SANHEDRIM (Gr. synedrion), the supreme national tribunal of the Jews. established at the time of the Maccabees, probably under John Hyrcan. It consisted of 71 members, and was presided over by the nasi (prince), at whose side stood the ab-beth-din (father of the tribunal). Its members belonged to the different classes of society: there were priests (arehiereis); elders, that is, beads of families, men of age and experience (Ives Niteroi); scribes, or doctors of the law (grammateis); and others, exalted by eminent learning—the sole condition for admission into this assembly. The presidentship was conferred on the high-priest in preference, if he happened to possess the requisite quali ties of eminence: otherwise "he who excels all others in wisdom." was appointed, irre spective of his station. The limits of its jurisdiction are not known with certainty; but there is no doubt that the supreme decision over life and death, the ordeal of a suspected wife, and the like criminal matters, were exclusively in its hands. Besides this, how ever, the regulation of the sacred times and seasons, and many matters connected with the cuitits in general, except the sacerdotal part, which was regulated by a special court , of priests, were vested in it. It fixed the beginnings of the new moons; intercalated the years, when necessary; watched over the purity of the priestly families, by carefully examining the pedigrees of those priests horn out of Palestine, so that none born from a suspicious or ill-famed mother should be admitted to the sacred service; and the like. By degrees the whole internal administration of the commonwealth was vested in this body, and it became necessary to establish minor courts, similarly composed, all over the country, and Jerusalem itself. Thus we hear of two inferior tribunals at Jerusalem, each consisting of 23 men, and others consisting of three men only. These courts of 23 itett (lesser svnedrion), however, as well as those of the three men, about both of which Josephus is silent, probably represent only smaller or larger committees chosen from the general body. Excluded from the office of judge were those born iu adultery; men born of non-Israelitish parents; gamblers; usurers; those who sold fruit grown in the Sabbatical year; and, in single cases, near relatives. AU these were also not admitted as witnesses. Two scribes were always present, one registeritng the condemnatory, the other the exculpatory votes. The mode of procedure was exceedingly complicated; and
such was the caution of the court, especially in matters of life and death, that capital punishment was pronounced in the rarest instances only. The !Iasi had the supreme direction of the court, and convoked it when necessary. He sat at the head, and to his right hand was the seat of the, ab-betli-din; the rest of the 71 took their places according to their dignity, in front of them, in form of a semicircle, so that they could be seen by both the chief officers. The lictors, or "sheriffs," were always present at the session. The court met on extraordinary occasions in the house of the high-priest; its general place of assembly, however, was a certain hall (G7tatt kagaziz), probably situated at the s.e. corner of one of the courts of the temple. With exception of Sabbath and feast days, it met daily. The political troubles forced the sanhedrim (70 B.C.) to change its abode, which was first transferred to certain bazaars (hannyoth) at the foot of the temple mount. After the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, it finally established itself, after many further emigrations, in Babylon.
We cannot here enter into that most difficult question as to the origin and de'velop rnent of the sanhedrim, and how far it was intended primarily to he a faithful repro duction of the Mosaic assembly of the 70 (Moses himself making 71), supposed to have been re-established by Ezra after the exile; any more than we can examine in this place into the widely different opinions respecting the jurisdiction and competence of the sanliedrim at. the time of Christ and the apostles; how far, In fact, it may be said to have existed at all—save for a few matters of smallest importance—curtailed and cir cumscribed as it was by the Romans, who seem to have recognized only the " high priest;" and that collateral-but most vital question, whether it was the sanhedrim at all from whom emanated those well-known acts recorded in the New Testament. There can be no question as to its utter incompetence to arraign Christ for a " crimen liesal majestatis, ' i.e., for high treason'against the Roman emperor. No less difficult is the explanation of many of the proceedings against the apostles ascribed to this body. The suggestion that the word synedrion, as used in the New Testament, stands only for an arbitrarily convoked "lynch-tribunal," deserves more consideration than it has hitherto received.