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 slaying the individual 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. (Gen. 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. (1 Sam. 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. (1 Sam. 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. (2 Sam. 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, to 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. (2 Sam. 20:15, 21, 22) The older and distinguished men of Samaria slaughtered the seventy 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.—2 Ki. 10:6-10; 1 Ki. 21:20-22.
The Bible records that Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded in prison at the request of the daughter of Herodias. (Matt. 14:8-11; Mark 6:24-28; Luke 9:9) Herod Agrippa I did away with James the brother of John and son of Zebedee by the sword, whether by beheading or not is not revealed. (Acts 12:1, 2; Matt. 4:21) According to tradition, the apostle Paul was put to death by Emperor Nero for preaching the good news of the Kingdom. Beheading is thought to have been the means used, since it was not lawful to put a Roman citizen to death by scourging or impaling. 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.”—Rev. 20:4.
Many men were doubtless killed in battle by beheading or were beheaded after falling. An Assyrian monumental bas-relief shows numerous decapitated bodies of fallen soldiers near a burning enemy city, with the chariot of victorious King Sargon rolling over them.—See CRIME AND PUNISHMENT.