By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Apocrypha

  • The name Susanna – Shoshana in Hebrew -- means “lily.”
  • She is described as beautiful and God-fearing. Obviously, the fact that she is beautiful is meant to exonerate the elders’ lusting after her – as in they simply couldn’t help themselves!
  • These traits of Susanna are similarly attributed to other apocryphal heroines (Judith, Sarah, and Esther).
  • Her story is told from a male point of view, illustrating the powerlessness of women.
  • She was devout, which means that she kept the traditions regarding home and family.
  • Her husband, Joakim, is introduced first.
  • Joakim’s name means “the Lord will establish.” This name cannot be identified with the many Joakims or Jehoiachins in Israel’s history.
  • He married the daughter of Hilkiah. (Another Hilkiah was the high priest during the time of Josiah and was instrumental in instituting reforms. His name means “Jehovah is my spirit.” Jeremiah was also the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. Hilkiah was a common priestly name.)
  • Little is known about Joakim, other than that he was wealthy and had a house with a large garden.
  • The word for “garden” is similar to the one used for the Garden of Eden.
  • He was a generous man in that he made his house available to Jews as a meeting place.
  • Daily people gathered at his house. Two elders began using it as a place for their courtroom.
  • These elders are identified by the Lord as “Wickedness came forth from Babylon.”
  • This is doubly ironic since, as judges, it was their job to govern the people.
  • They gathered every morning at Joakim’s house to hear cases.
  • When the people finally left around noon, it was Susanna’s habit to go for a walk in the garden.
  • These two evil judges watched her do this and began to lust after her.
  • This was obviously against everything they held dear, so they “suppressed” their consciences and stopped praying to heaven. They knew that they were in the wrong, but they refused to stop. It is likely that they also were unable to administer justice.
  • Though inflamed with passion, each judge kept these feelings to himself lest he be shamed by others.
  • The LXX is careful to say that Susanna never encouraged them in any way.
  • One day they both left for lunch, and then each doubled back for a glimpse of Susanna. They ran into each other and finally admitted their true intentions – including the fact that they had lied about going home for lunch!
  • They were relieved the other felt exactly the same way – no recriminations were forthcoming. In fact, they decided to work together to bring their passion to fruition.
  • They agreed to wait for an opportune time, hiding daily in the garden.
  • On a hot day, Susanna asked her maids to make arrangements for her to bathe in the garden after everyone left.
  • The maids brought olive oil, which was used as a cosmetic and sometimes perfumed with myrrh. It was probably in ointment form. They set everything up and then shut the doors from the inside, going out the side doors. But they did not see the two elders hiding in the garden.
  • As soon as the maids were out, the men rushed to Susanna and told her about their feelings of passion.
  • They wanted her to “yield” to them; otherwise they would accuse her of secretly meeting with a young man. Since she was married, the punishment for adultery would be death, according to Lev. 20:10 and Deut 22:22.
  • Susanna cried out with a loud voice, knowing she was completely trapped (literally, “restrained all about me”), but they cried even louder against her.
  • One of them rushed to open the garden gates, alerting everyone to the commotion in the garden.
  • When people hurried to the garden, the elders were quick to accuse Susanna of being with a young man (who conveniently got away).
  • The maids were ashamed because no one had ever accused Susanna of such activity before (it is not known whether they believed the story of the elders).
  • The trial was scheduled to be held the very next day – presided over by the elders who had accused her!
  • On the following day, they called for Susanna to be brought out to them. She was not allowed to speak at her own trial.
  • She was accompanied by her parents, children, and relatives, though none of these people were allowed to speak on her behalf. Nor is there any indication that they wished to do so.
  • The LXX states that she had five hundred servants and four children! (But the LXX also states the trial was held in a different city, so it is possible that the whole hometown had come along on her behalf.)
  • As a woman of position, she was modestly veiled, but the elders insisted the veil be removed (this was in order to feast their eyes on her once more). (In the LXX, she is stripped for all to gaze upon. This would be in accordance with Jewish law as punishment for committing adultery and would be intended to turn the crowd against her as a disgraced woman.) · When the veil was removed, it was apparent that Susanna had been weeping.
  • The two elders approached her and put their hands on her head. This simply means that it was a “capital” offense.
  • Through her tears, she looked toward the heavens, trusting in the Lord.
  • The elders gave their false testimony and claimed the man was simply too strong for them and got away.
  • Obviously they claimed she refused to tell them his name.
  • Because they were elders, the people believed every word.
  • Susanna was condemned to death.
  • Susanna then cried out to God with a loud voice. She could not testify to her innocence before the assembly, but she could reach out to the highest Judge of them all.
  • She affirmed that God always sees all that is secret and knows the testimony against her was false. She lamented the fact that she must die for wrongs she did not commit.
  • God heard her cry.
  • As she was being led to her execution, God stirred up the holy spirit of Daniel, a young man.
  • Daniel shouted that he wanted no part of shedding that innocent woman’s blood.
  • People turned to him in amazement, wondering what in the world he was talking about.
  • He reproached them for not further examining the facts of the case.
  • He insisted that they reopen the case.
  • The people complied, and they all returned to Joakim’s house.
  • Other elders recognized the spirit of God in him and accorded him the honor of elder despite his young age.
  • Daniel offered to question the elders who had accused Susanna.
  • He separated them.
  • To the first elder, he accused him of being a “relic of wicked days.” He confronted him for making unjust judgments, condemning the innocent and acquitting the guilty. This was contrary to the Lord’s decree for righteous judgment.
  • He then asked the first elder, “Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?”
  • This elder said it was a “mastic” tree (which is oftentimes translated as “clove.” It provides a pun with the word for his punishment that the Lord would “cleave” him in two.)
  • Daniel decreed this judgment even before he spoke to the second elder.
  • Casting him aside, Daniel called for the other elder to be brought.
  • He also accused him, calling him an “offspring of Canaan, not Judah.” He claimed he had badly treated the Daughters of Israel, forcing them to be intimate with him out of fear. Now, however, this daughter refused.
  • He then asked the second elder, “Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?”
  • This elder said it was an evergreen oak (which is oftentimes translated “yew.” This provides a pun with the word for his punishment that the Lord would “hew” him in two.)
  • Upon hearing this discrepancy, the whole assembly shouted and blessed God for saving those who hope in him.
  • The assembly did unto the elders as they had planned to do to Susanna.
  • In accordance with the Law of Moses, they put them to death.
  • Hilkiah and his wife praised God for Susanna.
  • Joakim and all her relatives did so as well because she was found innocent of a shameful deed.
  • This all led to Daniel’s great reputation among the people.


deSilva, David. Introducing the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002.

Harrington, Daniel. Invitation to the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1999.

Meeks, Wayne, ed. The Harper Collins Study Bible. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers. 1993.

Metzer, Bruce, Ed. The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press. 1965.

Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson, eds. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. 2002.

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