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The death penalty / capital punishment

More examples from the Hebrew Scriptures
(a.k.a. Old Testament)

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This is a continuation of an earlier essay

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Other grounds: 

Some grounds for the death penalty involved activities that were not related to other religions or to sexual activities:

bullet(sometimes) for committing murder:  Levitucus 24:17 requires that "he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death." Leviticus 24:21 repeats this requirement. See also Numbers 35:16 and Deuteronomy 17:6. The Hebrew word "ratsach" in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Greek word "phoneuo" in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) are generally mistranslated into the English word "kill." They actually mean "to murder with premeditation."

However, Exodus 21:20, states that if a slave-owner kills his male or female slave, he shall be merely "punished." The nature of the punishment is not specified. The murderer would presumably not receive the death penalty; if he were to be killed, then one would expect the text to say this directly. However, if the injured slave lives for a while after the beating before dying of the abuse, the owner is not punished at all. 

bulletfor kidnapping: Exodus 21:16 states: And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. This involves kidnapping for the purpose of selling him into slavery. See also Deuteronomy 24:7.

bulletfor human sacrifice: Leviticus 20:2-5 states: Whosoever.... giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death. To "give ones seed to Molech" means to ritually sacrifice one's child to a Pagan God.

bulletfor cursing parents: Exodus 21:17 states: And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death. See also Leviticus 20:9. The exact meaning of the key Hebrew word is ambiguous; it might mean, in English, to curse or blaspheme, or to degrade or shame.

bullet for abusing one's parents: Exodus 21:15 states: And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.

bulletfor careless handling of an animal: Exodus 21:29 states: But if the ox .....hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death. If an animal has the habit of injuring others, and the owner does not kill it, then the both the owner and the ox may be put to death.

bulletfor stubbornness and rebellion: Deuteronomy 21:18-21 states: If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother.....all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die..... Because of the ambiguities in some of the words used in the original text, the death penalty might not have been required in this case.

bulletfor blasphemy: Leviticus 24:16 states: And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death. Blasphemy was defined as uttering the name of Jehovah while cursing.

bulletfor working on Saturday: Exodus 35:2 states: ...but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. Numbers 15:32-36 described a man who was executed because he gathered wood on Saturday.

bulletfor ignoring the decision of a priest or judge: Deuteronomy 17:12 states: And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die....

bulletfor perjury: Deuteronomy 19:15-21 states in part (with reference to a murder trial) ....if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother.... That is, a perjurer would himself be killed.

bulletfor accidentally killing a pregnant woman: Exodus 21:22-23 states: "If men strive [i.e. fight], and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." If two men are fighting and accidentally hurt a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage, then:
bulletif the woman fully recovers, then the man responsible will have to pay a fine to the woman's husband.
bulletif the woman dies, then the man would be killed also.
bulletif some other harm comes to the woman, (e.g. loss of an eye or tooth) then that would be inflicted upon the man as well.

Some Bible translations, supported by conservative Christian denominations, translate miscarriage as "premature birth." And they interpret verse 23 to include death of the newborn. However, this translation is rare.

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Still more grounds for execution:

bulletA male who was not circumcised: Genesis 17:14
bulletEating leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread: Exodus 12:15
bulletManufacturing anointing oil: Exodus 30:33
bulletEngaging in ritual animal sacrifices other than at the temple: Leviticus 17:1-9
bulletConsuming blood: Leviticus 17:10. This would include eating rare meat.
bulletEating peace offerings while ritually unclean: Leviticus 7:20
bulletWaiting too long before consuming sacrifices: Leviticus 19:5-8
bulletSexual activity with a woman who is menstruating: Leviticus 20:18
bulletGoing to the temple in an unclean state: Numbers 19:13
bulletPersons teaching another religion: Deuteronomy 13:1-11
bulletA prophet whose prophecy does not come true: Deuteronomy 18:22
bulletGluttony and excessive drinking: Deuteronomy 21:20

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Activities for which God Imposed the Death Penalty Directly

God killed individuals because they engaged in various transgressions:

bullet for wickedness In Genesis 6, God was disappointed at the wickedness and evil acts of humanity. He sent the flood in Genesis 7:6 which killed every man, woman, child, infant, new-born, except for those six who were in Noah's ark. This is as close as humanity has come to a complete genocide. The exact nature of the wickedness is not defined. God also killed Er in Genesis 38:8 for some unknown form of wickedness.

bullet for being abusive to strangers In Genesis 18:20, God had heard that the people of Sodom were wicked and evil. He sent some angels there, who confirmed the stories. In Genesis 19:24, God demolished Sodom and all of its men, women, children, infants, new-born, plants and animals, except for Lot's family. The crime of the people of Sodom has been interpreted by some to be homosexual rape, and by others to be any form of homosexual behavior. But other references to Sodom in the Bible show clearly that it was a lack of hospitality to strangers, and concern for the poor. See Jesus' comments in Matthew 10:14-15 and Luke 10:7. These are confirmed in Ezekeiel 16:48-50.

bulletfor being excessively curious: In Genesis 19:17, the angels told Lot to: ....Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain.... Lot's wife looked back. God killed her and turned her into a pillar of salt.

bulletfor practicing birth control: Onan was required by Jewish law and tradition to marry his brother's widow and have a male child who would be considered the brother's heir. This is called levirate marriage. He didn't want to do this, and so practiced an elementary form of birth control (coitus interruptus). God killed him. This was first interpreted by the Church as punishment for a sexual sin: avoiding pregnancy through the use of a birth control technique. Later, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, the Church said it was masturbation. "Onanism" became a synonym for auto-eroticism. Recent Biblical scholars interpret his crime as refusal to follow Jewish custom and provide an heir.

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Home page > "Hot" religious topics > death penalty > here
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Copyright © 1997 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2011-MAR-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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