Did the Israelites execute criminals by hanging them on stakes?
Many nations in ancient times executed certain criminals by impaling them on a stake or a pole. The Romans tied or nailed such an individual to the instrument of execution, where he might have continued living for several days before his physical endurance was overcome by pain, thirst, hunger, and exposure to the elements. The Romans considered impalement to be a shameful punishment reserved for criminals of the lowest order.
What about the ancient nation of Israel? Did the Israelites execute criminals by hanging them on stakes? The Mosaic Law stipulated: “In case there comes to be in a man a sin deserving the sentence of death, and he has been put to death, and you have hung him upon a stake, his dead body should not stay all night on the stake; but you should by all means bury him on that day.” (Deut. 21:22, 23) Evidently, therefore, during the time of the Hebrew Scriptures, a person who deserved to die was first put to death and then hung on a stake or a tree.
In this regard, Leviticus 20:2 states: “Any man of the sons of Israel, and any alien resident who resides as an alien in Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech, should be put to death without fail. The people of the land should pelt him to death with stones.” Those in whom there was “a mediumistic spirit or spirit of prediction” were also to be put to death. How? By ‘pelting them with stones.’—Lev. 20:27.
At Deuteronomy 22:23, 24, we read: “In case there happened to be a virgin girl engaged to a man, and a man actually found her in the city and lay down with her, you must also bring them both out to the gate of that city and pelt them with stones, and they must die, the girl for the reason that she did not scream in the city, and the man for the reason that he humiliated the wife of his fellowman. So you must clear away what is evil from your midst.” Among the early Israelites, then, stoning was the principal method of executing those guilty of an atrocious crime.a
Evidently, during the time of the Hebrew Scriptures, a person who deserved to die was first put to death and then hung on a stake or a tree
Deuteronomy 21:23 states that “something accursed of God is the one hung up.” The public display of the corpse of a vile person “accursed of God” would surely have had an effect on the Israelites. Indeed, hanging the body of such an executed individual on a stake or a tree served as a warning to others.
a Many scholars agree that under the Law, a criminal was executed before his body was hung on a stake. However, there is evidence that by the first century, some criminals were impaled alive by the Jews and died on the stake.