Susanna meets Sherlock Holmes

Update: Matt says you can find Susanna on page 1471 of the new study Bibles and on 1683 of the older ones. 

This is a great story. For now, don’t worry about the footnotes, just enjoy the plot. The story has a beautiful woman, scheming men, a sex crime, a close call with an unjust execution, and a little detective work. What else could you want?

Just a few things to notice: 
  • The story is set in Babylon, but doesn’t emphasize the evil of the captors. It focuses, instead, on the corruption of Jewish judges. The very fact that it uses the term “Jew” tells us that it took on final form in the post-exilic period. 
  • It uses “Lord” instead of “LORD” and prefers the term “Heaven” as a circumlocution for God.
  • The story suggests both Genesis and the Song of Songs with its setting in a garden.
  • It also hints at the story of Bathsheba with lecherous men scheming to watch Susanna bathe.
  • It also suggests the sacrifice of a scapegoat when the men lay their hands on Susanna (Leviticus 16.21-22). All of these references tell us that the story originated during a time when the Hebrew Bible was beginning to take shape and the author could assume people knew the Torah, stories of David, and the Song of Songs.
  • The story assumes that readers are familiar with a patronage system where commoners must appeal to wealthy — and supposedly neutral — third parties to settle their disputes. Watch the opening scene of “The Godfather” if you want to see how such a system works. You can see in verses 52-3 that people also knew about corruption in the patronage system.
  • Susanna knows her Torah and “cried out with a loud voice” as Deuteronomy 22.24 teaches a woman about to be raped to do.
  • Daniel also knows his Torah. The trial was illegal because there were not enough witnesses and no cross examination was conducted (Deuteronomy 19.15-20).
  • In verses 56-58 notice how Daniel contrasts daughters of Canaan, Israel, and Judah.
  • There are some nice Greek puns in 55 and 58. Check your footnotes to see the explanations. The fact that these puns work in Greek tells us that the story likely took on its final form during the Hellenistic period (fourth through second centuries).

Last thing: Take the name Daniel out of the story. Change it to whatever you like, or just call him the “young man.” Does it change the story at all? Does Daniel show skill in logical deduction elsewhere in the book of Daniel? If you can answer these questions “no,” then you can see why many scholars believe that this story was originally not about Daniel. It probably circulated independently as a nice little self-contained detective story (maybe a crime series that never got picked up?) and then was later attached to the stories about Daniel.

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