A council of elders. Moses was assisted by a council of seventy elders (Num. xi. 16), and the elders as representatives of the people of Israel are often referred to (I Kings viii. 1, xx. 7; II Kings x. 1; Ezek. xiv. 1, xx. 1), not as an organized magistracy, but as men that appeared as leaders of the people in time of need. Traditional literature regards them as an actual magistracy, which exercised authority as such even in the time of the Judges (Mishnah Abot i. 1). Josephus also designates as a γερονσία the body of men appointed to assist Moses ("Ant." iv. 8, § 14). Actual magistrates were appointed only under Jehoshaphat (II Chron. xix. 8), forming a court and not an advisory body. The elders are mentioned under Ezra as taking part in the government (Ezra x. 8), while by Nehemiah they are called "nobles" and "rulers" (Neh. ii. 16, iv. 13, v. 7, vii. 5). Once (Neh. v. 17) the number of these nobles () is given as 150, which would seem to indicate an organized body. It is probable that this body developed into the one which is known in rabbinical sources as the "Great Synagogue." According to the so-called "Breviarium Philonis" (Herzfeld, "Geschichte des Volkes Yisrael," i. 581, iii. 396), the elders ruled in Israel down to Hasmonean times. The first definite traces of a gerusia at Jerusalem are found in the reign of Antiochus the Great (223-187
The existence of the gerusia in the period of the Maccabees is indicated in various sources. It existed under Judah (II Macc. i. 10, iv. 44, xi. 27), the "elders of the people" (I Macc. vii. 33) being probably its members. It occurs again under Jonathan, in the correspondence of the Jews with the Spartans (I Macc. xii. 6; "Ant." xiii. 5, § 8)—where the Jews write in the name of the high priest, the gerusia, the priests, and the people—and in the answer of the Spartans, where "elders" is used for "gerusia" (I Macc. xiv. 20; comp. ib. xi. 23, xii. 35). The elders are again mentioned under Simon (ib. xiii. 36; xiv. 20, 28). According to the last passage, the priests, the people, the archons, and the elders constituted a great legislative assembly, and it may be inferred from this that the "Great Synagogue" of the rabbinical sources really existed, inasmuch as it seems probable that the gerusia on important occasions actually took on the form of such a "Great Synagogue," and furthermore that it was not composed solely of the aristocracy. The gerusia is also presupposed in the Book of Judith, which must be ascribed to the time of the Maccabees (Judith iv. 8, xi. 14, xv. 8).
The Greek word πρεσβύτεροι has exactly the same meaning as the Hebrew and it is perhaps the elders that are referred to in a prophecy which some scholars date at the Greek period (Duhm to Isa. xxiv. 23). Ḥanukkah, a Maccabean institution, is also aptly designated as a "law of the elders" (Pesiḳ. R. 3 [ed. Friedmann, p. 7b]; see "R. E. J." xxx. 214). The "court of the Hasmoneans," mentioned several times in Talmudic sources ('Ab. Zarah 36b; comp. Mishnah Mid. i. 6), may be identical with the Hasmonean gerusia. The elders are again mentioned under Queen Alexandra ("Ant." xiii. 16, § 5). Under Roman influence, in 63
In addition to the gerusia at Jerusalem, according to Philo ("Adversus Flaccum," § 10) there was one at Alexandria under Augustus; other authorities, however, mention only an ethnarch in this city. Flaccus had thirty-eight members of this gerusia killed in the theater. According to several inscriptions in the catacombs, there was a gerusia at Rome. A man by the name of Ursacius, from Aquileia, became its president (Vogelstein and Rieger, "Geschichte der Juden in Rom," i. 61), and a certain Asterius is also mentioned as president (Garrucci, "Cimitero . . . in Vigna Randanini," p. 51). The catacomb inscriptions also record the existence of a gerusia at Venosa ("R. E. J." vi. 204). At Berenice there were nine gerusiarchs ("C. I. G." No. 5261). There was a gerusiarch at Constantinople with the title "president of the elders," according to Reinach; but Willrich takes the phrase to mean the "president of the chorus of the old men" ("Zeitschrift für Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft," i. 95, note 3).
- J. Jelski, Die Innere Einrichtung des Grossen Synedrions zu Jerusalem, pp. 19-20, Breslau, 1894;
- S. Krauss, in J. Q. R. x. 348;
- Wellhausen, Israelitische und Jüdische Gesch. 1894, pp. 235-238;
- Willrich, Judaica, p. 155, note 1, Göttingen, 1900;
- Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., ii. 193 et seq.;
- Büchler, Das Synhedrion in Jerusalem, pp. 82, 218, Vienna, 1902;
- Weiss, Dor, i. 109;
- Grätz, Gesch. 4th ed., iii. 100.