On Shekalim 13b it states.
(a)All the seventy members of the Sanhedrin had to understand all seventy languages - and at least two had to be able to speak them.
(b)If three were able to speak all the languages - it was considered an average Beis-Din, and if there were four, it was considered a wise one.
(c)The Sanhedrin of Yavneh was a wise Beis-Din, inasmuch as it included four members who could speak all seventy languages -Ben Azai, Ben Zoma, Ben Chachinai and Rebbi Elazar ben Masya.
Is it possible that an individual knew and spoke 70 languages? Finding someone nowadays who speaks 10 languages is very hard. Maybe this refers to dialects? Is it possible this is some sort of parable (mashal).
In the below link you discuss this topic. Firstly I would like to suggest that sanhedrin 13b adds names of 4 rabanim who actually knew 70 languages. However this begs the question of why are these 4 listed. At face value it seems because they served together on one sanhedrin. Was it the only time in history that you had 4 who knew 70 on one sanhedrin, or maybe they were actually from different periods of time and they were the only four ever to know 70?
Perhaps when it says sanhedrin has to know 70 it means that each member knew more than one and as a collective they had to know 70. And the four individuals listed were the heads of 4 sanhedrin throughout history that knew all 70 (as a collective).
Ilya Pittel, Israel
1) Ilya, I will stand by what I wrote, bs'd, in the link that you cited, that it is not actually a Halachic requirement that everyone on the Sanhedrin must know 70 languages. The crucial thing to know is that the Rambam Hilchot Sanhedrin 2:6 writes that one should make an effort and look for judges who know most of the languges. The Kesef Mishneh writes that the Rambam wrote that the judge should know most languages because it is a strange thing to find somebody who knows 70. Kesef Mishneh writes that whilst ideally one should try and obtain such people, the Sanhedrin is kasher without this.
2) Yes, it is quite possible that the Sanhedrin of Yavneh was the only one ever to possess 4 dayanim who knew 70 languages. However, these 4 were all contemporaries. The proof for this is the Tosefta Masechet Berachot chapter 4 Halacha 16 which cites an incident where 4 elders sat together in the Gate House of Rabbi Yehoshua. The 4 elders were Elazar ben Matia, Chanina ben Chacinai, Shimon ben Azai and Shimon Hateimani. 3 of those are amongst those mentioned in Shekalim 13b as part of the Sanhedrin of Yavneh.
3) There are a number of proofs that Ban Zoma and Ben Azai were contemporaries. One is from Sanhedrin 17b which tells us that "those who judged before the Chachamim" were Shimon ben Azai and Shimon ben Zoma.
It is very unusual for someone to know 70 languges but there have been a few very great people in history who achieved this.
[By the way, I think there was a typo and you wrote, a couple of times, Sanhedrin 13b instead of Shekalim 13b]