As stated previously, the Supreme Court was comprised of twenty-four Sadducees (chief priests), twenty-four Pharisees (Elders), twenty-two scribes (Pharisees) and one high priest, but the Pharisees were not permitted to judge capital cases. While the membership was seventy-one, only twenty-three of a “Small Sanhedrin” was needed to conduct a trial. Therefore, the term “whole Sanhedrin” or “entire court” has a reference to the minimum number required for a trial, not the full membership of the court. Of the twenty-three, eleven votes were needed to acquit and thirteen votes were needed for conviction. The number of court members present at the trial of Jesus is unknown.
For centuries, the Sanhedrin was the institution that shaped the religious life of all Jews. It was renowned for its compassion, fairness, and mercy. In 30 B.C., Rabbi Hillel became the President of the Supreme Court. He was one of the most influential religious leaders of the Second Temple Period and his name has been associated with the best rabbinic schools in Jewish history. His presidency, of four decades, was likewise known for compassion and wisdom. He probably was in this office when Herod the Great questioned rabbis and the magi as to where the Christ was to be born (Mt. 2:3-5). Hillel was also the grandfather of Gamaliel, the teacher of Saul of Tarsus, who became known as the Apostle Paul. However, shortly after his death, Annas was appointed to the presidency and the moral character of the sacred institution collapsed. The Sanhedrin continued to be in a moral free-fall during the time of Jesus, and because of high court’s condemnation of Him it would lose its reputation, and eventually fade from history.
15.03.01.Q1 What 25 rules of justice were broken by the Sanhedrin when the high court condemned Jesus to death?
The religious aristocrats had no shortage of reasons to execute Jesus. In their desperate process to have Jesus executed, they violated a host of oral laws of jurisprudence, as recorded in the tractate “Sanhedrin” of the Mishnah. Note the following violations:
- There was to be no arrest by ecclesiastical authorities that was influenced by a bribe (Ex. 23:8).
- There was to be no trial after sunset (after three stars appear in the sky).
- No judges were permitted in the arrest of the accused, so as to keep judges unbiased.
- No trials were to be held before the morning sacrifice.
- No trials were to be held on the Sabbath or on the eve of the Sabbath.
- All trials were to be public. Secrecy of any form was forbidden.
- Trials were to be held only in the Hall of Judgment (Chamber of Hewn Stone).
- Judges were not to argue for a conviction of the accused.
- Every accused person was to have at least one defender.
- Capital cases had to be tried over a minimum of two days.
- The high priest (Caiaphas) was not permitted to tear his clothing.
- Charges against the accused could not originate with the judges.
- Once a trial began, no additional charges could be added to the original charge.
- The charge of blasphemy was applicable if the accused applied the Name of God (YHWH) to himself or if the defendant pronounced the name of God.
- The accused could not be condemned by his testimony alone, but had to be in perfect agreement with two or three witnesses (Deut. 17:6).
- Judges were not permitted to question the accused, only the witnesses.
- If a guilty verdict was to be pronounced, it had to be given on the day following the trial.
- The condemned was not permitted to be executed on the same day as his sentence was pronounced. (Since Herod the Great decreed that the authority of capital punishment be removed from the Sanhedrin – except for Gentiles who entered the holy areas of the temple – this exception was in force prior to Herod’s decree.)
- Any judge who had a personal interest or conflict with the accused had to remove himself from the judicial process.
- Among the judges, the youngest had to vote first as not to be influenced or persuaded by the older and more experienced judges.
- No Baal-Rib, or legal counsel, was appointed to defend Jesus.
- No witnesses were called to defend Jesus.
- The proper procedure for a trial was,
- First the accusation
- Then the defense
- A defendant could not be beaten, tortured, or scourged prior to the trial.
- Judges were to be kind and humane to the defendant.
Concerning any final decision of the Sanhedrin:
- If a trial was concluded with a favorable verdict, it could be concluded on the same day as it began.
- If an unfavorable verdict was given then it must be concluded on the following day.
- No announcement was to be given at night.
These rules were intended to protect the accused and prevent any possible error of an inaccurate verdict. Therefore, no such trial could legally have been held on the day prior to a Sabbath or festival. The three Jewish trials of Jesus would fail on every count, and be uniquely different from any other.
. The Sanhedrin was dissolved in 358 but resurrected later for a short period of time in 1806 by Napoleon where it functioned near Paris. It was discontinued with the rise of anti-Semitism. But the high court was finally re-eastablished in Israel in October of 2004.
. See 12.04.08.Q1 What were the 12 reasons the Jewish leadership planned the death of Jesus?
. The complete judicial procedure for the high court is found in the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.1 through 5.5.
. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:1.
. Judas was paid a bribe of thirty pieces of silver.
. Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 2:517-18.
. See Appendix 21 for the seven proclamations of the innocence of Jesus.