The tragedy of Calvary: or the minute details of Christ's life from Palm Sunday morning till the resurrection and ascension taken prophecy, history, revelations and ancient writings by Meagher, Jas. L. (James Luke), 1848-1920
|The False Witnesses (Les faux témoins), 1886-1894. James Tissot|
But some Christians hold that the council Moses formed lasted only for a time, that the court which condemned the Lord to death had been established only after the Greek conquest of Palestine, claiming that its Greek name, Presbyterium, shows it to have risen long-after Moses' day.
Livy writes that it was the senate which administered the government of the Jewish nation. (xiv. 32.) In the year 47 before Christ, Herod was brought to trial before this supreme court for usurping its authority in putting men to death. (Josephus, Antiq. xiv. 9, sec. 4.) The Books of Machabees mention this ancient senate, or sanhedrin. ( II. Mach. i. 10 ; iv. 44 ; xi. 27, etc.)
Philo, Josephus, or the Mishna, say nothing about its constitution, but from other sources we gather that the tribunal was composed of the high priest, ex-high priests who had sat on Moses' chair, the chief priests, heads of the twenty-four " courses " into which David had divided Aaron's descendants, elders, scribes, lawyers and rabbis of age and experience.
The judges were to the number of seventy-one—all writers agreeing on this. The Mishna says: " The great Sanhedrin consists of seventy-one judges." (San., 1. 6, quoting Numb. xi. 16.) Baronius and other Catholic writers, with some other non-Catholics, hold that there were seventy-two, on the ground that Eldad and Medad (Numb. xi. 26.) remained in the camp and should have belonged to this senate.
The president was called Nazi, " prince," and he was generally the high priest. It was the high priest Caiphas who presided at the condemnation of Christ on Friday night and morning. (Matt. xxvi. 59.) The vice-president, called " Father of the House of Judgment," sat at the right hand of the president. Some writers speak of a second vice-president, called " The Wise," but this office is not certain. The Babylonian Gemara states that there were two scribes, one of whom registered the votes for the acquittal of the prisoner, and the other for his condemnation. There were also attendants, or lictors, who were officers of court, (Matt. xxvi. 59 ; Mark xiv. 54.) as well as other officials who executed the decrees.
When in session the court sat in the form of a half circle. (Gem. Hieros., Const VII., ad. Sanh. i.) The president sat in the middle of the large divan around the hall. The vice-president was at his right hand, and the other judges ranged according to their age and dignity along the half circle. All wore their turbans, their feet being curled up under them. Hillel was made president for life, and after his death the high priest was always chosen presiding judge. When voting the lowest in dignity gave his opinion first, and then the next till the high priest voted last.
Trials before the Sanhedrin were carried on according to regular rules of evidence, and the maxim was : " The Sanhedrin was to save, not to destroy life." No one could be condemned in his absence, and when a criminal was brought before the court, it was the duty of the president to admonish the witnesses of the value of human life, and to forget nothing they could say in the prisoner's favor. A Baal-Rib, " attorney," or "counsel" was appointed to defend him if he had none, and everything was done to acquit him. If one of the judges voted to acquit him, he could not vote later for his condemnation, and it required a majority of at least two thirds to condemn to death.
While the verdict of acquittal could be given at once, a sentence of death had to be postponed till the next day. Courts could not be held on the Sabbath, nor at night. The judges who condemned to death had all to fast the day before pronouncing sentence, and no one could be executed on the day the sentence was handed down. These were the wise, humane rules laid down for the court in criminal cases. But not one of them was followed at the trial of Christ, because the judges were all filled with hatred and fury against him. (Josephus xiv. ix., 3 ; Life. 12.)
Josephus tells us that the judges had so degenerated in those days, that it was but a prostitution of justice. He says " Fictitious tribunals and judicatures were set up, and men called together to act as judges, though they had not authority when it was desired to secure the death of an opponent." (Beljud. ix. 4-5.) The judicial murder of Christ had been so keenly felt by the Hebrew nation, that soon after His time, the doctrine was inserted in the Talmud, that any one who falsely gave himself out as a Messiah, or led the people away from the religion of their fathers, could be arrested, tried, and executed, the same day. But this hardly agrees with the other statement of the same work, that forty days before the crucifixion, criers went through the streets and called out for witnesses against Christ, when the great national Sanhedrin was about to meet. (Toledoth Jesu Van der Alm. 1841.)
In the hall called the Gazith, " Hewn Marble Stones." (Talmud. Tract Yomah and Tract Day of Atonement p. 24. Also Lightfoot, 1, 2003.) in the southeast corner of the court of the Temple building, the Sanhedrin sat as a court, passed judgment on criminals, and examined priests before hands of ordination were laid on them. But while Christ was preaching in Galilee, the court was removed to another building, but within the Temple area. (Talmud Babyl. Aboth Zara Ad Shn. Gem., V.) Special sessions could be held at the high priest's house, and that was the reason Christ was brought before the high priests that night, although night sessions were forbidden. But they thought the case was urgent, and if they did not hold it that night, they could not open court till the end of the Passover, which lasted till the twenty-first of the moon. God foresaw this when He ordered the Passover lamb sacrificed on the fourteenth moon in the evening.
After the destruction of the city, in the year 70, by the Romans under Titus, the sessions were held in the city of Tiberias, built by Herod on the shores of Galilee.
The case of a tribe fallen into idolatry, high priests accused of high crimes and misdemeanors, false prophets, priests accused of crime, people accused of blasphemy, and matters of national importance were brought before this court. It was as a false prophet that Christ was put on trial. (John xi. 47.) Later, Peter, John, Stephen, Paul, and other Christians (Acts vii.) were brought to trial as teachers of false doctrines and deceivers of the people. At first the Sanhedrin could condemn to death, but Herod and the Romans took away this power before Christ's trial, and this is why they had to bring him before Pilate. (John xviii. 31.) Beyond arresting and condemning a culprit to death, they could not execute him, for the confirmation and execution of the sentence belonged to the Roman procurator. The stoning of St. Stephen was a fanatical uprising (Acts vii. 54, etc.) and against the laws. Josephus says that the destruction of the city by the Romans was a punishment on them for the death of St. James, first bishop of the city, whom they killed while the procurator was absent. (Josephus, Antiq. xx. 9. sec 1.)
The Talmud mentions the lesser sanhedrin of twenty, three members sitting in every city of not less than 120 Jewish families. This council had charge of the local or home government of each city, and this lower court sat every week on Mondays and Thursdays. They heard minor cases, administered the ecclesiastical business, as well as looked after the administration of the civil government, and they put into execution the decrees of the great council or supreme Sanhedrin.
As soon as the Temple services ended, and while Jesus was preaching and healing the sick in the Temple area on this Monday, the members of the local sanhedrin met in their hall to take measures for his arrest. Some weeks before, after the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the great national or supreme Sanhedrin had met and condemned him to death. But they had fixed on no definite plan of putting the decree into execution.
"Many therefore of the Jews, who were come to Mary and Martha, and had seen the things that Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things that Jesus had done. The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council and said:
"What do we ? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him alone so, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our place and nation.
"But one of them, named Caiphas, being the high priest of that year, said to them, You know nothing at all. Neither do you consider that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
"And this he spoke not of himself, but being the high priest of that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation. And not only for the nation, but to gather together in one the children of God, that were dispersed. From that day, therefore, they devised to put him to death. Therefore Jesus walked no more openly among the Jews, but went into a country near the desert, unto a city that is called Ephrem, and there he abode with his disciples." (John xi. 46-54.)
Dying Jacob, their father, saw this council and said: " Let not my soul go into their counsel, nor my glory be in their assembly, because in their fury they slew a man, Cursed be their fury because it was stubborn, and their wrath because it was cruel." (Gen. xlix. 6, 7.) Of this meeting David said : " Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly . . . nor sat in the chair of pestilence." (Psalm i. 5.) The prophet Isaias said," Take counsel together, gather a council, make thy shadow as the night in midday." (Isaias xvi. 3.)
They could not find him in the distant city by the desert, where he had retired after he had raised Lazarus from the tomb, who had lain four days dead. But now, as a good Jew, he had come to the great Easter feast. His time hidden in God's secret designs, and foretold by the great prophets of Israel had come. He was now in the Temple performing wonders, healing all diseases of soul and body, all the people were gathering around him, their jealousy ran riot, and they were roused to the highest fury against him.
The regular weekly meeting of the local sanhedrin was accustomed to sit every Monday, and the judges took their seats to hear the cases. The chief case brought before that meeting was that of Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be the foretold Messiah.
First there were seven judges in each city. (Josephus, Antiq., B. iv., C. viii., 14.) Later they appointed twenty-three judges. The great national supreme court or Sanhedrin appointed the judges of the local courts, formed of twenty-three members in every city and town of Jewry. Each judge was inducted into the office by the laying on of the hands of at least three magistrates of the great national Sanhedrin, one of whom must trace his ordination down from Moses and Josue. The qualifications for the office were the same as St. Paul gives for a bishop. (I. Tim. ii. 12.) They claimed that they alone had the " power of the Keys to bind or loose " in the administration of justice. These words were used by Christ when giving his commission to Peter. The expression was common in the courts of Judea long before our Lord's time.
Caiphas the high priest was the chief-justice or Nazi, " The Prince." He sat in the middle, having at his right hand his father-in-law, Annas, as the Ab-Beth-Din : " The Father of the Law Court." The other judges took their places according to age and service,—eleven on each side of Caiphas. At each end of the line of Judges sat a short hand writer to take down the testimony for and against the accused. Facing the court were famous scribes, lawyers learned in the law, who made their living practising before the courts.
The accused had the right of at least one lawyer to appear for and defend him. But we do not find any record that counsel appeared to defend Christ, who did not personally appear, nor did the court name any one to defend him. The accused might be pronounced guilty the day of the trial, but a sentence of death could not be handed down before the next day. These were the rules of procedure in Jewish courts.