STONING WOMEN TO DEATH for adultery, tragically, isn’t old news from ancient history.
It’s breaking news.
At first read of the Bible, it sounds like God approves of this punishment:
“If a man is discovered committing adultery, both he and the woman must die.” (Deuteronomy 22:22, from a law attributed to God)
Really? God wanted people executed for loving their neighbor a little too much?
Not necessarily, many Bible experts say. There was an out, it seems.
Here are a few clues that people convicted of adultery weren’t always executed.
- Little evidence. Scholars can’t find much evidence that Jews carried out the death sentence. It doesn’t show up in their history.
- An ancient precedent for mercy. A law from what is now Iraq, written hundreds of years before God could have given any laws to Moses, also sentenced adulterers to death – but allowed the possibility of mercy. “If a wife is caught having sex with a man who is not her husband, tie them up and throw them in the water. The woman’s husband may save his wife, if he chooses. And the king may save the man” (Code of Hammurabi, Law 129).
- A payoff in Proverbs. There’s a hint in the book of Proverbs that payoffs were a possibility. But one sage warned young men that they shouldn’t count on buying their way out of a husband’s anger: “He will accept no compensation, nor be satisfied with a payoff of any size.” (Proverbs 6:35)
- Murderer buyout prohibited. Jewish law prohibited murderers from buying their way out of a death sentence: “You cannot give someone money to escape the death penalty; you must pay with your own life!” (Numbers 35:31) That suggests people guilty of other capital offenses may have been able to pay a fine instead.
- Jesus didn’t stone anyone. When Jews brought him a woman caught committing adultery, he refused even to condemn her: “I also don’t judge you guilty. You may go now, but don’t sin any more.” (John 8:11)
All of this leaves me wondering.
What was the purpose of God’s law?
Was it intended to beat us down?
Or was it intended to lift us up and point us in the right direction?
And if so, how should that affect what goes on inside our head when we read Jewish laws in the Bible that don’t make much sense to us?