Susanna and the Elders

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SUSANNA AND THE ELDERS , apocryphal work added to the canonical Book of Daniel in ancient versions. In several uncial Greek manuscripts (b a q), the Old Latin, and the Bohairic, Susanna precedes chapter 1; its traditional position, however, in accord with the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate (and versions based on it), is after chapter 12. The story of Susanna (whose name means "lily") concerns the virtuous and beautiful wife of a prosperous Jew of Babylon, named Joakim. Unjustly accused by two Jewish elders of having committed adultery, and condemned to death, she is proved innocent when the elders, interrogated by Daniel, disagree about the tree under which the adultery allegedly took place. In accord with Deuteronomy 19:18–19 the elders were executed, and God and Daniel are praised for Susanna's vindication. Scholars have debated the question whether the original language of the addition was in Hebrew or Greek. Already in the third century (c.e.) Julius Africanus, rebutting Origen's defense of the genuineness and canonicity of the account, pointed out that the play on words in verses 54f. and 58f. are possible only in Greek. During the Middle Ages the story attained great popularity.

[Bruce M. Metzger]

In the Arts

Susanna is one of the outstanding heroines of the Apocrypha, and her story has inspired many writers and artists. In literature, two of the earliest treatments are the mid-14th century English Epistill of Swete Susane and a 15th-century French play, Une vie de Saincte Susanne, staged at Chambéry in 1470. The subject particularly attracted Renaissance dramatists because of the religio-didactic significance of the central theme – the vindication of innocence and virtue. A work of high quality was Sixtus Birck's German drama, Susanna (1532), a neo-Latin version of which was published by the playwright in 1537. One of its novel effects was the insertion of appropriate Old Testament passages at certain points in the action which were sung by the chorus. Some other works of the period were Susana čista, a play by the Montenegrin religious poet Mavro Vetranović of Ragusa (1482–1576); a neo-Latin Susanna by the Dutch humanist Georgius Macropedius (c. 1475–1558) and Jan Kochanowski's early Polish epic, Zusanna (1562). It was in England that the theme attracted the greatest attention, beginning with Ralph Radcliffe's The Delivery of Susanna, performed at Hitchin in 1540. Outstanding among the English plays was Thomas Garter's The Commody of the moste vertuous and Godlye Susanna (London, 1578) which, though clearly influenced by Ovid's erotic works, righteously maintained the biblical notion of divine justice in its highly moral conclusion. The subject continued to attract writers throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. In France, Antoine de Montchrétien wrote the verse play, Susane ou la Chasteté (1601), and in Greece, M. Dephrana was the author of the poem, Istoria tēs Sōsannēs (1667, 16712). Fresh attention was paid to the story by a number of 20th-century writers, some of whom have displayed a satirical or frankly iconoclastic approach. Modern works include Susanna im Bade (1901), a German verse play by Hugo *Salus; and the Scottish playwright James Bridie's Susannah and the Elders (1937). Bridie made Susanna an incorrigible flirt, and, as Daniel himself is forced to admit, deserves less sympathy than the sorely provoked elders, who stoically accept their unjust condemnation. An original treatment of the post-World War ii era was Het boek van Joachim van Babylon … (1947, 19484; The Book of Joachim of Babylon, 1951), a Flemish novel by Jan Albert Goris, to which a sequel was added in 1950.

Susanna and the elders is a theme that frequently occurs in early Christian art. In the second-century prayers of the Commendatio Animae, Susanna delivered from false accusation symbolizes the soul of the elect protected from various perils. Other symbols of this type are Daniel in the lions' den and the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace. All were common in the funerary art of the catacombs and sarcophagi. Susanna is generally shown flanked by the two elders; in a fresco from the fourth-century cemetery of Pretextat she is symbolized as a lamb between wolves. Two episodes from the history of Susanna especially caught the imagination of artists. The judgment of Daniel (Susanna 44–62), like the judgment of Solomon, appealed to the Middle Ages as an example of justice, and was often represented in law courts. It appears in early Christian as well as medieval art, and there is a painting of the subject attributed to Giorgione (Glasgow Art Gallery). The sequel – the stoning of the elders – figures in a painting by Albrecht Altdorfer (Munich Pinakothek). The other episode, Susanna bathing (Susanna 15), was popular from the 16th to the late 18th centuries, when subjects were chosen for human interest rather than for moral or iconographic significance. Accordingly, this apocryphal story was treated as an opportunity for painting a beautiful woman in the nude. There is a study by Altdorfer, and a number of paintings by the great Venetians of the 16th century, notably by Paolo Veronese (Dresden, the Prado, and the Louvre) and by Tintoretto (the Louvre, Vienna Museum). Paintings by Rubens are in the art galleries of Munich and Turin, the Stockholm National Museum, and the Academia San Fernando, Madrid. The two versions of the subject by *Rembrandt are in The Hague and Berlin museums. Later paintings included the ribald, satirical interpretations by the German artist Lovis Corinth and that by Oskar Kokoschka.

in music

Paul Rebhun's school play with music, Ein geistlich Spiel von der gotfurchtigen und keuschen Frawen Susannen (1536), has an important place in the history of so-called school drama and as one of the precursors of the oratorio movement (see Musikbibliothek Werner Wolffheim, 2 (1928–29), 310–1,340; mgg s.v. Schuldrama). At the same time the subject was taken up by many composers of motets and chansons. The Latin (Vulgate) text, beginning Ingemuit Susanna, was set by Thomas Crecquillon and Jacobus Gallus (Handl); for Susanna se videns rapi there are settings by Adriaen Willaert, Philippe de Monte, Orlando di Lasso, and Palestrina; the latter also wrote a motet, Susanna ab improbis. A French poem, Susanne un jour, which appeared in a collection of chansons by an unknown composer, published in 1548, was the most influential: the melody was reset by Orlando di Lasso, and also used by him in a mass and for a German adaptation, Susannen frumb (see G. Reese, Music in the Renaissance (1954), 393–4, 696f., 709, and index: s.v.Susanne un jour). The text, and very often also parts of Lasso's setting, were used by Nicolas Gombert, Cipriano de Rore, Claude le Jeune, and others, and the melodic material was reworked by several composers as a lute or keyboard piece. The popularity of the song in England is attested by William Byrd's Susanna fayre sometime assaulted was and other settings. Another English text began with the words "There dwelt a man in Babylon"; this appears in the central "song scene" of *Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (Act ii, scene 3ff.), and the tune was probably that of the Lasso setting. In the 17th century the subject entered the field of oratorio, in works such as Virgilio Mazocchis' "intermedio," L'historia di Susanna (Rome, 1643), and Alessandro Scarlatti's Il martirio di Santa Susanna (Florence, 1706); it also appeared in Germany (Johann Franck, Die in deutsche Tracht verkleidete Susanna, 1658). The emphasis on the pious moral did not always prevail: Alessandro Stradella's Susanna (Modena, 1681) is called by Schering "one of the most lubricious pieces of the entire literature, frivolous to the end" (cf. A. Schering, Geschichte des Oratorios (1911), 109, and ibid. on the "oratorio erotico"). In the 18th century only Handel's oratorio Susanna deserves mention (premìère at Covent Garden, London, 1749; librettist unknown); and 19th-century works are also few and negligible. The 20th century has seen the appearance of several operas on literary variations and even parodies of the subject, in which the biblical story is seldom adhered to strictly, such as Jean Gilbert's operetta, Die keusche Susanne (1910; later turned into an Argentinian film); Paul Hindemith's Sancta Susanna (text by August Stramm, 1922); Paul Kurzbach's Die Historia der Susanna (1948); Knudage Riisager's Susanne (1948/49); and Carlisle Floyd's Susannah (1955), which was first performed in New York in 1956.

See also Daniel in the Arts.

[Bathja Bayer]


Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 452–8; Kay, in: Charles, Apocrypha, 1 (1913), 638–54; R.H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times (1949), 434–54; B.M. Metzger, Introduction to the Apocrypha (1957), 107–13. in the arts: G. Antonucci and G. Di Lentaglio, in: Emporium, 70 (1929), 3–19; M.T. Herrick, in: Studies… T.W. Baldwin, ed. by D.C. Allen (1958); M. Roston, Biblical Drama in England (1968), index; Pilger, in: Zeitschrift fuer deutsche Philologie, vol. 11, pp. 129ff.