Quantcast

«

»

Oct 11 2013

The Blaze on Biblical Stoning

Glenn Beck’s The Blaze website is trying its hand at Biblical exegesis, with predictable results. They have an article entitled Fact Check: Does the Bible Really Condone Stoning? The answer, of course, is clearly yes. It does so over and over again. So what else is there to say? Well, there are weak excuses and contradictory explanations to be offered. The first one is “Well sure it does, but Muslims are even worse.”

Rabbi Aryeh Spero, author of “Push Back: Reclaiming Our American Judeo-Christian Spirit,” told TheBlaze that the Bible speaks openly about stoning, however he said that the Judeo-Christian texts differ greatly from “the procedures we see today in Islamic countries.”

Rather than burying people in the group up to their necks and then stoning them for a long period of time in an effort to embarrass them, Spero says that the death penalty described and practiced in Jewish culture was a bit different.

“Any Biblical death penalty procedure had to be accomplished in one instantaneous stroke,” he explained. “For while the death penalty may have been administered, it was not done in a way to prolong agony or suffering, nor in a manner of public humiliation that degraded the human being created in the image of God.”

This in mind, Spero said that there was no humiliation or entertainment value imbued by the stoning process.

First, he offers no evidence for that claim. There is certainly none to be found in the Bible. In fact, it’s the Bible that Muslims turn to for justification for stoning because, like Christians and Jews, they regard the first five books of the Bible as the authentic word of God. But even if this were true, the claim is absurd. There is no such thing as stoning by one “instantaneous stroke” unless one uses a rock the size a basketball and aims well. And of course, even if this claim were true it would come as little comfort to the victim of such barbarism. I doubt that a gay man stoned to death in ancient Israel would be thinking, “Hey, it could be worse. At least they’re not trying to humiliate me.”

The second argument is even worse, and internally contradictory.

Theologian R.P. Nettelhorst added that capital punishment is seen in the Bible for a variety of offenses: Murder, adultery, rape, Sabbath breaking, disobedience to parents, witchcraft, and idolatry. While the codes were similar to other legal constructs in the Ancient Near East, he agreed that there were some notable differences.

“The laws are applied equally to all members of society. There are not different laws for different classes,” he told TheBlaze. “Second, the laws were intended to be proportional. The lex talionis ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ was designed to limit punishments to being no worse than the offense.”

One really has to wonder at the writer — Billy Hallowell in this case, who could write those two paragraphs back to back and manage to bury the cognitive dissonance. Does he seriously mean to argue, indeed could anyone seriously argue, that stoning is “no worse” than the “offense” of homosexuality? Or being an unruly child? Or mowing your lawn on the sabbath? Or adultery? Come on, no one could say that with a straight face, could they? And bear in mind that this would apparently all be okay, being proportional and all, as long as they didn’t bury them up to their neck. It’s perfectly okay to kill a gay person, apparently, as long as you don’t “humiliate” them while you do it.

When it comes to perceived Biblical mandates or issues like stoning, the rabbi noted that it’s important to view the holy book through a specific lens.

“It is our duty to, with reverence and humility, demarcate between that which God intended as eternal and that which was a time-period-necessity later to be eased-out– animal sacrifices, for example,” he continued. “Things regarding human nature and sexual discipline and limitations undoubtedly are eternal, as are the Sabbath and need for holiness.”

Ah, so it’s still okay to kill gay people, since that’s a matter of “sexual discipline.” And those who work on the sabbath, we can stone them too. And none of this strikes them as being the least bit arbitrary, I guess.

Outside of this though, Spero said that certain procedures were never meant to be permanent and were, instead, based on the habits and mindsets of the original society that God spoke to. The culture, thus, had a major impact on how these procedures were implemented and played out.

Isn’t that fascinating? God is apparently limited by the cultural practices of the people he’s giving commands to. Even though, if the Bible is to be believed, God explicitly commands them to stone people to death (unless you think Moses was lying), that was just a cultural leftover. Because apparently God isn’t really omnipotent and he is forced to tell them things that they want to hear. Voila, a magic way out of the undeniable fact that, if the Bible is true, God actually commanded those things.

When I was a Christian and struggling with these very questions, these are exactly the kind of incoherent, unsatisfactory arguments my pastors made. Because in the end, this simply isn’t defensible. There is no coherent excuse for it. It’s barbarism, plain and simple.

14 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    DaveL

    Remember, when they speak of the magnitude of the offense, they refer not to the nature of the offense, nor to the amount of harm done, but to the importance of the person offended – namely God. They categorically reject the idea of equality under the law, thus insulting a king – or breaking an arbitrary Godly edict about what days you may work – is at least as grievous as the killing of a common peasant.

  2. 2
    whirligig

    It would all be so much simpler if the Almighty would just handle the stoning Itself instead of asking confused and fallible middle-men to do it in a cryptic series of contradictory manuals. It would be even better if It would then announce in a booming sky voice “Behold that I hath struck down Hank C. Johnson of 332 West Spruce with mine meteorite, for he hath mowed of his lawn on Wednesday and hath borne upon his flesh a polyester shirt, which is an abomination unto Me!”

  3. 3
    whirligig

    Sure, it would be even better if It would maybe explicitly and personally warn Hank first. Still in a booming sky voice. “Hank C Johnson of 332 West Spruce! Knock off that lawn mower racket on this, mine day of rest, or I shall smite thee upon thine head with a meteorite. I am not saying that thou must stop–thou hast free will, thou knowest–just that I shalt brutally slaughter thee and then torture thee forever if thou cuttest it not out. Consider thine options and doethest what thou thinkest best, Hank.

  4. 4
    Gregory in Seattle

    About stoning: according to the Oral Law (Mishnah Sanhedrin 6.1-4), a person convicted of a stonable offense was tossed off the roof of a two story building. If the fall did not kill him, then a boulder was dropped on him. If that didn’t kill him, then — and only then — would the mob be allowed to throw stones until he died. Yes, that is MUCH more humane.

  5. 5
    evodevo

    Hey! New Covenant ! (Except for the particular Old Testament passages we cherry-pick.)
    Oh, wait, does the New Covenant apply to Mormons? Hmmmmm ….

  6. 6
    raven

    It’s estimated that under biblical law, 99% of the US population would be stoned to death, 297 million people.

    That would be the end of the USA.

    But that isn’t a problem for fundies. Just last week, they came close to permanently turning the USA into a third world country, all in an attempt to deny a few poor and self employed people affordable health care.

  7. 7
    Chiroptera

    Does he seriously mean to argue, indeed could anyone seriously argue, that stoning is “no worse” than the “offense” of homosexuality? Or being an unruly child? Or mowing your lawn on the sabbath? Or adultery?

    Or picking up sticks on the Sabbath. That one is explicitly mentioned as happening in the Bible.

  8. 8
    gingerbaker

    Ah, so it’s still okay to kill gay people, since that’s a matter of “sexual discipline.” And those who work on the sabbath, we can stone them too. And none of this strikes them as being the least bit arbitrary, I guess.

    Why can’t you see this as a fair trade off for our enjoyment of crispy bacon and shrimp cocktail, and just shut up already about this before someone important notices?

  9. 9
    caseloweraz

    “Any Biblical death penalty procedure had to be accomplished in one instantaneous stroke,” he explained. “For while the death penalty may have been administered, it was not done in a way to prolong agony or suffering, nor in a manner of public humiliation that degraded the human being created in the image of God.”

    So that’s why the Sanhedrin went along with that Roman hanging-on-a-cross thing.

  10. 10
    cottonnero

    My inner 14-year-old is thinking, “Heh, heh, blaze, stoning.”

  11. 11
    Moggie

    When it comes to perceived Biblical mandates or issues like stoning, the rabbi noted that it’s important to view the holy book through a specific lens.

    A distorting lens, preferably rose-coloured.

  12. 12
    Ace of Sevens

    His idea isn’t just not supported by the Bible. It’s flat contradicted. Paul survives being stones, which wouldn’t be possible if it worked how he says.

  13. 13
    danrobinson

    Hmnmm…I’ve had gay sex while wearing mixed fabrics after eating shrimp.
    And I get stoned regularly. The bible is true! QED

  14. 14
    gertzedek

    An important thing to remember about Biblical capital punishment is that the standard of evidence for these offenses was very, very high. Two kosher witnesses (and “kosher” witnesses have to be observant male Jews, in this case) have to attest to the crime; even a confession isn’t admissible. There was an appeals system, and (if the story of Susannah is to be believed, at least some notion of questioning the witnesses. And, for capital cases in particular, the standards for these witnesses were really high…in cases of adultery or homosexuality, for instance, the witnesses would’ve had to have seen the penetration, told the offending parties that what they were doing was wrong and give them a chance to stop.

    Probably the best source we have for how this actually played out is the Mishnah (which admittedly is probably more accurate about late Second Temple practices than anything before that), which states that a Sanhedrin (Jewish supreme court) that executes someone every seven years was considered “murderous”. That’s a pretty low execution rate, especially when compared to, say, Texas.

    Now, yes, the Biblical code was much better suited for Iron Age times than for today. I certainly wouldn’t want Israel to turn into a halachic state. But, for the time, it wasn’t so bad. Yes, the Bible condones stoning for a variety of offenses we wouldn’t consider capital crimes now, but it doesn’t condone it without trial — a part that often seems to get left out.

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site