Discovering the Sanhedrin

New finds from the time of the Sanhedrin found in Yavne

Aerial photo of the excavations at Yavne.
Credit: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

Earlier this week, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discovery of a building in Yavne that dates to the time of the Jewish Sanhedrin (c. late first–second centuries C.E.). Nearby the team also found a large cemetery from the same period. The city of Yavne, located a few miles south of modern Tel Aviv, became the center of Jewish life following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. It was in Yavne that the Sanhedrin, a group of Jewish sages, was able to reestablish Jewish life and worship after the Temple’s destruction.

Tombs from the time of the Sanhedrin in Yavne

Tombs from the time of the Sanhedrin in Yavne.
Credit: Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

Although no direct evidence of the Sanhedrin or its early activities was discovered, the excavated building did contain several chalkstone cups, which were commonly used in the observance of Jewish purity laws at the time. Less than 100 yards from the building, the team also uncovered a large cemetery with dozens of graves that included several stone sarcophagi and one coffin made of lead. Found among the burials were more than 150 exquisite glass flasks that were left as grave goods. While it is difficult to know exactly who was buried in the cemetery, according to excavation directors Pablo Betzer and Daniel Varga, “at least some of the tombs, perhaps the most elaborate, may belong to the sages of Yavne.”

The glass phials as found on top of the tombs.
Photo: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

Jewish tradition remembers that during the Roman siege of Jerusalem, the sage Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai was smuggled out of the city and into the tent of the Roman general Vespasian who was soon to be named emperor. Yohanan ben Zakkai was able to convince Vespasian to allow him to reestablish the center of the Jewish faith in Yavne. It was in Yavne that Yohanan ben Zakkai led the Jewish Sanhedrin and the patriarchate, which would later establish the laws of Judaism without the Temple. Yohanan ben Zakkai was followed as leader of the Sanhedrin by Gamaliel the Second, the grandson of Gamaliel the Elder, the latter a leading Jewish figure who makes a truly dramatic appearance in Acts 5:33–40. Through this work, the Sanhedrin of Yavne, often referred to as the Sages of Yavne, was able to maintain and rebuild the Jewish faith.

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The excavation at Yavne is one of the largest ever conducted by the IAA. Earlier this year, it was announced that the exaction had uncovered the largest wine factory ever discovered from the Byzantine period (c. fourth–seventh centuries C.E.). Plans are already in the works for the site to be turned into an archaeological park. Before that happens, however, archaeologists fully expect more remarkable finds. According to IAA Director-General Eli Eskozido, “we are sure that Yavne has not yet had the last say.”


Credit: IAA Press video.

Read more in BHD:

Let the Wine Flow

Medieval Arabs Bathed Like Romans at Yavneh-Yam

Trove of Ancient Gold Coins Found in Yavneh Juglet

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