H. The Mishnah and the Great Sanhedrin

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The Mishnah (c. 200 CE) teaches that the 70 men with Moses constituted the greater Sanhedrin where it quotes from Num 11:16 discussed above. On page 383 of Danby's translation of the Mishnah, in Sanhedrin 1.6, we find (with Danby's additions in square brackets), “The greater Sanhedrin was made up of one and seventy [judges] and the lesser [Sanhedrin] of three and twenty. Whence do we learn that the greater Sanhedrin should be made up of one and seventy? It is written, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, and Moses added to them makes one and seventy.”

Although Num 35:24 mentions “the congregation shall judge”, the Tanak never defines the congregation in this sense as the 70 (or 71) elders. It may refer to any court that represents the people in any area of Israel through history. The Mishnah interprets Num 11:16 as the first great Sanhedrin in a succession through history in order to justify a major leadership role for a body of men who are
not necessarily Levites.

Deut 17:8-13 mentions the need to judge legal cases of dispute, and those who do the judging are referred to as priests, Levites, and judges in verse 9.

The word elder is not used here, thus negating the Mishnaic supposition that a collective of 70 elders was to continuously constitute a greater Sanhedrin. If this Mishnaic interpretation were true, there would be some clear evidence of it in the Tanak, which is often occupied with political conflict.

On page 382 of Danby's translation in Sanhedrin 1.2, authority to render calendric decisions is claimed for a small committee within the Sanhedrin, and there is no tribal requirement for this committee. It appears that the Mishnah is attempting to invent an entity that controls the calendar apart from the priesthood. As stated above, this Mishnaic concept is contradicted by Ps 133.

Positive evidence that calendric unity was only to be achieved through the authority of the Aaronic priesthood does exist in Ps 133. In that psalm the unity of the brethren was to be achieved through the anointing oil upon Aaron's beard, which symbolizes the bestowing of authority upon that priesthood to bring about unity.

This authority would be contradicted by some body of non-priests who would attempt to direct priests concerning the appropriate time to blow the two silver trumpets and declare which month is the first.