Continued research for my next historical novel: Peter and Paul.
Etymologically, Sanhedrin is a late Hebrew representation of the Greek word synedrion, meaning ‘sitting together’. In several aspects is it similar to the U.S. Senate, including the semi-circle seating of the senators. It resembles both the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Court. It represented the legislative body in Judea during the Roman period. Who knows what shenanigans go on in the “back-benches” of the U.S. Senate?
PS. This is the last commentary. Henceforth I’ll let you enjoy the novel in peace.
Sanhedrin (draft, excerpt)
You could tell how important they were by the grayness of their beards—never cut, cultivated as though adding legitimacy to the tasks they performed. Their job was but one: to maintain status quo. To maintain tradition they’ve built up over the years, ever since Moses led them to the Promised Land. An ancient, proud assembly.
They sat in a semicircle, mostly straight, some with a pronounced stoop as the hair got grayer. There was no perceptible expression on their faces. It was as if they were frozen in time, perhaps ready to be reawakened when the time was ripe.
They where the Sanhedrin. The wisest of the wise.
The Sanhedrin met in the Lishkat Ha-Gazith, known to the Greeks and other gentiles as the Hall of Hewn Stones. The vast chamber was built into the north wall of the Temple Mount. Half of the hall was inside the sanctuary, the other half projected outside. Access to the chamber was both from outside courtyard of the gentiles and from the Temple. As its location suggested, the Sanhedrin dealt with civil and sacred matters alike.
Usually twenty-three elders met to deal with everyday affairs. On such occasions, behind the columns there was ample space for the members stretch their stiff bones, before resuming their deliberations. On special occasions, to deal with matters of particular importance the Great Sanhedrin would swell to seventy-one members.
When the session called for full complement of sages, they often spilled down the broad steps onto the courtyard to discuss matters, before resuming their seats for the vote.
At the head of the Council, exactly in the geometric centre of the semicircle, sat the President, or Nasi, with the Chancellor, Av beis din, sitting on his right hand. When in session, the other sixty-nine general members took their place on either side, embracing the inner space with two long, curved arms. The number seventy-one precluded the possibility of a tie in their judgment. Usually one of guilty. The innocent had no reason for being here.
The members of the Sanhedrin were not elected. Anyone proving superior scholarship of Jewish Law could displace any current member of the assembly. The Greeks found it a strangely democratic notion.
No one, not one sane man or woman would want to stand facing the semicircle of judges. Only one Man dared, and He is dead now. No matter, the Sanhedrin continued to sit together. Their eyes were cool, indifferent, without feeling. The Law was supreme—or their interpretation of it. The Law descending directly from Yahweh. Neither love nor mercy entered into their deliberations. Just justice. The old, traditional, heartless, absolute justice.
(to be continued)