The Prophet Daniel and Susanna?
When speaking of the historical development of the Bible, one often hears about the Apocrypha. Yet, very few people really know what the Apocrypha is, much less what it contains. The word itself means “things that are hidden/secret.” But this designation does not lend much help to the curious reader. Essentially, these are books written in a similar style to Biblical Old Testament books but whose authorship, in the majority of cases, is uncertain. What is known is that these books were never understood to be authoritative by the Jewish people but were regarded as generally reliable in areas such as history (i.e. the book of Maccabees).
The Roman Catholic Apocrypha consists of Tobit, Judith, the Additions to Esther, the Additions to Daniel (the Prayer of Azariah and the Three Young Men, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon), the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (also called Sirach), Baruch (also called 1 Baruch), the Letter of Jeremiah, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. The Greek Orthodox Church adds 1 Esdras, Psalm 151, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Maccabees, with 4 Maccabees in an appendix. The Russian Orthodox Church adds 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Psalm 151, and 3 Maccabees. The Roman Catholic canon places the Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Esdras, and 2 Esdras in an appendix without implying canonicity.
From an Evangelical perspective, these books are certainly not recognized as authoritative nor inspired by God. But for the Evangelical scholar or curious Christian, there is much that can be learned from these books. Several of them give helpful histories of the Intertestamental Period (the more than 400 years between the ending of the Old Testament writings and the beginning of the New Testament events), and others give helpful background understanding for certain theological themes and understandings by the Jewish people during the time of their writing. Many Biblical themes are touched on in these Apocryphal writings as well. Perhaps the most significant theme is the expectation of a Messiah who was to come: who he was and what he would accomplish. Because of the helpful background these books afford as well as the limited exposure most Christians have had to these books, I thought I would write a few book reviews on some of these Apocryphal books. My hope is that it will help inform those who are unaware and that it might pique the interest of some curious souls to read for themselves. Enjoy!
Susanna of Daniel 13
The book of Daniel is full of history, biography and prophecy. In only twelve short chapters, the story is told of a young man (Daniel) who rises to prominence in the Babylonian and Medo-Persian empires – all of this after being taken captive from the land of Israel to Babylon. Some might be surprised to know that the apocrypha contains two extra chapters to this book. For Protestants, the book of Daniel ends with his prophecies regarding the future and the Son of Man who is to come. For Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches, among others, the story continues with two other self-contained chapters. The first is called “Susanna” or “Susanna and the Elders”.
Even if one is not familiar with the question of the Apocryphal writings, the reading of these two additional chapters leaves the reader a bit confused as to why they were included and what they add to the book. From a literary perspective, they each act as a sort of epilogue to give the reader further information on the main character – Daniel.
The tale of Susanna and the elders is the first of these extra stories. These sixty-four verses tell the story of a Jewish woman named Susanna who is married to Jo-akim. Presumably this story takes place shortly after the exiles are brought to Babylon as Daniel is said to be a “young man” (or “lad” according to the RSVCE) (v.45). This family of Jews are well respected among the exiles and her husband was known as one who kept the law of Moses (v.3). The family was also rich (v.4). This is a point of difficulty because if the exiles had only just arrived (as Daniel was taken into exile as a young man and he is still a young man in this story, perhaps 12-20 years old), then it is difficult to understand how an exile family could have gained such wealth and respect so quickly in a new land. Of course, this is not an overwhelming obstacle, but it is an interesting point for the reader.
The story tells that two elders had been appointed from among the Jewish people and these elders were to act as judges for the Jewish people (v.5). This seems to be a form of self-policing as the Jewish people would have wanted to live as closely as possible to the Mosaic law in the foreign land of Babylon. But as these judges were constantly at the home of Jo’akim and Susanna, they both began to desire Susanna. This desire/lust caused these judges to turn away from “looking to heaven or remembering righteous judgments” (v.9). Once they confess their desires to each other, these men try and find a way to seduce Susanna.
One day, they hide themselves in the private (walled) garden that Susanna often walks in. It being a hot day, she sends her two maids away in order to take a bath outside. To her credit, Susanna has no idea anyone else is in the garden and she even tells her servants to shut the door of the garden before she begins (v.17). At this point, the two men come out of hiding and tell her of their “love” and ask her to “lie with them” (v. 20-21). The wording used is reminiscent of Joseph being propositioned by Potiphar’s wife in the book of Genesis. These elders attempt to blackmail Susanna by saying that they will accuse her of inviting a young man into the garden and sleeping with her if she refuses. Because they are both respected elders in the community, they will be believed over her.
But Susanna does not give in to the blackmail. Rather she says, “I choose not to do it and to fall into your hands, rather than to sin in the sight of the Lord” (v. 23). She trusts herself to the Lord, and while she yells for her servants to come and get her out of the situation, the elders shrewdly open the door to the garden to lend their story credibility. The next day, her extended family is gathered for the trial and the elders accuse her. It is only at this point in the chapter that we discover that Susanna has several children (v.30). They too are at the trial although we are unsure how old they are.
The elders then tell their lie, mentioning their vantage point “in the corner of the garden” (v.38). Of course, no one thinks to ask them why they were hiding in the garden, nor why the two of them were unable to seize the man (v.39). Instead, the whole assembly believes them – seemingly without asking any questions or questioning anything in their statements. She is condemned to death, but as she cries out to God, He hears her and brings about her salvation from the terrible situation by a young man – Daniel. The text says he was roused by “the Holy Spirit” (v.46).
Daniel then does something reminiscent of Solomon. He brings each elder out individually before everyone and asks them under what tree in the garden did this lustful episode take place (v.54)? They each give different answers showing that they had made up the entire story. At this point Daniel says something interesting: “this is how you both have been dealing with the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not endure your wickedness” (v.57). This statement suggests that the elders had been doing this sort of thing for some time, although there is no hint of this in the earlier part of the chapter, and that because Susanna was from the tribe of Judah, she was able to withstand them. The book finishes with the two elders being put to death instead of Susanna and with her family praising God for delivering her. (Although Susanna might have had recourse to ask why none of them spoke up for her when she was accused - since they knew her to be upright as a rule). The book concludes with this line: “And from that day onward, Daniel had a great reputation among the people” (v.64).
It would be difficult to make a case for how this extra chapter provides the reader with any helpful or necessary information in the book of Daniel. A few interesting points might be that (1) Daniel was wise and filled with the Holy Spirit from a young age, and (2) the tribe of Judah is highlighted as being more resilient against evil. The first is already known from the first few chapters of Daniel’s book so this is nothing new. The second is interesting but the reader is left wondering what to do with such a bit of information. Even if one draws the link between Susanna being from the tribe of Judah and Jesus (the lion from the tribe of Judah) who would one day come, it is unclear what they have to do with each other – beyond the fact that they happened to come from the same tribe.
While this chapter is an intriguing story, it strikes the well-read reader as similar to the apocryphal stories of Jesus’ early years. They pique the interest, but ultimately fall far short of the authentic feel of the original. Also, there are no ancient copies of the book of Daniel in Hebrew that contain this story and no early Jewish references to the story of Susanna. These and other reasons make the inclusion of Susanna’s story quite doubtful. Of significant interest to some is that this story is also contained in the book One Thousand and One Nights under the title The Devout Woman and the Two Wicked Elders - although significantly shortened in that book.
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