Continuing the mini-series on the Woman caught in adultery.
(And for those who are interested… some of this is researched for book 2 in the Apostle John series, Grow in Grace, currently in review. This is one of the things the Apostle John is asked to explain.) Information on the first book in the series here
Last time I looked at the ‘stoning’ command. Here in part two, I look at the judicial system – all to better understand what happened in John 8 when the woman was brought before Jesus.
The ‘elders’ of Israel ‘sat’ (held court) in the city gate. They were the ones who had the responsibility to judge matters. According to many sources, including the Jewish virtual library, the origin of the elders as ‘judges’ of the people was in Exodus 18 when Jethro, Moses father in law, advised it.
In Numbers 11 after Moses complained to God about the responsibility…
So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather to me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over the; bring then to the tabernacle of meeting that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you thee. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them, and; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it alone. Numbers 11:16, 17
Elders hearing cases continued. It was their court system.
Most of those ancient cities were surrounded by a wall for protection. In those walls were many gates, but there would be one main gate – and this is where the elders ‘held court’. It was probably a space, even a room, built into the wall but open to view. (My apologies, I did have research material on this… still do, but I am unable to ‘put my hand on it’ at present. Therefore I cannot credit where I read this.)
So the judicial system in ancient Israel was to take matters to the elders in the gate. With stoning, as with any offence, the people bringing the charge also had to bring their witnesses.
By Jesus’ time, the system of the ‘elders’ had been replaced by the Sanhedrin. From Wikipedia
The Sanhedrin met in a building known as the Hall of Hewn Stones (Lishkat Ha-Gazith), which has been placed by the Talmud and many scholars as built into the north wall of the Temple Mount, half inside the sanctuary and half outside, with doors providing access both to the Temple and to the outside. The name presumably arises to distinguish it from the buildings in the Temple complex used for ritual purposes, which had to be constructed of stones unhewn by any iron implements.
A Lesser Sanhedrin of 23 members (it had to be an odd number to avoid deadlock), was able to try ‘minor’ matters. However the Great Sanhedrin, 71 members, was responsible for selecting future kings and judges of lower courts, as well as declaring war on other nations. The Great Sanhedrim was required to uphold the death sentence before an execution could take place.
In summary, people could not simply pick up stones and throw them at a person they believed had broken one of the laws that ‘qualified’ for capital punishment. If they had done that, then they would have broken the 6th commandment, ‘you shall not kill.’ There was a clearly defined system, set in place by God whereby the court system He set in place judged accused people.
Next week we will look at Jesus’ response when the people brought Him the woman taken in adultery.
Tread softly, you may be treading on someone’s dreams