AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE APOCRYPHA. By W O E Oesterley D D Litt D. © W O E Oesterley 1935. First published S.P.C.K. 1935. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Title | Contents | Purpose of the Story | Original Language and the two forms of the Greek text | Date | Manuscripts and Versions | Literature.

Set apart from the beginning of Daniel, because it is not in the Hebrew, as neither, the Narration of Bel and the Dragon.


In the one extant MS. of the Septuagint (Cod. Chisianus), which gives also Theodotion's Version, Susanna forms chap. i of Daniel, and it has the title Σουσαννα α´ α´ θ´ - Sousanna a' s' th' (= Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion).

The Vulgate and the Syro-Hexaplar also place it at the end of Daniel as chap. i, though without any title. But the latter has a note at the end: "Completed is Daniel according to the tradition of the Seventy," so that it evidently regarded Susanna as part of the canonical book.

In Theodotion's Version represented by all the Greek MSS, and by the other Versions, the title varies.

In the great uncials BAQ, Susanna follows immediately after the title of the whole book, "Daniel" (Q: "Daniel according to Theodotion"), but without any special title for Susanna; similarly the Old Latin Version; Cod.A, however, has the subscription: ορασις α´ - orasis a'. Some Greek MSS. have the title "Susanna," others, "The History of Susanna," yet others, "The judgement of Daniel". Fuller titles are given in the cursives 232, "Visions of the prophet Daniel concerning the elders and Susanna," and 235, "Vision of the very wise Daniel concerning Susanna."
(But there are reasons for thinking that Susanna did not originally occupy this place, see Bludau, "Die Alexandrinische Uebersetzung des Buches Daniel und ihre VerhAltniss zum Massoretischen Text," pp.166 f. (in Bardenhewer's Biblische Studien, ii. Bd., Heft 2 und 3 [1897].)

In Cod. Chisianus Theodotion's Version is headed το ειρ αγρυπνος Δανιηλ - to eir agrupnos Daniel, and Susanna appears as chap. i. (το ειρ is explained as = the Hebrew העיו' "the Watcher," so that this title would mean "Daniel the sleepless Watcher.")

Kay refers to a Codex from Mount Athos, which has the title: αρασις ενδεκα του προφητου Δανιηλ deinde sequitur περι του Αββακουμ. His omnibus praemittitur περι της Συσαννης; and states that chap.xiv of Cod. Chisianus has the superscription; εκ προφητειας Αμβακουμ υιου Ιησου εκ της φυλης Λευι. (In Charles, op. cit., i.638.)

It would thus appear that the story was sometimes associated with the name of Habakkuk (cp. Bel and the Dragon, verses 33 ff.).



Susanna, "a very fair woman" and devout, having been brought up by god-fearing parents, was the wife of Joakim, a wealthy and honourable man, who dwelt in Babylon. Among the many visitors who frequented Joakim's house were two elders who held influential positions, being consulted by numbers of those who had law-suits. Surrounding Joakim's house was a large garden, in which his wife Susanna was accustomed to stroll about after the departure of the daily visitors at noon. Attracted by her beauty the two elders would watch her as she wandered in the garden; and unlawful desires towards her possessed them. Though conscience-stricken, they deliberately directed their thoughts away from what was right; and while both were consumed with unholy lust, neither durst, for very shame, impart to the other his feelings and intent. One day, having ostensibly departed each to his home for the mid-day meal, they both slunk back again, and met! This necessitated a mutual explanation, and they confessed one to the other their evil intent towards Susanna. Thereupon they agreed to seek an occasion on which they might find her alone. Not long after they succeeded in this. For as Susanna, according to her wont, was walking in the garden with her two maids, she determined to bathe, for the day was warm, and nobody, as she thought, was present in the garden. Therein, however, she was mistaken, for the two elders had beforehand concealed themselves there. All unconscious of this, Susanna bade her maids close the garden gates against intrusion, and bring her what she needed for her bath. No sooner had the maids disappeared than the two elders emerged from their hiding-place. They approached Susanna with lustful intent, threatening her at the same time that if she would not consent to do their will, they would accuse her of having had a young Man with her and of having sent her maids away on that account. In despair Susanna cried, "I am menaced on every side, for if I do your will, death will be my lot. And if I refuse I shall not escape your malice. Better will it be for me to refuse you and to suffer at your hands, than sin against the Lord by a wicked act." And then she called aloud for help. But when the elders heard her cry, they, too, set up a shout, and one of them ran to open the garden gate. Then the maids, hearing this noise in the garden, hastened back to find out the cause; but when the elders told them their tale, that a young man had been with their mistress, they were greatly shocked, for no word of scandal had ever before been breathed against Susanna's virtue. The next day, in the presence of Susanna's husband, her parents, children, and kindred, the two elders publicly charged her with having committed adultery with a young man in the garden, affirming at the same time that they had been witnesses of the act, and that the young man had escaped their hands when they attempted to detain him. The accusation, being made by two such highly respected elders, was believed to be true; Susanna was condemned to death. But, conscious of her innocence, she lifted up her voice in prayer to God; nor did she pray in vain, for as she was being led to her death God stirred up the spirit of a youth named Daniel who was to be her deliverer. Standing in the midst of the people he cried: "Are ye so without understanding, ye sons of Israel, that without examination or knowledge of the truth ye have condemned a daughter of Israel?" Then he commanded them all to return to the hall of justice, "for," said he, "these have borne false witness against her." Thereupon all returned to the hall of justice, and Daniel was invited to examine Susanna's accusers. This he did by questioning them separately; as a result, their evidence was contradictory, for one said that the sinful act had taken place under a mastick tree, while the other affirmed that it had been under a holm tree. The falseness of the accusation having thus been clearly set forth, the guilty elders were put to death, and the innocent blood was saved. All Susanna's kindred thereupon praised God that no wrong had been found in her; and Daniel was thenceforth "held in high estimation in the sight of the people."



The story itself suggests several purposes, for any one of which it may have been written, viz: to illustrate the triumph of virtue; or to show that God will not forsake the innocent victim of slander; or to teach the efficacy of prayer. Andre points to the moral added in the Septuagint text (verse 62). And says that "the Jews utilized the story of Susanna and the two licentious elders to warn young men of the dangers of carnal desires," but rightly adds that there is nothing to show that this was the purpose which the original writer had in view. Again, when in the last verse of the story, according to Theodotion's version, it is said that "since that day onwards Daniel was held in high estimation in the sight of the people," one might infer that Theodotion believed the story to have been written for the purpose of eulogizing Daniel. But this again would not necessarily indicate the original writer's object. Besides, the name of Daniel did not, in all probability, appear in the original form of the story.

While it seems probable that our story was, in the first instance, composed simply for the sake of story-telling without any further object, it was doubtless utilized for the driving home of moral lessons. And there are good grounds for believing that its most important use, involving no doubt some slight modifications in the text, was that pointed to by Ball. There is every reason to believe that in its present form the story belongs to the former half of the last century BC; it was during this period that the Pharisees finally asserted their supremacy over the Sadducaean party.

(We have definite knowledge regarding the attitude of the Sadducees and Pharisees towards each other as opposed parties as early as the reign of John Hyrcanus (134/3-104/3BC); it was during the reign of Alexandra (Salome) 75 4-67/6BC that the Pharisees became finally dominant.)

At that time Simeon ben Shetach was the leader of the pharisaic party. And his most notable achievement was to supersede the Sadducaean interpretation of the Law by that of the Pharisees; hence his title of " Restorer of the Law." (Bab. Talmud, Kiddushin 66a.)

His rigorous insistence on upholding the Law resulted on one occasion in his sentencing to death for sorcery eighty women of Ashkelon; in revenge for this the relatives of the victims brought an accusation against his son involving the death-sentence. The accusation was false, and on his way to execution the condemned man protested his innocence with such effect that his accusers confessed their crime. Thereupon the judges were prepared to release him.

But in his zeal for the Law he pointed out to the judges that, according to the Law, a witness who withdraws his accusation might not be believed. In consequence, the accusation stood, and Simeon's son had to suffer death. (Jer. Talmud, Sanhedrin vi.23b.)

It was owing to this miscarriage of justice, caused by the witnesses not having been rigorously examined in the first instance, that Simeon ben Shetach pronounced the precept preserved in Aboth i.9: "Examine the witnesses thoroughly (lit. 'Be redundant in examining'); and be cautious with thy words lest from them they learn to bear false witness."

This episode, then, Ball believes to have been the object for which Susanna was utilized, a scribe having given another shape to pre-existing material, and, as it now stands, the conception of Daniel as judge " constituted the kernel of the whole narrative." It is, he says, " a contrast between two kinds of criminal procedure, which are represented, not by a dry general description, but by a concrete instance of their actual working. The author's aim is to portray certain deplorable effects inherent in the administration of justice in his own time, and to suggest a radical cure." (In Wace, op. cit., ii. 328 f.)

This theory regarding the purpose of Susanna in its present form we believe to be thoroughly sound.



Greek is usually held to be the original language of both the Septuagint and of Theodotion's Version of the story.

But Kay adduces some telling arguments, which lead him to conclude that "from internal evidence both Greek texts are versions dependent on a Hebrew original. ... Apart from idioms in either text, the identity, the nature of the resemblances, and the divergences, suggest the dependence of translators." (In Charles, op. cit., i.641 f; "the Semitic idioms in the Greek texts in many cases favour a Hebrew rather than an Aramaic source" (ibid, p.644).)

He believes, in order to account for the difficulties presented, that there was, in the first instance, a Hebrew form of the story. From this a Greek translation was made, i.e. the original Septuagint Version. Then, there appeared later a revision of the Hebrew, which was the source of both the enlarged form of the Septuagint and of Theodotion's Version. But each used this source independently.

The striking differences between the Septuagint and Theodotion's Version cannot blind us to the fact that the story told by each is, in its essence, one and the same. But the differences are not such as would suggest that Theodotion merely modified and enlarged the Septuagint form. For a comparison of the two texts gives rather the impression that each is the product of an independent manipulation of an identical original, - in this case, as already remarked, of a Hebrew original. (Cp. Bludau, op. cit., pp.178 ff.)

To illustrate this we should have to place a number of passages from each text side by side.
(A full English translation of both texts is given by Kay, in Charles, op. cit., i.647 ff.)

In the case of a popular folk-tale such as the History of Susanna, it is altogether in the nature of things that it should, in transmission, whether in writing or by word of mouth, have undergone modification, for one reason or another, and extension at the hands of those who repeated it.



Since the story of Susanna is a folk-tale it may well be earlier than any written form, whatever the language. We have seen reason for believing that both the original, as well as the modified form of the written story, were written in Hebrew. The modified form must belong, approximately, to 80BC, the original form considerably earlier than this, but some time after the canonical Daniel was written (166-5BC). When the Greek translation was made it is impossible to say. We only know that the entire Greek Canon was in existence during the Apostolic Age, approximately. (Swete, Intr., pp.26 f.)

Theodotion's Version was made before 180AD.



What has been said about these under "The Song of the Three Holy Children" applies here too.



Fritzsche, op. cit., i.113 ff., 132 ff. (1851).
Brull, "Das apokryphische Susanna-Buch," in Jahrbucher fur judische Geschichte und Litteratur for 1877.
Ball, in Wace, op. Cit., ii.323 ff. (1888).
Bludau, op. cit., pp.165 ff. (1897).
Rothstein, in Kautzsch, op. cit., i.176 ff. (1900).
Andre, op. cit., pp.222 ff.
Kay, in Charles, op. cit., i.647 ff. (1913).
Baumgartner, "Susanna, die Geschichte einer Legende," Archiv fur Religionswissenschaft, pp.259 ff.
(1926), 187 f. (1929).