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The death penalty / capital punishment

In the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament)

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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.

Execution 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 murdered individuals for various activities:

bullet Onan avoided getting his former sister-in-law pregnant by practicing a primitive and unreliable method of birth control.

bullet Lot's wife looked back at her city when it was being destroyed, etc.

bullet A man was murdered for touching the Ark of the Covenant. It was being transported at the time on a cart and was in danger of being upset and damaged. He was attempting to protect it from damage.

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Religious Grounds: 

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:

bullet 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.

bullet 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.

bullet for proselytizing: Deuteronomy 13:1-10 states that a person who tries to convince an Israelite to convert to another religion must be killed.

bullet 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.

bullet 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.
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Sexual grounds: 

Other passages required people to be stoned to death or even burned alive for sexual activities:

bullet 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.

bullet 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.

bullet 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 often incorrectly 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.

bullet 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 Exodus 22:19.

bullet 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.

bullet for sexual activity with both a woman and her mother: Deuteronomy 20:14 requires that all three be burned alive.

bullet 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 could (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.

bullet 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.

bullet 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.

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This essay continues in a later essay

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Copyright © 1997 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2012-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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