Stoning is an ancient mode of execution that survives to this day in Iranian law. Like most modes of execution there is a prescribed form, as shown here. It shows how the condemned should be bound, secured in a pit and what how big the allowed rocks used to pelt should be: “around the size of a tangerine”. Anything else is an assault rock.
Although it is commonly thought that stoning, or lapidation, is a punishment reserved for adultery, it was historically applied to a wide variety of offenses, of which adultery was simply one. However, the connection between stoning and adultery in popular culture is a strong one, and what people dominantly think of to this day. About all they know about lapidation and its history is that it is vaguely connected with a 100 year old book called the Bible, a circumstance that leads to such vexing questions as: “did Jesus contradict the Bible by saving a woman from being stoned for adultery”?
Hard to know which side of that to come down on. After all, it’s never PC to come down on the side of Jesus … but on the other hand it does go up against the Bible. Some people may have to think about that one.
One exit from that intellectual dilemma is to argue that the story of Jesus saving a woman from stoning is apocryphal, though this is by no means the accepted belief. Another is to observe that stoning was prohibited by the Roman occupiers of the period. Stonings in the time of Jesus did occur, but they were probably in the nature of “drive-by” stonings that were finished by the time the legionaries and Roman cops showed up on the scene. “Though the evidence indicates that it was illegal under the Roman law for the Jews to execute anyone (John 18:30,31), it appears that the Jews sometimes resorted to stones and the Romans chose to ignore it. Jewish law mandated stoning for certain offenses such as adultery. From the Roman perspective, and that of Pilate the governor, there was no harm done provided no riots ensued.”
Which would have made the famous passage involving Jesus even more interesting since he would have faced down a mob, not simply a bunch of bureaucrats. Like most things we know today, gangs, factions and insurgent groups have been around in ancient times. Doubtless there were some of those even back in the day. Of course the Romans only prohibited capital punishment when carried out by unauthorized persons. If Roman authority so ordered it, they had no problem with executing any number of individuals with methods up to and including crucifixion.
Humanity has increased the size and efficacy of its weapons by leaps and bounds over the last 2100 years. Rocks have since become Hellfire missiles. Cloth rock pouches have given way to the “high powered magazines” whose possession would earn you jail today. But the human heart remains the same. And it is perhaps the long term source of our woes. The methods the human heart employs change with the technology, but its ends are often identical across the eons.
Human rights activists think they can curb the brutality of the Iranian regime by outlawing rocks as weapons of execution; just as certain individuals in Chicago believe they can stop the slaughter of inner city youth by outlawing guns.
Good luck to them.
J. Robert Oppenheimer warned that men had finally figured out a way to build a rock that would crush not only the target but the thrower. “The Atomic Bomb made the prospect of war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.” And yet the men who cross into that “different country” will be same. Men who destroyed the Neanderthals and who may have even once surrounded a woman in that long lost day, hindered only by a figure about whose existence we argue even today. The same men confronted arguably by the same figure.
I think Oppenheimer was nearer the mark when he said, “in some crude sort of sense, which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.” But of sin one might say it is a knowledge which they can increasingly deny.