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, Nu 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, Mr 14:55; 15:1; Ac 4:7; 5:41; 6:12. Jews in foreign cities appear to have been amenable to this court in matters of religion, Ac 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, Joh 18:31. The Sanhedrin was probably the "council" referred to by our Lord, Mt 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 Mt 5:22.
Sanhedrin formed from the Greek sunedrion. Sanhedrin is the Chaldee form. (See COUNCIL.)
The Gr. word synedrion (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. Nu 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 (2Ch 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 (Ezr 5:5,9; 6:7,14; 10:8) and 'rulers' in the Book of Nehemiah (18/type/common'>Ne 2:18; 4:8,18; 5:7; 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
(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.
1. The origin of this assembly is traced in the Mishna to the seventy elders whom Moses was directed,
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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
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,
and Peter, John, Stephen and Paul as teachers of error and deceivers of the people. From
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.
The Talmud also mentions a lesser Sanhedrin of twenty-three members in every city in Palestine in which were not less than 120 householders.