What are the Capital Offense laws in the Tanach?
What were the capital offense laws in ancient Israel when it was a theocratic monarchy or tribal confederacy?
On occasion, it can be very interesting living here in the "South" of the United States of America. I say this because I am an orthodox Jewish man living in an area that is predominantly Christian and mostly Baptist. This area of the United States is also called "the Baptist Bible Belt." However, don't let that name fool you, not too many of these folks know their own Bible, let alone the Jewish Tanach and how one is to carry out its eternal decrees and precious statutes.
Oftentimes, when I get the chance to talk to some nice Christian folks, whether that be on the street or elsewhere, they will suddenly pop a question to me regarding the Mosaic law. However, when they do so, they ask their question based on what they have been negatively taught about the Torah through their church or through the so-called "New Testament."
So, due to their lack of information of how the Mosaic law is applied in practical living and how it is applied when a Torah observant Jew lives a foreign country, here is just one interesting question I will sometimes get:
"You have said that you keep all of the Torah, does that include the laws dealing with capital offenses?"
When a person will ask such a question, it is primarily based on the premise that he/she has invented in their own mind, based on their understanding of how all the laws of the Tanach are supposed to be carried out. This question represents their thoughts of how the Torah should be carried out, even if I should "witness" a crime worthy of a capital offense according to the ancient biblical laws.
When this question is asked and I can see this underlying premise, I have to let them understand that they are applying the Torah laws incorrectly. This is because much of the Torah is not simply given to a single person, nor is one single person to carry out all of these laws by himself or herself, but many of them are to be carried out by those in authority who govern the land of Israel or help govern it.
Our Torah was given long ago, given to us as "a people" of long ago, even though the whole Torah "should be" enforced by the Israeli government, it isn't because they have adopted the Western Style of government. The modern-day Israeli government is based upon a democracy, instead of instituting the biblical theocratic government.
One must keep in mind that the Torah, as a whole, was given to an entire society as their penal code or as their "law of the land." It was given to "us" as "we" came out of Egypt. It was not just given to a single person. During those ancient days, before and during the days of the kings, each city would have the holiest people as their judges or local magistrates. These judges were well educated in the law of the Torah.
These judges consisted of several town elders, many of them priests (see Note #1), and they would sit by the city gate or somewhere else in the city giving just judgments to those that came up for a case. During this time, the society as a whole had "laws on the books" which would indicate certain deeds that would render a person(s) guilty of a capital offense. Below is a list of capital offense laws I listed from the Torah.
When someone or several people witnessed a crime that was worthy of a capital offense, that witness (or witnesses) did not become a vigilante and kill the person himself in the name of HaShem. I say this because the person asking the question above oftentimes seems to think this way because of their lack of understanding. An example would be: If I were to take matters into my own hands most of the people in America would be guilty of a capital offense just for breaking the Sabbath laws alone, never minding the other capital offense laws they are breaking.
Here is the reality: If we were to be in that ancient society, and if I were to see such a crime, I would go to the city elders and judges and tell them about what I witnessed. I would be put under oath since I was dealing with a capital offense crime. If I did not have a fellow witness, the person that did the crime would be considered innocent (see note #2).
If, however, there was a fellow witness, we would go into trial with the man who committed the particular crime. If the defendant was found guilty, the city elders and judges would most likely have bound the person and/or tied the person down somewhere or onto something, like a tree or post, so that the person could not run away or escape. Then we would stone him to death. The majority of the capital offense cases required the guilty person to be put to death by stoning.
If a capital offense was dealing with idolatry the witnesses were the first ones to cast the first stones. Once the witnesses threw the first few stones the men of that town would follow their lead and so kill the idolater (see note 3).
Here is an example from the Torah of someone who was found picking up sticks on the Shabbat, yet the witnesses DID NOT carry out the law by themselves...
"And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it had not been declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said unto Moses: 'The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.' And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died, as the LORD commanded Moses," Numbers 15.
If the witnesses turned out to be false and malicious witnesses and only brought up the accusation in order to harm the defendant by having him executed through the courts, they could get in big trouble if such things are revealed to the courts. If the judges learn the truth about such evils and the witnesses were lying, then the false witnesses would be stoned to death for trying to shed innocent blood (See note #4).
This holy society no longer exists, however; yet, as a follower of Biblical Judaism, I (and many, many other Torah-followers) pray everyday that this holy theocracy and these holy laws will be re-instituted again. This is so that Israel will be like it was during the days of King David, for he too was a judge of the land and its greatest judge of his generation. So, until these prayers are fulfilled and a purely biblical theocracy exists again in Israel, or some other country that adopts the biblical laws, these laws cannot be carried out. This is because the Torah observant Jew is always under the control of the society he is in and those laws. This is even the case in Israel, because Israel's law is secular, not biblical.
As was the case then, so it is today - a person was never allowed to take matters into their own hands and just stone someone guilty of a biblical capital offense crime. They always had to make a case before the city elders and judges or the king. In the second Temple period, around 50 BCE, a whole new set-up was put in place by the so-called rabbis, who were never allowed to take control of things. The "rabbis" and the "oral law" started to formulate around this time. At this point, after the last Hasmonean King was killed by Herod, many cases came before the Sanhedrin. For the Maccabees were kings and priests and it was always the duty of the priests to teach the Torah and judge people by the Torah.
Now here are the laws that defined capital offenses in Israel's ancient theocracy:
Deuteronomy 17:6 is the standard for all death penalty cases,
On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death,
but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
1. All men who have sex with other men MUST be put to death.
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.
They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
From the Prophets:
If a woman has oral sex with another woman or does anything sexual with another woman, even
kissing in a lustful manner, those women must be put to death.
2. Those that commit bestiality must be put to death.
If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he must be put to death, and you must kill the animal.
If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the
animal. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
3. If someone tries to entice you to worship someone other than YHWH, they must be
put to death, regardless if it is the first time or not.
6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend
secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your
fathers have known,
7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other),
8 do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him.
9 You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then
the hands of all the people.
10 Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from YHWH your God, who brought you
out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.
Now on a different note, in regards to idols, it depends on what the image is supposed to be. This
will determine whether or not the one who made the thing should be put to death or not, or if he is
simply under the Lord's curse.
When the Israelites came out of Egypt and they were all at the base of Mt. Sinai, Moses went on
top of the mountain; after Moses was on the mountain for some time, (after which YHWH had just
given all the people the "10 sayings"), in order to get the rest of the commandments from
the Lord, the people quickly transgressed by making an image. That image was a cow, which
clearly was not supposed to be YHWH, but another god. Those people were put to death,
except, Aaron, because he turned back to follow YHWH. Thus, all that make idols, (if the idol is to
be someone other than YHWH - and you can not make an image of YHWH, either), they must be
put to death.
Now, if someone makes a graven image and that image is supposed to be YHWH that
person is not to be put to death. The reason for this is because that person is not trying to worship
other gods or some foreign god, he is just wickedly and ignorantly transgressing the
commandment in Deuteronomy that says,
15 You saw no form of any kind the day YHWH spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore
watch yourselves very carefully,
16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape...
Now, even though those that make these idols or images are under YHWH's curse, you must
still destroy and eradicate all such images from the land. This is so that the people do not get
led astray and become corrupt.
4. All those that slay a person with malice must be put to death.
16 If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer
shall be put to death.
17 Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies,
he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.
18 Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he
dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.
19 The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to
20 If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so
that he dies
21 or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he
is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.
30 Anyone who slays a person with malice (vs. accident) is to be put to death as a murderer.
17 If anyone takes the life of a human being (maliciously), he must be put to death.
18 Anyone who takes the life of someone's animal must make restitution—life for life.
19 If anyone injures his neighbor (maliciously), whatever he has done must be done to him:
20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be
21 Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death.
22 You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am YHWH your God.
5. All false prophets or malicious prophets must be put to death. Whether the person is claiming
to be an outright prophet (which is not worthy enough to have him put to death), yet then predicts
something and it does not come to pass; Or , a person claims he can prophecy by dreams, then
says "The Lord says......," and all what he said never occurs, they must be put to death. Likewise,
if a person prophecies in the name of someone other than YHWH, regardless if the prophecy
DOES come to pass that prophet must be put to death.
1 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you
a miraculous sign or wonder,
2 and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow
other gods (gods you have not known) and let us worship them,"
3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing
you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.
4 It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and
obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.
5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the
LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he
has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must
purge the evil from among you.
20 a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say,
or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death."
21 You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the
22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that
is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously.
6. If a man marries a woman and her daughter or that if a man has intercourse with a woman and
also her daughter (not being raped, nor married (does not matter)), all three shall be burned alive
in the fire till they die.
14 If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be
burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you.
7. If a person is worshipping someone other than YHWH, they must be put to death. This is
different from #3, for that deals with a person trying to entice you, this deals with someone that
is found worshipping someone other than YHWH.
2 If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the LORD gives you is found doing
evil in the eyes of the LORD your God in violation of his covenant,
3 and contrary to My command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun
or moon or the stars of the sky,
4 and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true
and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel,
5 take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person
7 .....The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of
all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.
8. Those that commit adultery must be put to death. Adultery in the eyes of the Lord is not the
same as fornication. For adultery is only considered when the woman is married, not the man;
Or, "adultery" is strictly based on the status of the woman, not the man. This is because
a man can have more than one wife. Thus, if a married man should have intercourse with a
single woman, while yes it is very sinful, it is only fornication and he would then be obligated to
marry her, thus they would be allowed to live. If however a married woman has intercourse with
a married man or a single man, that is adultery, and the two parties must be put to death.
10 If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the
adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
11 If a man sleeps with his father's wife (mom/step mom/concubine), he has dishonored his
father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own
12 If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have
done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads.
20 If a man sleeps with his aunt, he has dishonored his uncle. They will be held responsible;
they will die childless.
9. All mediums and spiritists must be put to death. A medium is a person that commits
necromancy or communicates with people that have already died, through secret arts. Whereas
a spiritist talks with demons, when the spiritualist thinks he/she is either talking to ghosts or
friendly 'spirit guides.' These types of people are also known as psychics, shamans,
medicinemen, witchdoctors or oracles.
31 Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them.
I am the LORD your God.
27 A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to
stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.
10. If the daughter of a priest should play the harlot or be a fornicator, (not just once, but more
than one time,) you must stone her to death and then burn her body.
9 The daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by playing the harlot, she profanes her
father. She shall be burned with fire.
11. If someone, other than a priest, approaches the sanctuary [the Tent of Meeting (where the table
of showbread is, as well as the menorah and the altar of incense) and the Holy of Holies (where
the ark is located)]. That person must be put to death.
5 YHWH said to Moses,
6 "Bring the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest to assist him.
7 They are to perform duties for him and for the whole community at the Tent of Meeting by
doing the tabernacle.
8 They are to take care of all the furnishings of the Tent of Meeting, fulfilling the obligations of
the Israelites by doing the work of the tabernacle.
9 Give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to
10 Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary
must be put to death."
12. If a person owns a bull that has the habit of charging at people and that owner has been warned
about it, but does not pen him up, if that bull should charge at someone and gore someone
or trample someone, the bull with its owner shall be put to death by stoning.
28 If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must
not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible.
29 If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not
kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also
must be put to death.
30 However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is
31 This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter (of the owner).
32 If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the
master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.
13. If a person is taking another person to court regarding a capital offense crime, then later, if it is
found out that the accuser has been lying the whole time, just in order to bring the death penalty
upon his innocent neighbor, you must in turn put the accuser to death instead.
16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime,
17 the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the
the judges who are in office at the time.
18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar,
giving false testimony against his brother,
19 then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you.
20 The rest of the people will hear of this (spread the news that is) and be afraid, and never
again will such an evil thing be done among you.
21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
14. If a son rebels against the discipline of his parents, he shall be put to death. This is if the son
is persistent in his stubbornness.
18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will
not listen to them when they discipline him,
19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.
20 They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us.
He is a profligate and a drunkard."
21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among
you. All Israel will hear of it (that is, you must spread the word) and be afraid.
15. If a child should strike a parent, the child must be put to death. This, however, does not apply
if a girl should do such, if her male parent is trying to rape her or molest her in any way.
15 Anyone who attacks his male parent or his mother must be put to death.
16. If a child will curse either his male parent or mother, that child must be put to death.
17 Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.
17. If a person maliciously strikes a pregnant woman and as a result of that, the child is either
born dead or dies because of those injuries, the one that struck the lady must be put to death.
22 If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no
serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the
23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
18. Based on #17, if a pregnant woman commits abortion, her and all those that helped her must
be put to death, because it is very obvious that it was murder upon the child.
19. If a person is guilty of kidnapping (the defendant does not know the accused) or has been
found to have kidnapped (the defendant does know the accused, like a family member, not
speaking about a neighbor), the accused shall be put to death.
16 Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must
be put to death.
20. If anyone blasphemes the Lord they must be put to death.
10 Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and
a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite.
11 The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him
to Moses. (His mother's name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri the Danite.)
12 They put him in custody until the will of the LORD should be made clear to them.
13 Then the LORD said to Moses:
14 "Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on
his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him.
15 Say to the Israelites: 'If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible;
16 anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly
must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be
put to death."
21. If anyone curses the king or the priest, they must be put to death.
2 Samuel 16:
5 As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul's family came out
from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out.
6 He pelted David and all the king's officials with stones, though all the troops and the special
guard were on David's right and left.
7 As he cursed, Shimei said, "Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel!
8 The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place
you have reigned. The LORD has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom. You have
come to ruin because you are a man of blood!"
9 Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the
king? Let me go over and cut off his head."
22. Anything devoted to YHWH, such as a person, an animal, family land, or a person that is
devoted to destruction or shall become devoted to YHWH may never be sold or redeemed,
since it is devoted and most holy to the LORD, it must be given (such as land) or sacrificed
(such as an animal or a person.)
28 But nothing that a man owns and devotes to the LORD - whether man or animal or family
land—may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the LORD.
29 No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; he must be put to death.
29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh,
passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.
30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD : "If you give the Ammonites into my hands,
31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the
Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."
32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands.
33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim.
Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his
daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he
had neither son nor daughter.
35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, "Oh! My daughter! You have made me
miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break."
36 "My father," she replied, "you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you
promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.
37 But grant me this one request," she said. "Give me two months to roam the hills and weep
with my friends, because I will never marry."
38 "You may go," he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills
and wept because she would never marry.
39 After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she
was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite custom
40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter
of Jephthah the Gileadite.
23. The man that shows contempt for a judge or priest must be put to death.
8 If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge—whether bloodshed,
lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place the LORD your God will choose.
9 Go to the priests, who are Levites, and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of
them and they will give you the verdict.
10 You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the LORD will choose.
Be careful to do everything they direct you to do.
11 Act according to the law they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside
from what they tell you, to the right or to the left.
12 The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there
to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel.
13 All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not be contemptuous again.
24. If a woman is pledged to get married, or is engaged, but not yet married, and she gets raped,
the man who raped her must must be put to death.
25. The woman that gets married to a man and claims that she is a a virgin, but ends up not being
a virgin at all, that woman must be put to death.
26. If a woman is a slave-girl, and pledged to get married, and then sleeps with a man that is
someone other than the man she has the pledge with, she shall not be put to death, nor the
man, because she has not been set free yet. This is because she is still the property of the
There are probably more capital offense crimes in Israel's ancient theocracy that were carried out, but I cannot think of anymore right now.