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Catholic Dictionary




The highest Jewish court, which functioned from the third or fouth century B.C., until the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. For several centuries earlier there were courts or councils in existence, but it was impossible to learn when a recognizable Sanhedrin took specific form. Josephus, the Jewish historian, was the first writer to name it specifically as functioning in the reign of Antiochus the Great. It was composed of seventy-one members, chosen from three classes of Jews--the elders of the chief families, the high priests, and the scribes, who were mostly lawyers from the Pharisee sect. The Sadducees were always well represented. The jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin was limited to Judaea, a fact that prevented the court from taking action against Jesus while he was preaching in Galilee. The Sanhedrin met in the Jerusalem Temple area. Any Jew could appear before it to seek clarification of the complexities of the Mosaic law. The court had the right to mete out punishment to law violators (Matthew 26:47-50; Mark 14:43-46), even to the extent of capital punishment (Mark 14:64; John 11:53). But, as it happened in the case of Jesus' Crucifixion, it had to secure the approval of the Roman procurator before such a sentence could be executed (Mark 15:1). Guilt for his unjust condemnation rested partly on the fanatical element in the Sanhedrin (John 18:31) and partly on the cynical Roman official willing to appease a turbulent local group (Mark 15:15). Persecution by the Sanhedrin did not end with Jesus' death. It continued after Pentecost, as int he case of Peter, John, Paul, and Stephen (Acts 4:3, 5:17-18, 5:33, 7:57-58, 23:1-10). (Etym. Greek synedrion, council, a sitting together.)