episode 19

Heaps of stones

Iran, 2000

published the 19 june 2017


Collective punishments

When a crowd is set on putting some hapless soul to death, it uses whatever it can lay its hands on: a bit of rope, rocks that are lying around.
There are actually not all that many collective punishments: even in a lynching it just takes one person to put that noose around that neck. The advantage of stoning is that it takes several stones to kill the prisoner, so no-one feels personally responsible for their death. Firing squads use a similar technique to salve their consciences. All the rifles are loaded with bullets save one, which is loaded with blanks. That way, everyone is free to think theirs was the gun with the blank, so they didn’t fire the fatal bullet.

Stoning in the Bible

The Bible does not mess around when it comes to punishments. Leviticus, the third of the five books of the Pentateuch, is perfectly clear :

And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
(…) And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness : they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they ; that there be no wickedness among you.
(…) A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones : their blood shall be upon them.


Death by stoning today

Death by stoning is still on the statute books in a handful of countries, including Nigeria, Sudan, Yemen, and Pakistan. It is based on a traditionalist Islamist reading of sharia (a word meaning the path to be followed), though the practice is not mentioned in the Qu’ran, unlike the Bible and the Torah. It seems that the practice arose from accounts of the prophet Mohammed’s life.



  1. wikipedia (Stoning)


  1. Martin Monestier, Peines de mort, Paris, Le cherche midi, 2004, 300p.