Joseph M. Baumgarten
The Qumran Avoidance of the Death Penalty

The general rigor of Qumran religious law might lead one to suppose that this would involve an extensive recourse to capital punishment for flagrant transgressors. The death penalty is indeed mentioned in legal texts as appropriate for various biblical and non-biblical offenses. However, when it comes to the actual application of the supreme penalty, Qumran sources reflect a tendency for obviating it through various legal hedges. This can be shown in the case of the bride alleged not to have been a virgin at the time of her marriage, the suspension rather than execution of Sabbath violators, and the stipulation of repeated violations of capital prohibitions. Moreover, a recently published text reflects a conscious avoidance of judicial executions. These findings will be compared with what is reported about the Essenes