sanhedrin jerusalem authority
SYNEDRIUM (o-vvaplov), a Greek word which means "assembly" and is especially used of judicial or representative assemblies, is the name by which (or by its Hebrew transcription, i'1lr1)0, sanhedrin, sanhedrinz) that Jewish body is known which in its origin was the municipal council of Jerusalem, but acquired extended functions and no small authority and influence over the Jews at large (see vol. xiii. p. 424 sq.). In the Mishnah it is called "the sanhedrin," "the great sanhedrin," "the sanhedrin of seventy-one [members]," and "the great court of justice" (bah din kaggadtil). The oldest testimony to the existence and constitution of the synedrium of Jerusalem is probably to be found in 2 Chron. xix. 8; for the priests, Levites, and hereditary heads of houses there spoken of as sitting at Jerusalem as a court of appeal from the local judicatories does not correspond with anything mentioned in the old history, and it is the practice of the Chronicler to refer the institutions of his own time to an origin in ancient Israel. And just such an aristocratic council is what seems to be meant by the gerusia or senate of " elders " repeatedly mentioned in the history of the Jews, both under the Greeks from the time of Antiochus the Great (Jos., Ant., xii. 3, 3) and under the Hasmonean high priests and princes, The high priest as the head of the state was doubtless also the head of the senate, which, according to Eastern usage, exercised both judicial and administrative or political functions (comp. 1 Mac. xii. 6, xiv. 20). The exact measure of its authority must have varied from time to time, at first with the measure of autonomy left to the nation by its foreign lords and afterwards with the more or less autocratic power claimed by the native sovereigns.
As has been shown in vol. xiii. p. 424 sq., the original aristocratic constitution of the senate began to be modified under the later Hasmoneans by the inevitable introduction of representatives of the rising party of the Pharisees, and this new element gained strength under Herod the Great, the bitter enemy of the priestly aristocracy.' Finally under the Roman procurators the synedrium was left under the presidency of the chief priest as the highest native tribunal, though without the power of life and death (John xviii. 31). The aristocratic element now again preponderated, as appears from Josephus and from the New Testament, in which "chief priests" and " rulers " are synonymous expressions. But with these there sat also " scribes " or trained legal doctors of the Pharisees and other notables, who are simply called " elders " (Mark xv. 1). The Jewish tradition which regards the synedrium as entirely composed of rabbins sitting under the presidency and vice-presidency of a pair of chief doctors, the nisi and db Wit din,2 is quite false as regards the true synedrium. It was after the fall of the state that a merely rabbinical bah din sat at Jabneh and afterwards at Tiberias, and gave legal responses to those who chose to admit a judicature not recognized by the civil power. Gradually this illegal court usurped such authority that it even ventured to pronounce capital sentences, - acting, however, with so much secrecy as to allow the Roman authorities to close their eyes to its proceedings (Origen, .En. ad Afr., § 14). That this was possible will appear less surprising if we remember that in like manner the synedrium of Jerusalem was able to extend an authority not sanctioned by Roman law over Jews beyond Juda, e.g., in Damascus (Acts ix. 2; xxii. 5).
The council-chamber (pouX7j) where the synedrium usually sat was between the Xystus and the temple, probably on the temple-hill, but hardly, as the Mishnah states, `within the inner court. The meeting in the palace of the high priest which condemned our Lord was exceptional. The proceedings also on this occasion were highly irregular, if measured by the rules of procedure which, according to Jewish tradition, were laid down to secure order and a fair trial for the accused.
Of the older literature of the subject it is enough to cite Selden, De Synedittc. The most important critical discussion is that of Kuenen in the Versiagen, ezc., of the Amsterdam Academy, 1366, p. 131 sq. A good summary is given by Sehiirer, Geschichte des judischen Velkes, 2d ed., § 23, iii.