(by Helen Bond). Reading through a few student essays recently (not from Edinburgh, I’d like to point out!), I was surprised by how many simply assume the presence of a formal, fixed council known as the Sanhedrin in first century Judaea. But perhaps students can’t be blamed too much; gospel commentators also show a remarkable resistance to dispense with the idea of a fixed council which governed Roman Judaea.
Yet several eminent scholars (E. P. Sanders, M. Goodman, J. S. McLaren, L. Levine, D. Goodblatt) have shown over the last few decades that the Great Council of 71 was simply wishful thinking on the part of the rabbis, and that government in Judaea operated principally through the high priest who – like other rulers in the ancient world – gathered an ad hoc group of friends and advisers around him to discuss the matter at hand. The time seems long overdue to relegate the idea of ‘the Sanhedrin’ finally to the mythic land where it belongs.