"the theocratic death penalty" [was Biblical]

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Oct 16 13:47:06 UTC 2011

On Oct 16, 2011, at 9:06 AM, Joel S. Berson wrote:

> At 10/15/2011 11:34 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> "The aura of the theocratic death penalty for adultery still clings
>> to America, even outside New England, and multiple divorce, which
>> looks to the European like serial polygamy, is the moral solution to
>> the problem of the itch.
> (Although only the itch can afford multiple divorce.)
> As someone who is living in colonial New England, I must
> protest.  There was wide opposition to the death penalty from its
> enactment (including Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth, on the
> Biblical ground that no life was taken in adultery, but not generally
> from the ministers).  There were just 3 executions ever  for adultery
> in all of New England.
> In Massachusetts two people, one man and one woman, were executed
> (1644).   Since there was only one witness, whereas two were required
> by law, there was disagreement among the judges; finally, their
> confessions were accepted as a second "witness" and they were
> convicted.  There was such repugnance that few cases of adultery were
> brought thereafter, and both grand and petit juries refused to bring
> in indictments or convictions.
> In Connecticut one man was executed (1650), but the woman was
> reprieved.  It may be that the man was not because there was
> suspicion about the timely death of the woman's husband.
Note that 1650 was just two years before the appearance of that remark by Anthony Burgess on the Biblical use of "spirit", so that was obviously during this time-travelling drop-in on colonial New England; the capital execution incident you cite obviously made a big impression on him.


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