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Historic Jesus

The Sanhedrin or "council" was the chief judicial body among the Jews. Its origins were traced back to seventy elders whom Moscs had appointed to help him manage the affairs of the nation (Num, 11). According to tradition, Ezra reorganized the Sanhedrin after the Exile, and the Persians gave broad civil authority to the body to govern the affairs of the Jews. During the time of the Hasmoneans, the membership became increasingly aristocratic, with the chief priest as the presiding officer. By the time of Jesus, it comprised seventy-one members including the high priests-both present and former incumbents; members of the priestly families from which high priests were chosen; elders of the people-important tribal and clan leaders; and the scribes, or religious legal experts. The entire membership included both Pharisees and Sadducees, though during this period Pharisees predominated. Herod the Great preferred the more populist Pharisees to the aristocratic Sadducces.

The Sanhedrin dealt with both religious and civil cases. Rome gave the council great freedom to rule the Jewish community, reserving for itself only the authority to impose capital punishment. However Rome permitted the Sanhedrin to impose the death penalty when a Gentile went into the restricted areas of the temple. The Sanhedrin had its own police force and could make its own arrests for violations of its laws. Normally, the Sanhedrin met in a hall in the temple area. But it could be convened at the high priest's residence. Eventually, it moved to Tiberias in Galilee. In A.D. 70 it was disbanded. During the years of Jesus' ministry, the direct powers of the Sanhedrin were limited to Judea, so it had no civil authority over Jesus while he stayed in Galilee.