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English Bible Dictionary

Sanhedrin

 

(from the Greek sunedrion, "a council-chamber" commonly but in correctly Sanhedrim), the supreme council of the Jewish people in the time of Christ and earlier.

The origin of this assembly is traced in the Mishna to the seventy elders whom Moses was directed, (Numbers 11:16,17) to associate with him in the government of the Israelites; but this tribunal was probably temporary, and did not continue to exist after the Israelites had entered Palestine. In the lack of definite historical information as to the establishment of the Sanhedrin, it can only be said in general that the Greek etymology of the name seems to point to a period subsequent to the Macedonian supremacy in Palestine. From the few incidental notices in the New Testament, we gather that it consisted of chief priests, or the heads of the twenty-four classes into which the priests were divided, elders, men of age and experience, and scribes, lawyers, or those learned in the Jewish law. (Matthew 26:57,59; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66; Acts 5:21)

The number of members is usually given as 71. The president of this body was styled nasi, and was chosen in account of his eminence in worth and wisdom. Often, if not generally, this pre-eminence was accorded to the high priest. The vice-president, called in the Talmud "father of the house of judgment," sat at the right hand of the president. Some writers speak of a second vice-president, but this is not sufficiently confirmed. While in session the Sanhedrin sat in the form of half-circle.

The place in which the sessions of the Sanhedrin were ordinarily held was, according to the Talmad, a hall called Gazzith, supposed by Lightfoot to have been situated in the southeast corner of one of the courts near the temple building. In special exigencies, however, it seems to have met in the residence of the high priest. (Matthew 26:3) Forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, and consequently while the Saviour was teaching in Palestine, the sessions of the Sanhedrin were removed from the hall Gazzith to a somewhat greater distance from the temple building, although still on Mount Moriah. After several other changes, its seat was finally established at tiberias, where it became extinct A.D. 425. As a judicial body the Sanhedrin constituted a supreme court, to which belonged in the first instance the trial of false prophets, of the high priest and other priests, and also of a tribe fallen into idolatry, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. As an administrative council, it determined other important matters. Jesus was arraigned before this body as a false prophet, (John 11:47) and Peter, John, Stephen and Paul as teachers of error and deceivers of the people. From (Acts 9:2) it appears that the Sanhedrin exercised a degree of authority beyond the limits of Palestine. According to the Jerusalem Gemara the power of inflicting capital punishment was taken away from this tribunal forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. With this agrees the answer of the Jews to Pilate. (John 19:31) The Talmud also mentions a lesser Sanhedrin of twenty-three members in every city in Palestine in which were not less than 120 householders.

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