Sanhedrin sănhĕdˈrĭn [key], ancient Jewish legal and religious institution in Jerusalem that appears to have exercised the functions of a court between c.63 b.c. and c.a.d. 68. The accounts of it in the Mishna do not correspond to those in Josephus or in the New Testament. Rabbinic sources generally portray it as a body of Torah scholars presided over by the leader of the Pharisees. Greek sources view it as an aristocratic council led by the high priest. Some sources describe a body of 71 members, others of 23 members. Some scholars maintain that there probably were two Sanhedrins—one political and civil, and the Great Sanhedrin, purely religious. In 1807, Napoleon appointed a “French Sanhedrin” of 71 members, made up of both rabbis and laymen, to consider the relationship between Jews and the state.

See H. Mantel, Studies in the History of the Sanhedrin (1961).

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