The story takes place during the time of the Babylonian exile, where Susanna, described as a beautiful and pious woman, lives with her husband Joakim in Babylon. One day, while bathing in her garden, two elderly judges secretly spy on her and attempt to extort sexual favors by threatening to accuse her
The story depicts a woman named Susanna, a wealthy Babylonian Jewish woman. Two judges conspire to entrap her, threatening to accuse her of adultery if she refuses to have sex with them, but due to her strong faith, she refuses their advances, and they take her to the court and accuse her.
The History of Susanna is an apocryphal addition to the Old Testament Book of Daniel; it appears in both the Septuagint (Greek) and Vulgate (Latin) versions. In the latter, it constitutes the last chapter, but in many editions of the former, it is the introductory chapter.
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The Story Of Susanna In The Bible
Susanna, the wife of Joachim, was one such example, who, although only mentioned in a short chapter in the Book of Daniel, provides the modern married woman with a plethora of lessons. Susanna, being an ideal model of purity, faithfulness, long-suffering, decency, and reliance on God, is the subject of this article.
The Book of Susanna (also known as History of Susannah and the Elders) is part of what is considered the Apocrypha / Deuterocanonical books and appears in the Old Testament of Catholic Bibles. The books of the Apocrypha were generally written in the roughly 400 years between the composition of the books in the Old and New Testaments, the intertestamental period. Susanna is one of 12-15 books generally recognized as comprising the Apocrypha.
Susanna is among the additions to the book of Daniel (as are Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews) and was most likely composed between 200–100 B.C. The Book of Daniel, written by the prophet Daniel himself (12:4) in the sixth century B.C., is placed in different locations of the Bible depending on the culture: the Jews place it among the Writings, dismissing its prophecies, while the English translations place it among the Major Prophets.
Towards the end of the book of Daniel is a dramatic tale about how the prophet saved an innocent woman named Susanna from the death penalty. It’s a story about attempted rape, the abuse of power, and the right to a fair trial.
What Was The Message of The Story of Susanna
The story of Susanna begins with a brief description of her family. Susanna was the daughter of Hilkiah, who was described as a God-fearing man (Daniel 13:2, NAB). Her parents were both just and careful to teach their daughter the Law of Moses. They preserved her chastity, given that they were living in the land of captivity and were surrounded by ungodly practices. Susanna’s parents realized the importance of raising their daughter in the way of the Lord and took care not only to teach her the law, but her parents lived a just life (Daniel 13:3, NAB), which was an example for Susanna to live by amongst the unrighteousness of society. In like manner, Susanna lived in righteousness and was a living example to her household.
Susanna was careful throughout her life not to show herself in public (Daniel 13:7, NAB); she was decent and careful in her dress and behavior, as reflected in the teachings of St. Peter:
“Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands” (1 Peter 3:3-5).
As such, she took care not to be a stumbling block to others around her. She was responsible and consciously aware of those around her, only exposing herself after the assembly left her husband’s orchard, and when she asked to be left alone to bath, ensured no one was with her in the compound. In gracefulness she retained honour (Proverbs 11:16), and this honour became that of her husband, Joakim, who was described as the most honourable of all the Jews (Daniel 13:4, NAB). We see here the compatibility of both husband and wife, not so much of earthly similarity, but a compatibility based on the heavenly qualities. More so, Joakim was attracted to Hilkiah and his family to take a daughter for himself which was pure and righteous. Here we see that Hilkiah took care to ensure that his daughter was given to an honourable man, such that her companion would be compatible, just as Hilkiah was with his wife. The married life of Susanna was shown to be a reflection of her upbringing in dealing with her own children, husband, and throughout the hardship she was to experience.
Susanna’s Relation to Her Husband
Susanna was an honorable wife who sought to preserve the honor of her husband. It was written that she went out to the orchard only after the people had departed, not showing herself to them. Her character earned the trust of her husband, such that although she was accused of sexual misconduct, her husband kept her in his home and did not cast her out. More so, Joakim, being full of wisdom, must have heard of the accusation the day of the incident and did not rush to conclusions or raise hazardous suspicions. This connotes great love between them, which lives out all storms.
Her Purity and the Sin
Susanna was an example of Joseph the righteous, who, in the same manner, resisted Potipher’s temptation and saw it better to please God than men. It was best to honor God rather than men. Her sole reason to refute their demands was that she did not want to sin in the sight of God, and by raising her voice and pleading for help, she took an active approach to protecting her purity, just as Joseph did by fleeing. During her trial, Susanna arrived, covering her face from the people, possibly not out of shame, as she knew in her heart she was innocent, but because of her modesty. We can smell the sweet-smelling incense she produced while she was walking through the fire of her tribulation, and it is remarkable how she maintained her modesty and upheld her morals. During her trial, Susanna did not argue with her accusers, who bore false witness against her, but rather, she said it was better for herself to plead before God rather than before men. She did not seek protection from her father or husband, but instead she cried to the Lord in her defense and saw it better to empty herself before the Lord.
“Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice and said: ‘O eternal God, who know hidden things, who know all things before they come to pass, you know that they have borne false witness against me; and behold, I must die, whereas I have done none of these things, which these men have maliciously forged against me.’ And the Lord heard her voice” (Daniel 13:42–44, NAB).
It should be noted that her plea was made audible before all the people, thereby setting an example once again to the people to pray in the face of the impossible. In her distress, she cried, saying:
“In my distress, I called upon the Lord and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears” (Psalm 18:6).
As such, God heard her prayers: “And when she was led away to death, the Lord raised up the Holy Spirit of a young boy, whose name was Daniel” (Daniel 13:45, NAB). It was God who, through Daniel, defended her and exposed the evil of the two judges. God used Susanna as a tool to rectify the evil of the two judges, who oppressed many innocent people through unjust judgments. Furthermore, God gave a youth, Daniel, wisdom rather than to elders to reveal Susanna’s innocence, to further perpetuate the point that “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
She kept the Lord in her life and did not forsake Him throughout the trial or after the trial. During tribulations, men would blame God or say with Job’s wife, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Yet, God rewarded her patience and faith just as he did with Joseph. As St. Peter of Damascus says,
Every tribulation that we accept patiently is good and profitable, but if we do not accept it patiently, it drives us away from GOD and serves no useful purpose.
We find that after the ordeal, Susanna and all her household praised God:
“But Hilkiah, and his wife, praised God, for their daughter, Susanna, with Joakim, her husband, and all her kindred, because there was no dishonesty found in her” (Daniel 13:63, NAB).
Susanna’s innocence was a stamp on her conduct and lifestyle before all people, who, through witnessing her trial and outcome, may have repented from their ways. In like manner, we too must live a life that is conducive of purity and righteousness, thereby setting an example for our children and those around us. May we learn the life of purity and take Susanna as a righteous example and model to which we should emulate in our married lives, such as to bring ourselves and those around us to the glory of God, for as our Saviour teaches, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Susanna In The Bible KJV
The Book of Susanna is most commonly placed before the events of Daniel 1 (Theodotion tradition); however, the Septuagint and Vulgate editions position it between Daniel 12 and 14. Susanna’s strongest literary influences are the Old Testament books of Genesis, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, though, ironically, it is not dependent on Daniel itself. Though the early church originally considered it canonical, debate erupted to whether it should be excluded as early as the third century, as attested in the Letter to Africanus, a detailed correspondence between Africanus and Origen.
Susanna is a biblical figure who appears in the Book of Daniel (as chapter 13) by the Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, and Eastern Orthodox Churches. It is one of the additions to Daniel placed in the Apocrypha by Protestants, with Anabaptists, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists regarding it as non-canonical but useful for purposes of edification. The text is not included in the Jewish Tanakh and is not mentioned in early Jewish literature, although it does appear to have been part of the original Septuagint from the 2nd century BC. It was revised by Theodotion, a Hellenistic Jewish redactor of the Septuagint text (c. AD 150).
The story of Susanna is a classic “courtroom drama,” without the courtroom. It takes place in Babylon. As the heroine of the story, Susanna is described as a beautiful and devout woman. She was the daughter of Hilkiah and was raised according to the law of Moses. She was married to Joakim, a very wealthy Jew, who lived in a house with a fine garden.
The story of Susanna is a tale of false accusations and the triumph of justice. Two lecherous voyeurs falsely accused Susanna, a beautiful and devout woman, of adultery. As she bathes privately in her locked and walled garden, two elders, having previously said goodbye to each other, bump into each other again when they spy on her bathing. The two men realize they both lust for Susanna. When she makes her way back to her house, they accost her, demanding she have sexual intercourse with them. When she refuses, they have her arrested, claiming that the reason she sent her maids away was to be alone as she was having intercourse with a young man under a tree. She refuses to be blackmailed and is arrested and about to be put to death for adultery when the young Daniel interrupts the proceedings, shouting that the elders should be questioned to prevent the death of an innocent. After being separated, the two men are cross-examined about the details of what they saw but disagree about the tree under which Susanna supposedly met her lover. The false accusers are put to death, and virtue triumphs.
Both abiding in and refuting God’s Law are at the core of the Book of Susanna. From the beginning, we are told that Susanna had been trained “according to the law of Moses” (3), and this training is clearly visible throughout the text. When forced to choose between adultery or accusations of adultery (leading to certain death), Susanna is aware of God’s Law as it is written in Leviticus 20:10, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” and Deuteronomy 22:22, “If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.”
When facing possible rape (24), Susanna knows that the Law instructs that a woman must cry for help, for if she doesn’t, she will not be seen as having been violated (Deuteronomy 22:24). When placed on trial before the accusing elders, Susanna shouts to the Lord that “these men have given false evidence” (43), indicating her understanding of law in accordance with Deuteronomy 19:16-21. Later, it is Daniel who refers to the same law when asking, “Are you such fools, O Israelites, as to condemn a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts?” (48).
The “two elders from [whom] the people… appointed judges” (5), are clearly aware of the Law of Moses handed down from God but choose to disobey them. The elders “began to lust” after Susanna, despite the law in Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” Before they give false testimony against Susanna, they “laid their hands on her head,” as written in Leviticus 24:14, “Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands on his head, and let the whole congregation stone him.” The elders are clearly aware that two witnesses are required when trying a Jew that has been charged with a crime, as attested in Numbers 35:30, “No one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness” and Deuteronomy 17:6, “On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness.” In an ironic twist, when the elders are found to be liars and have mocked God’s Law, those same laws deal them their fate (62) in accordance with Deuteronomy 19:16-21.
The Book of Susanna, though brief, is a compelling book of innocence and man’s corruption of God’s Law. While not canonical, it is worthy of study and application to contemporary Judaism and Christianity, for it is a story which contains a message relevant to everyday life, even if it is considered a work of fiction by most Jews and Christians. By exploring its major religious ideas and Jewish thought in the period it was written, readers of Susanna may better understand the strengths and weaknesses of man’s application of God’s Law and that, no matter what, God will ensure that justice reigns.