In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Book of Genesis, traditionally believed to have been written by Moses during the 15th century BCE, mentions the practice of crucifixion. Chapter 40 tells the story of the Cupbearer and the Baker. It is about the imprisonment the Jewish patriarch, Joseph, in Egypt and how he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer (butler) and baker, who had also been imprisoned. Joseph interprets the baker’s dream to mean that Pharaoh will hang him on a tree. In the end, the interpretation is fulfilled; Pharaoh hangs his chief baker.
“When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” “This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.” Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.”
The English references to hanging in the story are translated from the Hebrew word talah found in the Hebrew Scriptures, meaning “to hang” a corpse on a stake—an impalement. This would indicate that, although an early form of crucifixion was practiced during Joseph’s legendary sojourn in Egypt during the 19th or 17th centuries BCE, it was not necessarily used as a method of execution. Indeed, if you read the sequence of Joseph’s interpretation, it has Pharaoh first beheading the baker and then hanging him on a tree. Chapter 21 of the Book of Deuteronomy, also said to have been authored by Moses, references hanging a man from a tree (understood to be impaled on a stake), 4 again only after having killed him.
“And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree; his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him the same day; for he that is hanged is a reproach unto God; that thou defile not thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”