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GERUSIA (Gr. γερουσία), council of elders, common throughout the Hellenistic world (e.g., Sparta, Cyrene). Since the "elders" or "city elders" (Ziknei ha-Ir) are mentioned repeatedly in the Bible (cf. Deut. 19:12, 21:2ff.; Josh. 20:4; Judg. 8:14; i Sam. 9:3; i Kings 21:8,11; Ruth 4:2ff.), Josephus concludes that the earliest Jewish Gerusia dates back to biblical times, functioning as a high court together with the high priest and prophets (Ant. 4:218). During the Hellenistic period the Gerusia appears not merely as a legislative and judicial body, but as representative of the Jewish population of Judea. Thus in the famous edict of Antiochus iii the Great, following his conquest of Palestine, the Seleucid monarch describes the splendid reception given him by the Jews – in the person of the Gerusia (and not, as might have been expected, the high priest). As a result, the members of the Gerusia were exempted from a number of taxes, together with officials of the Temple (Ant. 12:138ff.). Similarly, Antiochus iv Epiphanes, in an epistle to the Jews, addresses his remarks to the Gerusia and not the high priest (ii Macc. 11:27). That the Jews of this period considered the Gerusia their official representative body is further apparent from the correspondence of "those in Jerusalem and Judea, the Gerusia, and Judah" to their brethren in Egypt during the early years of the Hasmonean rebellion (ii Macc. 1:10). When Jonathan became leader of the Jewish nation, the office of high priest was apparently formally recognized as representative of the people, and thus in a correspondence with the Spartans "Jonathan the high priest and the Gerusia" are listed together (i Macc. 12: 6; Jos., Ant. 13, 166).

It would be a mistake, however, to identify the Gerusia, which appears to be a permanent representative body of elders dating back to the Persian period (cf. Judith 4:8, 11: 14, 15:8), with the "Great Assembly" (keneset ha-gedolah), a body representing the total Jewish population of Palestine, and convened only when important constitutional decisions were taken. The "elders" are thus mentioned as a part of the Great Assembly that appointed Simeon high priest and leader of the Jewish nation (i Macc. 14:28). It is feasible, however, that the Gerusia eventually evolved into what became known as the "Sanhedrin" of Jerusalem, although the precise date of the introduction of this term is unknown (cf. H. Mantel, Studies in the History of the Sanhedrin (1961), 49–50, 61–62, for a summation of the numerous views on this problem). According to Philo (Flaccus, 10:74) there also existed a Jewish Gerusia in Alexandria, which during the rule of Augustus replaced the previous form of local Jewish leadership, the ethnarchate.


S.B. Hoenig, Great Sanhedrin (1953); Y.M. Grintz, Sefer Yehudit (1957), 105.

[Isaiah Gafni]