9 The daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by playing the harlot, she profanes her father. She shall be burned with fire.
First of all, they told me that a harlot here does not mean a prostitute. It means someone who engages in improper sexual relations. In this translation it reads adultery.
Then they told me that the ancient commentators said that this law was never enforced. So the people I was speaking to speculated that God just mandated such a cruel punishment to scare people.
If I was a lawgiver, myself, I wouldn't risk using such strong talk if I didn't mean it. It would be reckless because some people might take me seriously.
But, of course, the text might very well mean what it says and the people I spoke to just don't want to admit that God said someone should be burned alive for a sexual offence so they come up with excuses and ignore the negative implications.
Imagine you asked someone in an interview about errors she had made in previous jobs and she told you about a time she had said to a member of her staff, in front of other people, "I'm going to put a bullet through your head." I pick that example because it really happened and was reported in the newspaper.
Then the candidate defended herself by saying it wasn't really significant because it had no practical consequences. It was just meant to scare her staff. What would you think? What if she had a reputation for extreme behaviour aside from this incident?
I mention that because my conversation partners pointed to the example of the gluttonous son as another death threat that wasn't meant to be taken literally. (Deuteronomy, Chapter 21, verses 18-21)
18 If a person has a stubborn, rebellious son who pays no attention to his father or mother, and they discipline him to no avail, 19 his father and mother must seize him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his city.
20 They must declare to the elders of his city, “Our son is stubborn and rebellious and pays no attention to what we say—he is a glutton and drunkard.”
21 Then all the men of his city must stone him to death. In this way you will purge out wickedness from among you, and all Israel will hear about it and be afraid.