Everything you always wanted to know about stoning…




Studying a Practice: An Inquiry into Lapidation

By Darius Rejali

How can one make sense of what people are doing when they practice violence?  I propose to examine here a single violent practice, lapidation, or death by stoning (rajm in Arabic and sangsari in Persian). My first goal is to make sense of this form of capital punishment.  It is not hard to explain what people are doing in the course of lapidation:  killing another human being whom they believe has committed a crime.  Asked another way, the issue is not so simple: Not “what are you doing?” but “why are you killing a human in this way for this crime?”  Typical answers to this question show how difficult it is to understand the logic of lapidation.  What people say about violence does not rest well with what we know people are doing or have done.  Making sense of what is said and done turns out to be challenging.  Thus, my second goal is to illustrate a general way by which one can undertake a reconstruction of practices of violence in this situation. The manner in which I proceed is intended to be demonstrative, not simply analytical.  This yields a third goal to which I shall turn at the end, namely, to clarify the nature of studying a practice.  I argue that what has limited the analysis of lapidation thus far (and other practices of violence) is a deficient understanding of what a “practice” is.  To demonstrate this, I advance an alternative understanding of lapidation drawing primarily from the work of Pierre Bourdieu.  This characterization offers us a more discriminating way to understand what people are doing when they lapidate others. 

I have chosen lapidation for a number of reasons.  Although it is a remarkably old practice, it also seems regionally circumscribed to the Middle East and Mediterranean areas. Most importantly, lapidation persists into the twenty-first century.  In Iran, for example, it is legal to lapidate criminals to death, and this practice has drawn considerable attention from journalists and the human rights community. The most prominent expose on this subject is Freidoune Sahebjam’s The Stoning of Soraya M., which reconstructs the events surrounding a woman’s death in southeastern Iran.  Sahebjam interviewed people who knew Soraya M. to tell a moving literary tale designed to condemn the practice.  The Stoning of Soraya M. poses a problem of explanation as well as justification. Sahebjam provides various motives for why Soraya was killed: In a permissive religious context, power seeking magistrates, thugs, and greedy religious leaders conspired to manipulate ignorant people to kill her.  In addition, the village reaped the benefit of having a good and chaste reputation among other villages, even as powerful men satisfied their own interests.  There was something then for everybody.  All this explains why Soraya M. was killed, but it does not explain how she died.  Why was Soraya stoned to death as opposed to some other technique?  Why was this mode of death fitting?  Does an ancient disposition persist to kill women in this way in Iranian villages, as it may all over the Middle East?  The question, “why are people executed in this way?”  continues to pose a puzzle.  It is not a puzzle that has gone unanswered.  Two scholars, Goudarz Eghtedari and Reza Aslan each have offered an answer to this question, Eghtedari by analyzing the legal explanation of the practice and Aslan by exploring its religious explanations. 

The Legal Account of Lapidation

The first explanation one might give for the persistence of lapidation is the fundamentalist Islamic Revolution in Iran.  The new Penal Code of the Islamic Republic identifies lapidation as one form of execution for the general crime of illicit sexual intercourse.  The determination of guilt is based on either witnesses or confession.  According to the Penal Code, either the accused confesses four times before a judge or the person is accused of the crime by four male witnesses or 3 male and two female witnesses (Article 68, 74).  The method of proof has implications for the actual process of stoning.

Article 82 specifies that execution is required for the following forms of fornication:  (1) fornication with a forbidden blood relative; (2) fornication with one’s mother-in-law; (3) a non-Muslim male who has sex with a Muslim female who is not his wife; and (4) rapists.  The choice of the manner of execution is open-ended, lapidation being one method proposed and flogging being recommended in more complicated situations.  This is illustrated more clearly in Article 83, which sets death by stoning for: (1) an adult married male who has sex with another woman while having access to his wife and being able to have sex with her anytime he wants; and (2) an adult married female who has sex with another adult male while having access to her husband and being able to have sex with him.  Further, lapidation will not be applied if either party does not have access to his or her spouse due to distance, imprisonment, or other factors.  Article 83 also stipulates that if the adult married female has sex with a male who is a minor, her punishment will be flogging, not death.  Article 88 sets 100 strokes of the lash as the punishment for adultery if it does not meet the conditions laid out by articles 82 and 83. Article 90 deals with repeat offenders.  If adultery happens four times and each time a lesser punishment is prescribed, the offender will be executed after the fourth violation.  Article 91 considers exceptions to the clause or delays in execution in the case of women who are pregnant or still nursing infants. 
          Finally, Articles 98-107 explain how to carry out lapidation, including who should cast the first stone.  Article 102 stipulates that the man is buried in a pit up to his waist and the woman is buried roughly to her chest.  Article 104 defines the size of stones and states that the stones should not be so large that the person dies upon being hit by one or two of them, nor should they be so small that they cannot be called a stone.  If the crime was proven solely on the basis of a confession, the judge has the responsibility for throwing the first stone, but if it was proven through witnesses, they shall start, followed by the judge, and then by any others who are present, the number of whom cannot be less than three (Article 99, 101).  Stones are hurled one by one until the convicted is killed.  Article 103 states that if, in the course of the lapidation, the person escapes the pit, he or she will be brought back if witnesses confirmed the crime.  But if she or he was sentenced solely on the basis of his or her own confession, she or he will not be brought back.

What Is Done

Laws can be in the books, but whether and how they are observed is not automatic.  So the next task is to see whether what is said juridically lines up with what is done by the Iranian courts.  For example, the Penal Code also provides for salb, or crucifixion, but no such penalty has been recorded with respect to the 13, 662 executions between tallied by human rights organizations between 1979 and 1995.  This record indicates that execution falls primarily on the regime’s political opponents, then on drug-related offenders, then on murderers.  The most common means of execution is by firing squad and hanging, neither of which is mentioned in classical Islamic law.  Only a small number were executed for sexual crimes; of that number, there were 78 recorded cases of lapidation between 1979 and 1995.  Lapidation also has its ebbs and flows as a desirable mode of execution.  Most recorded cases come from provincial cities.  In one April 1989 incident, for instance, 12 women and 3 men were stoned for sexual crimes in a football stadium in the southern city of Bushehr.

Sources:  Eghtedari, 1997; and Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1993 (New York: Amnesty International USA, 1993).

Now, we can consider the details of the execution of Soraya M. in 1986, three years after the new Islamic Penal Code was approved. It is worth noting that her lapidation was not a rule-governed practice, as it deviated from the Penal Code, and for that matter, Islamic law in several ways.  Soraya was condemned on the testimony of two, not four, witnesses.  The witnesses did not see Soraya commit adultery; she was condemned for the intent to commit adultery.  The main evidence at Soraya’s trial was that she smiled and whispered to a man who was not her husband.  The mayor presided over the questioning, not a religious judge, and a council of village men determined the punishment.  Although it was Soraya’s first violation, and not her fourth, the villagers applied the death penalty.  The stones collected were too large for they included bricks that could kill with a single throw.  At least one villager thought this was precisely what was needed, and the preacher did not correct him.  The witnesses did not cast the first stones, but by her male family members in order of seniority, first her father, then her husband, and then her two sons.  The husband was the only witness in this number. The preacher added a few new wrinkles.  He claimed that each stone cast restores the honor of the village a little bit, such that the final stone fully restores the village’s honor, and he then threw the last stone, after Soraya was dead, to seal the execution.  Finally, “according to God’s law, no woman who has been stoned to death has the right to internment.  That’s what Sheikh Hassan says.” It is clearly not Islamic law, but this merciless practice seems to have been common enough that the government introduced further clarification in 1989 for conducting the penalty of rajm, requiring, among other things, burial and proper prayer of the deceased (Article 24).

What does all this tell us? That a fundamentalist regime kills primarily through the firing squad and gallows, punishments that do not figure in the Quran, and invokes certain classical forms of execution rather than others.  Indeed, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who served as President of the Islamic Republic from 1989 to 1997, remarked that lapidation is imposed by “tasteless judges.” Finally, the actual practice does not seem to conform to the prescribed rules.  One is left then with more questions than answers.  It would seem that the law came ex post facto to confirm a practice that has roots in beliefs outside of the state. Lapidation starts in the absence of the state, away in the provinces and moves inward toward the capital. It seems to be rooted in communal beliefs about the laws of Islam. If we wish to know why lapidation persists, then perhaps we should consider the sources of the popular prejudice.

The Religious Explanation

The religious crime here is zina, a term that has different meanings under the various Islamic schools of law. The Iranian Penal Code offers a specific, almost technical, definition: “Zina consists of sexual intercourse by a man with a woman who is not lawful for him, although it can be performed from the backside (unnaturally), except when it is performed under a semblance of right” (Article 63). Zina best is defined as any unlawful sexual act including adultery (illicit sex between married persons) and fornication (sex between unmarried persons).  Zina  is one of the six huddud, or “limit-crimes,” the punishment for which God has fixed in the Quran. Verse 24:2 establishes the punishment of lashes for the adulterer and the adulteress, and verse 6:15-16 specifies life imprisonment.  Rajm, or lapidation, is entirely absent as a penalty for zina.

However, in Islamic law, the huddud are embedded in what is called thesharia.  The sharia is derived primarily from the Quran, but the Quran itself is not a book of law and only about eighty verses deal directly with legal issues. So the sharia draws secondarily on the sunna, that is, the traditions of the Prophet and important figures in the early Islamic community. As with all traditions, there is great difficulty determining whether these events actually happened. Compilers in all legal traditions of Islam work hard at determining the veracity of different stories though a complex genealogical structure, but there is great debate among them about the veracity of these stories. Most Muslims recognize as authentic six compilations of traditions all written between 870 AD and 915 AD, that is, about two and a half centuries after the hejira.  Complicating this evaluation of the sunna is the fact that it too is not a code of laws anymore than is the Quran. It is simply an account of sayings and actions.  Therefore, jurists turn to other sources when both the Quran and the sunna are legally inadequate: consensus (ijma) and analogy (qiyas).  To this, one might add ijtihad, or independent juristic reasoning, which is possible in matters not governed by clear and definite texts. For example, the Iranian Penal Code states that while execution is required for fornication, the modality is left to the judge.  Finally, there is the issue of naskh, the abrogation of one commandment of God by a verse later in the text.  When this occurs, it would suggest that various assertions historically are circumscribed, opening the door to a very pragmatic evaluation of punishment.

All this is a necessary preamble to discussing lapidation in Islam, for it is complicated even further by the sunna.  According to two of the standard compilers (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) as well as some weaker hadith or traditions, Muhammad ordered rajm for adultery.  But are these accounts authentic? Abdullah bin Aufa reports that Muhammad did carry out rajm.  “Yet when asked whether Muhammad prescribed stoning before or after the Surah of Light, which clearly endorses 100 lashes for the adulterer, bin Aufa replies that he did not know. It appears that even the early Muslim community was uncertain exactly which of the contradictory laws applied concerning zina.”

Al-Bukhari  reports that Umar claimed God ordered rajm in the Quran, that it was originally recorded but then struck from the Quran.  But this tradition is considered unreliable because it is based on only one witness.  This tradition, even if it is true, raises some thorny theological problems among the schools of law.  Can a tradition testified by one person abrogate the Quran, the word of God?  This seems dubious.  Even if it could, this would be a highly embarrassing problem for a Muslim to explain:  “How could a revelation be part of the Quran originally but fail to be included in the text?” In any case, it seems that lapidation has its foundation solely in the hadith, and not very reliable ones at that, and such a tradition conflicts not only with the specific references in the Quran, but also with the very concept of the Quran. What makes a crime like zina a huddud is that its penalty is prescribed by God, not by Muhammad or by the traditions. A punishment  for a huddud crime that rests solely on the sunna  should raise some doubts as to whether one could find a logic for this practice in religious law.  Above all the question remains: If lapidation is an Islamicpunishment, why is it not in Quran?

Perhaps the more interesting question is, why did Umar and others want to believe that it was?  It seems that here we are dealing with the same problem we originally had with the law itself.  It appears that the law came after the fact to justify what already was going on in Iran.  Now at the dawn of Islam, we find a similar case.  It appears that the hadiths come after the fact to align revelation with established practices in pre-Islamic Arabia for certain sexual crimes.  Thus Islam accommodated a prior cultural practice within its theological reasoning.

The Cultural Explanation:  Lapidation in Middle Eastern Cultures

This answer, to be more explicit, is a cultural explanation of the origin and persistence of lapidation.  Lapidation appears to be one of the oldest traditions in the Middle East.  We know stoning was practiced in pre-Islamic Arabia because Muhammad himself was threatened with stoning several times in his preaching (verse 36:18; 44:20).  According to the Quran, even Abraham faced lapidation from his own father for his monotheistic beliefs (verse 19:46).  In these instances, lapidation is associated with blasphemy, not zina.  There appear to be archaic survivals as well in contemporary Arabian practice.  In his study of pre-Islamic prophets of the Hadramawt (in Yemen), R.B. Serjeant identifies the following station on the pilgrimage to the Prophet Hud:

Beyond Khun lie certain stones, at a place known as Mahdhafah … and one of these, a large rock, is called Hasat al Kafirah, the Rock of the Infidel Woman.  It is said that the Prophet (which prophet is not specified) wished to enter this rock, but the rock itself informed the infidels (kuffar) that the Prophet was inside it, a type of legend very common in S. Arabia.  The Pilgrims stone the rock or fire at it.

Serjeant says that this event follows the trip through Khun in which pilgrims sing “O Khon, no girl in Khon is chaste (at any rate)/ Where married and unmarried women fornicate.”  At Mahdhafah, blasphemy, unfaithfulness, and zina are closely linked, for it is hard not to read the sexual overtones of the Prophet wanting to enter the female stone. C. Snouck Hurgronje reports of similar stones, the “Cakes” and the “Tarts,” on the Mecca-Jidda road which lower class pilgrims stone, although here the crime appears to be blasphemy. Pilgrims to Mecca also stone the graves of other offenders (Abu Lahhab, Righal).

All this serves to remind us of the other context in which lapidation is practiced in Islam, namely, the djamra or ritual stoning of the devil in Mina during the hajj.  Azraqi (d. 853 CE) offers this account of its origin.

He said: When he [Abraham] left Mina and was brought down to [the defile called] al-Aqaba, the Devil appeared to him at the Stone-Heap of the defile (jamrat al-Aqaba).  Gabriel said to him:  “Pelt him!” so Abraham threw stones at him so that he disappeared from him.  Then he appeared to him at the Middle Stone heap (al-jamra al-wusta).  Gabriel said to him “Pelt him!” so he pelted him with seven stones so that he disappeared from him.  Then he appeared to him at “Little Stone-heap” (al-jamra al sughra).  Gabriel said to him:  “Pelt him!” so he pelted him with seven stones like the little stones for throwing in a sling.  So the Devil withdrew from him. 

Other versions of this story attribute the rejection of Satan to Adam or to Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael.  Muhammad marked the event in the Hajj.  As Ibn Ishaq puts it:  “The Apostle completed the Hajj and showed men the rites and taught them what God had prescribed as to their Hajj, the “standing,” the throwing of stones, the circumambulation of the temple, and what He had permitted and forbidden.” Specifically, “at the entrance to the valley, towards Muzdalifa, stands a rude stone pillar, or rather altar, between six and seven feet high, in the midst of the street, against which the first seven stones are thrown, as the place where the devil made his first stand.  Toward the middle of the valley is a similar pillar, and at its western end a wall of stones, which is made to serve the same purpose.”  Al-Farazdak suggests that stones were worshipped there in pre-Islamic times, and Ibn Hisham states that the heaps of stones are near places where there stood bloodstained sacrificial stones.  He also speaks of several heaps of stones besides the sacrificial stones, and the title of the ‘Akaba heap as al-Djamra al Kubra suggests this as well. 

However, what relationship this ritual stoning has with pre-Islamic practice is speculative.  Greek, Latin, and later Muslim authorities all drew attention to the cult of stones in pre-Islamic Arabia.  Ritual observance concerned not so much the stones but the spirit within them, and all authorities observed that it was “odd to venerate stones, whether they were totally unshaped or fashioned into some kind of very rudimentary idol.”  Muslim commentators traced these practices to a kind of devotional tourism that led the Banu Ishmael to lapse into paganism.  Ibn al-Kalbi states, “No one left Mecca without carrying away with him a stone from the stones of the Sacred House as a token of reverence to it, and as a sign of deep affection to Mecca.  However he settled he would erect that stone and circumambulate it in the same manner as he used to circumambulate the Ka’ba … In time this led them to worship whatever took their fancy, and caused them to forget their former worship.”  Was the ritual repudiation of the Devil related to the cursing of idolatry, a distinctively Islamic wrinkle in the customary association of lapidation with  blasphemy? The connection is suggested linguistically in the Arabic verb for stoning, rajama, which means to stone, to curse, or to damn, and the noun rajim, which means stoned, cursed or damned, as in the oft-repeated Arabic phrase, “A’udhu bil-Lah min al-Shaytan al Rajim” [I seek God’s protection from Satan the Damned].  And “in Arab countries, where stones are within easy reach, lapidation is an expression of hostility (cf. stones thrown at tombs which carry a curse).” 

In Jewish law, lapidation is prescribed for several crimes including zina,blasphemy, calling up spirits, disobeying one’s parents, and violating the Lord’s order. There is evidence that it was practiced as well in all these instances.  Moses sentences a man collecting sticks outside the camp on the Sabbath to death by stoning.  Joshua executes one of his own followers for taking things from an accursed city, raising a great heap of stones that “remains to this day.”  Stones are cast at King David for his adultery and murder.  The prophet Zachariah is stoned in the court of the king.  Israelites stone a tributary of a sinful king when he comes to collect taxes, and a similar story is told in one of Jesus’ parables.  Ezekial and Jeremiah merge blasphemy and adultery together by characterizing a wayward Israel as an adulteress whore who fornicates with stones and sticks. Stoning also was used outside the law.  Moses, Aaron and Joshua were almost stoned by the community before the lucky intervention of the Lord.  Jezebel accuses Naboth of blasphemy in order for Ahab to secure his vineyard, and Naboth is stoned.

Jewish law influenced Muhammad since he first prescribed rajm for Jews according to their own laws and consequently referred to the Jewish law on adultery in a number of hadiths. Within the Christian tradition, John seems most sensitive to the issue of lapidation, recording it three times whereas neither Matthew, Mark nor Luke mention it.  Jesus nearly is stoned twice, once for violating the Sabbath and once for blasphemy.  Yet the most famous discussion in John is around the issue of adultery.  In John 8:7, the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery.  “Teacher this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such.  What do you say about her?” According to John, they did this to test him.  What precisely was the test? Was it simply to see if Jesus would prescribe death for adultery?  Or was it to see if he would cast the first stone?

At any rate, Jesus’ response resonates with later Islamic law.  For in Islamic law, stoning requires a significant burden of proof.  There have to be four separate confessions to a single judge by the accused and barring this, four reputable witnesses, that is, four men of blameless integrity who all must have directly seen the act themselves. Jesus applies precisely the same heavy burden of proof to the witnesses.  He says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again this is similar to the Muslim practice, since the witnesses cast the first stone.  One by one, beginning with the eldest, says John, the Pharisees and scribes leave.  Then when he is alone with the woman, he asks her where are the witnesses who condemned her for adultery.  She says, there is no one, and he says, case dismissed for lack of evidence; don’t sin again.  Interestingly, Jesus and Islamic jurists seem to be reading from a similar cultural script.  The difference is that Jesus holds everyone to what American law now calls strict scrutiny of the law.

Turning now away from the Semitic tradition, there is very little evidence that ancient Persians practiced lapidation.  The Greeks, for example, do not attribute to the Persians the practice of lapidation.  This is not because the Greeks were sparing in their sensibilities since they normally attribute to Persians the worst kinds of punishments, notably crucifixion.  Similarly, fifth century Armenian chroniclers, P’awstos Buzandac’i and Ghazar P’arbec’i’, do not mention lapidation among Sassanian Persians in their respective History of the Armenians.  The same applies to Sebeos’ History(seventh century) and the later Armenian romance-epic, the History of Taron, which is set during this period.  Matching this evidence is the notable absence of any direct reference to lapidation in Zoroastrian scriptures, although there is one example of threatening someone with stones.  In the Venidad, Zarathushtra threatens Daevs with stones as big as houses, and then he states that his “best weapons” are “the sacred mortar, the sacred cups, the Haoma, the Word taught by Mazda.” Later Pahlavi sources are also silent on this matter.  In the Book of Arda Viraf, dating probably from the Sassanian period, there is one reference to the soul of a man in hell who is forced to eat excrement and garbage while he is beaten with axes and stones but this is, of course, not a direct reference to capital punishment.  Approaching it from the reverse end, later Zoroastrian texts from the ninth century do identify adultery and sodomy as serious sins requiring, in certain instances, capital punishment, but they are frustratingly ambiguous about how capital punishment is inflicted. The exception is sodomy, which is punished by ripping the belly open with axes.  What we can say though is that, unlike the Jews and Muslims, lapidation does not figure prominently in either the religious or historical literature of the ancient Persians.

The matter is different with ancient Greeks and Romans, among whom lapidation was common.  I shall focus on the Greeks since scholars seem to treat Roman practice as involving the same norms.  Classical Athenians counted lapidation among four archaic punishments of the Homeric age (along with blinding, exile, and precipitation).  In Greek myth, “stoning and petrifaction punish individuals, particularly men who gratify their excessive and/or unnatural lust.  Ajax barely escapes lapidation after his attempted rape of Cassandra huddling at the altar, and the outraged community of Temesa stones the Heros to death for his violation of a virgin.  Aristocrates is stoned after raping the priestess of Artemis Humnia in her temple.”Achilles  decides not to prevent the sacrifice of his bride-to-be Iphegeneia because he sees the soldiers are preparing to stone him.  Lapidation is also the fate of unruly women.  Creon sentences Antigone to death by stoning but commutes it to a live entombment, and in some later versions of another drama, Hecuba is lapidated by Thracian followers of Polymestor.  Finally, Oedipus declares that when he learned of his incestuous past, he wished to be stoned, but in the absence of anyone around to do the deed, he blinded himself. 

Herodotus relates several instances where Greeks lapidated.  Coes, an ambassador to the Mytilenaeans, “was taken out and stoned.”  Sometimes, Herodotus links lapidation to purity and impurity.  In one instance, lapidation falls upon relatives of an impure man, Artacytes, who had murdered and stolen from the temple.  While he is crucified, his son is stoned to death before his eyes.  In a second case, lapidation leads to impurity, as Greeks violated implicit norms and atone for it through the performance of religious games.  The most important discussion of lapidation concerns the lapidation of Lycidas, an Athenian councilman who was willing to consider surrender to the Persians:

The Athenians in the council were, however, very angry; so too were those outside when they heard of it.  They made a ring round Lycidas and stoned him to death.  Murychides the Hellespontian, however, they permitted to depart unharmed.  [9.5.3] There was much noise at Salamis over the business of Lycidas; and when the Athenian women learned what was afoot, one calling to another and bidding her follow, they went on their own impetus to the house of Lycidas and stoned to death his wife and his children.

The death of Lycidas is characterized by several irregularities.  Lycidas the citizen is stoned but the ambassador is set free.  The council executes the punishment itself rather than handing Lycidas over to the public executioner.  Women stoned his wife and children, making it the only instance in which Athenian women participate in public execution.  It is a critical event, as we shall see shortly, for the later history of lapidation in Athens.

What’s Wrong with the Cultural Explanation?

Examining the comparative evidence thus far, we might conclude that in cultures that lapidate, stoning is linked to purity and impurity in the community.  “The threat (or reality) of wholesale pollution also motivates many other efforts to stone, blind or incarcerate an individual suggesting that these penalties supply an effective block to the contamination believed to adhere to those guilty of certain ‘miasmic’ crimes.” This explains the participatory character of this punishment.  For Danielle Allen, the circle formed around the lapidated constitutes “a process of containment and consumption of the wrongdoer at the center of a community.”  The community throws not only stones, but curses, and this, Allen emphasizes, is critical:  “Stones and hurled curses are analogous to each other: each expressed the community’s desire to enforce its social norms.” Common complicity in an execution builds bonds of solidarity without which social life is impossible.  It binds common judgment.

All this finds some support from ancient Greek myth on lapidation.  Similarly, examples from Jewish sources emphasize lapidation as a response to crimes that polluted the community: adultery and blasphemy.  When Ezekiel and Jeremiah characterize Israel as a wayward adulteress who fornicates with stones and sticks, they seemingly are furnishing a justification for why stoning is the appropriate symbolic punishment for blasphemy and false prophecy; all of these acts pollute the community.  This logic also underlies modern accounts of lapidation.  In The Stoning of Soraya M., Sahebjam indicates that by stoning Soraya M., the village as a whole reaps the benefit of having a good reputation among other villages.

What operates in the background here is another formal model, not unlike the legal and religious model.  In this case, a punishment, lapidation, by virtue of its participatory nature, implicates everyone in an act of social solidarity, reinforcing a line between the inside group of actors (“the pure) and the outside (“the impure”).  In this view, stoning participants are enacting communal solidarity in the face of a challenge to common norms, much like legal and religious laws were said to have been enacted by the participants. 

This answer, however plausible, commits what has been called, the scholastic fallacy, that is, it places in the heads of actors intentions that scholars believe to be critical for social reproduction. It is hard to believe that what is first and foremost in the mind of people stoning is that by these actions they are reinforcing community solidarity, establishing themselves as a pure community.  It is more probable to say that actors engaged in lapidation believe that stoning is a fitting punishment for blasphemy, false prophecy, and adultery.  As Rosivach remarks with respect to the ancient Greeks:

Modern scholars have reasonably inferred from the circumstances of specific stonings and from the nature of the act itself that stoning was a communal gesture appropriate for punishing those who had caused harm to the community as a whole.  It is noteworthy, then, that this communal aspect of stoning is barely mentioned in our ancient sources.  What we find instead for the most part are more or less detailed statements that certain individuals ought to be stoned because they committed acts, such as treason, which we know, but the authors do not say, affect the community as a whole.  There are also relatively few references to stoning as a collective act, but no one ever says, explicitly or implicitly, that stoning as a form of punishment is the community’s response to a violation of the community.

All this underlines the enormous gap between the scholarly cultural account and the actual practice of lapidation: For it is still not clear why the crowd prefers to use stones as a mode of execution for these kinds of crimes.  On the cultural model, any method of causing pain (each person cuts the criminal, each person burns the criminal, tears the person limb from limb, etc.) could be used for any kind of crime, as long as the participation is communal and the effect is the reproduction of social order.  This is far too general to account for precisely what it is people are doing when they are lapidating.  In this respect, ordinary lapidators have far better accounts to explain why they are throwing stones than do analysts.

Furthermore, the same objection holds for an alternative cultural hypothesis, the irrationalist position, which regards stoning as an act of mob violence.  Rosivach, for example, argues that even though stoning was recognized as an archaic punishment, there is no evidence its practice was widespread in ancient Greece.  All the texts cited above arrive too late, or confuse threats of stoning with actual lapidation.  Rosivach argues that the stoning of Lycides for treason in 479 was a critical moment, setting the paradigm that subsequently was imitated.  “Because stoning was so rare, and because Lycides’ was the only stoning remembered by later Athenians as part of their patriotic history, the memory of this stoning colored the subsequent Athenian perception of stoning in general.” Later orators such as Lycurgus and Demosthenes cite this event “to praise the virtue of the ancestors and to enjoin the Athenians to exercise the same kind of virtue” much as modern conservatives praise how the death penalty would really solve all the problems of crime.  Thus, in classical Athens, stoning regularly was linked to acts of treachery and betrayal (prodosia) and in the other certain lapidation, Alcibiades, the cousin to the famous Alcibiades, was stoned on precisely such a charge. What Rosivach fails to account for is why the crucial paradigmatic event, the lapidation of Lycides was a lapidation at all.  For Rosivach, the lapidation of Lycides “was  a spontaneous act of mob violence, the community’s instinctive reaction to its sense of being betrayed.”  If the execution of Lycides was “a lynch stoning,” why was it not a hanging instead, which is after all what a lynching is?  However involved the entire community is in a crime, a crowd can do violence in countless ways.  Why is lapidation, and lapidation only, an effective remedy for pollution of the community?  Much like Allen, Rosivach cannot explain why the punishment for a particular crime takes the form that it does.  Lapidation may not be “the result of conscious reflection,” but it is not inscribed into the nerves either.

Scholastic Fallacy and the Execution Model of Practice

All three ways of explaining lapidation–the legal, religious and cultural–involve precisely the same problematic understanding of the nature of practice. In the study of any kind of violence, we are well advised to understand first how the perpetrators understand the violent practice.  This is first order knowledge, but it is incomplete because the logic of lapidation cannot be reduced easily to what the perpetrators say is going on.  There is often a gap between what people know or say about a practice and what they do.  To understand this gap, we then turned to a second order knowledge, that is, knowledge of the prior system of religious, cultural or legal norms.  These seemed to offer a way of explaining what really was happening beyond what the agents know or are able to say, thereby reconciling the apparent gap between what people say and what they do.  The price of this explanation was a loss of agency.  In this view, people merely are executing pre-established norms, although they may be unaware of the logic and history of these norms.  This execution-model of practice ascribes to people different “roles” within a common social script that they then “execute” or “perform;” it reduces people to the mechanical reproduction of systemic norms in the course of lapidation.  The violence is explained at the cost of rendering the actual lapidators puppets of deeper forces. 

There are two problems with second order explanations, and each exemplifies ways in which agency creeps back into the picture, where the actual actors have a voice in the doing, despite the efforts of analysts.  First, the execution model of practice cannot explain the specifics of the violence itself, why it takes the form that it does, because virtually any violent participatory punishment can be used to reinforce the norm in question.  Further, it cannot explain the full range of cases, including variations and significant departures from such norms, or why people vary in performing their roles while executing lapidation, how lapidation changes over time, and how its frequency varies over time.  In the Greek context, Rosivach is correct in criticizing past treatments of lapidation “from as early as Homer to as late as Plutarch and Pausanias as an equally valid source for a uniform and unchanging Greek culture, without paying adequate attention to specific differences of time and place.” We may note, for example, that over the centuries lapidation has narrowed its scope to be concerned less and less with blasphemy, murder, and false prophecy, and more and more linked primarily with sexual crimes.  Why did this happen? The cultural model has an advantage over the legal and religious model because it generalizes a function across time and across diverse communities, offering a fundamental function at the root of lapidation, whatever the legal and religious rationalization.  However, it is no more equipped than the more limited forms in explaining the specifics and variations in lapidary acts.  It too offers not reasons, but ex post facto rationalizations.

In summary, we failed to attribute the origin and persistence of lapidation to the law or Islam.  With respect to the persistence of lapidation, the theological texts offer a very thin foundation of lapidation as an Islamic punishment.  With respect to the origin, lapidation as a punishment for certain kinds of crimes pre-existed Islam in many disparate cultures including Jewish, pre-Arabian, and ancient Greek.  All this makes it difficult to think of the logic of lapidation being grounded in one religion or legal culture, particularly the Islamic.  Of course, Islamic authorities acted to justify and rationalize the pre-existing practice, but it is not entirely clear why they did so, or at least the logic is not obvious in the available texts.  

The problem is to account for continuity, diversity and absence (in the case of ancient Persia) of a punishment that so seemingly fits a set of crimes.  There are differences in emphasis in each of the different civilizations.  Pre-Islamic Arabians favored lapidation for blasphemy and false prophecy, while Muslims associate lapidation primarily with sexual crimes.  Ancient Greeks seem to believe lapidation fitting for blasphemy and sexual crimes, but later classical Athenians associated it mainly with treason.  Still there is a remarkable overlap category in all these societies.  On the one hand, we have a typical association of stoning with impurity and blasphemy, and on the other, a typical connection with unruly female behavior, unnatural sexual lust, and sexual crimes such as zina.  In fact, the strength of these similarities allows for a cultural explanation of lapidation; even if this is inadequate in the end, it affirms the contiguities for which any explanation of lapidation needs to account.  Whatever this relationship is, it cannot be located easily in the Islamic texts themselves.  The problem is how to make the connections without having these connections dictated for us by some background set of religious or legal norms.  It would seem that the practice of stoning precedes its authenticating justifications.  We are at an impasse, for it would seem that we are dealing with an ancient disposition that has no single justification yet with each age, and each culture, a new one is furnished.

A New Approach to Lapidation:  How not Why

Perhaps we have been asking the wrong question.  We have been asking WHY lapidation exists in authoritative texts.  We are seeking to endow these words with causal force.  Perhaps what we really need to explain is not how the words caused the practice, but how the practice holds the words in place.  Perhaps the best analogy here is to that of music: It would be like asking someone to understand the cause of a musical performance of a particular song by reading from the dots and spots on a white page.  We would fail to understand that the song pre-existed the score, that the score is the effect of the song, not its cause, and the song itself is capable of many variations in timing and performance while retaining much of its original integrity.  So too with lapidation: Formative religion, cultures, and law may explain, authorize, or deligitimate it but do not cause a change in its basic elements.  What would this mean in practice to reverse our investigation in this way?  We first need to look at not why people practice lapidation (for which there always seems to be a simple, yet deceiving, rationalization), buthow lapidation works.  We need to establish connections, however loosely, between the elements of the lapidary act, between the kind of crime and the kind of instrument without having this logic dictated to us by an authority. 

Here students of Islamic lapidation might receive some guidance from Steiner’s study of Greek lapidation.  Steiner carefully analyzes a string of metaphorical associations in Greek lapidation.  She points out that stoning is linked very closely to sight and blindness.  The connection is suggested by Hermes’ murder of Argos: Just as he used stones to blind each one of Argos’ eyes, stones were thrown at him when he was found guilty of murder.  Lapidation also appears when a prior violent act blinded someone.  Hecuba is killed, in some accounts, by Thracian followers of the blinded Polymestor.  Lapidation also appears in conjunction with exoculation, for example when Apollo, in Aeschylus’ Eumenides, lists the two punishments as typical punishments of the Furies and creatures like them.  Blindness also repeatedly answers sexual transgressions, particularly incest.  As Oedipus reminds us, he blinded himself because he could not get himself stoned.  Blindness punishes “acts of transgression which violate the proper boundaries between human and divine powers.”  It afflicts those who enter into the divine realm, and so not surprisingly insight accrues to the blind as prophets and poets. 

Lapidation also is linked to sources of miasma or pollution, as we have observed, but the connection is actually somewhat more specific.  Lapidation, in the first instance, is related to dogs, notably watchdogs, that is, dogs that see for humans.  Wherever dogs appear in ancient Greek sources, a hail of missiles follows them.  Steiner reinforces this connection between dogs and pollution by noting the belief that plague gods and demons often appeared as dogs.  In Euripedes, the blind Polymestor predicts that Hecuba will turn into a dog, and other later stories follow Euripedes in describing how the Queen is stoned like a dog.  Quintus of Smyrna continues the metamorphosis of Hecuba by telling how the Queen turns into a dog, and the dog then is turned to stone.  Petrifaction seems to be the fate of other Greeks: Cadmus, Harmonia and Lichas all are petrified suddenly, and their stones become grave monuments, witnesses of their deaths. Petrifaction also punishes unnatural sexual lust: It befalls Pyrrhos and Kelmis for their assault of Rhea.  Poetic justice transforms the violators of Perseus’ mother, Polydectes and Phineus, into stone before the eyes of the Gorgon.  The Gorgon brings up yet another ring of connections.  It is through eye contact that contamination is spread in a community, and the evil eye is the surest proof that pollution or disease is at work in the community.  Averting one’s eye is precisely how one is saved, as the case of Perseus reminds us.  The blinding of the evil eye in the demon is the surest proof that the miasma has been contained.  The fact that Oedipus blinded himself removes him from the land of the living; lapidation would be unnecessary for he no longer constitutes a threat to the city.  Furthermore, lapidation offers an anomalous alternative to burying the creature alive; Creon, for example, commutes the lapidation of Antigone to live internment in a grave. 

Greek motifs should not be used uncritically to elucidate the logic of lapidation in Islamic societies.  Nevertheless, this approach is immensely suggestive, especially in light of recent  work by the Moroccan anthropologist, Fatima Mernissi and the literary theorist, Fedwa Malti-Douglas.  Mernissi draws many connections between vision, pollution, dogs, devils, and sexuality, although she never connects lapidation to these topics.  Citing Al-Ghazali’s phrase that “the look is the fornication of the eye,” Mernissi states, “the eye is undoubtedly an erogenous zone in the Muslim structure of reality, just as able to give pleasure as the penis.  A man can do as much damage to a woman’s honour with his eyes as if he were to seize hold of her with his hands.” For this reason, the Quran enjoins both pious men and women to lower their eyes (verse 24: 30-31).  Al-Ghazali states that the Prophet himself prayed to God to protect him against the most virulent social dangers by controlling “his penis and his eye from the dangers of fornication.” Such dangers also are emphasized by al-Bukhari in his account of one’s prayer to God could be canceled, forcing one to begin again:  “The Prophet said that the dog, the ass, and woman interrupt prayer if they pass in front of the believer, interposing themselves between him and the qibla [prayer orientation toward Mecca].” The emphasis here is again on a woman appearing in the field of vision, destroying any connection one might have with the divine.  Mernissi also argues that when women appear in traditional male spaces, they “upset Allah’s order by inciting men to commit zina.”  Again, the associations here with the devil are numerous.  Abu al-Hasan Muslim believes that a woman “resembles Satan in his irresistible power over the individual, or consider the advice of Al-Tarmidi:  ‘Do not go to the women whose husbands are absent.  Because Satan will get in your bodies as blood rushes through your flesh.’”  Women are presented routinely in folk tales as she-demons, and men are enjoined to turn away their eyes.  All these conditions bear on the gendereddivision of space since “seclusion in Islam is a device to protect the passive male who cannot control himself sexually in the presence of the lust-inducing female.”

What is most frustrating from the perspective of veiling is precisely the most lust-inducing element: the sexual glance is the one element that cannot be veiled easily as it is essential to any movement at all.  Even the stoning of the devil in Mina became an erotic motif for lovers. “Poets of the past recounted that the mob allowed them a glimpse of their beloved.”  Buhl goes further:  “Among the erotic poets of the Umayyad period, the ceremony of stone-throwing was a favourite motif , as women performing it, lifted their veils a little.” In her work, Malti-Douglas shows how this “scopic regime” is analyzed and negotiated in classical and modern Arabic literature. 

Men looking at women, women looking at men: these issues plague Muslim religious authorities today.  The power of the glance and its potentially destructive nature in creating fitna, or chaos provoked by woman’s sexuality, is still hotly debated in pamphlets that pepper the streets of Middle Eastern cities (and some Western one’s as well). The debate is a long-standing one in the Arabo-Islamic traditions; its roots go back centuries. 

Like Mernissi, Malti-Douglas identifies the gaze as a medium for connecting pollution, the devil, sexuality, and dogs, although her intent in doing so is to show how modern Arab authors manipulate these conventions to criticize their societies. This is because

[T]he scopic is at once social and religious.  It is social because it represents interactions between social groups, primary of which are the male and female. It is religious because the injunction to avert one’s gaze is Qur’anic. And, of course, it is also about power.

For example, in her analysis of the work of Yusuf Idris, Malti-Douglas focuses on the Quranic phrase, “There is no fault in the blind,” a phrase that seems to repudiate a much older pre-Islamic notion that “the visually or physically handicapped are in some sense accursed or punished (an idea present in Western tradition).”  The Quran condemns this view twice (verse 24:61; 48:17), suggesting that the view was well entrenched.  Idris explores the faultlessness of the blind in relation to another old belief about blindness, namely, the belief that the blind man is immensely virile, blessed with extensive sexual endurance because he is deficient in sight.  In his story, the blind man’s sexual acts go so far as to raise the question whether the blind possess “a sexuality that transcends, as Somkh put it, the haram[the forbidden] and the halal  [the permitted].”  Thus “one traditional mental structure, that of the virility of the blind, is used to question another Quranic one, that of the absence of a special moral status for the blind.”  Malti-Douglas emphasizes that Arabo-Islamic societies integrate the blind more thoroughly into society than Western ones, according to them revered roles such as Quran reciter.  Yet elsewhere she cites blindness as a punishment that appears in the Quran, arising as a violation for failing to heed Allah’s signs (verse 20: 124-26). 

The ability to interpret and understand eye gestures is not a knowledge that is taught systematically, but nevertheless it is learned by all from early childhood.  Even the youngest villager is aware of the indiscretion and pleasure of a glance.  Free gazing is the stuff of love stories:

In Persian love narratives, however, looking is no longer a violation, a sin, a visual rape.  There is no penalty, no stigma attached to it.  The gaze is free to roam about, liberated from cultural restrictions.  Here, readers can go beyond walls and veils.  They can look at and listen to forbidden women.  Although a clear distinction is made between the private and the public, between the inner and the outer, forbidden territories are traversed and scopic desires satisfied.

Eye movements are habitual dispositions that are invested with immense social meaning.  Meaningful glances can strike one with excessive passion or transfix one to a spot or transform one into stone.  Hate and love can do the same work.

The logic of lapidation then can be understood in the context of a scopic regime that includes typical symbolic associations between stones, blindness, and vision as a medium for pollution, dogs, devils, and sexuality. Steiner argues that these associations  constitute a “grammar” for lapidation in Greek culture.  Yet these associations seem to cross several cultures in the Middle East. Freud thought there was a transhistorical grammar.  He was the first to equate the story of Medusa to universal male fears of castration and subsequent research on the Greek data confirmed the “clinical finding that  eyes tend to symbolize male organs and blinding castration.”  The absence of lapidation among the Persians seems to argue against a transhistorical grammar.  Furthermore, Mernissi shows that many classical Freudian concepts are absent in the Islamic scopic regime although the association between vision and pollution continues.  I have argued that stones and blindness also continue to fit within this regime.  Lapidation strikes out the eye that offends, the eye that breaches the proper regard, so to speak, for social and divine relations. Perhaps, what we have is not a grammar as much as a penal alphabet that can be arranged in a variety of ways, and the ability to speak it depends on the skill of the speaker to apply it to various profanities.

All this may seem very speculative, but I shall close by showing briefly just how Sahebjam uses the penal vocabulary in his story of Soraya M.  Soraya was condemned for the intent to commit zina.  The main evidence against her was that she exchanged knowing glances with another man.  The preacher insisted that for this reason “evil was abroad in this village and we were unaware of it.”  Since Soraya “lived like a harlot,” “she also “died as a harlot” by stoning.  One villager insisted on killing her as he kills rabbits, with one stone to the head.  Frenzied dogs nip at Soraya as she is stoned, ripping at the cloth.  “Her body will therefore be thrown into the fields, there to be devoured by the beasts whose role it will be to see that her remains disappear.”  Wild dogs find her corpse and eat it. 

Sahebjam, however, does not leave it at that.  Instead, he turns the connection between eyes, evil, beasts and lapidation to vindicate Soraya and condemn the villagers.  Sahebjam expresses Soraya’s innocence with her eyes.  Soraya does not lower her eyes, as women are supposed to do, when she is accused.  Even during her stoning, she stares into space.  The chief witness, on the other hand, averts his eyes when he insists he speaks the truth.  The mob appears at her door like a monstrous many-eyed beast. “Five hundred eyes were fixed upon her.  And suddenly all hell broke loose: People began to push and shove, to shout and scream.  Fists shot into the air.” Sahebjam uses the same tropes, linking eyes, sexuality, beasts, and stones that are built into the practice to condemn it. 

We are well advised then to thinking about lapidation in terms of bounded improvisation, improvisation within the bounds of a scopic regime.  The power to move others to action depends on the skill and timing of agents who make the associations and analogies within a specific penal alphabet. InThe Stoning of Soraya M., even though the villagers think they know the rules, they are deeply uncertain of what to do.  The mayor says, “there has never been a case of stoning in our village. … But I do know that last year a woman was stoned to death not far from here, in Khajeh Asghar, and the year before at Shahr-e Babak.  One of my friends from Kerman has described to me how it was done.  We will proceed in the same way.”  Yet at every stage of this imitation, from the trial to the burial, the lapidation comes in danger of being undone.  Sahebjam documents many negotiations conducted along the way that characterized the lapidation:  the mayor mediating the trial, the husband persuading the male council, the preacher persuading the villagers not to bury her, the men persuading Soraya’s father not to have cold feet.  And even once in progress, agents must act to maintain the practice.  One villager pelts the woman’s father so the preacher slaps him and has him cast into a pile of manure.  The villagers also strike the cortege of mourners, and one senior woman slaps them back. 

The knowledge and ability to use the grammar of lapidation in action is what I shall call third order knowledge, the ability to improvise the penal alphabet successfully to new situations and conditions.  This is precisely what the mayor, the preacher and Soraya’s husband did, and they were skilled enough at it that they brought about a lapidation.  It is not enough to know the stated rules (first order knowledge) for these can often vary with what is done.  It is not enough to articulate the backgrounds norms, for these cannot explain variations in the practice. Third order knowledge arises not from background norms, but within a way of living, in villages where one learns early to be wary of the evil eye in unclean people, dogs and demons.  This symbolic universe rarely is articulated but is inscribed nevertheless through imitation into bodily dispositions.  Lapidation is also part of a scopic regime that informs many relationships, especially those of gender, a regime whose strict partitions can be breached by a glance or the interpretation of a glance.  Where these associations no longer exist, lapidation would make no sense and soon would disappear.

Because lapidation is bounded, because it has the semblance of stability here, religious and legal authorities do offer systematic explanations of the practice.  However, these accounts, the religious and legal texts, are effectsof bounded improvisation rather than causes of it.  They certainly can re-inforce these associations in their own way, offering new ways to talk about the practice, but we would be misled in taking these  “rules” as guides to understanding lapidation.  They are very successful bounded improvisations that have been put to paper.  Knowing what is a fitting or unfitting analogy is not reducible to a textual knowledge of lapidation, religious, legal or cultural. This is also why eliminating the textual sources does not undermine the practice.  The question of eliminating lapidation is not unlike the question for eliminating a song: What does it take to kill a folksong?  It is not words that hold the lapidation in place and justify it, but rather practices that embody certain associations and help individuals paper over the gaps between the words no matter how large the gap may be.  The logic of this violence may be “in” the practice, and we are mistaken to go about searching for all the sorts of things outside the practice that might explain it. This suggests a strategy of not working from the outside in (that is from the law, religion, culture to the practice of violence) but from the logic of the practice out to legal theory, theology and anthropology.

I wish to thank my colleagues at Reed College, Michael Foat, Michael Feener, and Wally Englert for their invaluable assistance.

Freidoune Sahebjam, The Stoning of Soraya M.,  trans. Richard Seaver (NY: Arcade Publishing, 1994).

 Goudarz Eghtedari, “Islamic Republic of Iran and Execution for Adultery and Homosexuality,” paper presented at Center for Iranian Research Analysis (CIRA) Conference, Atlanta, 1997; and Reza Aslan,”Stoning and Adultery in the Iranian Penal Code,” paper presented at Center for Iranian Research Analysis (CIRA) Conference, Portland, OR, 1998.

 Gholam Reza Hojjati Ishraqi,  Majumu`e-ye Ghavanin va Mughraraat-e Jazaii (Tehran:  Ganj-i Danish, 1996), pp. 16-18 mim and 157-63 alif;  I have followed the Aslan and Eghtedari translations of this text, where available, supplemented by my own.

Hojjati-Ishraqi, p. 157 alif.

Eghtedari, p. 9.

 Sahebjam, pp. 67, 68, 72, 73, 77, 88, 89, 110, 112, 119-120, 100, 112, 130-132, and 135.

Hojjati-Ishraqi, pp. 157-163 alif.

Rafsanjani, cited in Amnesty International, Iran: Violations of Human Rights, 1987-1990 (New York: Amnesty International USA, 1990), p. 57.

Aslan, p. 1.

Ibid., p. 7.

Ibid, p. 7-8.

Al-Bukhari (8.817) cited in Aslan, p. 8.

Aslan, p. 8.

Mernissi argues that Umar in particular favored keeping pre-Islamic customs (see Fatima Mernissi, The Veil and the Male Elite, trans. Mary Jo Lakeland (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1991), pp. 60, 80, 142, 157, 160, 185).  Wiebke Walther attributes the adoption of stoning instead of flogging to uncritical copying of Jewish penal law; see his Women in Islam  (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishing, 1993), p.  62. 

R.B. Serjeant, “Hud and Other Pre-Islamic Prophets of the Hadramawt” in Studies in Arabian History and Civilisation  (London: Variorium Reprints, 1981), p. 146.

Ibid., p. 145.

Hurgronje, cited in Peters, p. 108.

C. Snouck Hurgonje, Verspreide Geschriften (Gesammelte Schfiten)(Bonn: Kurt Schroeder, 1923), p. 106.

Azraqi, cited in F.E. Peters,  The Hajj: The Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places  (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 8.

F. Buhl and J. Jomier “al-Djamra,” Encyclopedia of Islam CD-Rom Edition v. 1.0 (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 1999).

Ibn Ishaq, cited in Peters, p. 55.

Burkhardt, cited in Peters, p. 253.  The practice of djamra over the centuries as described by different visitors to Mina is in Peters, pp. 205, 254, and 356-7.

Buhl, “al Djamra,” in Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936(Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1987), p. 1012

Ibid., pp. 1012-3

Peters, p. 21

Ibn al-Kalbi, cited in Peters, p. 21.

F. Buhl, J. Jomier, “al-Djamra.”

Duet 22:13-21; Duet 24:14; Le 14:14, 23; Le 20:27; Duet 21:18-21; and Le 20, 2.

Nu 15:35; Jo 7:25-27; 2 Sam 16:6, 13; 2 Chronicles 21:10,14; 1 Kings 12:18; Mark 5:12; Jer 4:15, 7:25, 26; Ez 16:40, 23:47; Numbers 14:10; and 1Kings 21:10, 14.

Al-Bukhari, 9.6.33 cited in Aslan, p. 7.

John 5:18, 11:33.

Pease alone claims that lapidation was a regular form of punishment among Persians. His evidence is a single passage from Ctesias’ history (Ctesias, 45) describing how when Zopyrus engaged the citizens of Caunos on the ramparts, “an inhabitant of Caunos, Alcides, hit him on the head with a stone and that is how Zopyrus found his death.”  Dying in battle due to a hurled stone is hardly the same thing as a lapidation ritual, and the mistake is clearly Pease’s. See A.S. Pease, “Notes on Stoning among the Greeks and Romans,” Transactions of the American Philological Association (1907): 17.  Ctesias 45 can be found in the Greek in Felix Jacoby, Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker, Volume 3 (c) (E.J. Brill: Leiden, 1958), p. 468, and in the French in Ctesias, Histoire de L’Orient, trans. J. Auberger (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1991), p. 81.

Martin Hengel, Crucifixion  (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), p. 22.

Armenian sources cited can be found at http://www.virtualscape.com/rbedrosian/hsrces.html

Zoroastrian sources cited can be found at http://www.avesta.org/avesta.html#zscript

Fargard, 19:1 1a:1-10.

Arda Viraf, 24; Sad Dar, 9; Dadestan-i Denig, 76-78; Shayest Na-Shayest, 36; Rivayat of Adur-Farnbag 16:1-2.

Pease, pp. 5-6;17-18.  Pease is intent on arguing that lapidation was not legal among the Greeks and Romans as it was among other cultures, but his evidence for this is extremely tendentious (see note 33 above).  He has in this respect been superceded, particularly by Michel Grec who argues correctly that whatever its legality, Greek city-states transformed the archaic practice of lapidation into a civil ritual of republican democracy;” see Michel Grec, “Cite Grecque et Lapidation,” in Du Chatiment dans la Cite: Supplice Corporels et Peine de Mort dans le Monde Antique (Palais Farnese: École Francaise de Rome, 1984), p. 87.

Deborah T. Steiner,”Stoning and Sight: A Structural Equivalence in Greek Mythology,” Classical Antiquity, 14:1 (April 1995): 200. 

Danielle S. Allen, The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 206.

Steiner, p. 195.

Herodotus, The Persian Wars, trans. George Rawlinson. (New York: Modern Library, 1942), 9.120.4; 1.167.1-2; 9.5.1-3

Steiner, p. 203.

Allen, p. 206.

Pierre Bourdieu, “Marriage Strategies as Strategies of Social Reproduction,” in Family and Society: Selections from the Annales, ed. R. Foster and O. Ranum (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1977) pp. 117-144; Pierre Bourdieu, “The Scholastic Point of View,” Cultural Anthropology, 5, no. 4 (1990): 380-391.

Vincent. J.  Rosivach, “Execution by Stoning in Athens,” Classical Antiquity, 6, no. 2  (October 1987):  233.

For a history of the relationship between the Irrationalists and Durkheim’s view, see James B. Rule,  Theories of Civil Violence (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1988), pp. 91-118.

Rosivach, p. 245.

Allen, pp. 143-144.

Rosivach, p. 237.

Ibid., p. 239.

Ibid., p. 233.

Allen offers an especially clear example of this reduction of agency: “On Xenophon’s account of the stoning, the soldiers were joining without having any idea of whom they were stoning and why.”  She takes this as evidence that the soldiers are executing communal norms: “Rumor, bare communication of the community’s need to exterminate a problem, had brought the soldiers into the mob.”  An alternative explanation is that Xenophon’s aristocratic tendencies and Allen’s mechanical theory of practice have one thing in common: they regard the soldiers as mere automatons, each view reinforcing the other; see Allen, op. cit., p. 206.  

Rosivach, p. 332.

Steiner, pp. 195, 200, and 201.

Ibid., p. 204.

Ibid., pp. 194 and 204-5.

 Fatima Mernissi,  Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in a Modern Muslim Society, rev. ed.  (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1987), pp. 141-42.

Al-Ghazali, cited in ibid., p. 142.

Al-Bukhari, cited in ibid., p. 64.

Mernissi notes that there is an alternative tradition attributed to Aisha that emphasizes not moving during another’s prayer; see ibid., p. 70.

Ibid., p. 144.

Ibid., pp. 42, 49, and 142.

Buhl, Jomier, “al-Djamra”.

Buhl, “al-Djamra,” p. 101.

Fedwa Malti-Douglas, The Flesh and the Word, Men, Women and God(s): Nawal El Saadawi and Arab Feminist Poetics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 25-26.

Ibid., pp. 54, 60, 62, 136, 137, 169-170, and 187-180; Fedwa Malti-Douglas, Blindness and Autobiography: Al Ayyam of Taha Husayn(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988); Fedwa Malti-Douglas “Blindness and Sexuality: Traditional Mentalities in Yusuf Idris’ ‘House of Flesh’,”  in Critical Pilgrimages: Studies in the Arabic Literary Tradition,  ed. Fedwa Malti-Douglas (Austin: University of Texas, 1989); and idem, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Word: Gender and Discourse in Arabo-Islamic Writing (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. 43-53.

Malti-Douglas, The Flesh and the Word, p. 205.

Idem, “Blindness and Sexuality,” p. 74.

Ibid., p. 71.

Ibid., p. 73.

Ibid., p. 75.

See Fedwa Malti-Douglas, “Mentalites and Marginality: Blindness and Mamluk Civilization”, in The Islamic World from Classical to Modern Times, ed. C. Boswroth, C. Issawi, R. Savory, and A. Udovitch (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1989), p. 228.

Farzaneh Milani, “Voyeurs, Nannies, Winds and Gypsies in Persian Literature” Critique 14 (Spring 1999): 110

Steiner, p. 201

Mernissi, Beyond the Veil, pp. 27-45.

For a contrasting use of women looking one straight in the eye, see Saadawi’s use in Malti-Douglas, The Flesh and the Word, pp.  59-60, 136.

Citations to Sahebjam are in the order they occur in this paragraph. Sahebjam, pp. 68-72; 128, 140, 136-137; 132, 121, 70, 96.

In this sense, Rosivach and Grec’s accounts of Greek lapidation are accounts of how ancient Greeks successfully improvised, connecting an archaic practice to a new set of civic rituals.

Citations again are in the order they occur in the paragraph. Sahebjam, 89, 86, 97.

See further Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1977) p. 104;  See also idem, “Reading Pierre Bourdieu; Rules and Strategies” Cultural Anthropology 1:1 (1986): 103-120




7 thoughts on “Everything you always wanted to know about stoning…”

  1. I favor lapidation in Iran-of the mule-ahs. The sooner those dirty old pervs are stoned to death the better.

  2. Where are the left wing jackasses? Shouldn’t they be protesting this outrage against humanity? Oh, that’s right. They’re all too busy protesting the Iraq war…

  3. Women are hated in the Muslim world: “Seek refuge from a WOMAN, a servant, and cattle, they are evils…” (Sunaan ibn Majah, 3. 1918).

    Muhammad’s final sermon, to beat WOMEN, (Sunaan ibn majah, 4. 3074).

    “All married women (are forbidden unto you) save those (captives) whom your right hand possesses,” (Sura 4 Verse 24 from the Muslim War Manual, the filthy Qur’an).

    “Either a dog, an ass, a pig, a Jew, a Magian and a WOMAN cuts off a prayer…” (Sunaan Abu Dawud, 2. 0704).

    “WOMEN, slaves and camels are the same, must seek Allah’s refuge from all these…” (Sunaad Abu Dawud, 11. 2155).

    “A black dog is satan; a black dog or a donkey or a WOMAN cancels a prayer…” (Sunaan Ibn Majah, 2. 952).

    “A WOMAN is a property; a righteous WOMAN is the best property…” (Sunaan ibn Majah, 3. 1855).

    P.S. A prenant camel during Muhammad’s time was “the best property.” To hell with the WOMEN during pedophile Muhammad’s time.

  4. Leftie liberal surrender-monkeys call fraternity pranks at Abu Grabi “an abomination”. All those in favor of having our Congressional sissypoos watch a stoning video raise your hands.

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