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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

1. The name. -Sanhedrin (סַנְהֶדְרִין, pl.[Note: plural.]סַנְהֶדְרִיוֹת; Targumic also סַנֶדְרִין, pl.[Note: plural.]סַנְדַּרְיָתָא, Heb. Aram. form of συνέδριον, ‘council,’ specifically ‘court of justice’ [so Septuagint Proverbs 22:10;  Proverbs 26:26;  Proverbs 31:23, Ps.- Song of Solomon 4:1; Josephus, Ant. XIV. v. 4]) is the name of the high court of justice and supreme council, specifically at Jerusalem (Sanh. iv. 3; Sôṭâ, ix. 18), called also ‘Sanhedrin of Seventy-one’ (Sheb. ii. 2), ‘the Great Sanhedrin’ (Sanh. i. 6; Midd. v. 4) in contradistinction to ‘the Little Sanhedrin of Twenty-three,’ the Bçth, Dîn shel shib‛îm we eḥâd, ‘the court of justice of seventy-one’ (Sanh. i. 5; Tôs. Sanh. iii. 4) and most frequently Bçth Dîn hag-gadôl shebyerûshâlaim, ‘the high court of justice of Jerusalem’ (Sôṭâ, i. 4; Giṭṭ vi. 7; Sanh. xi. 4), also Bçth Dîn hag-gadôl shebhlishkath haggâzîth, ‘the great court of justice which has its sessions in the hall of hewn stones’ (Sifrç Dt. 154; Sanh. xi. 2). The older name is γερουσία, ‘senate’ (Jos. Ant. XII. iii. 3;  2 Maccabees 1:10;  2 Maccabees 4:44;  2 Maccabees 11:27,  1 Maccabees 12:6,  Judith 4:8, and elsewhere; also simply ‘the elders’ or ‘the elders of the people’ ( 1 Maccabees 7:33;  1 Maccabees 11:23;  1 Maccabees 12:35;  1 Maccabees 14:20); cf. Ziḳnê ‛amkâ bçth Yisrâçl in the ancient eighteen benedictions for the Sanhedrin, zâḳçn, ‘elder,’ being the name of the single member of the Sanhedrin = σύνεδρος (Jos. Ant. XIV. ix. 4). Another name for the Sanhedrin (possibly the Jerusalemic and not national Council of Justice) is βουλή (Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. xv. 6, xvi. 2, xvii. 1, V. xiii. 1), whence Jos. ib. II. xvii. 1;  Mark 15:43 βουλεύτης = בּוּלוְוטֵים (J. Levy, Neuhebr. u. chald. Wörterbuch über die Talmudim u. Midraschim, 1876-89, i. 199f.). On Maccabaean coins the Sanhedrin is called ḥeber hâ-yehûdîm, ‘representative assembly of the Jews’ (F. W. Madden, History of Jewish Coinage, 1864, p. 58; A. Geiger, Urschriften und Übersetzungen der Bibel, 1857, p. 121; J. Wellhausen, Die Pharisäer und die Sadducäer, 1874, pp. 29, 34).

2. Origin and history. -The institution is based on  Deuteronomy 17:8-11 (Sifrç and Sanh. 2a) and the seventy elders on  Numbers 11:16 (Sifrç). The Talmudic sources ascribe it to Moses; also that of ‘the Little Sanhedrin of Twenty-three’ for each tribe after  Deuteronomy 16:18 (Sanh. 16b, Jer. Sanh. i. 19c; cf. Sôṭâ, 44b; Targ. Jer.  Numbers 25:4;  Numbers 25:7;  Numbers 7:85;  Numbers 9:8,  Exodus 21:30;  Exodus 32:2 bf.,  Leviticus 24:12); and speak of its existence under Joshua, Jabez, Jerubbaal, Boaz, Jephthah, Samuel, David, and Solomon, and until the time of the captivity by Nebuchadnezzar (Bâbâ bathrâ, 121b; Yômâ, 80a; Mak. 23b; Ḳoh. R. 18; Targ.  Ruth 3:11;  Ruth 4:1,  1 Chronicles 4:12;  1 Chronicles 5:12;  1 Chronicles 18:17,  Psalms 69:1;  Psalms 80:1; M.Ḳ 26a; Bâbâ Ḳammâ, 61a; Yeb. 77a; Ber. 3b-4a; Sanh. 16b, 107a; Targ.  Esther 1:2; Jer. Sanh. i. 18b). Again, during the Second Temple, after the men of the Great Synagogue from Ezra to Simon the Just ii. had occupied the place of the Sanhedrin, Talmudic tradition holds that it was re-organized under the zûggôth, (duumviri [Âbôth, i. 4-11; Ḥag. ii. 2; Peah, ii. 6; Yad, ii. 6; Jer. Sôṭâ, ix. 24a]) and continued in power under such form until the destruction of the Temple, when it was transferred to Jabneh, to Usha, to Sepphoris, and, finally, to Tiberias (Rôsh hash. 31b). This whole view, however, bears the imprint of the schoolhouse, and forms part of the Pharisaic system which in support of the Oral Law postulated an unbroken chain of tradition without any interference by any priestly-that is, Sadducean-authority. In this sense Jose ben Ḥalaphtha, the great 2nd cent. authority for Talmudic historiography, says (Tôs. Sanh. vii. 1; Ḥag. ii. 9): ‘In former times there were no dissensions in Israel. Every legal question that could not be decided in any city was submitted to the Sanhedrin of 23 on the Temple hill, and if not decided there, to the Little Sanhedrin of 23 in the Temple rampart, and if not decided there either, brought for final decision before the Great Sanhedrin in the hall of hewn stones which was in session from morning to evening, never allowing fewer than 23 of its members to be present for the discussion of the subject in the Temple schoolhouse. Thus the Hălâkah was fixed and developed in Israel. Dissensions arose when the disciples of Hillel and Shammai increased in number and failed to acquire through personal contact with their master the necessary knowledge and thus the doctrine was divided into many doctrines.’ As a matter of fact, pre-Exilic history presents nowhere a trace of an institution like the Sanhedrin. The seventy elders invested with spiritual powers ( Numbers 11:16;  Numbers 11:24 f.,  Exodus 24:1;  Exodus 24:9; cf. אֲצִילַי בְּנֵייִשְׂרָאַל [ Exodus 24:11] with [ויָאצֶל 11:25]) point to the existence of some sort of representative body of the nation (cf.  Ezra 8:11 with  Exodus 3:16;  Exodus 18:12,  Deuteronomy 21:9,  1 Kings 8:1;  1 Kings 12:8;  1 Kings 20:7,  2 Kings 23:1), but they form no judiciary like the Sanhedrin. The story in  2 Chronicles 19:1-2 of a high court of justice established by king Jehoshaphat, after  Deuteronomy 17:8 f., consisting of Levites, priests, and heads of the families, with two chief members-the high priest to decide the religious, the governor of Judah to decide the monarchical, matters-cannot be adduced as proof of the Mosaic origin of the Sanhedrin, as does D. Hoffmann (Der oberste Gerichtshof, pp. 6, 20), but is, like all the Chronicler’s stories, a reflexion of the views of the post-Exilic writer. In fact, it indicates, as pointed out by Wellhausen (Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels3, 1886, p. 199), the existence of the Sanhedrin in his time, i.e. in the 4th century. As to the duumviri see below.

The first positive record of the Sanhedrin, under the name of Gerousia, appears in the decree of Antiochus the Great about 200 (Jos. Ant. XII. iii. 33). This was an aristocratic body of elders of the nation with the high priest at its head, which had charge of the government of the Jewish people under Persian and then under Ptolemaic and Seleucidaean rule; nor was it different under Roman rule (ib. IV. viii. 17, XI. iv. 8, XX. x.;  1 Maccabees 12:6;  1 Maccabees 13:36;  1 Maccabees 14:20; 1 Maccabees 14 : 2 Maccabees 1:10;  2 Maccabees 4:44;  2 Maccabees 11:27). The name Synhedrion (Aramaized Sanhedrin), which denotes chiefly a court of justice, came into popular use under Ptolemaic rule; and, as its Hebrew equivalent, the name Ḥeber hâ-Yehûdîm appears on Hasmonaean coins, which read: ‘Joḥannan the high priest, the head, and the Council (representative) of the Jews’ (Madden, op. cit., p. 58; Wellhausen, Phar. und Sadd., pp. 29, 34, Israelit. und jüd. Geschichte,4, p. 281). A Sanhedrin of the Hasmonaeans is mentioned in Sanh. 82a, Abôda Zârâ, 36b, which is probably identical with the Pharisaic Sanhedrin (called kenîshtâ, ‘assembly,’ Meg. Ta‛ânîth, x.), whose triumph over the Sadducean Sanhedrin in the reign of queen Alexandra Salome and under the leadership, of Simon b. Sheṭaḥ was celebrated as a festival. The Sanhedrin seems to have played a political rôle in the quarrel between Alexandra’s two sons, when Gabinius, the Roman governor of Syria in 57 b.c., diminished its power by dividing the country into five districts and placing a Sanhedrin in Sepphoris and Jericho alongside of that at Jerusalem (Jos. Ant. XIV. v. 4). Soon afterwards, however, the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem was in full power again when sitting in judgment upon young Herod (ib. XIV. ix. 4), but forty-five of its members fell victims to the terrible revenge of the tyrant. Thus he rose to power, and a new Sanhedrin was chosen by him of servile men who passed sentences of death at his command (ib. XV. i. 2, vi. 2).

Under the Roman procurators when Judaea was shorn of all her sovereignty and independence, the Sanhedrin still continued to represent the supreme power and authority of the Jewish people ( Matthew 26:59 and  Acts 4:15;  Acts 5:21;  Acts 6:12;  Acts 22:30;  Acts 23:1;  Acts 24:20). In the war against Rome it directed and organized the struggle, and when towards the last the Zealots took hold of the city of Jerusalem, they appointed their own Sanhedrin in place of the old to have a semblance of authority for their atrocious acts (Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. xv. 6, xvi. 1 ff., IV. v. 4). It must be noticed, however, that Josephus uses the term βουλή in Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)and κοινόν in Vita, 12, 13, 38, etc., instead of Sanhedrin, probably because the latter had become more what he calls (Vita, 12) ‘the Sanhedrin of the Jerusalemites,’ i.e. a city Senate. With the downfall of the State, the Sanhedrin as a national or political institution ceased to exist (Sôṭâ, ix. 11 Çkâh R. v. 16), but under the leadership of Joḥanan b. Zakkai, Hillel’s great disciple, the new Sanhedrin was soon afterwards organized at Jabneh (Jamnia), of an entirely scholastic character, consisting only of teachers of the Law; and the form the new Sanhedrin assumed under his successor Gamaliel II., who took the title of Nâsî as the lineal descendant of Hillel, offered to the Talmudic tradition many of the features ascribed to the ancient Sanhedrin.

3. The presidency of the Sanhedrin. -The chief difficulty for the historian lies in the irreconcilable conflict between the Talmudic traditions and the above quoted historical records in Josephus and the NT concerning the presidency of the Sanhedrin. According to the latter, the authenticity of which cannot be questioned, the high priest, as the political head of the nation, was the president. The former assign to the high priest no place in the Sanhedrin (Sanh. ii. 1, ‘The high priest can neither bring a case before the Sanhedrin nor be judged by them’; cf. Yômâ, 1:3, according to which he receives his mandates from the Sanhedrin), and instead have masters of the Pharisean schools placed regularly at its head. Two such masters known under the name of zûggôth (= duumviri), one with the title of Nâsî (prince), the other with that of Ab Bçth Dîn (‘father of the court of justice’), are recorded to have presided over the Sanhedrin from about the middle of the 2nd to the middle of the 1st cent. b.c. (Ḥag. ii. 2; cf. Abôth, i. 4-12; Peah, ii. 6; Yad, ii. 16; Jer. Sôṭâ, ix. 24a): Jose b. Jcezer of Zereda (a relative of Alkimos the high priest) (Ber. R. 65, 18), and most probably identical with the Hasidaean leader Razis (?) ( 2 Maccabees 14:37 ‘an elder and father of the Jews’) and Jose b. Joḥanan-the first duumvirate; Joshua b. Peraḥya and Nittai of Arbela-the second; Simon b. Sheṭaḥ (contemporary of Alexander Jannaeus and relative of queen Alexandra) (H. Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, iii. 4 [1888] 137; E. Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii. 4, 421), and Judah b. Tabbai-the third; Shemaiah (= Sameas, Jos. Ant. XIV. ix. 4) and Abtalion (= Ptolion, ib. XV. i. 1)-the fifth. According to Sheb. 15a, Hillel’s successor as Nâsî was his son Simon, and he was followed by his son Gamaliel I., and he again by his own son Simon, the last president of the Sanhedrin before the destruction of the Temple. The untrustworthiness of these traditions, however, is shown first of all by the confusion in the sources, some of which place Judah b. Tabbai above Simon b. Sheṭaḥ, and Shammai above Hillel (Ḥag. ii. 2, 16b; cf. Sheb. 17a), and then by the significant fact that nowhere else are these men spoken of as Nâsî, Hillel being simply called ‘the elder’ = senator (Suk. 53a and elsewhere), but above all by the direct mention of Sameas and Ptolion (Jos. Ant. XIV. ix. 4, XV. i. 1), of Gamaliel 1. ( Acts 5:34) and Simon b. Gamaliel (Jos. Vita, 38), as ‘certain members of the Sanhedrin belonging to the Pharisean party,’ while in each case the high priest appears as chief of the Sanhedrin. It is, therefore, impossible to escape the conclusion that the conditions existing under Gamaliel II. at the close of the 1st cent. were transferred to former times, and so the title of Nâsî (ethnarch) held by the Hillclites down to the 4th cent. (Orig. Epp. ad Africanum, quoted in Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii. 4, 248, n.[Note: . note.]28) was claimed for Hillel, the ancestor believed to be of Davidic descent (Jos. Vita, 38; Ber. R. xlix. 10; Sanh. 5a); and, finally, the whole system of the duumvirate was carried back to the beginning of Pharisaism.

4. The title Ab Bçth Din and the duumvirate. -It is nevertheless unwarranted to dismiss as fictitious, as Schürer, Wellhausen, and Kuenen do, the whole tradition concerning the leadership of the so-called Nesîîm and the duumvirate. As a matter of fact, the important innovations (ṭekkânôth) ascribed to such masters as Jose b. Jcezer, Simon b. Sheṭaḥ, Hillel, and Gamaliel I. (cf. Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, iii. and iv. [see Index], and Jelski, Die innere Einrichtung des grossen Synedrions zu Jerusalem, pp. 43-81) could have been brought about only under a Pharisean leadership of greater authority on the Law than was the high priest, who as a rule lacked both learning and piety. Apart from this, however, the tradition of a duumvirate is corroborated by Josephus in a remarkable passage which failed to receive the attention its importance deserves. In giving an exposition of the Mosaic constitution, in all probability taken from an older Pharisaic source, he writes (Ant. IV. viii. 14): ‘Each city shall have for its magistrates seven men known for their practice of virtue and zeal for righteousness, and to each magistracy two men of the tribe of Levi shall be assigned as assistants [secretaries]. These elected as judges shall be held in the utmost esteem.… For the power to judge cometh from God.… But if these judges do not know how to decide on matters submitted to them … they shall send the undecided case to the holy city, and there shall the high priest and the prophet and the Senate come together and give the final decision.’

It is plain that these rules must have been taken from the practice of the time and regarded as ancient traditional law. Now there is a trace of seven judges instead of the Talmudic three in each city court (Sanh. i. 1), found in the seven city aldermen (ṭôbç hâ ‛îr [Meg. 26a; cf. Jer. Meg. iii. 1, 74a; Tôs. Meg. iii. 1], probably ḥeber hâ ‛îr [Bik. iii. 12; Tôs. Peah, iv. 16; Sheb. vii. 9]). And the seven judges recur in Jos. Ant. IV. viii. 38 with reference to  Exodus 22:7-8, Elohim being taken as judges (cf. Targ.[Note: Targum.]and Meḳ. to the passage). As governor of Galilee, Josephus appointed seven judges for each town and a Sanhedrin of seventy for the whole province (Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. xx. 5). For the high court at Jerusalem, however, a duumvirate, consisting of the high priest and the prophet, is ordained, and neither Kuenen (Gesamm. Abhandlungen, p. 66) nor Wellhausen (Phar. und Sadd., p. 26) nor Hoffmann (Del oberste Gerichtshof, p. 25) nor Büchler (Das Synedrion in Jerus., p. 62) explains the mention of the prophet here satisfactorily. The fact is that the Law ( Deuteronomy 17:9;  Deuteronomy 17:12) mentions alongside of the priest also ‘the judge,’ implying thereby a man of judicial competence and authority, and thus suggests a sort of duumvirate such as the Chronicler ( 2 Chronicles 19:11) has. It is easy to see how, in view of the decline of the Sadducean priesthood, the necessity arose of having as the spiritual head of the Sanhedrin a Pharisean scribe who was to be consulted in all difficult questions. Such a scribe could well be called prophet, as the one filled with the Divine spirit of wisdom ( Deuteronomy 34:9; cf. Jos. Ant. iv. viii. 46, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. viii. 12;  Wisdom of Solomon 7:27; Didache, x. 7; see also Hor. i. 4, mufla), while as the patriarch he received the title ‘Ab Bçth Dîn’ (cf.  Judges 17:10;  Judges 18:19,  2 Kings 2:12, and the title ‘Aboth’ for the ancient sages). It is especially noteworthy that Jose b. Jcezer, the first of the duumviri, was called ‘the father of the Jews’ ( 2 Maccabees 14:37). The duumvirate was, no doubt, the result of a compromise between Sadducean priesthood and the Pharisean scribes, the Ab Bçth Dîn being for the Pharisees the actual president, whereas the Sadducean high priest was consigned to oblivion, wherefore a later tradition referred the duumvirate to the leaders of the two Pharisean schools of each generation, giving to the foremost one the title of Nâsî (cf. Jewish Encyclopedia, article‘Nasi’). It is not as president, but as the patriarch, that Gamaliel i. speaks with authority ( Acts 5:34).

5. Composition and meeting-place of the Sanhedrin. -The Great Sanhedrin consisted of seventy-one members, the seventy elders and the Nâsî or president (Sanh. i. 5; cf. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. xx. 5 and IV. v. 4). When Gamaliel II. and Eleazar b. Azariah alternated as presidents, they counted seventy-two (Yad, ii. 5; Zeb. i. 3).

The Little Sanhedrin in the provinces (Sanh. i. 16b) and in Jerusalem, one at the entrance to the Temple hill, the other at the entrance to the Temple Court or the Rampart (Sanh. xi. 1; Tôs. Sanh. ix. 1; Sifrç Dt. 152) consisted, according to the Talmudic tradition, of twenty-three. Of the former, one is mentioned as the βουλή of Tiberias (Josephus, Vita, 12), whereas the Great Sanhedrin is referred to as the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem. Possibly the Great Sanhedrin of seventy-one was composed of the two Little Sanhedrins the one on the Temple hill, which may be identified with the Senate of Jerusalem (Jos. Ant. XX. i. 2, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. xv. 6, xvi. 2), and the other before the Temple court, probably the one concerned with the Temple practice and the priestly legitimacy (Ant. XX. ix. 6), and the main body of the high court, also consisting of twenty-three (Tôs. Sanh. ix. 1), that is, 3 × 23 = 69, besides the patriarch of the court and the president or Nâsî. This would also account for the forty-five slain by king Herod, if it may be assumed that the Senate of Jerusalem sided with him (Ant. XV. i. 2).

As to the elements constituting the Sanhedrin, the ruling priests representing the Sadducean party were, according to Josephus (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. xiv. 8, xv. 2 f., xvii. 2 ff., V. i. 5) and the NT ( Matthew 26:59;  Matthew 27:41 and elsewhere), dominant in influence, and the patricians, called ‘the men of power’ (δυνατοί) in Josephus (locc. citt.), formed the bulk of the Sanhedrin, until king Herod replaced them by homines novi, whereas the Pharisees, who rose to power under Alexandra Salome, were but few in number (Jos. Ant. XIII. xv. 5;  Mark 10:33; only the later Gospels mention the Pharisees). Only those were admitted into the Sanhedrin who were of pure blood, so as to be able to intermarry with the priestly families (Sanh. iv. 2). Little historic value can be attached to Jose b. Ḥalaphtha’s statement (Tôs. Sanh. ix. 1) that the Sanhedrin selected for each city court, the one found to be wise, humble, sin-fearing, of blameless character, and popular as judge, and then had him promoted to membership, first of the two Little Sanhedrins in Jerusalem, and finally to the Great Sanhedrin in the hall of hewn stones. The same holds good of the description in Sanh. iv. 3-4, Tôs. Sanh. viii. 1-2, according to which ‘the Sanhedrin sat in a semi-circle, the Nâsî in the centre and the two secretaries standing at both sides, while the disciples sat before them in three rows according to their rank; and when a vacancy arose, the new member was chosen from the first row, and his place again filled by one in the second row and so forth.’ This seems to be a picture taken from the Sanhedrin of Jabneh. Likewise academic are the prerequisites of the Sanhedrin given in Sifrç Nu. 92: ‘They must be wise, courageous, high-principled (not ‘strong’ as Bacher has) and humble.’ R. Joḥanan of the 3rd cent. (Sanh. 17b) says: ‘They must also be of high stature, of pleasing appearance and of advanced age, conversant with the art of magic and the seventy spoken languages,’ to which Judah han-Nâsî is said to have added ‘the dialectic power by which Levitically unclean things can be proven to be clean.’

There is, however, no cause for questioning the correctness of the tradition that the meeting-place of the Great Sanhedrin was in the hall of hewn stones, the lishkath hag-gâzîth on the south side of the great court in which the priests held their daily morning service and where other priestly functions were performed (Midd. v. 4; Tâmîd, ii., iv.). Schürer’s identification of lishkath hag-gâzîth with the Senate assembly house (βουλή) near the Xystos (Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)V. iv. 2, VI. vi. 3) cannot be accepted in the face of these traditions, which prove that the lishkah (always the name of a Temple cell) must have been within the Temple area.

The Senate house near the Xystos in Josephus may refer, as Bacher thinks, to the time of the removal of the Sanhedrin to the city during the siege (Rôsh hash. 31). Besides this there was a special hall assigned to the high priest and the foremost men of the Sanhedrin called lishkath Parhedrîn (πάρεδροι), ‘the men of the front rank,’ also called lishkath bûleuṭîn, i.e. ‘senators’ hall’ (Yômâ, I. i. 8b).

6. Functions of the Sanhedrin. -According to the Mishna (Sanh. i. 4), capital punishment wag pronounced and executed by the Little Sanhedrin of twenty-three in the various provinces or tribes, but the tribunal of seventy-one in the Temple of Jerusalem was the only body vested with power and authority (1) to pronounce a verdict in a process affecting a tribe, a false prophet, or the high priest; (2) to declare war against a nation not belonging to ancient Canaan or Amalek; (3) to extend the character of holiness to additional parts of the Temple, or of Jerusalem; (4) to appoint Sanhedrin over the tribes; (5) to execute judgment against a city that had lapsed into idolatry. All these points, derived directly or, indirectly from Scripture (Judges 21,  Deuteronomy 13:7 f., 13ff.; Sanh. 16a f.), refer to a time when the twelve tribes still had their existence, and are consequently theoretical rather than real life issues. Nor can it be taken as an actual practice of the Sanhedrin when it is charged with the burning of the red heifer (Numbers 19), or the breaking of the neck of the heifer to atone for a murder the perpetrator of which cannot be found ( Deuteronomy 21:1 f.), the final judgment of a rebellious elder ( Deuteronomy 17:12), the bringing of a guilt offering in the case of an unintentional sin committed by the whole congregation of Israel ( Leviticus 4:13), the installation of a king or of a high priest (Tôs. Sanh. iii. 4), the ordeal of a woman suspected of adultery (Sôṭâ, i. 4; cf. Philo, ed Mangey, ii. 308), or the fixing of the calendar each new moon (Rôsh hash. ii. 5, 9). It may be taken for certain, however, that the three branches of the government, the political, the religious, and the judicial administration, were centralized in the Sanhedrin; yet at the same time these three different functions were assigned to three separate bodies. Hence mention is made of a Sanhedrin of the judges (Jos. Ant. XX. ix. 1), a Bçth Dîn of the priests (Ket. i. 5; Tôs. Sanh. iv. 4), which had in charge also the investigation of the legitimacy of the priesthood (Tôs. Sanh. vii. 1), and the Sanhedrin of the Jerusalemites (Jos. Vita, 12), i.e. the Senate of Jerusalem, to which the political administration of the country was entrusted. Possibly the name τὸ κοινόν, ‘the common administration,’ used almost exclusively in Vita (12, 13, 38, etc.), refers to this centralization. Hoffmann (op. cit., p. 46) refers the name to the democratic government established by the Zealots (Vita, 39), and compares the Talmudic ‛çdâh (‘congregation’) with the Sanhedrin (Sanh. 16a). In all matters of great importance, or in cases when the lower courts could come to no decision, the Great Sanhedrin, composed of three departments (3 × 23 = 69), together with the president and the patriarch (Nâsî and Ab Bçth Dîn), and forming the supreme tribunal ‘from which the law went forth to all Israel’ (Sanh. xi. 2; Jos. Ant. IV. viii. 14; Philo, ed. Mangey, ii. 367), gave its decision, which was final and inviolable, and wilful opposition to which on the part of an elder or judge was punished with death. It held its sessions in day-time only, and only on week-days, not on Sabbath and holidays (Tôs. Sanh. vii. 1; Beza, v. 2; Philo, ed. Mangey, i. 450). Cases of capital punishment were not taken up on the eve of Sabbath or of holy days, because the sentence was always to be given on the following day (Sanh. iv. 1). The attendance of at least twenty-three members was required for cases of capital punishment, and unless the full number of seventy-one were present, a majority of one could not decide the condemnation. Talmudic tradition, however, states that forty years (which is a round number) before the destruction of the Temple the right of jurisdiction in cases of capital punishment was taken from Israel (Jer. Sanh. i. 18a; Bab.[Note: Babylonian.]Shab. 15b) This agrees with Jos. Ant. XX. ix. 1,  John 18:31, and the whole procedure of the Crucifixion. Otherwise the conflicting Gospel stories concerning the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus show, to say the least, irregularities for which only the high priests (cf. Jos. Ant. VIII. iii. 3, ‘the foremost men’) were responsible.

As regards the death penalty on sacrilegious intruders on the Temple ground, this was, as the inscription indicates (see T. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, v. 2 [1885] 513), a law against the Zealots sanctioned by the people and the Roman government (see article‘Zealots’ in Jewish Encyclopediaxii. 641b), and has nothing to do with the Sanhedrin, as Schürer thinks (GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii. 4, 260 f.).

Characteristic of later times is the academic view of the 2nd cent. masters of the Mishna (Mak. i. 10): ‘A Sanhedrin that passes a sentence of death once within 7 years, others say, every 70 years, and still others, only once, deserves the epithet murderous.’ The Mishnaic rules of procedure in cases of capital punishment (Sanh. iv. 2, 5) may accordingly be regarded as of academic rather than historical value. The Sanhedrin had its jurisdiction over the Jews throughout the world as far as their religious life was concerned (Rôsh hash. i. 3 f.; cf. W. Bousset, Religion des Judentums, 1903, p. 83). As a religious tribunal it outlasted the Temple and State of Judaea , existing in the shape of a body of academicians down to the 5th cent. when its name was transferred to the seventy members of the academy of Babylonia called Kallâh (‘the circle’).

Literature.-E. Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii. 4 [1907] 237-267, where the entire literature is given; H. L. Strack, article‘Synedrium’ in PRE[Note: RE Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche.]3 xix.; W. Backer, article‘Sanhedrin’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols). Especially to be mentioned are A. Kuenen, ‘Über die Zusammensetzung des Sanhedrin’ (in Gesamm. Abhandl. zur bibl. Wissenschaft, translationK. Budde, 1894, pp. 49-81); I. Jelski, Die innere Einrichtung des grossen Synedrions zu Jerusalem, 1894; D. Hoffmann, ‘Der oberste Gerichtsbof in der Stadt des Heiligtums,’ in Programm des Rabbinerseminars zu Berlin, 1877-78 (only apologetic in character); A. Büchler, Das Synedrion in Jerusalem und das grosse Beth Din in der Quaderkammer des jerusalemischen Tempels, 1902 (valuable for its large material on the subject, but unsound in its argumentation and its historical conclusions).

K. Kohler.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

SANHEDRIN . The Gr. word synedrion ( EV [Note: English Version.] council ) became so familiar to the Jews that they adopted it in the form of Sanhedrin , which occurs very frequently both in Josephus and in the Talmud.

1 . According to Rabbinical tradition, the Sanhedrin was originally created by Moses in obedience to Divine command (cf.   Numbers 11:16 ), and it is taught that this assembly existed, and exercised judicial functions, throughout the whole period of Biblical history right up to Talmudic times. That this cannot have been the case is seen already in the fact that, according to Biblical authority itself, king Jehoshaphat is mentioned as having instituted the supreme court at Jerusalem (  2 Chronicles 19:8 ); but that this court cannot have been identical with the Sanhedrin of later times is clear from the fact that, whereas the latter had governing powers as well as judicial functions, the former was a court of justice and nothing else. It is possible that the ‘ elders ’ mentioned in the Book of Ezra (  Ezra 5:5;   Ezra 5:9;   Ezra 6:7;   Ezra 6:14;   Ezra 10:8 ) and ‘rulers’ in the Boo k of Nehemiah (  Nehemiah 2:18;   Nehemiah 4:8;   Nehemiah 4:18;   Nehemiah 5:7;   Nehemiah 7:5 ) constituted a body which to some extent corresponded to the Sanhedrin properly so called. But seeing that the Sanhedrin is often referred to as a Gerousia ( i.e. an aristocratic, as distinct from a democratic, body), and that as such it is not mentioned before the time of Antiochus the Great (b.c. 223 187), it is reasonably certain that, in its more developed form at ail events, it did not exist before the Greek period. The Sanhedrin is referred to under the name Gerousia ( EV [Note: English Version.] senate ) In   Malachi 1:10  Malachi 1:10; 2Ma 4:44 , Jdt 4:8; Jdt 11:14; Jdt 15:8 and elsewhere in the Apocr. [Note: Apocrypha, Apocryphal.] , in   Acts 5:21 , and frequently in Josephus, e.g. Ant . IV. viii. 41.

The Sanhedrin was conceived of mainly as a court of justice , the equivalent Heb. term being Beth Dîn , and it is in this sense that it is usually referred to in the NT (see, e.g. ,   Matthew 5:22;   Matthew 26:59 ,   Mark 15:1 ,   Luke 22:66 ,   John 11:47 ,   Acts 4:15;   Acts 5:21;   Acts 6:12;   Acts 22:30 etc.). Sometimes in the NT the terms Presbyterion and Gerousia are used in reference to the Sanhedrin (  Acts 5:21;   Acts 22:5 ). A member of this court was called a bouteutes (‘councillor’). Joseph of Arimathæa was one (  Mark 15:43 ,   Luke 23:50 ). The Sanhedrin was abolished after the destruction of Jerusalem (a.d. 70).

2 . As regards the composition of the Sanhedrin, the hereditary high priest stood at the head of it, and in its fundamental character it formed a sacerdotal aristocracy, and represented the nobility, i.e. predominantly the Sadducæan interest; but under Herod, who favoured the Pharisaic party in his desire to restrict the power and influence of the old nobility, the Sadducæan element in the Sanhedrin became less prominent, while that of the Pharisees increased. So that during the Roman period the Sanhedrin contained representatives of two opposed parties, the priestly nobility with its Sadducæan sympathies, and the learned Pharisees. According to the Mishna, the Sanhedrin consisted of seventy-one members ( Sanhed . i. 6); when a vacancy occurred the members co-opted some one ‘from the congregation’ to fill the place ( Sanhed . iv. 4), and he was admitted by the ceremony of the laying on of hands.

3 . The extent of the Sanhedrin’s jurisdiction varied at different times in its history; while, in a certain sense, it exercised civil jurisdiction over all Jewish communities, wherever they existed, during the time of Christ this was restricted to Judæa proper; it was for this reason that it had no judicial authority over Him so long as He remained in Galilee. Its orders were, however, very soon after the time of Christ, regarded as binding by orthodox Jews ail over the world. Thus we see that it could issue warrants for the apprehension of Christians in Damascus to the synagogue there (  Acts 9:2;   Acts 22:5;   Acts 26:12 ); but the extent to which Jewish communities outside of Judæa were willing to submit to such orders depended entirely on how far they were favourably disposed towards the central authority; it was only within the limits of Judæa proper that real authority could he exercised by the Sanhedrin. It was thus the supreme native court, as contrasted with the foreign authority of Rome; to it belonged all such judicial matters as the local provincial courts were incompetent to deal with, or as the Roman procurator did not attend to himself. Above all, it was the final court of appeal for questions connected with the Mosaic Law; its decision having once been given, the judges of the lower courts were, on pain of death, bound to acquiesce in it. The NT offers some interesting examples of the kind of matters that were brought before it: Christ appeared before it on a charge of blasphemy (  Matthew 26:57 ,   John 19:7 ), Peter and John were accused before it of being false prophets and deceivers of the people (  Acts 4:5 ff.), Stephen was condemned by it because of blasphemy (  Acts 7:57-58 ), and Paul was charged with transgression of the Mosaic Law (  Acts 22:30 ). It had independent authority and right to arrest people by its own officers (  Matthew 26:47 ,   Mark 14:48 ,   Acts 4:3;   Acts 5:17-18 ); it had also the power of finally disposing, on its own authority, of such cases as did not involve sentence of death (  Acts 4:5-23;   Acts 5:21-40 ). It was only in cases when the sentence of death was pronounced that the latter had to be ratified by the Roman authorities (  John 18:31 ); the case of the stoning of Stephen must be regarded as an instance of mob-justice.

While the Sanhedrin could not hold a court of supreme jurisdiction in the absence, or, at all events, without the consent, of the Roman procurator, it enjoyed, nevertheless, wide powers within the sphere of its extensive jurisdiction. At the same time, it had sometimes to submit to the painful experience of realizing its dependent position in face of the Roman power, even in matters which might be regarded as peculiarly within the scope of its own jurisdiction; for the Roman authorities could at any time take the initiative themselves, and proceed independently of the Jewish court, as the NT testifies, e.g. in the case of Paul’s arrest (see also   Acts 23:15;   Acts 23:20;   Acts 23:28 ).

4 . The Sanhedrin met in the Temple, in what was called the Lishkath ha-Gazith (the ‘Hall of hewn-stones’) as a general rule, though an exception is recorded in   Matthew 26:57 ff.,   Mark 14:53 ff. The members sat in a semicircle in order to be able to see each other; in front stood clerks of the court, and behind these, three rows of the disciples of the ‘learned men.’ The prisoner had always to be dressed in mourning. When any one had spoken once in favour of the accused, he could not afterwards speak against him. In case of acquittal the decision might be announced the same day, but a sentence of condemnation was always pronounced on the day following, or later; in the former a simple majority sufficed, in the latter a majority of two-thirds was required.

W. O. E. Oesterley.

Holman Bible Dictionary [3]

 Acts 5:34 Acts 23:1-9

The word Sanhedrin is usually translated “council” in the English translations of the Bible. Because of the predominance of the chief priests in the Sanhedrin, at times the words chief priests seem to refer to the action of the Sanhedrin, even though the name itself is not used.

According to Jewish tradition, the Sanhedrin began with the 70 elders appointed by Moses in  Numbers 11:16 and was reorganized by Ezra after the Exile. However, the Old Testament provides no evidence of a council that functioned like the Sanhedrin of later times. Thus, the Sanhedrin had its origin sometime during the centuries between the Testaments. See Intertestamental History; Jewish Parties.

During the first century, the Sanhedrin exerted authority under the watchful eye of the Romans. Generally, the Roman governor allowed the Sanhedrin considerable autonomy and authority. The trial of Jesus, however, shows that the Sanhedrin did not have the authority to condemn people to death ( John 18:31 ). Later, Stephen was stoned to death after a hearing before the Sanhedrin, but this may have been more a mob action than a legal execution authorized by the Sanhedrin ( Acts 6:12-15;  Acts 7:54-60 ).

The Gospels describe the role of the Sanhedrin in the arrest, trials, and condemnation of Jesus. The Sanhedrin, under the leadership of Caiaphas the high priest, plotted to have Jesus killed ( John 11:47-53 ). The chief priests conspired with Judas to betray Jesus ( Matthew 26:14-16 ). After His arrest they brought Jesus into the council ( Luke 22:66 ). They used false witnesses to condemn Jesus ( Matthew 26:59-60;  Mark 14:55-56 ). They sent Him to Pilate and pressured Pilate into pronouncing the death sentence ( Mark 15:1-15 ).

The Book of Acts describes how the Sanhedrin harassed and threatened the apostles. The healing of the man at the Temple and Peter's sermon attracted the attention of the chief priests. Peter and John were called before the council and warned not to preach anymore in the name of Jesus ( Acts 4:5-21 ). When the apostles continued to preach, the council had them arrested ( Acts 5:21 ,Acts 5:21, 5:27 ). The wise counsel of Gamaliel caused the council to release the apostles with a beating and a warning ( Acts 5:34-42 ). Stephen had to appear before the Sanhedrin on charges that sounded like the false charges against Jesus ( Acts 6:12-15 ).

After Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, the Roman commander asked the council to examine Paul to decide what was Paul's crime ( Acts 22:30;  Acts 23:28 ). Paul identified himself as a Pharisee who was on trial for his hope of resurrection. This involved the council in a debate of the divisive issue of the resurrection ( Acts 23:1-9 ). The chief priests and elders were part of a plot to have Paul assassinated as he was led to another hearing before the council ( Acts 23:13-15 ,Acts 23:13-15, 23:20 ).

Robert J. Dean

Smith's Bible Dictionary [4]

San'hedrin. (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;  Matthew 26:59;  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, the "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. 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.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [5]

With the re-establishment of the Jewish nation after the Jews’ return from captivity in Babylon, there were significant developments in the Jewish religion. Many of these were connected with the establishment of synagogues (or meeting places) in the Jewish communities, and the rise of people known as scribes (or teachers of the law). The scribes usually had positions of power in the synagogues and used them as places from which to spread their teachings (see Scribes ; Synagogue ).

Under Ezra groups of elders and judges had been appointed to administer civil and religious law in Israel ( Ezra 7:25-26;  Ezra 10:14). It was probably on this basis that such people became leaders of the synagogues and rulers in the Jewish communities. As the scribes and other leaders on the synagogue committees grew in power, a system of local Jewish rule developed that eventually produced a council known as the Sanhedrin. Although any local Jewish council may have been called a Sanhedrin, the word was used most commonly for the supreme Jewish council in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Sanhedrin consisted of a maximum of seventy members, not counting the high priest. (The number was probably based on the ancient arrangement by which Moses and seventy elders administered Israel; see  Numbers 11:24.) The composition of the Sanhedrin changed from time to time, depending on political developments within the nation. In New Testament times it consisted of scribes, elders, priests and other respected citizens, and included both Pharisees and Sadducees. The high priest acted as president ( Matthew 26:3;  Matthew 26:57-59;  Luke 22:66;  Luke 23:50;  Acts 4:5-7;  Acts 5:17-21;  Acts 5:34;  Acts 22:30;  Acts 23:1-6). Any meeting of the Sanhedrin required at least twenty-three members to be present.

Rome gave the Sanhedrin authority to arrest, judge and punish Jewish people for offences relating to their religious law and for certain civil offences ( Mark 14:43;  Acts 5:17-21;  Acts 5:40;  Acts 6:11-15;  Acts 9:2). The one exception concerned the death sentence. Although it could pass the death sentence, the Sanhedrin could not carry it out without permission from Rome ( Matthew 26:66;  Matthew 27:1-2;  John 18:30-31).

From details of Sanhedrin procedures recorded in ancient Jewish writings, it is clear that Jesus’ trial, conviction and execution were illegal. The Jews’ execution of Stephen was also illegal, but the Roman authorities probably considered it safer to ignore the incident and so avoid trouble with the Jews ( Acts 7:57-58; cf.  Acts 18:14-17;  Matthew 27:24).

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [6]

Or BETHDIN, house of judgment, was a council of seventy senators among the Jews, usually with the addition of the high priest as president, who determined the most important affairs of the nation. It is first mentioned by Josephus in connection with the reign of John Hyrcanus II, B. C. 69, and is supposed to have originated after the second temple was built, during the cessation of the prophetic office, and in imitation of Moses' council of seventy elders,  Numbers 11:16-24 . The room, in which they met, according to the rabbins, was a rotunda, half of which was built without the temple, that is, without the inner court of Israel, and half within, the latter part being that in which the judges sat. The Nasi, or president, who was generally the high-priest, sat on a throne at the end of the hall; the vice-president, or chief counselor, called Ab-bethdin, at his right hand; and the sub-deputy, or Hakam, at his left; the other senators being ranged in order on each side. Most of the members of this council were priests or Levites, though men in private stations of life were not excluded. See Sadducees .

The authority of the Sanhedrin was very extensive. It decided causes brought before it by appeal from inferior courts; and even the king, the high priest, and the prophets, were under its jurisdiction. The general affairs of the nation were also brought before this assembly, particularly whatever was in any way connected with religion or worship,  Mark 14:55   15:1   Acts 4:7   5:41   6:12 . Jews in foreign cities appear to have been amenable to this court in matters of religion,  Acts 9:2 . The right of judging in capital cases belonged to it, until this was taken away by the Romans a few years before the time of Christ,  John 18:31 . The Sanhedrin was probably the "council" referred to by our Lord,  Matthew 5:22 . There appears also to have been and inferior tribunal of seven members, in every town, for the adjudication of less important matters. Probably it is this tribunal that is called "the judgment" in  Matthew 5:22 .

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [7]

Sanhedrin formed from the Greek Sunedrion . Sanhedrin is the Chaldee form. (See Council .)

Webster's Dictionary [8]

(n.) Alt. of Sanhedrim

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [9]

san´hḗ - drin ( סנחדרין , ṣanhedhrı̄n , the Talmudic transcription of the Greek συνέδριον , sunédrion ):

1. Name:

The Sanhedrin was, at and before the time of Christ, the name for the highest Jewish tribunal, of 71 members, in Jerusalem, and also for the lower tribunals, of 23 members, of which Jerusalem had two ( Tōṣephtā' Ḥăghı̄ghāh 11 9; Ṣanhedrin 1 6; 11 2). It is derived from sún , "together," and hédra , "seat." In Greek and Roman literature the senates of Sparta, Carthage, and even Rome, are so called (compare Pausan. iii. 11,2; Polyb. iii. 22; Dion Cassius xl.49). In Josephus we meet with the word for the first time in connection with the governor Gabinius (57-55 BC), who divided the whole of Palestine into 5 sunédria ( Ant. , Xiv , v, 4), or súnodoi ( Bj , I, viii, 5); and with the term sunedrion for the high council in Jerusalem first in Ant. , Xiv , ix, 3-5, in connection with Herod, who, when a youth, had to appear before the sunedrion at Jerusalem to answer for his doings in Galilee. But before that date the word appears in the Septuagint version of Proverbs (circa 130 BC), especially in   Proverbs 22:10;  Proverbs 31:23 , as an equivalent for the Mishnaic bēth - dı̄n = "judgment chamber."

In the New Testament the word sometimes, especially when used in the plural ( Matthew 10:17;  Mark 13:9; compare Ṣanhedrin 1 5), means simply "court of justice," i.e. any judicatory ( Matthew 5:22 ). But in most cases it is used to designate the supreme Jewish Court of Justice in Jerusalem, in which the process against our Lord was carried on, and before which the apostles (especially Peter and John, Stephen, and Paul) had to justify themselves ( Matthew 26:59;  Mark 14:55;  Mark 15:1;  Luke 22:66;  John 11:47;  Acts 4:15;  Acts 5:21 ff;   Acts 6:12 ff;   Acts 22:30;  Acts 23:1 ff;   Acts 24:20 ). Sometimes presbutérion ( Luke 22:66;  Acts 22:5 ) and gerousı́a ( Acts 5:21 ) are substituted for sunedrion . See Senate .

In the Jewish tradition-literature the term "Sanhedrin" alternates with kenı̄shtā' , "meeting-place" ( Meghillath Ta‛ănı̄th 10, compiled in the 1st century AD), and bēth - dı̄n , "court of justice" ( Ṣanhedrin 11 2,4). As, according to Jewish tradition, there were two kinds of sunedria , namely, the supreme sunedrion in Jerusalem of 71 members, and lesser sunedria of 23 members, which were appointed by the supreme one, we find often the term ṣanhedhrı̄n gedhōlāh , "the great Sanhedrin," or bēth - dı̄n ha - gādhōl , "the great court of justice" ( Middōth 5 4; Ṣanhedrin 1 6), or ṣanhedhrı̄n gedhōlāh ha - yōshebheth be - lishekhath hagāzı̄th , "the great Sanhedrin which sits in the hall of hewn stone."

2. Origin and History:

There is lack of positive historical information as to the origin of the Sanhedrin. According to Jewish tradition (compare Ṣanhedrin 16) it was constituted by Moses (  Numbers 11:16-24 ) and was reorganized by Ezra immediately after the return from exile (compare the Targum to  Song of Solomon 6:1 ). But there is no historical evidence to show that previous to the Greek period there existed an organized aristocratic governing tribunal among the Jews. Its beginning is to be placed at the period in which Asia was convulsed by Alexander the Great and his successors.

The Hellenistic kings conceded a great amount of internal freedom to municipal communities, and Palestine was then practically under home rule, and was governed by an aristocratic council of Elders ( 1 Maccabees 12:6;  2 Maccabees 1:10;  4:44;  11:27; 3Macc 1:8; compare Josephus, Ant. , Xii , iii, 4; Xiii , v, 8; Meghillath Tā‛ănı̄th 10), the head of which was the hereditary high priest. The court was called Gerousia , which in Greek always signifies an aristocratic body (see Westermann in Pauly's Re , III, 49). Subsequently this developed into the Sanhedrin.

During the Roman period (except for about 10 years at the time of Gabinius, who applied to Judea the Roman system of government; compare Marquardt, Romische Staatsverwaltung , I, 501), the Sanhedrin's influence was most powerful, the internal government of the country being practically in its hands ( Ant. , XX, x), and it was religiously recognized even among the Diaspora (compare   Acts 9:2;  Acts 22:5;  Acts 26:12 ). According to Schurer ( HJP , div II, volume 1, 171; GJV4 , 236) the civil authority of the Sanhedrin, from the time of Archelaus, Herod the Great's son, was probably restricted to Judea proper, and for that reason, he thinks, it had no judicial authority over our Lord so long as He remained in Galilee (but see G.A. Smith, Jerusalem , I, 416).

The Sanhedrin was abolished after the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD). The bēth - dı̄n (court of judgment) in Jabneh (68-80), in Usah (80-116), in Shafran (140-63), in Sepphoris (163-93), in Tiberias (193-220), though regarded in the Talmud (compare Rō'sh ha - shānāh 31a) as having been the direct continuation of the Sanhedrin, had an essentially different character; it was merely an assembly of scribes, whose decisions had only a theoretical importance (compare Ṣōṭāh 9 11).

3. Constitution:

The Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was formed ( Matthew 26:3 ,  Matthew 26:17 ,  Matthew 26:59;  Mark 14:53;  Mark 15:1;  Luke 22:66;  Acts 4:5 f;   Acts 5:21;  Acts 22:30 ) of high priests (i.e. the acting high priest, those who had been high priests, and members of the privileged families from which the high priests were taken), elders (tribal and family heads of the people and priesthood), and scribes (i.e. legal assessors), Pharisees and Sadducees alike (compare  Acts 4:1 ff;   Acts 5:17 ,  Acts 5:34;  Acts 23:6 ). In  Mark 15:43;  Luke 23:50 , Joseph of Arimathea is called bouleutḗs , "councillor," i.e. member of the Sanhedrin.

According to Josephus and the New Testament, the acting high priest was as such always head and president ( Matthew 26:3 ,  Matthew 26:17;  Acts 5:17 ff;   Acts 7:1;  Acts 9:1 f;   Acts 22:5;  Acts 23:2;  Acts 24:1; Ant. , IV, viii, 17; XX, x). Caiaphas is president at the trial of our Lord, and at Paul's trial Ananias is president. On the other hand, according to the Talmud (especially Ḥăghıghāh 2 2), the Sanhedrin is represented as a juridical tribunal of scribes, in which one scribe acted as nāsı̄' , "prince," i.e. president, and another as 'abh - bēth - dı̄n , father of the judgment-chamber, i.e. vice-president. So far, it has not been found possible to reconcile these conflicting descriptions (see "Literature," below).

Sanhedrin 4 3 mentions the ṣōpherē - ha - dayānı̄m , "notaries," one of whom registered the reasons for acquittal, and the other the reasons for condemnation. In the New Testament we read of hupērétai , "constables" (  Matthew 5:25 ) and of the "servants of the high priest" ( Matthew 26:51;  Mark 14:47;  John 18:10 ), whom Josephus describes as "enlisted from the rudest and most restless characters" ( Ant. , XX, viii, 8; ix, 2). Josephus speaks of the "public whip," Matthew mentions "tormentors" ( Matthew 18:34 ), Luke speaks of "spies" ( Luke 20:20 ).

The whole history of post-exilic Judaism circles round the high priests, and the priestly aristocracy always played the leading part in the Sanhedrin (compare Ṣanhedrin 4 2). But the more the Pharisees grew in importance, the more were they represented in the Sanhedrin. In the time of Salome they were so powerful that "the queen ruled only in name, but the Pharisees in reality" ( Ant. , Xiii , xvi, 2). So in the time of Christ, the Sanhedrin was formally led by the Sadducean high priests, but practically ruled by the Pharisees ( Ant. , Xviii , i, 4).

4. Jurisdiction:

In the time of Christ the Great Sanhedrin at Jerusalem enjoyed a very high measure of independence. It exercised not only civil jurisdiction, according to Jewish law, but also, in some degree, criminal. It had administrative authority and could order arrests by its own officers of justice ( Matthew 26:47;  Mark 14:43;  Acts 4:3;  Acts 5:17 f;   Acts 9:2; compare Ṣanhedrin 1 5). It was empowered to judge cases which did not involve capital punishment, which latter required the confirmation of the Roman procurator ( John 18:31; compare the Jerus Ṣanhedrin 1 1; 7 2 (p. 24); Josephus, Ant. , XX, ix, 1). But, as a rule, the procurator arranged his judgment in accordance with the demands of the Sanhedrin.

For one offense the Sanhedrin could put to death, on their own authority, even a Roman citizen, namely, in the case of a Gentile passing the fence which divided the inner court of the Temple from that of the Gentiles ( Bj , VI, ii, 4; Middōth 11 3; compare   Acts 21:28 ). The only case of capital punishment in connection with the Sanhedrin in the New Testament is that of our Lord. The stoning of Stephen ( Acts 7:54 ff) was probably the illegal act of an enraged multitude.

5. Place and Time of Meeting:

The Talmudic tradition names "the hall of hewn stone," which, according to Middōth 5 4, was on the south side of the great court, as the seat of the Great Sanhedrin ( Pē'āh 2 6; 'Ēdhuyōth 7 4, et al.). But the last sittings of the Sanhedrin were held in the city outside the Temple area ( Ṣanhedrin 41a; Shabbāth 15a; Rō'sh ha - shānāh 31a; ‛Abhōdhāh zārāh 8c). Josephus also mentions the place where the bouleutaı́ , "the councilors," met as the boulḗ , outside the Temple ( Bj , V, iv, 2), and most probably he refers to these last sittings.

According to the Tōṣephta' Ṣanhedrin 7 1, the Sanhedrin held its sittings from the time of the offering of the daily morning sacrifice till that of the evening sacrifice. There were no sittings on Sabbaths or feast days.

6. Procedure:

The members of the Sanhedrin were arranged in a semicircle, so that they could see each other ( Ṣanhedrin 4 3; Tōṣephta' 8 1). The two notaries stood before them, whose duty it was to record the votes (see 3, above). The prisoner had to appear in humble attitude and dressed it, mourning ( Ant. , Xiv , ix, 4). A sentence of capital punishment could not be passed on the day of the trial. The decision of the judges had to be examined on the following day ( Ṣanhedrin 4 1), except in the case of a person who misled the people, who could be tried and condemned the same day or in the night ( Tōṣephta' Ṣanhedrin 10). Because of this, cases which involved capital punishment were not tried on a Friday or on any day before a feast. A herald preceded the condemned one as he was led to the place of execution, and cried out: "N. the son of N. has been found guilty of death, etc. If anyone knows anything to clear him, let him come forward and declare it" ( Ṣanhedrin 6 1). Near the place of execution the condemned man was asked to confess his guilt in order that he might partake in the world to come (ibid.; compare   Luke 23:41-43 ).


Our knowledge about the Sanhedrin is based on three sources: the New Testament, Josephus, and the Jewish tradition-literature (especially Mishna, Ṣanhedrin and Maḳḳōth , best edition, Strack, with German translation, Schriften des Institutum Judaicum in Berlin , N. 38, Leipzig, 1910). See the article, Talmud .

Consult the following histories of the Jewish people: Ewald, Herzfeld, Gratz, but especially Schurer's excellent Hjp , much more fully in Gjv 4  ; also G. A. Smith, Jerusalem . Special treatises on Sanhedrin: D. Hoffmann, Der oberste Gerichtsh of in der Stadt des Heiligtums , Berlin, 1878, where the author tries to defend the Jewish traditional view as to the antiquity of the Sanhedrin; J. Reifmann, Ṣanhedrin (in Hebrews), Berditschew, 1888; A. Kuenen, On the Composition of the Sanhedrin , in Dutch, translated into German by Budde, Gesammelte Abhandlungen , etc., 49-81, Freiburg, 1894; Jelski, Die innere Einrichtung des grossen Synedrions zu Jerusalem , Breslau, 1894, who tries to reconcile the Talmudical statements about the composition of the Sanhedrin with those of Josephus and the New Testament (especially in connection with the question of president) by showing that in the Mishna (except Ḥăghı̄ghāh 11 2) nāsı̄' always stands for the political president, the high priest, and 'abh - bēth - dı̄n for the scribal head of the Sanhedrin, and not for the vice-president; A. Buchler, Das Synedrium in Jerusalem und das grosse Beth-din in der Quaderkammer des jerusalemischen Tempels , Vienna, 1902, a very interesting but not convincing work, where the author, in order to reconcile the two different sets of sources, tries to prove that the great Sanhedrin of the Talmud is not identical with the Sanhedrin of Josephus and the New Testament, but that there were two Sanhedrins in Jerusalem, the one of the New Testament and Josephus being a political one, the other a religious one. He also thinks that Christ was seized, not by the Sanhedrin, but by the temple authorities.

See also W. Bacher's article in Hdb (excellent for sifting the Talmudic sources); Dr. Lauterbach's article in the Jewish Encyclopedia (accepts fully Biichler's view); H. Strack's article in Sch-Herz (concise and exact).