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Punishments


Punishments. The earliest theory of punishment current among mankind is doubtless the one of simple retaliation, “blood for blood.” Viewed historically, the first case of punishment for crime mentioned in Scripture, next to the Fall itself, is that of Cain, the first murderer. That death was regarded as the fitting punishment for murder appears plain from the remark of Lamech. Gen. 4:24. In the post-diluvian code, if we may so call it, retribution by the hand of man, even in the case of an offending animal, for blood shed, is clearly laid down. Gen. 9:5, 6. Passing onward to Mosaic times, we find the sentence of capital punishment, in the case of murder, plainly laid down in the law. The murderer was to be put to death, even if he should have taken refuge at God’s altar or in a refuge city and the same principle was to be carried out even in the case of an animal.

Offences punished with death.—I. The following offences also are mentioned in the law as liable to the punishment of death:

1. Striking, or even reviling, a parent. Ex. 21:15, 17. 2. Blasphemy. Lev. 24:14, 16, 23. 3. Sabbath-breaking. Ex. 31:14; 35:2; Num. 15:32-36. 4. Witchcraft, and false pretension to prophecy. Ex. 22:18; Lev. 20:27; Deut. 13:5; 18:20. 5. Adultery. Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22. 6. Unchastity. Lev. 21:9; Deut. 22:21, 23. 7. Rape. Deut. 22:25. 8. Incestuous and unnatural connections. Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:11, 14, 16. 9. Manstealing. Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7. 10. Idolatry, actual or virtual, in any shape. Lev. 20:2; Deut. 13:6, 10, 15; 17:2-7; see Josh. 7 and 22:20 and Num. 25:8. 11. False witness in certain cases. Deut. 19:16, 19. II. But there is a large number of offences, some of them included in this list, which are named in the law as involving the penalty of “cutting off from the people.” On the meaning of this expression some controversy has arisen. There are altogether thirty-six or thirty-seven cases in the Pentateuch in which this formula is used. We may perhaps conclude that the primary meaning of “cutting off” is a sentence of death to be executed in some cases without remission, but in others voidable—(1) by immediate atonement on the offender’s part; (2) by direct interposition of the Almighty, i.e., a sentence of death always “recorded,” but not always executed.

Kinds of punishment.—Punishments are twofold, Capital and Secondary. I. Capital. (A) The following only are prescribed by the law:

1. Stoning, which was the ordinary mode of execution. Ex. 17:4; Luke 20:6; John 10:31; Acts 14:5. In the case of idolatry, and it may be presumed in other cases also, the witnesses, of whom there were to be at least two, were required to cast the first stone. Deut. 13:9; Acts 7:58. 2. Hanging is mentioned as a distinct punishment. Num. 25:4; 2 Sam. 21:6, 9. 3. Burning, in pre-Mosaic times, was the punishment for unchastity. Gen. 38:24. Under the law it was ordered in the case of a priest’s daughter. Lev. 21:9. 4. Death by the sword or spear is named in the law, Ex. 19:13; 32:27; Num. 25:7; and it occurs frequently in regal and post-Babylonian times. 1 Kings 2:25, 34; 19:1; 2 Chron. 21:4, etc. 5. Strangling is said by the rabbins to have been regarded as the most common but least severe of the capital punishments, and to have been performed by immersing the convict in clay or mud, and then strangling him by a cloth twisted round the neck. (B) Besides these ordinary capital punishments, we read of others, either of foreign introduction or of an irregular kind. Among the former.

1. Crucifixion is treated elsewhere. 2. Drowning, though not ordered under the law, was practiced at Rome, and is said by St. Jerome to have been in use among the Jews. 3. Sawing asunder or crushing beneath iron instruments. 2 Sam. 12:31, and perhaps Prov. 20:26; Heb. 11:37. 4. Pounding in a mortar, or beating to death, is alluded to in Prov. 27:22, but not as a legal punishment, and cases are described. 2 Macc. 6:28, 30. 5. Precipitation, attempted in the case of our Lord at Nazareth, and carried out in that of captives from the Edomites, and of St. James, who is said to have been cast from “the pinnacle” of the temple. Criminals executed by law were buried outside the city gates, and heaps of stones were flung upon their graves. Josh. 7:25, 26; 2 Sam. 18:17; Jer. 22:19. II. Of secondary punishments among the Jews the original principles were,

1. Retaliation, “eye for eye,” etc. Ex. 21:24, 25. 2. Compensation, identical (restitution) or analogous; payment for loss of time or of power. Ex. 21:18-36; Lev. 24:18-21; Deut. 19:21. Slander against a wife’s honor was to be compensated to her parents by a fine of one hundred shekels, and the traducer himself to be punished with stripes. Deut. 22:18, 19. 3. Stripes, whose number was not to exceed forty, Deut. 25:3; whence the Jews took care not to exceed thirty-nine. 2 Cor. 11:24. 4. Scourging with thorns is mentioned Judges 8:16. The stocks are mentioned Jer. 20:2; passing through fire, 2 Sam. 12:31; mutilation, Judges 1:6; 2 Macc. 7:4, and see 2 Sam. 4:12; plucking out hair, Isa. 50:6; in later times, imprisonment and confiscation or exile. Ezra 7:26; Jer. 37:15; 38:6; Acts 4:3; 5:18; 12:4.