Capital Punishment

by Sherman Alexie
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What methods were used to execute people in the Ancient Near East if someone broke a law punishable by death?

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To find an answer to this question in part, we can look at a very old set of laws, Hammurabi's Code. While not necessarily reflecting objective laws that were to be obeyed by the letter, they did prescribe some capital punishments for transgressions. These punishments likely could have been negotiated, but their mention suggests that they were not unheard of in ancient Near Eastern society. Execution methods specifically mentioned or alluded to include:

  • drowning (being "thrown in the water")
  • impalement
  • burning

Many offenses in Hammurabi's code carried a death sentence, but it is not made clear just what method of execution would be used. Other records, particularly the Bible, mention stoning as a form of public execution, and no doubt other methods, such as beheading and strangulation were used as well. 

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