Questions From Readers
● At the Watchtower School of Gilead I was told that it was the Jewish custom to kill condemned sinners before hanging them on the stake. What is the proof for this?—R. H., Peru.
This instruction is given at Deuteronomy 21:22, 23 (AT): “If anyone has committed a crime punishable by death, and has been put to death, and you have impaled him on a stake, his corpse must not remain all night on the stake; but you must be sure to bury him the same day; for an impaled man is a terrible disgrace, and you must not pollute the land which the LORD your God is giving you as a heritage.” This shows that after he has been put to death he is impaled, and thereafter it speaks of him as a corpse. To have his body hung on a stake added to his disgrace and also served as an example to others to avoid such an unhappy end because of disobedience.
Such public display as a warning to others was probably the purpose when ringleaders in the worship of Baal-peor were slain and hung. “Jehovah said unto Moses, Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them up unto Jehovah before the sun, that the fierce anger of Jehovah may turn away from Israel. And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that have joined themselves unto Baal-peor.” In addition, Jehovah brought a plague against those who followed these ringleaders into demon worship; so that the total slain was 24,000. Apparently about a thousand of those slain were ringleaders, and 23,000 were direct victims of the plague from Jehovah. (Num. 25:4, 5, 9, AS; 1 Cor. 10:8) But the point to note here is that these leaders in the transgression were slain by the “judges of Israel”, and then hung. They were not slain by hanging.
It was this instruction from Deuteronomy that was had in mind when Joshua dealt with the king of Ai: “The king of Ai he hanged on a tree and left until evening, but at sunset Joshua ordered his body to be taken down from the tree.” (Josh. 8:29, AT) Note that both here and in Deuteronomy it was the corpse or body that was taken down, not the living person. If the criminal had been hanged on the stake while alive he would usually be alive when the time for removal came, as was the case with the thieves impaled with Jesus. The fact that Jesus was dead within that short time caused wonderment. (John 19:32, 33) Of course, that impalement was performed by the Romans, and according to their custom the victims were hanged on the stake alive. The Jewish practice of killing the impaled ones first is also shown by Joshua 10:26 (AT): “Joshua then felled them, and killed them; he hanged them on five trees, and they remained hanging on the trees until evening.” The removal of the body at sunset precluded any swelling or stench of decomposition or disfigurement by wild beasts at night.
● Since the idea of slavery is so distasteful today, why do we speak of Christians as being slaves of Christ? He said he no longer called us slaves, but friends.—M. S., Connecticut.
It is true that Jesus said, at John 15:15, NW: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, because all the things I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Jesus had just completed celebrating the Passover and instituting the Memorial with his apostles, and it was just before his arrest and death. In this final encouragement and strengthening of his apostles he was very intimate; yet he did not deny that they were still slaves. Five Joh 15:20 verses later he reminded them of the master-slave relationship: “Bear in mind the word I said to you, A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also; if they have observed my word, they will observe yours also.” So he was not eliminating the term slave, but he was showing that his followers, while slaves, were also his friends. It was not the usual cold and formal master-slave relationship; in addition to this legal relationship they were also close friends. But this friendship did not cancel the fact that Christians belong not to themselves, but were bought with a price, and are slaves of Christ.—1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 7:23.
● Luke 2:39 states: “So when they had carried out all the things according to the law of Jehovah, they went back into Galilee to their own city Nazareth.” (NW) Since the slaughter of the babes by Herod came a year or more after Jesus’ birth, does this text not prove the child was at Nazareth when Herod’s infanticidal campaign came, and that the flight into Egypt was from Nazareth and not Bethlehem, as a recent Watchtower said?—R. B., New York.
The Gospel accounts are brief, and what one leaves out another often supplies. We cannot assume that Luke related a complete coverage of the movements of Joseph and Mary and the babe Jesus; actually, we know positively that Luke did not do so, since he does not even mention the flight into Egypt. Luke 2:39 merely spans the time gap between the fulfilling of the law relative to the newborn babe and the later taking up of residence in Nazareth, without attempting to relate everything in between.
Matthew’s account, however, fills in more details for us. It shows that the astrologers were sent to Bethlehem by Herod, and since there is no recorded change in the directions we must assume that that is where they went, the reappearance of the “star” being necessary to guide them, not so much to Bethlehem, but to the particular house where the child was. Thereafter the record tells of the flight into Egypt to escape the mass infanticide by Herod. Note that this murderous slaughter of boys of two years of age and under was confined to “Bethlehem and in all its districts”. (Matt. 2:1-16, NW) The districts of Bethlehem would be nearby areas, not even reaching to Jerusalem, and certainly nowhere near Nazareth in distant Galilee! If the child had been in Nazareth it would have been in no dire peril. But the slaughter struck at the region wherein the child resided, making necessary the angelic warning and the subsequent flight into Egypt.
Matthew next tells of Herod’s death, which opens the way for the safe return to Israel of Jesus and his parents. Apparently Joseph was going to return to Judea to take up life in Bethlehem, whence he had fled in the first place. But Herod’s son ruled there and Joseph feared for the child’s safety. Through a dream he received divine warning not to return to Judea, but to go instead into the territory of Galilee. There, in order to fulfill further prophecy, the family settled in Nazareth. (Matt. 2:19-23) All of this clearly implies that Joseph was returning to the place whence he had fled, Judea, and more particularly Bethlehem, but that a change in plans was effected through divine intervention, for the child’s safety and for the fulfillment of prophecy. So they went to Nazareth instead, and we are back at the point in Luke’s narrative recorded in the latter part of Luke 2:39.
So we believe that The Watchtower of December 15, 1951, correctly stated matters in its published reply to this question, on page 764.