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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [1]

Israelite law laid down the death penalty for certain offences, some of them religious, others civil ( Leviticus 20:2;  Leviticus 20:10;  Leviticus 20:27;  Leviticus 24:16-17;  Numbers 15:32-36;  Deuteronomy 13:6-10;  Deuteronomy 22:20-24;  Deuteronomy 24:7). Even under the Roman system of law that operated in New Testament times, Paul accepted that the government had the right to carry out the death sentence in certain cases ( Acts 25:11; cf.  Romans 13:3-4).

Many of Israel’s laws were specifically related to the particular relationship that existed between God and Israel under the covenant (e.g.  Deuteronomy 13:6-10; cf.  Deuteronomy 5:2; cf.  Deuteronomy 5:6-7). However, the law that laid down the death penalty for murderers was based on a command that God gave long before the nation Israel existed. God’s command was related to the fundamental sacredness of human life, for human beings exist in God’s image. God therefore laid down that if any person wilfully killed another without divine permission, that person was no longer fit to enjoy God’s gift of life ( Genesis 9:3-6; cf.  Exodus 21:23;  Numbers 35:30-34).

The normal Israelite method of execution was stoning. There had to be at least two witnesses to the crime, and these had to participate publicly in the execution by throwing the first stones. This no doubt impressed upon people that they had to be absolutely certain in making an accusation against anyone ( Leviticus 24:14;  Deuteronomy 17:6-7;  John 8:7;  Acts 7:58). The dead body was then hung on a tree till evening as a sign that the executed person was under the curse of God ( Deuteronomy 21:23).

Under the Roman administration of the New Testament era, prisoners were executed by either crucifixion or beheading ( Matthew 27:22;  Mark 6:24-28;  Acts 12:2; see Crucifixion ). Jews could pass the death sentence upon their own people for offences relating to Jewish law, but they could not carry it out. They had to hand over the prisoner to the Roman authorities, who alone had the power of execution ( Matthew 27:1-2). Yet when the Jews illegally stoned Stephen to death, the Roman authorities took no action against them. They probably thought it wise not to interfere when the Jews were so stirred up ( Acts 7:58; cf.  Matthew 27:24;  Acts 12:2-3).

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): ( n.) A judicial writ by which an officer is empowered to carry a judgment into effect; final process.

(2): ( n.) The act of executing; a carrying into effect or to completion; performance; achievement; consummation; as, the execution of a plan, a work, etc.

(3): ( n.) A putting to death as a legal penalty; death lawfully inflicted; as, the execution of a murderer.

(4): ( n.) The act of the mode of performing a work of art, of performing on an instrument, of engraving, etc.; as, the execution of a statue, painting, or piece of music.

(5): ( n.) The carrying into effect the judgment given in a court of law.

(6): ( n.) The act of signing, and delivering a legal instrument, or giving it the forms required to render it valid; as, the execution of a deed, or a will.

(7): ( n.) That which is executed or accomplished; effect; effective work; - usually with do.

(8): ( n.) The act of sacking a town.

King James Dictionary [3]

EXECU'TION, n. Performance the act of completing or accomplishing.

The excellence of the subject contributed much to the happiness of the execution.

1. In law, the carrying into effect a sentence or judgment of court the last act of the law in completing the process by which justice is to be done, by which the possession of land or debt, damages or cost, is obtained, or by which judicial punishment is inflicted. 2. The instrument, warrant or official order, by which an officer is empowered to carry a judgment into effect. An execution issues from the clerk of a court, and is levied by a sheriff, his deputy or a constable, on the estate, goods or body of the debtor. 3. The act of signing and sealing a legal instrument, or giving it the forms required to render it a valid act as the execution of a deed. 4. The last act of the law in the punishment of criminals capital punishment death inflicted according to the forms of law. 5. Effect something done or accomplished.

Every shot did execution.

6. Destruction slaughter.

It is used after do, to do execution never after make.

7. Performance, as in music or other art.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [4]

or capital punishment, among the Jews, when lawful and regular, was of one of the following kinds.

1. Death By The Sword ( לְפִי חֶרֶב , or הִכָּה בְחֶרְב , also sinply הִכָּה ;  2 Samuel 1:15;  2 Kings 10:25;  Jeremiah 26:23), by which, however, we are not to understand beheading (in  2 Kings 10:7, the bodies were probably decapitated after death), as the Rabbins will have it (Mishna, Sanhedr. 7:3), a penalty that early occurs in Egypt ( Genesis 40:1)), and later in the Roman period among the Jews, as the introduction of foreign princes ( Matthew 14:10 sq.), and as is probably meant in  Acts 12:2 (comp. Josephus, Ant. 15:1, 2); but the offender was stabbed or cut to death, as the case might be.

2. Stoning (q.v.); since the Shooting with a dart, mentioned in  Exodus 19:13, was only selected in place of this when an individual was to be put to death at a distance. These punishments were intensified by indignities to the corpse; namely,

(a.) Burning ( שָּׂרִ Š בָּאֶשׁ , Levo 20:14; 21:9; compare  Joshua 7:15;  Joshua 7:25;  Genesis 38:24;  1 Maccabees 3:5; [see Michaelis in loc.]). That we are here not to think of a burning alive, we may gather from  Joshua 7:25; and it is the more probable from the procedure detailed in the Mishna (Sanhedr. 7:2), which directs that the delinquent's mouth should be forced open by a cloth drawn around the neck, and melted lead then be poured in!

(b.) Hanging ( תָּלָה ) on a tree or post ( Deuteronomy 21:22;  Numbers 25:4; comp.  Joshua 10:26;  2 Samuel 4:12;  1 Samuel 31:8;  1 Samuel 31:10), with which mutilation of the dead body was often connected ( 2 Samuel 4:12). The person hung was regarded as execrated ( Deuteronomy 21:23; comp.  Galatians 3:13), and was not allowed to remain suspended over night ( Deuteronomy 21:23; comp.  Joshua 8:29;  Joshua 10:26 sq.), through fear of tainting the atmosphere, since putrescence soon began. The opposite treatment was deemed an extraordinary severity ( 2 Samuel 21:6;  2 Samuel 21:9 sq.). The hanging of a living person ( Ezra 6:11) is a Persian punishment. Under the Herods this custom was likewise introduced among the Jews (Josephus, Ant. 16:11, 6), as in the Roman period in Egypt (Philo, 2:529).

(c.) Finally, a heap of stones ( גִּל אֲבָנַים גָּדול ) was thrown over the body, i.e., the grave ( Joshua 7:25 sq.;  Joshua 8:29;  2 Samuel 18:17), This dishonor is still common in the East (Panlus, Neu. Repert. 2:53; Jahn, Archaol II, 2:353). One of these kinds of punishment is constantly referred to by the legislative precept, "That soul shall be cut off from the people" ( יְנִכְרְתָה הִנֶּפֶשׁ הִהיא מִקֶּרבֵ עִמּו , or מֵעִמֶּיהָ ), as especially appears from  Exodus 31:14;  Leviticus 17:4;  Leviticus 20:17 (see Michaelis, Mos. Rech', 5:37 sq.; the cases are specified in the Mishna, Cherithuth, 1:1); but the Rabbins are not altogether agreed; comp. Abarbanel on  Numbers 15:30; also in Ugolini Thesaur. 30); not, as most will have it, a mere interdict from political or religious privileges. (See Excommunication). All penal inflictions were usually speedy ( Joshua 7:24 sq.;  1 Samuel 22:16), and originally inflicted directly by the populace, but under the kings by their body-guard, or one of their attendants. (See Cherethite).

Foreign punishments, unknown to the Jewish law, were the following:

1 . Sawing in pieces ( 2 Samuel 12:31). (See Saw).

2. Dichotomy, I.E., cutting asunder ( Διχοτομεῖν or Μελίζειν =" quartering") or dismemberment ( שִׁסֵּ Š ,  1 Samuel 15:33; Μελιστὶ Διαιρεῖν , Josephus, Ant. 15: 8, 4; a barbarous instance is given in Josephus, Ant. 13:12, 6; and an inhuman murder in  Judges 19:29; but  1 Kings 3:25, does not belong here) of the living being (see Krumbholz, Depznaper Τὸ Διχοτομεῖν Signeiicata, in the Bibl. Brem. 7: 234 sq.), which was universal among the Babylonians ( Daniel 2:5;  Daniel 3:29 : in  2 Samuel 4:12;  2 Maccabees 1:16, mangling after death is indicated by way of infamy; compare Livy, 8:28; in  Ezekiel 16:40;  Ezekiel 20:47, dichotomy is not to be understood), as well as Egyptians (Herod. 2:139; 3:13) and Persians (Herod. 7:39; Died. Sic. 17:83; comp. Horace, Sat. 1:1, 99 sq.;  2 Maccabees 7:8;  Matthew 24:51;  Luke 12:46; Koran, 20:74; 26:49; Assemani, Martyrol. Or. 1:241 sq.). 3. Precipitation ( שְׁמִיטָה  2 Chronicles 25:12; comp. Psalm cxli. 6 Κατακρημνισμός ,  Luke 4:29; comp.  2 Maccabees 6:10) from a rock ("dejicere de saxo Tarpeio" or "ex aggere," Suetonius, Calig. 27) is well known as a Roman mode of execution (for the Athenians, see Wachsmuth, Hellen. Alterth. 2:20). 4. Tympanisn ( Τυμπανισμός ), or beating to death ( Hebrews 11:35; A.V. "torture;" comp. Aristot. Rhet. 2:5; Lucian, Jup. Trag. 19, etc.), of which the instrument was a cudgel ( Τύμπανον ,  2 Maccabees 6:19;  2 Maccabees 6:28, A.V. "torment;" Aristophanes, Plut. 476); but it is uncertain whether we are thereby to understand simply a club with which the unfortunates were dispatched, or a wooden hoop upon which they were stretched in the manner of a rack (comp. Joseph us, De Maccab. 8:5 and 9). (See Tympanum).

Besides the above, the following methods of execution are. named in the Bible as practiced by nations in the neighborhood of Palestine: 1. Burning alive in a furnace ( Daniel 3:6;  Daniel 3:11;  Daniel 3:15;  Daniel 3:19 sq.), which occurs in modern Persia (Chardin, Voyage , 6:218), is of very early date (if we may trust the traditions concerning Abraham [q.v.], Targ. on  2 Chronicles 28:3); likewise roasting or boiling convicts over a slow fire. ( Jeremiah 29:22 [see Hebenstreit, De Achali Et Zelekie Cupplicio, Lips. 1736];  2 Maccabees 6:5). (See John (The Apostle).) An example of burning alive does not occur (2 Samuel 21:31, marg. מלבן ; see Thenius. in loc.) until the time of Herod (Josephus, War, 1:33, 4); but in Egypt the vindictive Roman magistrates took pleasure in burning Jews (Philo, 2:542, 527). No instances of burying alive (Ctesias, Pers. 41:53; Livy, 8:15, etc.) are found in the Scriptures ( Numbers 16:30 sq., is not in point). 2. Casting Into The Lions' Den (Daniel 6). (See Lion); DEN.

3. Sufocation in hot ashes ( 2 Maccabees 13:5 sq.; comp. Valer. Max. 9:2, 6, "He filled with ashes a place inclosed by high evalls, with a beam projecting within, upon which he placed the doomed, so that, when overcome with drowsiness, they fell into the insidious ash-heap below;" see Ctesias, Pers. 47 and 52). (See Ashes).

4. Dashing in pieces children (sucklings) an the corneas of walls, which occurred on the sack of cities ( Isaiah 13:16;  Isaiah 13:18;  Hosea 14:1;  Nahum 3:10; comp.  Psalms 137:9), like the ripping open of pregnant women ( 2 Kings 8:12;  2 Kings 15:16;  Hosea 14:1;  Amos 1:13), is, with the exception of  2 Kings 14:16, only a heathenish barbarity. On crucifixion, (See Crucify).

5. Finally, drowning ( Καταποντισμός ,  Matthew 18:6), and fighting with wild beasts ( Θηριομαχία ,  1 Corinthians 15:32), are but casually alluded to in the N.T. Drowning, as a mode of inflicting death, is old (comp.  Exodus 1:22). Among the Romans, those guilty of parricide were sewed in sacks (culei) and then drowned (Cicero, Rose. Am. 25; Ad Herean. 1, 13; Seneca, Clem. 1:15; Juvenal, 8:214); but this in the time of the emperors came to be deemed an inhuman mode of execution (comp. Josephus, A At. 14: 15, 10; War, 1:22, 2; Lactantius, Mort. Persec . 15:3); and thus remaining under the water ( Jeremiah 51:63) was thought a peculiarly severe fate (Josephus, Apiosm, 1:04; comp.  Matthew 18:6; see Gitz, De Pistrinis Vett. page 131 sq.; Grdfe, De Καταποντισμῷ , Num Fuerit Supplic. Judaeorums, Lips. 1662.; Welleius, De Supplicio Submers. Havn. 1701; Scherer, De Καταποντ Ap. antiq. Argent. 17:4). Such cruel punishments sometimes followved the mutilations of martyrdom ( 2 Maccabees 7:4;  2 Maccabees 7:7;  2 Maccabees 7:10). On tlmairomachy, (See Games); and on the passage 3 Maccabees 5, comp. Porphyry, Abstin. 2:57. See generally Carpzov, Appar. page 581 sq.; Alichaelis, De judiciis poenisque capitatibus in S.S. (Hal. 1749; also in Ugolini Thesaur. 26, and Pott's Sylloge, 4:177 sq.); Jahn, Archdol. II, 2:347 sq.; Alichaelis, Mosaisches Racht, 5:11 sq. (See Punishment).