Though stoning is virtually unmentioned in other ancient Near Eastern literature, it is the method of execution mentioned most often in the Bible and the primary form of state execution mentioned in Old Testament law. The Bible spares us the glory details of the stoning event, but the traditional writings of early Judaism help us understand a bit more of what was involved. Those who witnessed the infraction were directly involved in delivering the penalty for it (Lev 24:14). According to the Jewish traditional writings, the condemned person was taken to the execution site, which was to be an elevation at least twice the person’s height. The first witness then pushed the individual face-first off this elevation that could be either the edge of sharply rising terrain (Luke 4:29) or the edge of a cistern that had been dug into the ground (Lam 3:53).
If the fall brought death, the matter was done. If not, the second witness had to turn over the accused and drop a large stone on his or her chest. If this action did not bring about death, then the rest of the gathered assembly had to pick up stones and pummel the condemned until he or she died. According to the law and practice during the earliest periods of Old Testament history, this grisly punishment awaited those who had-compromised Israel’s singular devotion to the one true God. Public stoning was to end the life of those who openly worshiped or encouraged others to worship false gods, who dabbled in the dark arts, or who blasphemed (Lev 20L2m 27; 24:13-16; Deut 13:10; 17:2-5). Stoning was also the penalty for Sabbath violation, for a persistently rebellious son, for certain sexual sins, and for violation of God’s directive to destroy all people and property during a holy war battle (Num 15:32-35; Deut 21:18-21; 22:20-24; Josh 7:22-25).
This form of execution served three purposes when it was actually put into practice. First, it prevented the family of the condemned from retaliating against any single member of the community since the community as a whole participated in the execution. Second, this punishment was designed to purge the person and his or her influence for the midst of God’s chosen people (Deut 17:7; 21:21; 22:21-22, 24). And finally, given that the sight, sound, feel and smell of the execution would linger in the community, the punishment became a deterrent to anyone tempted to follow in the condemned person’s path of sinning (Deut 13:10-11). END OF PART 1