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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Stoning (2)

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STONING.—There are three Greek verbs in the NT which mean ‘to stone’—λιθοβολέω, λιθάζω, and καταλιθάζω. These, again, are the equivalents of the two Heb. synonyms סקל and רנם, each of which may denote either the mere throwing of stones by a mob at any person who has incurred their ill-will (Exodus 17:4, Numbers 14:10), or the legal execution of a criminal by letting fall one or more large pieces of stone upon his body. Mere stone-throwing is mentioned in the Gospels in the following passages: The priests fear that the people may stone them (Luke 20:6); the prophets were so treated (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34); the husbandmen in the parable beat or stone the messengers (Matthew 21:35, Mark 12:4 Authorized Version ); and in St. John’s Gospel the Jews so threaten Jesus (John 8:59, Mark 10:31; John 10:33, John 11:8).

The Jewish Senate (Bêth Dîn) recognized four forms of capital punishment,—stoning, burning, beheading, and strangling (Sanh. vii. 1). In the case of stoning, the two witnesses took their stand on an elevation of about twice the height of a man. The convict was laid on his back beneath, and one of the witnesses dropped a stone upon his heart. If this did not prove fatal, the second witness cast one; and if the victim still survived, then all Israel (Deuteronomy 17:7). The bodies of all stoned persons were crucified according to one account; according to another, only those of blasphemers and idolaters, a man being hung with his face to the people, a woman with hers to the tree. According to another account, women were not crucified (ib. vi. 4). A person who had been stoned was not buried in the sepulchre of his fathers (vii. 1).

In the Law and in practice capital punishment was inflicted for offences against any of the first seven ordinances of the Decalogue—that is, upon persons guilty of apostasy (Deuteronomy 13:10), idolatry (Deuteronomy 17:5), blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16, 1 Kings 21:13), Sabbath-breaking (Numbers 15:35), disobedience to parents (Deuteronomy 21:21), murder (Leviticus 24:21), unchastity (Deuteronomy 22:21; Deuteronomy 22:24), as well as for practising sorcery (Leviticus 20:27), for kidnapping (Exodus 21:16), and for special offences (Joshua 7). An ox which gored a man in the course of a bull-fight was not stoned (Baba kamma, iv. 4; Exodus 21:28). In each of the above cases the penalty takes the form of stoning, though this is not explicitly mentioned in the case of murder, of kidnapping, or of unchastity on the part of a married woman (Deuteronomy 22:22). Stoning was thus the regular means of executing criminals among the Hebrews, as strangling was with the later Jews. Both processes avoided the shedding of blood, and reduced the risk of vengeance on the part of the relatives.

In the narrative John 8:1-11, which is generally regarded as spurious, not being part of the text of the best Manuscripts , the scribes were therefore justified in stating that ‘Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned,’ the reference being to Deuteronomy 22:23-24. This would imply that the woman was betrothed merely, but not married, the mode of execution in the case of a married woman not being specified (Deuteronomy 22:22), and being, in fact, at the time strangling (Sanh. 51b: ‘A daughter of Israel who is married, by strangling, who is betrothed, by stoning’).

T. H. Weir.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Stoning (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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