The History of Susanna

Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics

The History of Susanna

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Another addition to the Book of Daniel, it tells how he rose to fame among the Babylonians, so perhaps should be read as a preface to Daniel. It is probably the world's first detective story. Susanna, the wife of Joacim and daughter of Chelcias, is represented as being a god-fearing, beautiful, and desirable woman married to a very rich man. Desperately seeking Susanna and inflamed by lust for her, two elderly men, appointed as judges, sought to seduce Susanna in her garden when she was there bathing: ‘And the two elders saw her going in every day, and walking; so that their lust was inflamed toward her. And they perverted their own mind, and turned away their eyes, that they might not look unto heaven, nor remember just judgments’ (vv. 8–9). Susanna refuses them, and so they publicly denounce her, claiming to have seen her with a young man. She is accused, humiliated, and exposed in public—for she was a very delicate woman, and beauteous to behold (v. 31)—and condemned to death by the assembly. Susanna cries out to God, protesting her innocence, and ‘the Lord raised up the holy spirit of a young youth, whose name was Daniel’ (v. 45). Daniel, as his name indicates (‘God is my judge’), is a young man come to judgement: he exposes the corruption of the elders by cross-examining them separately. Their stories of Susanna's dalliance with the young man do not tally; Susanna's virtue is vindicated; and the elders are executed instead of Susanna. ‘From that day forth was Daniel had in great reputation in the sight of the people’ (v. 64). The story provides an intertextual, mirror-image of the tale of Joseph and Potiphar's wife (Gen. 39: 1–20). It also makes the point that virtuous Jews were not only in danger from foreigners, but also from the corrupt Jews in their own community. The scene of Susanna at her bath in the garden, closely observed by the elders, has given European painters (most famously Rembrandt) many opportunities for exercising their voyeuristic art in depicting the voyeurism of the elders and the nakedness of Susanna.

Chapter.  366 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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