Bible Dictionary

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The object of the punishments of the Mosaic law was the extirpation of evil in Israel (Deut. 19:19–21), and they were apportioned on the principle of righteous retribution. It was life for life, wound for wound, beast for beast (Ex. 21:23–25; Lev. 24:17–21). The ordinary capital punishment was stoning (Deut. 17:5), the witnesses, after laying their hands on the head of the condemned, casting the first stone. Executions took place outside the city (Lev. 24:14; 1 Kgs. 21:13; Acts 7:58). The dead body was sometimes burned with fire (Lev. 20:14; 21:9; Josh. 7:25) or hanged on a tree (Deut. 21:22). In the latter case it must be cut down and buried the same day (Deut. 21:23). The inhabitants of a city given to idolatry were to be slain with the edge of the sword (Deut. 13:15). Minor punishments were: beating with a rod—not more than 40 strokes could be administered (Deut. 25:2–3; Prov. 10:13); suffering the same injury that the wrongdoer had inflicted (Lev. 24:17–22); fines in money or kind as compensation for the injury done (Ex. 22:4–9; Deut. 22:19); or in default, the delinquent might be sold as a slave (Ex. 22:3). Neither imprisonment nor banishment was a punishment recognized by the law, but offenders were imprisoned under the kings (compare Micaiah, Jeremiah, and the various allusions to prisons), and Ezra was authorized by Artaxerxes to punish lawbreakers by imprisonment and banishment (Ezra 7:26). Torture was not allowed in any case. Punishments were as a rule inflicted on the offender alone, and not on his wife and family (Deut. 24:16).