Jewish Literature in New Testament Times

The Sanhedrin


When Did the Sanhedrin Originate?

Jerusalem Temple CoinThe Sanhedrin were the recognized headship of the Jewish people, in ancient Israel, and they are mentioned in the New Testament, the writings of Josephus, and the tractates of the Mishnah. The Sanhedrin is thought to have originated in the 3rd century . B.C. It was composed of 70 members, mostly priests and Sadducean nobles, some Pharisees, scribes, and elders (leaders of each tribe), presided over by the high priest.

History of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was an organized Jewish Council of 70 men, these men formed the Supreme Court of ancient Israel. According to the ancient rabbis the Sanhedrin originated with the Council of the 70 elders appointed to assist Moses (Numbers 11:16, M. Sanhedrin 1:6). The rabbis taught that after the exile Ezra re-organized the Council. Historical evidence can only trace the Sanhedrin to about the middle of the third century BC. Josephus mentions the Sanhedrin in relation to Antiochus the Great about 200 BC. In the New Testament times the Sanhedrin was controlled by the wealthy Sadducees and the high priest was president, as indicated in Mark 14:53, and Acts 24:1.

The Meeting Place of the Sanhedrin. There has been little archaeological evidence regarding the Sanhedrin and where they assembled in Jerusalem. According to the Talmud the assembled on the southern side of the Temple compound, in the "Hall of Hewn Stone" (M. Mid. 5:4). When Jesus was on trial the Sanhedrin assembled at the palace of the high priest in the courtyard (Mark 14:53-55), but this does not seem to be the usual circumstances for a meeting.

Wikipedia. Greater and Lesser Sanhedrin. The Talmud (tractate Sanhedrin) identifies two classes of rabbinical courts called Sanhedrin, a Great Sanhedrin (בית דין הגדול) and a Lesser Sanhedrin (בית דין הקטן). Each city could have its own lesser Sanhedrin of 23 judges, but there could be only one Great Sanhedrin of 71, which among other roles acted as the Supreme Court, taking appeals from cases decided by lesser courts. The numbers of judges were predicated on eliminating the possibility of a tie and the last to cast their vote was the head of the court.

Ancient Council 
An Ancient Assembly

Also see Synagogues


Jewish Literature

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John 10:34 "Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law.."

Rabbinical Literature and Second Temple Judaism

Jerusalem Temple CoinThe Rabbinic Writings, The Mishnah, and the Talmud. During the first century A.D. the Pharisaic rabbis created many commentaries on the Torah. When Jesus began his ministry He attacked the Pharisees for putting their traditions above the word of God. All the writings and commentaries of the first two centuries A.D. were compiled and organized into a collection by a man named Judah Hanasi around 200 A.D. forming a collection called the Mishnah. The Pharisaic rabbis were known as the "Tannaim" which in Hebrew is translated teachers, and these men were the teachers who regulated the law. There was another collection of their commentary which was much smaller, it was known as the Tosefta which in Hebrew means "enlargement". The later commentaries on the Mishnah were made by "expositors".

Brief Historical Background

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