usually by stoning, although one crime required that women be executed by
being burned alive. Few
executions were actually performed. The court procedures required overwhelming evidence of
guilt before a person could be executed. For example, there had to be two
eye-witnesses before the accused could be given the death penalty.
There were also instances where God
individuals for various activities:
Onan avoided getting his former sister-in-law pregnant
by practicing a primitive and unreliable method of birth control.
Lot's wife looked back at her city when it was being
Some passages in the Hebrew
Scriptures condemned people to death if they followed a different religious
or spiritual path. Quoting from the King James
Version of the Bible, Jehovah required the state to execute a person:
for following another religion: Exodus 22:20 states: He that sacrificeth unto
any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed. See also and Numbers 25:1-15.
for a stranger entering the temple: Numbers 1:51 states (in part): ...when the
tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up: and the stranger that cometh
nigh shall be put to death. See also Numbers 3:10, 18:7 and 17:13.
for proselytizing: Deuteronomy 13:1-10 states that a person who
tries to convince an Israelite to convert to another religion must be
for communicating with the dead: Leviticus 20:27 calls for the execution
by stoning of all mediums and spiritists (aka spiritualists), both male and female.
for black magic: Exodus 22:18 states: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
This is a mistranslation. The passage has nothing to do with Wicca
or other forms of Neo-paganism, which are the only types of Witchcraft that are practiced
today in North America in significant numbers . The original Hebrew word is translated
"sorceress" in most other versions of the Bible. A more accurate phrase would be "women
who engage in black magic, harming others by the use of spoken curses."
Men are left off the hook.
Other passages required people to be stoned to
death or even burned alive for sexual activities:
for adultery: Leviticus 20:10 states: And the man that committeth adultery
with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor's wife, the
adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. This is
repeated in Deuteronomy 22:22.
for incest: Leviticus 20:11 states: And the man that lieth with his father's
wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death...
See also Leviticus 20, verses 12 and 14. Verse 17 prescribe excommunication for incest
with one's sister or step-sister.
for temple prostitution: Leviticus 20:13 states: If a man also lie with
mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall
surely be put to death.... This verse is oftenincorrectly interpreted to refer
generally to homosexual behavior.
See also Deuteronomy 22:24. Both verses, in the original Hebrew, refer to homosexual
prostitution in Pagan temples, which was a common
religious practice in the tribes surrounding the Israelites.
for bestiality: Leviticus 20:15 states: And if a man lie with a beast, he shall
surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. And if a woman approach unto any
beast, and lie down thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the beast.... See also
for sexual activity before marriage: Deuteronomy 22:13-21 concludes: Then they
shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city
shall stone her with stones that she die...".. Note that this applied only to
women who had been presented as virgin brides and could be proven to have engaged in intercourse
before being engaged or married. There appears to have been no penalty for men
who engaged in
pre-marital sexual activity.
for sexual activity with both a woman and her mother: Deuteronomy 20:14 requires
that all three be burned alive.
for being seduced if engaged: Deuteronomy 22:23-24 states: If a damsel that is
a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;
Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with
stones that they die. Note that this applied only to engaged women. Her fiancé
(in some cases) have sexual access to her, but no other man was permitted to engage in
such activity as soon as she became engaged. There appears to have been no penalty for
engaged men who seduced women.
for rape of an engaged woman: Deuteronomy 22:25 states: But if a man find a
betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only
that lay with her shall die. A man who raped a single woman who was not engaged would
only have to marry her and give 50 shekels of silver to her father.
for prostitution Leviticus 21:9 states: And the daughter of any priest, if she
profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with
fire. Executing someone by burning them alive appears to be reserved for a narrow range
of criminal acts.