corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Crimes And Punishments

Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS . The term ‘crimes’ is here used loosely in the sense of punishable offences, including not merely crimes ( crimina ) in the sense of breaches of the criminal law in the modern sense, and torts ( delicta ) or breaches of the civil law, but also those offences in the sphere of religion and worship to which definite penalties were attached. Within the limits of this article it is possible to present only a summary of the more important and typical punishable offences recognized in the various Hebrew law-codes. The latter, indicated by the usual symbols, are: (1) BC, the oldest code, known as the Book of the Covenant, Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33 , with which for convenience sake is joined the Decalogue of Exodus 20:2-17 ; (2) D [Note: Deuteronomist.] , the Deuteronomic Code, Deuteronomy 12:1-32 ; Deuteronomy 13:1-18 ; Deuteronomy 14:1-29 ; Deuteronomy 15:1-23 ; Deuteronomy 16:1-22 ; Deuteronomy 17:1-20 ; Deuteronomy 18:1-22 ; Deuteronomy 19:1-21 ; Deuteronomy 20:1-20 ; Deuteronomy 21:1-23 ; Deuteronomy 22:1-30 ; Deuteronomy 23:1-25 ; Deuteronomy 24:1-22 ; Deuteronomy 25:1-19 ; Deuteronomy 26:1-19 ; Deuteronomy 27:1-26 ; Deuteronomy 28:1-68 ; (3) H [Note: Law of Holiness.] , the Holiness Code, Leviticus 17:1-16 ; Leviticus 18:1-30 ; Leviticus 19:1-37 ; Leviticus 20:1-27 ; Leviticus 21:1-24 ; Leviticus 22:1-33 ; Leviticus 23:1-44 ; Leviticus 24:1-23 ; Leviticus 25:1-55 ; Leviticus 26:1-46 ; and (4) P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , the great collection of laws known as the Priests’ Code, and comprising the rest of the legislative material of the Pentateuch. In the case of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] alone will it be necessary to name the books (Ex., Lv., or Nu.) to which reference is made.

The penal offences of the Pentateuch may be conveniently grouped under the three heads of crimes against J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , against society (including property), and against the individual.

1. A. Crimes against J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , or offences in the sphere of religion and worship. Although it is true that misdemeanours of every kind were in the last resort offences against J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , who was regarded as the only fountain of law and justice, it will be convenient to group under this head those belonging to the special sphere of religious belief and its outward expression in worship. Among these the first place must be given to the worship of heathen deities condemned in the strongest terms in BC (from 20:3 onwards) and D [Note: Deuteronomist.] and of the heavenly bodies , D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 17:3 (cf. Deuteronomy 4:19 ). The penalty is death under the ban (BC Deuteronomy 22:20 , D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 13:12 ff. [see Ban]), or by stoning (D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 17:5 ). Inseparable from this form of apostasy is the crime of idolatry , entailing the curse of God (D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 27:15 ). Blasphemy , or profanation of the Divine name, is forbidden in all the codes; the penalty is death by stoning (H [Note: Law of Holiness.] Deuteronomy 24:13 ff.). The practice of magic , wizardry, and similar black arts, exposes their adepts and those who resort to them to the same penalty (H [Note: Law of Holiness.] DEU 20:27).

2. The punishment for doing ‘any work on the Sabbath day ’ is death, but only in the later legislation ( Exodus 31:15 [probably H [Note: Law of Holiness.] ] Exodus 35:2 [P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ]; cf. the very late Haggadic section, Numbers 15:32 ff.). For neglect of ordinances, to use a familiar phrase, such as failing to observe the fast of the Day of Atonement (H [Note: Law of Holiness.] Numbers 23:29 ), or to keep the Passover ( Numbers 9:13 [P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ], an offender was liable to be ‘cut off from his people’; see below). This was also the punishment prescribed for a number of offences that may be grouped under the head of sacrilege , such as partaking of blood ( Leviticus 7:27 [P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ]), and the unauthorized manufacture and use of the holy anointing oil ( Exodus 30:32 f. [P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ]).

3. B. Crimes against Society. As the family, according to Hebrew ideas, was the unit of society, the crimes that mar the sanctities of family life may be taken first. Such pre-eminently was adultery , severely condemned in all the codes, the punishment for both parties being death (D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 22:22 , H [Note: Law of Holiness.] Deuteronomy 20:10 ). In a case of seduction the man was required to marry her whom he had wronged, if her father gave consent (BC Deuteronomy 22:16 f.), paying the latter a ‘dowry,’ i.e. the usual purchase price (see Marriage), estimated in D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 22:29 at 50 shekels of silver. On the other hand, the penalty for rape , if the victim was betrothed, was death (D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 22:25 ff.), as it was for unnatural crimes like sodomy (H [Note: Law of Holiness.] Deuteronomy 18:22 , Deuteronomy 20:13 ‘thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind’) and bestiality (BC Deuteronomy 22:19 , H [Note: Law of Holiness.] Deuteronomy 20:15 f.). The marriage of near kin is forbidden in H [Note: Law of Holiness.] Deuteronomy 18:6-18 under seventeen heads (see Marriage). Incest with a step-mother or a daughter-in-law was punishable by the death of both parties (H [Note: Law of Holiness.] Deuteronomy 20:11 f.), while for a man to marry ‘a wife and her mother’ was a crime that could be expiated only by the death of all three, and that, as many hold (see below), by being burnt alive ( ib. Deuteronomy 20:14 ). Ordinary prostitution is condemned by H [Note: Law of Holiness.] 19:29 (cf. D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 22:21 ) for a priest’s daughter the punishment was even death by burning ( Deuteronomy 21:9 ) while the wide-spread heathen practice of establishing religious prostitutes, male and female, at the local sanctuaries is specially reprobated in D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 23:17 f., where the male prostitute is to be recognized under the inexact term ‘sodomite,’ and the contemptuous ‘dog.’

4. To carry disrespect for one’s parents to the extent of smiting (BC 21:15), or cursing them (BC 21:17, H [Note: Law of Holiness.] 20:9), or even of showing persistent contumacy (D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 21:18 ff.), entailed the extreme penalty of death at the hands of the local authorities.

5. Everything that would tend to impair the impartial and effective administration of justice is emphatically condemned in the Hebrew codes, the giving and receiving of bribes , in particular, being forbidden even in the oldest legislation (BC 23:8 ‘for a gift blindeth them that have sight’). Against those who would defeat the ends of justice by perjury and false witness , the law is rightly severe (D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 19:15 ff.). Tale-bearing (H [Note: Law of Holiness.] 19:16), and the spreading of a report known to be false (BC 23:1), are condemned, while in the more heinous case of a man slandering his newly-wedded wife, the elders of the city are to amerce him in an hundred shekels (D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 22:18-21 ).

6. Property had also to be protected against theft (BC 20:15) and burglary (22:2), with which may be classed the crime of removing the boundary-stones of a neighbour’s property to increase one’s own (D [Note: Deuteronomist.] 19:14), and the use of false weights and measures (D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 25:15 ff., H [Note: Law of Holiness.] 19:35ff.). The earliest code likewise deals with trespass (BC 22:5), and arson , or wilful fire-raising ( ib. v. 6), for which the penalty in either case was restitution.

7. C. Crimes against the Individual. BC 21:15 26 deals with various forms of assault , a crime to which the pre-Mosaic jus talionis (see below) was specially applicable. Kidnapping a freeman was a criminal offence involving the death penalty (BC 21:16, D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 24:17 ). Murder naturally has a place in the penal legislation of all the codes from BC 20:13 onwards. The legislators, as is well known, were careful to distinguish between murder deliberately planned and executed (BC 21:14, D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 19:11 ff.) and unpremeditated homicide or manslaughter (BC 21:13, D [Note: Deuteronomist.] 19:4ff., and esp. P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , Numbers 35:9 ff.). The former, with certain exceptions (BC 21:20, 22:2), entailed capital punishment in accordance with the fundamental principle laid down in Genesis 9:6 ; in the case of ‘the manslayer’ special provision was made for the mitigation of the ancient right of blood revenge (see Refuge [Cities of]).

8. Punishments. From the earliest period of which we have any record two forms of punishment prevailed among the Hebrews and their Semitic kinsfolk, viz. retaliation and restitution . Retaliation , the jus talionis of Roman law, received its classical expression in the oldest Hebrew code: ‘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’ (BC 21:23f.). The talio , as has already been mentioned, was specially applicable in cases of injury from assault. When life had been taken, whether intentionally or unintentionally, the right of enforcing the jus talionis lay with the dead man’s next of kin (see Kin [Next of]).

In BC restitution varies from fivefold for an ox, and fourfold for a sheep that has been stolen and thereafter killed or sold, to twofold if the animal is still in the thief’s possession (BC 22:1 4), and finally to a simple equivalent in the case of wilful damage to a neighbour’s property ( ib. v. 5f.). Compensation by a money payment was admitted for loss of time through bodily injury (BC 21:19), for loss of property (vv. 33 35), but not, in Hebrew law, for loss of life, except in the cases mentioned BC 21:30. The payments of 100 shekels and 50 shekels respectively ordained in D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 22:19 ; Deuteronomy 22:29 appear to the modern eye as fines , but fall in reality under the head of compensation paid to the father of the women in question.

9. In the penal code of the Hebrews there is a comparative lack of what may be termed intermediate penalties. Imprisonment , for example, has no place in the Pentateuch codes as an authorized form of punishment, although frequent cases occur in later times and apparently with legal sanction (see Ezra 7:26 ). The use of the stocks also was known to the Jewish ( Jeremiah 20:2 f.) as well as to the Roman authorities ( Acts 16:24 ). Beating with rods and scourging with the lash were also practised. The former seems intended in D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 25:1 ff., but later Jewish practice substituted a lash of three thongs, thirteen strokes of which were administered (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24 ). Many, however, would identify the punishment of this passage of D [Note: Deuteronomist.] with the favourite Egyptian punishment of the bastinado. Mutilation , apart from the talio , appears only as the penalty for indecent assault (D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 25:11 f.).

10. The regular form of capital punishment was death by stoning , which is prescribed in the Pentateuch as the penalty for eighteen different crimes, including Sabbath-breaking. ‘For only one crime murder is it the penalty in all the codes.’ The execution of the criminal took place outside the city (H [Note: Law of Holiness.] 24:14), and according to D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 17:7 the witnesses in the case cast the first stone (cf. John 8:7 ). In certain cases the dead body of the malefactor was impaled upon a stake; this, it can hardly be doubted, is the true rendering of D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 21:22 f. (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘hang him on a tree’), and of the same expression elsewhere. Hanging or strangulation is mentioned only as a manner of suicide ( 2 Samuel 17:23 , Matthew 27:5 ). Crucifixion , it need hardly be said, was a Roman, not a Jewish, institution. Beheading appears in Matthew 14:10 ||, Acts 12:2 , Revelation 20:4 .

11. The meaning of the expression frequently found in P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , ‘to be cut off from his people, from Israel,’ etc., is uncertain; most probably it denotes a form of excommunication , with the implication that the offender is handed over to the judgment of God, which also seems to be intended by the banishment of Ezra 7:26 (note margin). A similar division of opinion exists as to the penalty of burning , which is reserved for aggravated cases of prostitution (H [Note: Law of Holiness.] 21:9) and incest (20:19). Here the probability seems in favour of the guilty parties being burned alive (cf. Genesis 38:24 ), although many scholars hold that they were first stoned to death. The most extreme form of punishment known to the codes, in that a whole community was involved, is that of total destruction under the ban of the first degree (see Ban) prescribed for the crime of apostasy (BC 22:20, more fully D [Note: Deuteronomist.] Deuteronomy 13:15-17 ).

A. R. S. Kennedy.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Crimes And Punishments'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, January 19th, 2020
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Search for…
Enter query in the box:
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

Prev Entry
Next Entry
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology