With the race for the GOP nomination reaching an unruly sprint, politicians are looking to court the evangelical vote. This means demonstrating that their platforms are consistent with biblical values.
Just this past week footage emerged of Ted Cruz stumping at the National Religious Liberties Conference in Iowa. He was there looking for support from the conference’s organizer, pastor-cum-radio host Kevin Swanson. In introducing Cruz, the “next candidate for the office of the President of the United States,” Swanson remarked that in “Romans Chapter 1 verse 32 the Apostle Paul does says that homosexuals are worthy of death.”
Swanson’s support for the death penalty for homosexuality might play well to his audience. But there are other crimes that also warrant the death penalty, though these seem less popular among delegates these days:
1. Disobeying one’s parents. According to Deuteronomy, if a man disobeys his parents they should take him to the elders of the city, denounce him as a glutton and a drunkard, and then everyone should stone him to death.
2. Gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on a Saturday. They brought him to Moses, who was unsure what to do with him. The word came down from on high that the man should be put to death, and the entire congregation stoned him outside the camp. This appears to have been an isolated incident, but just in case avoid gathering firewood or carrying pencils on the Sabbath.
3. Sexual relations with your in-laws. The penalty for sleeping with both a mother and her daughter is that all of them should be burned to death. Interestingly, sleeping with your daughter-in-law or stepmother incurs the more ambiguous punishment of you being put to death. Sex with your aunt or sister invokes social alienation, but not the death penalty.
4. Attending Hogwarts. According to Leviticus 20:27 “Any man or woman who is a medium or wizard shall be put to death.” Stoning is the specified method of execution. Sorry, Harry.
5. Kidnapping. Anyone who kidnaps someone should be put to death, regardless of whether or not the victim is still in their possession. Bad news for those involved in human trafficking and espionage.
6. Taking the Lord’s name in vain. Anyone—whether they are a local or an under-informed foreigner—can be stoned to death for taking the Lord’s name in vain. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit continues to be a serious sin in the New Testament: it is described in the gospel of Matthew as the only sin that will not be forgiven.
7. All kinds of extramarital sex. Sex with animals, adultery, sex with a woman who is betrothed to someone else, and sex with someone while betrothed to someone else all warrant the death penalty. For men, sex with slaves was probably the safest option, but for women the situation was always dire. If a woman is found not to be a virgin on her wedding night, then the entire town gathers at the entrance to her father’s house and stones her to death.
8. Worshipping other gods. If there’s one theme that emerges from reading the Hebrew Bible, it’s that God doesn’t like it when you worship other gods. When the whole people cheat, he allows them to be conquered by a foreign land. But when you do it solo you’re looking at the death penalty.
These regulations are just those warranting the capital punishment. There are many others—sporting tattoos, wearing blended fabrics, and cooking steak in butter—that are also forbidden, but carry lesser penalties.
Every one of these regulations, as tough as it is, can be understood in the context of ancient Near Eastern society and culture in general. Part of that context meant that crimes were settled between the families of the victim and the perpetrator. There’s some debate about how regularly the death penalty was actually implemented. In most cases it seems that the family of an accused murderer could pay a settlement (a ransom) for the life of the accused.
Oddly, none of these regulations get trumpeted at Ted Cruz rallies. Ann Glover, the last woman hanged for witchcraft, in Boston, died in 1688. And, so far as I know, no one in the U.S. has ever been executed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. If Swanson and Cruz want to replace American law with the book of Leviticus, they should be sure they really know what that involves.