The verb "hang" (BDB 1067, KB 1738) has two senses.

1. literally to hang by a rope until dead

a. Arabic, "let down a rope"

b. a Philistine practice, 2 Sam. 21:12

c. a Hebrew practice, 2 Sam. 17:23 and NT, Matt. 27:5

d. a Babylonian practice, Code of Hammurabi (see ISBE, vol. 2, pp. 1327-1332)

e. a Persian practice, cf. Esther 2:23; 5:14; 6:4; 7:9-10; 9:13,25

2. to impale the person on a sharpened stake

a. an Egyptian procedure, cf. Gen. 40:19; 41:13

b. a Babylonian procedure, cf. Code of Hammurabi

c. a Persian procedure (cf. Ezra 6:11)


Usually it was done after someone was killed by other means as a way of public shaming.  A proper burial was very important to ancient people and affected their view of a contented afterlife (e.g., Deut. 21:23).

In the Bible itself it is hard to know for sure if #1 or #2 above is right. Clearly in Deut. 21:22-23; Josh. 10:26-27; 1 Sam. 31:10,12; 2 Sam. 4:12; 21:12, the people publicly exposed were already dead, but what about Jos. 8:29 and 2 Sam. 21:9?

The rabbis of Jesus' day saw this text relating to Roman crucifixion. The religious leaders wanted Jesus crucified so that as a Messianic pretender He would be cursed by YHWH (cf. Deut. 21:23). The normal death for blasphemy was stoning.  I have often heard it said that the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day did not have the legal right of capital punishment under Roman rule, so they took Jesus to Pilate to have Him condemned and executed.  However, they stoned Stephen, just outside a Temple gate (cf. Acts 7) without Roman permission, why not Jesus?  They wanted Him crucified to reflect not only death and public shame, but the curse of God! 


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