A remembrance of this place is in 2 Chronicles 26:6: but the chief fame of it is for the Sanhedrim, that was placed there, both before the destruction of Jerusalem and after.
Rabban Gamaliel, St. Paul's master, first presided there. Under whom came forth that cursed form of prayer, which they called "The prayer against heretics," composed by Samuel the Little, who died before the destruction of the city. Gamaliel died eighteen years before the Temple was destroyed; and his son Rabban Simeon succeeded him, who perished with the city.
Jerusalem being destroyed, Rabban Jochanan Ben Zaccai obtained of Titus the conqueror, that he might still receive and retain the Sanhedrim of Jabneh: which being granted by him, Jochanan himself was first president there; and after him, Rabban Gamaliel the second: and after him, R. Akibah. And this place was famous above all the other universities, except only the latest of all, -- viz. Tiberias: so that "The vineyard of Jabneh" became a proverb. "For there they sat in order, as a vineyard." And it is reported, "that there were there three hundred classes of scholars, -- or, at least, eighty." How long time Rabban Jochanan sat here, is doubted.
There are some, who attribute to him two years only; and others five: with whom we consent. This Rabban Jochanan I very much suspect to be the same with that John, mentioned Acts 4:6. Omitting those things, which were done by him, while he remained at Jabneh, -- let me produce his dying words, as they are recited by his friends: "When Rabban Jochanan Ben Zaccai now lay languishing, his scholars came to visit him: whom he seeing began to weep. To whom they said, 'O thou light of Israel, thou right-hand pillar, thou strong hammer, whence are those tears?' To whom he replied, 'If men were about to carry me before a king of flesh and blood, who today is here, and tomorrow is in his grave, -- if he were angry with me, his anger is not everlasting; if he should cast me into bonds, his bonds are not eternal; if he should kill me, his killing would not be eternal: and I might perhaps pacify him with words, or soften him with a gift. But they are ready to lead me before the King of kings, the Lord, holy and blessed, who lives and lasts for ever, and for ever and ever; who if he be angry with me, his anger is eternal; if he bind me, his bond is eternal; if he kill me, his killing is eternal; and whom I cannot either appease with words, or soften with a gift. And moreover, there are two ways before me, one to paradise, another to hell; and I know not which way they will lead me. Should I not therefore weep?'" Ah! the miserable and fainting confidence of a Pharisee in death!
Rabban Gamaliel of Jabneh, a busy and severe man, succeeded Jochanan. Being to be slain with his father, Rabban Simeon, -- by the intercession of Rabban Jochanan he was delivered. Being also sought for to be slain, when Turnus Rufus (in Josephus, Terentius Rufus) ploughed up the floor of the Temple, he was delivered by a way scarcely credible. Sitting in Jabneh he removed R. Akibah, head at that time of the school of Lydda, from his headship; and he at last was removed from his, and over him was placed R. Eleazar Ben Azarias. R. Akibah succeeded him, and sat forty years, and died a fool, being deceived by Ben Cozba, and slain with him: and the university was removed from Jabneh to Usha.
"Jabneh stands two parsae" (that is, eight miles) "from Azotus: and was at last called Ivelyn." They are the words of Benjamin, in his Itinerary [p.51].