What Was The Sanhedrin?


In response to questions about the ancient Sanhedrin (assembly), I will try to briefly clarify their organization and purpose. Described as a “house of scholars” by many, it was part of a bicameral system, a form of rabbinic parliament which formed the legislature and supreme judicial body of Jewish law. They met to have rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs, and history.
This legal body represented the rights and obligations of the people, helping to define and implement Torah – Judaism’s essential religious and legal texts. Called “the great court” during the Second Temple period (515 bc – ad 70), the 71 men who sat on the court sought to glorify God’s words as given in Torah.
These seventy-one wise men met in the Temple at Jerusalem. Many towns also had small Sanhedrins. There were two chief functionaries: the Nasi (prince, chief) and the Av Bet Din (elder of the court). The other 69 members were chosen by scholarship and could be replaced at any time by one with greater learning. Decisions were made by majority vote. They judged lawbreakers but could not make arrests – two witnesses were necessary for conviction. They met during days but not during holidays.
The Great Sanhedrin dealt with religious and ritualistic Temple matters, criminal matters appertaining to the secular court, proceedings in connection with the discovery of a corpse, trials of adulterous wives, tithes, preparation of Torah Scrolls for the king and the Temple, drawing up the calendar and the solving of difficulties relating to ritual law. The rabbinate patriarchy was abolished around the 5th century and the Sanhedrin legislature was abandoned.
A new Sanhedrin has been formed in Israel with seven sitting scholars. It is referred to there as the “nascent Sanhedrin” but it has no legal standing there. Their current agenda is full of fascinating issues and ideas. Anyone wishing to know more about the “nascent” Sanhedrin may email me at: comeuntochrist@att.net for more info.
In this current dispensation (the dispensation of the fullness of times) as part of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are now eight quorums (groups) of Seventies or Area presidencies who help the twelve apostles with their duties. They are volunteers who serve in as spiritual leaders throughout the world at the request of the Prophet of the church, currently Thomas S. Monson.

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