Cruel and unusual: Deuteronomy 13

Sometimes it’s good to go back to the Bible itself in order to refresh your memory of just what it says. You can read the whole thing – more than once, even – and still not recall passages like this one with more than a vague distaste. It’s surely among the most despicable and illiberal in a book not known for its openness to plurality of opinion. No discussion of biblical morality is complete without it.

1: If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,

2: And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; 

3: Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 

4: Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. 

5: And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee. 

6: If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; 

7: Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; 

8: Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: 

9: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 

10: And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. 

11: And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness* as this is among you. 

* The use of “wickedness” by the author(s) of this passage is pure, unadulterated chutzpah. Weep, O Israel.

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