The Pathos of Politics (113-1) Ancient Israel

Ancient Israel

Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of a judge or priest who represents God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged from Israel. ~ Deuteronomy 17:12, The Bible

The Hebrews had a different take on crime and punishment. They were a people with a covenant with God. Crime was a contract violation.

The 1st supposed offense in Jewish history was Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God, which was punished by exile; so too Cain’s killing of Abel. Both crimes were punished by God himself. In Cain’s case, God branded him with a mark of shame.

The principal punishments by the early Hebrews were exile and death. Both removed the offender from the community. The death penalty was employed to eliminate those whose offense disrupted public order and purity, and thereby threatened to bring down the wrath of God.

You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. ~ Deuteronomy 19:19, The Bible

The main means of execution were lapidation (stoning to death), forcing the mouth open and pouring molten lead down the throat, decapitation, and strangulation. Bodily punishments included beating and mutilation. Compensation, fines, and compulsory sacrifices might be ordered.

Deuteronomic laws said nothing of prison. The few early references to confinement were for custody before sentence was carried out.

The Book of Ezra was written ~400 ce, when the Jewish community had reestablished itself in Palestine after Babylonian captivity. Persian king Artaxerxes II retained political control of the territory. In Ezra are the first Hebrew mentions of prison and confiscation.

Anyone who does not obey God’s law or the law of the king must be punished without pity. Depending upon the crime, an offender must be executed, exiled, property confiscated, or imprisoned. ~ Ezra 7:26, The Bible