A mode of capital punishment not prescribed by the Mosaic Law. It was one form of execution that existed in most of the nations. In Israel, when a beheading was performed, it was usually after the individual had been slain and was generally done to bring the person’s death before public attention as a reproach or as a public notice of judgment or warning.
Pharaoh ‘lifted up the head from off’ his chief baker, evidently beheading him. (Ge 40:19) David, after felling Goliath with a stone from his sling, took Goliath’s sword and “definitely put him to death” by beheading him before the armies of Israel and the Philistines. This threw great fear into the Philistine army and resulted in a mighty rout. (1Sa 17:51, 52) The Philistines cut Saul’s head from his body after his death, then hung his body with that of his sons on the wall of the city of Beth-shan. (1Sa 31:9, 12) Rechab and Baanah, wicked men, killed Saul’s son Ish-bosheth and beheaded him in order to take his head to David, thinking they would gain David’s favor. For this David had them put to death. (2Sa 4:5-12) In order to save their city, the people of the city of Abel of Beth-maacah acted on the counsel of a wise woman and cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, which they pitched over the wall to Joab. Whether Sheba was killed before beheading is not stated. (2Sa 20:15, 21, 22) The older and distinguished men of Samaria slaughtered the 70 sons of Ahab and sent their heads in baskets to Jehu at Jezreel, where they were displayed in two heaps at the city gate as evidence of the fulfillment of Jehovah’s judgment spoken by Elijah.—2Ki 10:6-10; 1Ki 21:20-22.
The Bible records that Herod Antipas had John the Baptizer beheaded in prison at the request of the daughter of Herodias. (Mt 14:8-11; Mr 6:24-28; Lu 9:9) John, in a vision, “saw the souls of those executed with the ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God.”—Re 20:4; see CRIME AND PUNISHMENT.