Heroine of the story in Daniel ch. 13. Susanna (Heb. šôšannâ, lily) was the beautiful and God-fearing wife of the wealthy Joakim of the Jewish Diaspora in Babylonia. When two elders and judges of the Jewish community tried to seduce her and she resisted their efforts, they accused her before the community of having been caught in the act of adultery with a young man. The elders' words were received without question, and Susanna was condemned to death. As she was being led out to execution, God raised up a young boy named Daniel who protested against the unjust sentence that had been passed without prior examination of the evidence. The case was reopened, and the witnesses were questioned by Daniel, who showed they were lying. Susanna was acquitted, and the elders were made to undergo the death sentence that had been passed on Susanna.
The oldest extant text of the story is in Greek in two somewhat variant forms, one of the Septuagint (LXX) and one of the so-called Theodotion recension. For differences between these forms, refer to Dictionary of the Bible (1963) 4:631. Puns on certain Greek words in v. 54–55 and 58–59 have led some scholars, since the time of Julius Africanus (c. a.d. 200), to believe that the story was composed in Greek. Most scholars, however, now favor a Semitic (Hebrew or Aramaic) original. The puns in the Greek text may be imitations of puns in the original, or they may be due to a free-handed Greek translator.
The story of Susanna should be classed as pious haggadah, a Jewish literary genre whose purpose was edification or moral instruction. It first circulated independently of the Book of daniel and only later was attached to it. Since it is not in the Hebrew Bible, it is reckoned as one of the apocrypha by non-Catholics, but it is held as inspired and canonical (deuterocanonical) by Catholics.
Certain folkloristic elements, two in particular, have been identified in the narrative. These are the theme of
the faithful wife who is calumniated and later vindicated (cf. the Genoveva tale) and that of the unjust sentence righted by the "wise child." These motifs are present in Oriental literature, e.g., the "Thousand and One Nights,"[W. Baumgartner, Archiv für Religionswissenschaft 27 (1929) 187–188; G. Huet, Revue de l'histoire des religions 65 (1912) 277–284]. The Susanna story seems to have used the same motifs. Nevertheless, it is also permeated with biblical language and doctrine.
It is not certain what purpose the author of the story had in mind. He may have intended merely to edify or teach a moral. He may also have been addressing himself to some contemporary abuse within the Jewish community. Under Simeon ben Shetah (c. 100–67 b.c.), the pharisees were advocating the introduction of a more just judicial procedure than that of their enemies, the sadducees, which consisted in examination of the witnesses and the infliction of the death penalty for perjury in capital cases, even if the accused escaped execution. Both these points are made in the story, and since N. Brüll's Jahrbuch für jüdische Geschichte und Literatur 3 (1877) 1–69; some scholars believe that the story was composed to show the desirability of Simeon ben Shetaḥ's proposed reforms. This view, while possible, has not won general assent.
Despite the Babylonian locale, the narrative was probably composed in Palestine. Unless it was written at the time of Simeon ben Shetaḥ, no more precise date than 2d or 1st century b.c. can be assigned to it.
Scenes from the story of Susanna are depicted in catacomb frescoes from the 2d to the 4th centuries. In the cemetery of Pretestato (mid-4th century) Susanna is portrayed as a sheep between two wolves. The narrative is dramatized on certain Roman and Gallic sarcophagi and on the glass disc of Lothair II (a.d. 860). The frescoes of Baldassare Croce (early 17th century) in the Church of St. Susanna, Rome, cover the entire account; other painters of the period restrict themselves to the attempted seduction scene.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 2368. f. dingermann and h. schlosser, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 9:1194–96. m. weise, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65) 6:532. r. h. pfeiffer, History of N.T. Times (New York 1949) 448–454, with bibliog. o. eissfeldt, Einleitung in das A. T. (Tübingen 1964) 797–800, with latest bibliog. w. baumgartner, "Susanna: Die Geschichte einer Legende," Archiv für Religionswissenschaft 24 (1927) 259–280. r. a. f. mackenzie, "The Meaning of the Susanna Story," The Canadian Journal of Theology 3 (1957) 211–218. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie (Paris 1907–53) 15.2:1742–52.
"Susanna." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/susanna
"Susanna." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/susanna