Sanhedrin refers to any and all law courts of ancient Israel. The Great Sanhedrin (which is what is usually thought of when the word "Sanhedrin" is batted about) convened in Jerusalem in the Chamber of Hewn Stone. It existed between circa 57 BCE until the abolishment of the rabbinic patriarchate in about 425 CE.

The Great Sanhedrin consisted of 71 members, including the president, called nasi (lit. "prince") and a vice president called av bet din (lit. "father of the court"). The group was divided into Chief Priests, Scribes, and Ancients, representing those versed in matters of law, The Law, and life, respectively.

The Great Sanhedrin had the powers equivalent to a Supreme Court. It was appealed to when lower courts were unable to come to a particular decision. It dealt not only with legislative and civil laws, but also with religious matters, such as the intricacies of the Torah and ritual law. The Great Sanhedrin reserved exclusively the right to make judgements in matters of special importance, such as the case of a false prophet (recall that whole Jesus fiasco), accusations against a high priest, the deployment of army troops, and ect. Their jurisdiction seemed to encompass all areas not claimed by the Roman authority.

The decisions of its judges were held to be inviolable; a scholar who went against it rulings was put to death as a zaken mamre (rebellious elder).

Criminal cases were tried before a commission of 23 members. In these cases, the younger members were the first to give their opinion. For an acquittal, a majority of one vote was enough. For a condemnation, a two-vote majority was required, except when all 71 members of the court were present.

Interesting lil'factoid: In 1807 Napoleon appointed a "French Sanhedrin" of 71 members, made up of both rabbis and laymen, to consider the relationship between Jews and the state.


cf. Jewish Sects and Orders

{Jewish Sects and Orders}

The word is a Hebraized form of the Greek sunedrion, "council": in the Talmud it is called bethdin, "house of judgement." The germ of this institution seems to have been in the appointment by Jehoshaphat of a court in Jerusalem, consisting of priests, Levites, and heads of families, "for the judgement of the LORD and for controversies." Of this court there were presidents - the high priest in matters ecclesiastical, the head of the tribe of Judah in matters secular (2 Chronicles 19:8-11). Nothing more of the court appears in the historical books.

The Greater Sanhedrin, or general council of the people, consisted, after the Mosiac precedent (Numbers 11:16), of seventy-one members, viz, the 24 Chief Priests, or heads of courses, 24 Elders, representing the laity, and 22 Scribes, or Lawyers, together with the high priest, who, if "endowed with wisdom," was the President (Nasi). It met in the hall of the temple, caled Gazzith, or "Squares," sitting every day excepting Sabbaths and festivals. Twenty-three were a quorum, without whose presence no business could be transacted. The Sanhedrin is sometimes described by phrases such as "the chief priests and the elders of the people" (Matthew 27:1), "their rulers and elders and scribes" (Acts 4:5), and, most generally, "chief priests and the scribes with the elders" (Luke 20:1). John appears to use the word "Pharisees" as a designation of the Sanhedrin (9:13; 11:46, etc.).

The chief function of the Sanhedrin was to watch over the religious life of the nation, taking special cognizance of the purity of the priesthood and their families, investigating alleged cases of departure from the faith. Is also adjudicated in ecclesiastical and secular disputes, and acted even as a check upon the highest authorities in Church or State. This Herod himself in his younger days was summoned before the Sanhedrin to answer for his severities when governor of Galilee.

The Sanhedrin had power to punish by fine or imprisonment, stripes or death; but under the Romans the right of carrying out a capital sentence was taken away, or rigidly restricted (John 18:31). Stephen's martyrdom was a mob proceeding.

A Lower Sanhedrin - of 23 where the adults exceeded 120, and of 3 elsewhere - was organized in every town, subject to the Greater Sanhedrin (Matthew 5:22).

San"he*drin (?), San"he*drim (?), n. [Heb. sanhedrin, fr. Gr. ; with + a seat, fr. to sit. See Sit.] Jewish Antiq.

the great council of the Jews, which consisted of seventy members, to whom the high priest was added. It had jurisdiction of religious matters.

© Webster 1913.

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