The Sanhedrin
The Sanhedrin was the Jewish religious council in Jerusalem. It had 71 members and met twice a week in the Temple building. The Sanhedrin enacted laws and regulated religious life. It was presided over by the High Priest and had its own Temple police or guards to maintain order.

The members of the Sanhedrin fell into two groups:

The Sadducees were priests who came from the wealthy families of Jerusalem. They were particularly concerned with the running of the Temple and its religious ceremonies. They did not accept the authority of any other holy books other than the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). This meant that they did not believe in life after death, which is not mentioned in the Torah (they believed everyone went to Sheol, a watery place beneath the earth). They also had no tradition about God sending a Messiah. Because of this the Sadducees would not have regarded Jesus favourably, as he did teach about life after death, and was regarded by many as the promised Messiah.

In order to hold on to their positions of wealth and influence, the Sadducees co-operated with the Roman occupying authorities. This meant that they were unpopular with the ordinary people.

Jesus before the Sanhedrin

The opponents of the Sadducees on the council were the Pharisees (meaning 'separate ones'). The Pharisees were religious teachers who were very popular with the ordinary people. Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees also accepted other books in the Jewish scriptures than the Torah, such as the Prophets and other writings. This meant that they believed in life after death and that God would one day send a Messiah to lead them to freedom and peace.

The Pharisees' attitude towards the Roman occupation was to see it as a punishment from God. They believed strongly that God would deliver them from occupation, perhaps by sending the promised Messiah, if people became more religious and followed God's laws. Therefore they tried to have as little to do with the Romans as possible.

Because the Pharisees stuck very strictly to every detail of Jewish law, today their name has become an adjective (pharisaic) to describe people who are more concerned with the letter of the law rather than the spirit behind it. This is probably an unfair description. Jesus is often referred to in the Gospels as debating religious ideas with the Pharisees, and some Christians think that Jesus may even have been a Pharisee himself. (More about this when you get to A-level!)

High Priest
The president or chairman of the Sanhedrin was always a Sadducee. At the time of Jesus he was appointed by the Roman Governor so that the Romans could influence the Sanhedrin's decisions. High Priests often came from the same family, and it was possible to hold the office more than once. The Gospels are not entirely clear about whether it was Caiaphas or his father-in-law Annas, who questioned Jesus at his trial (see John 18.13-24) - both were High Priests around that time.

Although the council could pass a death sentence, under the Roman occupation it could not carry it out. In the year 70 CE, after the four year war against the Romans, the Temple was destroyed and the Sanhedrin moved to Jamnia, but had lost much of its power and influence.

  © Mr.B at Farcaster Communications

House in Jerusalem believed
to have been that of Caiaphas