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Susanna: Chapter 1

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1There was a man living in Babylon whose name was Joakim. 2He married the daughter of Hilkiah, named Susanna, a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord. 3Her parents were righteous, and had trained their daughter according to the law of Moses. 4Joakim was very rich, and had a fine garden adjoining his house; the Jews used to come to him because he was the most honored of them all.

5That year two elders from the people were appointed as judges. Concerning them the Lord had said: “Wickedness came forth from Babylon, from elders who were judges, who were supposed to govern the people.” 6These men were frequently at Joakim's house, and all who had a case to be tried came to them there.

7When the people left at noon, Susanna would go into her husband's garden to walk. 8Every day the two elders used to see her, going in and walking about, and they began to lust for her. 9They suppressed their consciences and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering their duty to administer justice. 10Both were overwhelmed with passion for her, but they did not tell each other of their distress, 11for they were ashamed to disclose their lustful desire to seduce her. 12Day after day they watched eagerly to see her.

13One day they said to each other, “Let us go home, for it is time for lunch.” So they both left and parted from each other. 14But turning back, they met again; and when each pressed the other for the reason, they confessed their lust. Then together they arranged for a time when they could find her alone.

15Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was a hot day. 16No one was there except the two elders, who had hidden themselves and were watching her. 17She said to her maids, “Bring me olive oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I can bathe.” 18They did as she told them: they shut the doors of the garden and went out by the side doors to bring what they had been commanded; they did not see the elders, because they were hiding.

19When the maids had gone out, the two elders got up and ran to her. 20They said, “Look, the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us. We are burning with desire for you; so give your consent, and lie with us. 21If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you, and this was why you sent your maids away.”

22Susanna groaned and said, “I am completely trapped. For if I do this, it will mean death for me; if I do not, I cannot escape your hands. 23I choose not to do it; I will fall into your hands, rather than sin in the sight of the Lord.”

24Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and the two elders shouted against her. 25And one of them ran and opened the garden doors. 26When the people in the house heard the shouting in the garden, they rushed in at the side door to see what had happened to her. 27And when the elders told their story, the servants felt very much ashamed, for nothing like this had ever been said about Susanna.

28The next day, when the people gathered at the house of her husband Joakim, the two elders came, full of their wicked plot to have Susanna put to death. In the presence of the people they said, 29“Send for Susanna daughter of Hilkiah, the wife of Joakim.” 30So they sent for her. And she came with her parents, her children, and all her relatives.

31Now Susanna was a woman of great refinement and beautiful in appearance. 32As she was veiled, the scoundrels ordered her to be unveiled, so that they might feast their eyes on her beauty. 33Those who were with her and all who saw her were weeping.

34Then the two elders stood up before the people and laid their hands on her head. 35Through her tears she looked up toward Heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord. 36The elders said, “While we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids. 37Then a young man, who was hiding there, came to her and lay with her. 38We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them. 39Although we saw them embracing, we could not hold the man, because he was stronger than we, and he opened the doors and got away. 40We did, however, seize this woman and asked who the young man was, 41but she would not tell us. These things we testify.”

Because they were elders of the people and judges, the assembly believed them and condemned her to death.

42Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, “O eternal God, you know what is secret and are aware of all things before they come to be; 43you know that these men have given false evidence against me. And now I am to die, though I have done none of the wicked things that they have charged against me!”

44The Lord heard her cry. 45Just as she was being led off to execution, God stirred up the holy spirit of a young lad named Daniel, 46and he shouted with a loud voice, “I want no part in shedding this woman's blood!”

47All the people turned to him and asked, “What is this you are saying?” 48Taking his stand among them he said, “Are you such fools, O Israelites, as to condemn a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts? 49Return to court, for these men have given false evidence against her.”

50So all the people hurried back. And the rest of the a Gk he elders said to him, “Come, sit among us and inform us, for God has given you the standing of an elder.” 51Daniel said to them, “Separate them far from each other, and I will examine them.”

52When they were separated from each other, he summoned one of them and said to him, “You old relic of wicked days, your sins have now come home, which you have committed in the past, 53pronouncing unjust judgments, condemning the innocent and acquitting the guilty, though the Lord said, ‘You shall not put an innocent and righteous person to death.’ 54Now then, if you really saw this woman, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?” He answered, “Under a mastic tree.” b Other ancient authorities read you 55And Daniel said, “Very well! This lie has cost you your head, for the angel of God has received the sentence from God and will immediately cut b Other ancient authorities read you you in two.”

56Then, putting him to one side, he ordered them to bring the other. And he said to him, “You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has beguiled you and lust has perverted your heart. 57This is how you have been treating the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not tolerate your wickedness. 58Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?” He answered, “Under an evergreen oak.” c Other ancient authorities read your 59Daniel said to him, “Very well! This lie has cost you also your head, for the angel of God is waiting with his sword to split c Other ancient authorities read your you in two, so as to destroy you both.”

60Then the whole assembly raised a great shout and blessed God, who saves those who hope in him. 61And they took action against the two elders, because out of their own mouths Daniel had convicted them of bearing false witness; they did to them as they had wickedly planned to do to their neighbor. 62Acting in accordance with the law of Moses, they put them to death. Thus innocent blood was spared that day.

63Hilkiah and his wife praised God for their daughter Susanna, and so did her husband Joakim and all her relatives, because she was found innocent of a shameful deed. 64And from that day onward Daniel had a great reputation among the people.


d Gk he

a Other ancient authorities read you

b Other ancient authorities read your

Text Commentary view alone

1–4 : Introduction.

1 :

Set in Babylon, the story is typically dated during the Babylonian exile (587–538 BCE) because of its connection to Daniel; however, an exact date is never specified. Joakim does not appear to be connected to others with the same name in 2 Kings 24.15; Neh 12.10,12 26; or Jdt 4.6; 15.8

2 :

Susanna, the name, which means “lily,” appears in Luke 8.3 , but not elsewhere in the Jewish or Christian canons. It is attested in Neo‐Babylonian sources. Hilkiah was a common name in priestly circles (2 Kings 22.4; Neh 12.7; Jer 1.1 ) and so perhaps suggests that Susanna's father was a priest. Beauty and piety are typically associated with heroines in the Apocrypha (Jdt 8.7–8; Tob 6.12; Esth 2.7,20 [LXX]).

4 :

The prosperity of some Jews in Babylon is attested by archaeological findings (see also Jer 29.5–7; 2 Esd 3.1b–2 ). Joakim's honor appears based on wealth. Garden (Gk “Paradeisos”) describes Eden (Gen 2–3 ) and the setting of the Song of Solomon ( 4.13 ).

5–14 : The elders' plot.

5 :

The year is not identified. Elders, community leaders (Ruth 4; Ezek 8.1; 14.1; 20.1; Jer 29.1 ). Wickedness came forth is unattested in existing prophetic books, but see Jer 23.14–15; the church fathers Origin and Jerome associate the reference with Jer 29.20–23

8 :

Lust, in violation of Ex 20.17

9 :

Heaven is a circumlocution for God.

15–21 : The attempted rape.

15 :

Contrary to most artistic depictions, Susanna never actually bathes. In the garden, the scene recollects both depictions of luxuriant beauty and physical love in the Song of Solomon and the garden of Eden (Gen 2–3 ) as a site of temptation. Bathe suggests both Bathsheba (2 Sam 11 ) and observations in Jewish‐Hellenistic literature (Jubilees 22 ; Testament of Reuben 3) that Reuben sinned with Bilhah after seeing her bathe. Maids frequently accompany heroines in the Apocrypha (Jdt, Tob, Add Esth )

17 :

Oil and ointments, compare 2 Sam 12.20; Ruth 3.3; Jdt 10.3 . Shut the garden doors attests to Susanna's modesty

20 :

Give your consent, Susanna's choice is adultery or death.

22–27 : Susanna's response.

22 :

Death, because adultery was a capital crime (Lev 20.10; Deut 22.21–24; see John 8.4–5 ). Susanna knows the “law of Moses” (v. 3 )

23 :

Sin in the sight of the Lord is the same concern voiced by Joseph in similar circumstances (Gen 39.9 )

24 :

Deut 22.24 legislates that a woman, facing rape, is to cry out with a loud voice; again, Susanna shows fidelity to the law

27 :

That servants would be ashamed indicates the substantial dishonor adulterous accusations bring to a house‐hold. Although the elders (v. 11 ) and servants feel shame, Susanna is never described in this manner, despite being placed in a situation of public humiliation (vv. 31–32 ). Nothing like this, although carrying an unblemished reputation, Susanna is presumed guilty.

28–41 : Accusation.

30 :

Susanna is accompanied by all her family except Joakim. The Septuagint (LXX) version notes that Susanna had four children.

31 :

Refinement and beauty are attributes of (Gk) Esther.

32 :

Veiled emphasizes her modesty; although the trial occurs in her home, the proceedings are public. To be unveiled in public would be humiliating; the LXX describes Susanna as being stripped (see Hos 2.3–10; Ezek 16.37–39 )

34 :

Laid their hands indicates that the elders serve as witnesses (Lev 24.14; see Lev 8.14,18,22; Ex 29.10,15,19 for sacrificial imagery, and Lev 16.21–22 for the scapegoat ritual). The elders planned to lay their hands upon Susanna in order to have sexual intercourse with her; now their gesture seeks to condemn her. Two witnesses are required (Num 35.30; Deut 17.6; 19.15 )

41 :

Condemned her without cross‐examination (Deut 19.15–21 ) or Susanna's own testimony; the “trial” is illegal according to both biblical and later rabbinic regulations.

42–43 : Susanna's prayer.

Like (Gk) Esther (14.3–19), Judith (9.2–14), and Sarah (Tob 2.10–15), as well as Azariah of the Additions to Daniel, Susanna offers personal prayer in a time of distress

42 :

Know what is secret is a divine attribute stressed in Dan 2.22

43 :

Given false evidence, Susanna's prayer locates God as the (true) judge and jury even as it, again, shows her knowledge of the law (Deut 19.16–21 ). Now I am to die leaves Susanna's request for justice implicit.

44–49 : Daniel responds.

44 :

God responds to Susanna's prayer, not to the events that prompted it.

45 :

Young lad contrasts Daniel with the “elders”; the term indicates a youth of marriageable age (Tob 5.17 ) and subtly recalls the “young man” the elders claimed was with Susanna ( 37–39 ). Holy spirit is associated with both prophetic abilities and the possession of wisdom.

46 :

I want no part, since the community is responsible for justice (Deut 22.20–21; Mt 27.24; Acts 24.26 ).

50–63 : Susanna's acquittal.

48 :

Examination, or cross‐examination, is mandated by Deut 19.15–20 . Daughter of Israel, see also v. 57 , which describes Susanna as a daughter of Judah.

50 :

Daniel's status appears miraculously granted. His youth contrasts with his standing as an elder, even as his words contrast with the wicked elders’ false witness.

50 :

Rest of the elders indicates that not all the leaders are wicked.

53 :

Pronouncing unjust judgments, Daniel accuses the first elder of a pattern of injustice. The citation evokes Ex 23.7 .

54–55 :

A mastic … cut, clove … cleave provides an English version of the Greek pun.

55 :

Angels become increasingly common in Jewish Hellenistic literature (including Daniel; see Isa 37.36; Ezek 9 )

56–57 :

The comment compares three nations. Offspring of Canaan suggests the sexual crimes attributed to the indigenous population of the promised land (Lev 18.24–28 ); daughters of Israel refers to the Northern Kingdom, destroyed by Assyria in 720 (2 Kings 17 ); daughter of Judah, Susanna is from the Southern Kingdom, whose exile created the Babylonian Jewish community and from whom the Jews trace their descent.

58–59 :

Evergreen oak, “Yew” and “hew” recreate the Greek pun.

59 :

Sword recollects Gen 3.24 , as Susanna's garden suggests Eden (Gen 2–3 )

62 :

Law of Moses is Deut 19.16–21 .

64 : Epilogue.

If Susanna is placed at the opening of the book of Daniel, Daniel's great reputation is seen to increase in the subsequent stories.

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