Bronze Age casting of a bronze axe. smiling_da_vinci via FlickrThis week the Supreme Court declined to review a Texas murder case in which a juror brought a Bible into the sentencing process – showing that the Bible recommends death for anyone who kills another person with an iron rod (Numbers 35:16).
Let me say for the record that I’m not against the death penalty, and in this case it sounds like the defendant fit my criteria, too. I know I'm ruining my liberal credentials here, but I frankly don’t have any moral problem with the jury condemning him to death. However, to do so based on the sanctification of a Bronze Age legal code is somewhat horrifying—especially given the list of other "crimes" that are recommended for capital punishment in the Bible.
Yes, yes, the court assures us that even though bringing the Bible into the sentencing was improper, there is no evidence that it swayed the jury. Rest assured that when the Bible and other authorities (like our judicial system ) are at odds, we can trust Texas jurors to ignore the Bible and do what is right. Even though half the country believes that God made humans in their present form because the Bible says so—we can count on Texans (school boards excepted) to follow the evidence and the constitution.
All the same, just in case an issue like this should come up in your state, thirty six different offenses in the Bible qualified for capital punishment. Do any of these apply to you?
For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. Leviticus 20:9
Working on the Sabbath
Whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Exodus 31:15
Premarital Sex (girls only)
. . .If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman's virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father's house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, Deuteronomy 22:20
Disobedience (boys only)
If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard." Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. Deuteronomy 21:18
Worshipping any god but Yahweh
If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that . . . hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; . . .Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die. Deuteronomy 17:2-5
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Exodus 22: 18
Wizards (epileptics? migraine sufferers? schizophrenics?)
A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:27
Loose Daughters of Clergy
And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire. Leviticus 21:9
Girls who are Raped within the City Limits
If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city . . . But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. Deuteronomy 22:23-25
And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. Leviticus 24:16
Anyone Who Tries to Deconvert Yahweh Worshipers
If anyone secretly entices you--even if it is your brother, your father's son or your mother's son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend--saying, "Let us go worship other gods," . . . you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them. Deuteronomy 12:6
Men who Lie With Men
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13
And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20: 10-12
Men who Lie with Beasts and Beasts who Lie with Men
And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. Leviticus 20:15
So. Are you up for the death penalty?
Just so you know, it could be worse. As I am reminded by people who want me to make nice, this list represents an advancement from mob justice. They are right, and the Levitical Code would a fascinating window into human moral history were it not for the fact that juries in Texas, politicians in Colorado, and clergy in Africa all advocate the death penalty for one person or another on the basis of these texts (murderers, homosexuals, and child witches respectively).
When people put God’s name on Bronze Age documents, and then make those documents a golden calf, they get stuck with Bronze Age moral thinking. Maybe it’s time to take the Bible down off of its pedestal, and acknowledge the obvious human handprints on the texts. Maybe it's even time to do again what Thomas Jefferson did: cut the book apart, keep the parts that are worth keeping, and leave the rest on the cutting floor of history.