[b-hebrew] Was Daniel a prophet? Sanhedrin

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Sat Sep 2 21:02:38 EDT 2006

Dear Michael,

The Torah records that Moses appointed 70 elders to help him judge the 
people of Israel. As the encyclopedia correctly states, this "court" is not 
mentioned in later biblical (that is, Hebrew Bible/OT) sources, and as such, 
no historian, even one who did assume the historicity of the account in the 
Torah, would assume that it continued to exist. From a historical point of 
view, one would assume that during the Israelite monarchy, the kings stood 
at the head of the judicial system, as "separation of powers" was unheard of 
in the ancient world. Besides which, there are many references throughout 
the Bible of kings' dealing with judicial matters.

After the abolishment of the monarchy, we know that Jewish communities, both 
in the diaspora (Babylon, Persia, Egypt etc.) enjoyed a large measure of 
internal autonomy, and one would assume that this included various "court 
systems". The governor of the province of Judah would also had had some such 
system. We know (mostly from Josephus and Maccabees) that there was a 
"council of elders" in Jerusalem, called the "gerusia" (which means exactly 
what "senate" means in Latin - "elders". The earliest record that I know of 
a body called "sanhedrin" was during the Hasmonean period, in the late 
second century BCE. As far as we know from the records that we have, under 
the Hasmoneans, the Herodians and the Roman governors, this sanhedrin was 
mostly a glorified debating society, since anything really important was 
decided either by the king or the Roman governor.

After the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE), the sanhedrin was all 
that was left of Jewish autonomy, and became the center of Jewish 
(rabbinical) learning, moving from Yavneh (Iamnia) to various places in the 
Galilee, eventually settling in Tiberias. It was this body (more or less) 
that produced the Mishnah and the Jerusalem (or "Palestinian") Talmud, 
which, together with the Babylonian Talmud, form the basic texts of the Oral 

Now comes the part that's going to ruffle some feathers: In order to bolster 
their own authority (against various "heretical" groups such as the 
Sadducees and, yes, early Christians as well), the rabbis sort of 
"glorified" their own past: they considered themselves to be the direct 
heirs of Moses' 70 elders, and assumed that this body, whether called 
"Sanhedrin" or not, had always existed. Righteous kings, such as David and 
Solomon, "obviously" ruled with the consent of the Sanhedrin. Evil kings, 
such as Ahab or Menasseh, persecuted its members. Leading biblical figures 
such as Joshua, Boaz, Samuel, Elijah, Mordechai and Ezra were each head of 
their respective generations' Sanhedrin. And so the authority of the rabbis 
stretched back, unbroken, all the way to Moses.

Is there any written evidence of all this? Of course not - that's why it's 
called the ORAL Torah. Only after the destruction of the Second Temple, when 
persecution by the Romans threatened to disrupt the chain of succession, 
were the oral traditions put into writing.

One of the most important consequences of this line of thinking is a total 
minimization of prophecy as an independent medium for expressing God's 
will - God gave the Torah ONCE - to Moses. All later prophecy was meant only 
to either warn the people of the consequences of not following the law, or 
to comfort them in times of trouble. The only people who have authority to 
actually interpret and rule on the Law are the rabbis. There are several 
well-known stories in the Talmud of the voice of God appearing to rule on 
matters of law, and the rabbis refusing to accept its authority.

Now, some people, including some on this list, take all of this literally 
and accept every word of the rabbis as divine truth. This is as much a 
matter of faith, as is taking biblical prophecy as really predicting the 
future, or, for that matter, even believing in the existence of God. I would 
not attempt to argue with those who do. But for those who do not consider 
the rabbinic traditions to have divine authority, I hope that the above will 
help put things into perspective.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Michael Abernathy" <mabernathy714 at comcast.net>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Sunday, September 03, 2006 1:12 AM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Was Daniel a prophet? Sanhedrin

>I have a few questions about this discussion I hope some of you may be
> able to expound on.
> First, I note that the on line version of the Jewish encyclopedia (
> http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=229&letter=S )
> states, ". . . but the fact that no passage whatever in the pre-exilic
> books of the Bible refers to this institution seems to indicate that
> it was not introduced before the time of the Second Temple." Is there
> any written or archaeological evidence for the existence
> of the Sanhedrin in pre-exilic times?
> Second, would the Sanhedrin have made a decision on those prophets who
> were living in other nations such as Israel during the divided kingdom
> or Daniel?
> Third, were those judgments recorded in any surviving documents or would
> they only be known in oral traditions?
> If they were known in oral traditions, do you apply any historical
> methodology to determine which traditions are authentic? Or is the
> assumption that any tradition not accepted by modern Judaism is a false
> tradition?
> Sincerely,
> Michael Abernathy
> -- 
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