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Stoning to Death


Stoning until death was one of the capital punishments for grave sins like cursing God (Lev 24:10-16), idolatry (Deut 17:2-7), seducing others into idolatry (Deut 13:7-12), giving offspring to Molech (Lev 20:2), breaking the Sabbath (Num 15:32-36), and stubbornness and rebellion on the part of a son (Deut 21:18-21), apart from various sex-related sins (Deut 22:13-21, 23-27). The execution was done only after thorough investigation (Deut 17:4) and proper trial before the elders or the Sanhedrin with at least two witnesses (Deut 17:6). They were the first to stone the culprit during the execution of the death sentence (Deut 17:7).

There were several attempts to stone Jesus himself because of his Messianic claim. By the end of his preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, his listeners “rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong” (Lk 4:29). This method also involved throwing stones after the culprit has fallen down. While teaching in the Temple, the Jews “picked up stones to throw at him” (Jn 8:59). “The Jews again picked up rocks to stone him” (Jn 10:31). Jesus escaped all such attempts because his time had not arrived. Stephen was stoned to death and became the first martyr of the Church (Acts 7:54-60).

Though Leviticus 21:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22 prescribe the death penalty for both man and woman caught in adultery, they do not specify how it should be implemented, except for the engaged virgin caught in adultery. “If there is a young woman, a virgin who is betrothed, and a man comes upon her in the city and lies with her, you shall bring them both out to the gate of the city and there stone them to death” (Deut 22:23-24). The betrothed virgin’s violation was more serious an offence and so deserved a painful death. However, the Jews gave the same punishment for all caught in adultery. The Scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus not to be judged by him, but to elicit an opinion from him as to what is to be done with an adulterous woman (Jn 8:1-11).

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