Q: #405. You said that only two people died by hanging in the Bible: (Ahithophel - 2 Sam 17:23) and (Judas - Mt 27:5); but what about (Es 7:10) which says, "So they hanged Haman on the gallows?"
A: The method of execution for Haman has been a matter of controversy amongst scholars for many years. My belief, as well as that of many other scholars, is that Haman was neither on a “gallows,” nor “hung” as we would think of each today. The reasoning behind this is based upon the original Hebrew language the Old Testament was written in, as well as history.
First, it is worth noting that the word “gallows” is used only 8 times in the Bible, and all of those are in Esther. The word used for “gallows” in Hebrew is “ets.” The definition for this word in Strong’s is “a tree (from its firmness): hence, wood (plur. sticks).” In the Old Testament, it is used 162 times for “tree” and 107 times for “wood.” Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the word “gallows” as we think of it today (like in an old western movie) is what was meant when used in Esther.
Secondly, the word for “hanged” in (Es 7:10) (as well as its other 6 uses in Esther) is the Hebrew word “talah.” The primary meaning of this word is “to suspend.” To “be suspended” can have several meanings. One possibility could be “hanging” as we think of it today, however, this is likely not the meaning. There are two primary reasons for this.
First, when Ahithophel “hanged himself” in (2 Sam 17:23), the Hebrew word “chanaq,” is used. The definition of “chanaq” is basically “to strangle” or “to choke.” This word is used only one other time in the Bible in (Nah 2:12)(NIV) “The lion killed enough for his cubs and strangled (“chanaq“) the prey for his mate.” In other words, this word seems to convey “death by strangulation.” Therefore, it seems likely that if Haman had been “strangled to death,” this word would have been used.
(Similarly, the NT also uses the Greek word “apagchomai” meaning “to strangle” for when Judas “hanged himself” in (Mt 27:5). Other Greek words are used for “hang” or “hanged.”)
Secondly, if we look at history, we find that killing people by “hanging” them from a rope with a noose wasn’t really a form of execution in ancient times, especially in the Persian culture. However, they did “impale” many people. “Impalement” would generally consist of having a sharpened, upright wooden post (a “tree/gallows”) upon which the condemned would be impaled, and left (“hung” or “hanged”) for all to see. Hence, it can be said they were “hanged on a tree.” Several ancient Bible versions, as well as a few modern versions (i.e. NIV, NLT) use the word “impaled” rather than “hanged” in (Es 7:10).
Finally, it is important to note that most times when the Bible says people were “hung,” this was something that occurred after a person or persons were already dead. The dead were “hung” on a tree or wall as a sign of disrespect, or as a warning to others. The best example of this is actually found in the book of Esther. After Haman was “hung,” it says in (Es 9:6-10) “And in Shushan the palace the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men. (7) And Parshandatha, and Dalphon, and Aspatha, (8) And Poratha, and Adalia, and Aridatha, (9) And Parmashta, and Arisai, and Aridai, and Vajezatha, (10) The ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, slew they; but on the spoil laid they not their hand.” In other words, the 10 sons of Haman were killed after Haman was “hung.”
However, (Es 9:12-14) continues saying, “And the king said unto Esther the queen, The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the palace, and the ten sons of Haman; what have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? now what is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: or what is thy request further? and it shall be done. (13) Then said Esther, If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews which are in Shushan to do to morrow also according unto this day’s decree, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged upon the gallows. (14) And the king commanded it so to be done: and the decree was given at Shushan; and they hanged Haman’s ten sons.”
In other words, the 10 sons on Haman were already dead, then they were “hanged upon the gallows.” For other examples of this, see (1 Sam 31:8-13)(Josh 10:26)(2 Sam 4:12)(Deut 21:22-23).
***Note: A parallel to this subject is found in the New Testament when it says that Jesus was “hanged on a tree.” I discuss this here.