The Supreme Council of the Jewish nation comprising the Great Sanhedrin was made up of 71 members including the High Priest, who was the leader and spokesman. Orthodox Jews ascribe the origin of the Sanhedrin to Moses, and identify it with the "elders of Israel". It was the supreme national-religious body and came into being about 200 years before Jesus as a limited form of self-government. The Sanhedrin was conceded to the Jews by foreign kings. They were drawn from the rulers, elders and scribes, but political power concentrated in the hands of the high priest and all who were with him, that is, the party of the Sadducees. There were three groups of the Sanhedrin: The chief priests; the ancients; and the Scribes, or doctors of the law. It was the final court of appeal for all Jews in Palestine in all matters that were not specifically reserved by the Roman procurator for its own jurisdiction. The Small Sanhedrin was a provincial court, which passed judgment on capital offenses which did not come under the jurisdiction of the Great Sanhedrin. The sending forth of the 70 by Jesus was like a Sanhedrin.

Under Herod, the Great Sanhedrin was shorn of all prerogatives as a participant in executive functions; it was useful as an instrument whereby the king might carry unpopular measures. Its prestige was still weighty, but its activity was more and more confined to the religious sphere. Under the Roman rule the power of inflicting capital punishment could not be exercised by the Sanhedrin without the sanction of the Roman procurator.

No doubt the Great Sanhedrin had heard of Jesus' activities in Galilee and had been watching him for some time with suspicion. As long as he remained in the northern province and not in Judea, He was not in their jurisdiction, but of Herod Antipas'. At the time of Jesus, the Sanhedrin was little better than a close, irreligious, unpatriotic confederacy of monopolizing and time-serving priests - the Boethusim, the Kamhits, the Phabis, the family of Hanan, mostly of non-Palestinian origin - who were supported by the government, but detested by the people.

To form a session of the Sanhedrin there must at least have been 23 members present. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the council. Before the trial, Jesus was probably questioned there at night, in violation of all Sanhedrin rules. According to Jewish law at that time, no-one could be arrested at night. It was illegal to hold court proceedings after sundown on the eve or the day of the Sabbath or a festival. The Great Sanhedrin could convene only in the Chamber of Hewn Stones, never in the palace of a High Priest or in any other dwelling. The one thing it could not do is pass the death sentence.
[289, 309, 319, 322, 324, 327, 334, 355, 356, 376, 377]

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