[b-hebrew] HAROLD Re: Sanhedrin

Harold Holmyard hholmyard at ont.com
Mon Sep 4 06:41:44 EDT 2006

Dear Shoshanna,

>There were local courts, and there was the supreme court which met in 
>the Beit HaMikdash.  Great and lesser Sanhedrins.
>The function of the Lesser Sanhedrins was SPECIFICALLY to judge 
>capital cases (except for capital punishment for high officials - 
>that goes to the Great Sanhedrin) - the judges of the Lesser 
>Sanhedrin only hear cases where the accused faces the death penalty. 
>It has no legislative, executive or administrative functions (but 
>they didn't have this authority if the Great Sanhedrin did not meet 
>in the Lishkat haGazit).  Unlike the singular Great Sanhedrin there 
>are numerous Lesser Sanhedrins, one for each city that has a 
>population of at least 120 men.
>That is how they knew that the court in these verses is the Lesser 
>Sanhedrin - there is no after the fact anything - this is where they 
>learned how many should sit in the lesser Sanhedrins.
>Additionally there are two special Lesser Sanhedrins, one of which 
>meets at the entrance to the Holy Temple and the other which meets at 
>the entrance to the Temple mount.  These last two courts serve a 
>special function in determining the law.

HH: All this is interesting, but there is little evidence that it goes 
back to pre-exilic times.

>Why do you say "after the fact" - do you think that we didn't need 
>judges and courts "before the fact"?  Anyway, what fact are you 
>talking about?   And you didn't answer all my questions - do you 
>think that the Talmud and Mishna just made things up?  Even peoples' 

HH: Yes, you needed judges and courts, but that does not mean that you 
necessarily had the Sanhedrin. The fact I was talking about was the 
existence of the Sanhedrin in the first and second centuries, and 
perhaps back to the Exile.  At this point I can't say whether the Talmud 
made up things. I just know I don't find it authoritative often when it 
talks about Scripture. It gives incorrect interpretations of Scripture. 
Yonah says it was giving reasons for the 23 members in the smaller 
Sanhedrin using Scripture, but giving misinterpretations of Scripture 
means that the reasons are meaningless. You have not clarified which 
Mordecai you were talking about, but the biblical Mordecai is dated 
differently than the one you mentioned, as Peter pointed out. Of course, 
this goes back to the date for Ahasuerus.

HH: I read the Sanhedrin site you talked about, and they did give a 
couple of pre-exilic details from Jewish tradition.  I don't know what 
to make of them:

The origin of the Sanhedrin can be found in the Council of the seventy 
elders founded by Moshe Rabbenu (Moses): "Gather to Me 70 men of the 
elders of Israel... and bring them to the Tent of Meeting, so that they 
should stand there with you" (Numbers 11:16). This was the first 
Sanhedrin. Counting Moses himself, it consisted of 71 members. Further, 
G-d commanded Moshe Rabbenu to lay hands on Yehoshua [Joshua] son of 
Nun. It is from this point that the Sanhedrin is considered as 
beginning. As individuals within the Sanhedrin passed away, or otherwise 
became unfit for service, new members underwent Semicha  ordination. 
These ordinations continued, in an unbroken line: from Moshe Rabbenu to 
Yehoshua, to the elders, to the prophets (including Ezra, Nehemiah), to 
the Knesses HaGedolah or Great Assembly, to the sages of the Sanhedrin. 
It was not until several hundred years after the destruction of the 
Second Temple that this line was broken, and the Sanhedrin dissolved.

References to the Sanhedrin can be found in the council created by 
Yehoshafat: "Moreover in Jerusalem, Yehoshaphat appointed Levites and 
priests, and of the heads of the fathers' houses of Israel, for the 
judgment of the L-rd, and for controversies. They returned to 
Jerusalem." (2 Chronicles 19:8)  According to the Talmud (Meod Katon, 
26a), King Saul was president of the Sanhedrin in his reign, and his son 
Jonathan was vice-president.

Harold Holmyard

>HH: I am having the same problem the Jewish Encyclopedia was having.
>>Or a disbelief in the historic records that the Mishna and Talmud
>>recorded for us, including the records of where it was moved to,
>>under whose leadership, who were the heads, some of whom were Judges,
>>when the heads were "pairs" - nesiim and avot beit din, etc.
>>We even know the NAMES of who headed various Sanhedrins.
>>King David, by the way, WAS a prophet, and ALSO the head of the
>>Sanhedrin of his time.
>>What, do you think any, all or some of  these facts were made up?
>>Translated from the Talmud:
>>The Great (Sanhedrin) consisted of seventy-one, and the small of
>>twenty-three. Whence do we deduce that the great council must be of
>>seventy-one? From [Num. xi. 16]: "Gather unto me seventy men." And
>>add Moses, who was the head of them--hence seventy-one? And whence do
>>we deduce that a small one, must be twenty-three? From [ibid. xxxv.
>>24 and 25]: "The congregation shall judge"; "And the congregation
>>shall save." 1 We see that one congregation judges, and the other
>>congregation saves-hence there are twenty; as a congregation consists
>>of no less than ten persons, and this is deduced from [ibid. xiv.
>>27], "To this evil congregation," which was of the ten spies, except
>>Joshua and Caleb. And whence do we deduce that three more are needed?
>>From [Ex. xxiii. 2]: Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do
>>evil"--from which we infer that you shall follow them to do good. But
>>if so, why is it written at the end of the same verse, "Incline after
>>the majority, to wrest judgment"? 2 This means, the inclination to
>>free the man must not be similar to the inclination to condemn; as to
>>condemn a majority of two is needed, while to free, the majority of
>>one suffices. And a court must not consist of an even number, as, if
>>their opinion is halved, no verdict can be established; therefore one
>>more must be added. Hence it is of twenty-three.
>HH: This is one of the reasons I don't automatically trust the Talmud.
>Numbers 35:24-25 is not talking about two different judicial bodies. The
>rabbis often use Scripture to support their own ideas. This looks like
>an after-the-fact attempt to give a rationale for the composition of
>Sanhedrin that existed at a much later time, perhaps the first or second
>century of the common era.
>Harold Holmyard
>b-hebrew mailing list
>b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
>b-hebrew mailing list
>b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list