Susanna

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Susanna - her name in Hebrew is שׁוֹשַׁנָּה, shoshanna - was the beautiful wife of Joachim, a wealthy and respected member of the Jewish community in Babylon. Joachim was visited in his home by many members of the community, among them two elderly judges, who were regular visitors. One day these two old men, lingering in Joachim's house after the other visitors had left, happened to glimpse Susanna walking in the garden. Both men were sexually attracted to her, and returned to the house day after day to spy on her. One day when Susanna had decided to bathe in the garden, the lecherous old men hid, and once all the servants had been sent away and Susanna was completely alone, they approached her and demanded that she have sex with them, threatening that if she refused, they would claim that she had had sex with a young man who had come to her in the garden. Susanna rejected their advances, and the old men denounced her as an adulteress. Their false testimony was accepted uncritically because of their respected position in the community and, despite her protestations of innocence, Susanna was condemned to death. The sentence was on the point of being carried out when a young man called Daniel intervened to urge those present to test the veracity of the old men's claim by questioning them separately. Under cross-examination the two men gave very different accounts of the incident, one alleging that the adultery took place under a holm oak (a very large tree), the other alleging that it was under a mastich tree (a very small tree). The lecherous old men's malicious dishonesty was thus apparent: Susanna was released with her reputation intact, while the old men were sentenced to death.

The story of Susanna is told in the book of Susanna, which the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches include in the Old Testament as chapter 13 of the book of Daniel (though it is doubtful that the Daniel who is mentioned in this story is the prophet Daniel, whose life and visionary experiences are recounted in the book of Daniel). For Protestants the book of Susanna is one of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament.

Incidents from the story of Susanna have been a popular subject for artists, and there are paintings of Susanna and the Elders by, e.g., Il Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti) (1518-1594), Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmenzoon van Rijn) (1606-1669), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), and Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) wrote an English language oratorio entitled Susanna, and part of the story of Susanna is elaborated in the poem Peter Quince at the Clavier by Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), though Stevens seems to think that Susanna lived in Byzantium, not in Babylon.

Another Susanna is mentioned in the New Testament: she is referred to, along with Mary Magdalene and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, as one of the women who 'had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities' and 'ministered <to Jesus> of their substance' (Luke 8, vv. 1-3): .

The name Susanna is sometimes spelt Susannah, which more accurately reflects its Hebrew original. Along with its modern derivative Susan, it is still used as a first name for girls.