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Groupthink and the Sanhedrin: An analysis of the ancient court of Israel through the lens of modern social psychology

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Purpose ‐ Despite the emphasis on contemporary historical case studies in groupthink research, Janis believed that examining decision-making processes recorded in antiquity was also relevant. However, neither Janis nor other groupthink researchers have adequately explored the model among decision-making bodies described in earlier history. The current paper aims to begin to fill this gap by analyzing the judicial and legislative body of ancient Israel, known as the "Sanhedrin," in the context of Janis's groupthink model. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The authors focus on classic Jewish rabbinic sources such as the Mishna, Talmud, and writings of Maimonides, exploring the functioning of the Sanhedrin, the authoritative body of ancient Israel, in the context of Irving Janis's groupthink model. Findings ‐ The authors highlight the insightful ways the Sanhedrin's members may have avoided groupthink and the symptoms of defective decision-making that have plagued other groups. Research limitations/implications ‐ The authors' analysis enables them to further understand the rationale behind many of the Sanhedrin's unique regulations, granting insight into an important and authoritative ancient group. Practical implications ‐ This analysis of the Sanhedrin's procedures also highlights multiple practical ways that Janis's ideas and prescriptions may be implemented by juries, modern day managers, and organizational bodies. Originality/value ‐ The authors are the first to explore the functioning of the Sanhedrin in the context of the groupthink model, highlighting the insightful ways its members may have avoided the symptoms of defective decision-making that have plagued other groups. Their approach should be of interest to researchers and theorists in both the fields of management and history. Importantly, they include practical application relevant to the science of modern organizational behavior.
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Keywords: Group thinking; Groupthink; History; Israel; Management; Sanhedrin

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 22 June 2012

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