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Susanna or Shoshana (Hebrew: שׁוֹשַׁנָּה, Modern Šošana Tiberian Šôšannâ: "lily") is included in the Book of Daniel (as chapter 13) by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. It is one of the additions to Daniel, considered apocryphal by Protestants. It is listed in Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England among the books which are included in the Bible but not for the formation of doctrine. It is not included in the Jewish Tanakh and is not mentioned in early Jewish literature.
As the story goes, a fair Hebrew wife named Susanna was falsely accused by lecherous voyeurs. As she bathes in her garden, having sent her attendants away, two lustful elders secretly observe the lovely Susanna. When she makes her way back to her house, they accost her, threatening to claim that she was meeting a young man in the garden unless she agrees to have sex with them.
She refuses to be blackmailed and is arrested and about to be put to death for promiscuity when a young man named Daniel interrupts the proceedings, shouting that the elders should be questioned to prevent the death of an innocent. After being separated, the two men are questioned about details (cross-examination) of what they saw but disagree about the tree under which Susanna supposedly met her lover. In the Greek text, the names of the trees cited by the elders form puns with the sentence given by Daniel. The first says they were under a mastic (ὑπο σχίνον, hupo schinon), and Daniel says that an angel stands ready to cut (σχίσει, schisei) him in two. The second says they were under an evergreen oak tree (ὑπο πρίνον, hupo prinon), and Daniel says that an angel stands ready to saw (πρίσαι, prisai) him in two. The great difference in size between a mastic and an oak makes the elders' lie plain to all the observers. The false accusers are put to death, and virtue triumphs.
The Greek puns in the texts have been cited by some as proof that the text never existed in Hebrew or Aramaic, but other researchers have suggested pairs of words for trees and cutting that sound similar enough to suppose that they could have been used in an original. The Anchor Bible uses "yew" and "hew" and "clove" and "cleave" to get this effect in English. Others suggest that the puns were added by the Greek translator and say nothing about the original form of the text.
The Greek text survives in two versions. The Septuagint's text appears only in the Codex Chisianus. The version of Theodotion is the one that appears in Roman Catholic bibles. It was regarded as a part of the Daniel literature and was placed at the beginning of the Book of Daniel in manuscripts of the Old Testament. Jerome placed it at the end of Daniel, with a notice that it is not found in the Hebrew Bible.
Sextus Julius Africanus did not regard the story as canonical. Jerome (347–420), while translating the Vulgate, treated this section as a non-canonical fable. In his introduction, he indicated that Susanna was an apocryphal addition because it was not written in Hebrew, as was the original book of Daniel, but was written in Greek. Origen observes (in Epistola ad Africanum) that it was "hidden" (compare "apocrypha") by the Jews in some fashion. There are no early Jewish references to the book.
The story was frequently painted from about 1470, not least because of the possibilities it offered for a prominent nude female in a history painting – paintings of Bathsheba bathing offered an alternative subject with the same advantages, and both also offered an opportunity to include classical sculpture and architecture in their settings. Susanna is the subject of paintings by many artists, including (but not limited to) Lorenzo Lotto (Susanna and the Elders, 1517), Guido Reni, Rubens, Van Dyck, Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Tiepolo, and Artemisia Gentileschi. Some treatments, especially in the Baroque period, emphasize the drama, others concentrate on the nude; a 19th century version by Francesco Hayez (National Gallery, London) has no elders visible at all.
Susanna (and not Peter Quince) is the subject of the 1915 poem Peter Quince at the Clavier by Wallace Stevens, which has been set to music by the American composer Dominic Argento and by the Canadian Gerald Berg.
American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) painted a modern Susanna in 1938, now at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. He consciously included pubic hair, unlike the statue-like images of classical art. The fable was set during the Great Depression, and Benton included himself as one of the voyeurs.
The Belgian writer Marnix Gijsen borrows elements of the story in his first novel Het boek van Joachim van Babylon, 1947.
Pablo Picasso, too, rendered the subject in the mid-twentieth century, depicting Susanna much as he depicts his other less abstract reclining nudes. The elders are depicted as paintings hanging on the wall behind her. The picture, painted in 1955, is part of the permanent collection at the Museo Picasso Málaga.
The American opera Susannah by Carlisle Floyd, which takes place in the American South of the 20th century, is also inspired by this story, but with a less-than-happy ending and with the elders replaced by a hypocritical traveling preacher who rapes Susannah.
Shakespeare refers to the story in the trial scene of The Merchant of Venice, where first Shylock and then Gratiano praise Portia's judgements as being "A second Daniel."
Susannah and the Elders by Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari (late Baroque). The Walters Art Museum.
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