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FOR WHOM AND WITH WHAT OBJECT WRITTEN.
That this story was originally prepared for the use of Jews there can be no doubt. Probably it was designed for readers and admirers of Daniel, who would be glad of this example of the prophet’s insight. Certainly it was for those who loved to dwell on the interventions of God for His people, and especially on a recent manifestation of His particular care for oppressed individuals. Possibly also the case of those may have been regarded who were dissatisfied with the current methods of administering justice and conducting trials. J. W. Etheridge (Jerusalem and Tiberias, 1856, p. 109) deems it to be an example of Haggadah in common with its two companion pieces, “histories coloured with fable,” as he styles them—a sort of legendary appendix to carry on the interest of readers of the canonical text.
But since the Christian era this writing has been employed by Christians far more than by Jews. Perhaps its ready acceptance by the former may have diminished the chance of popularity amongst the Israelites of later times. They would look upon it with more suspicion, though it was clearly connected with the literature of their race. And obviously this enlarged acceptance among Christians was beyond the aim of the tale’s author.
WITH WHAT OBJECT WRITTEN.
The holding up an example of purity, maintained under circumstances of great distress, is the leading object which Christians have seen in this piece. It is probable, however, that other aims as well as this entered into the mind of the writer.
A dissatisfaction with the method of conducting trials such as Susanna’s is clearly manifested. A Pharisaic, or at least an anti-Sadducean, tendency has been observed, particularly in the latter part of the story. Then the utility of investigating small particulars is demonstrated, and the necessity of a rigorous punishment of false witnesses, points on which the Pharisees insisted, according to Ball (329b, 330a), who quotes Simon ben Shetach as saying from the Mishnah (Pirke Avoth, I. 9) מרבה לחקור
את העדים הוי· Bissell (p. 447) also thinks that “to reform the method of conducting legal processes” was an object of the author. And certainly the story does teach the need for a close investigation of testimony.
The author shews up the unscrupulousness and injustice practised even in the leading circles of the Jewish community; and in so doing he manifests throughout a good knowledge of the workings of the human heart. Marshall (in Hastings’ D. B.) assumes “that we have here an ethical mythus” (631b).3333This may be merely an echo of Reuss, who reckons Susanna ”in die Reihe der moralischen Märchen“ (O. T. 1894, VII. 159). But to imagine that the story had no other origin than this is, to say the least, unproved, and, as many think, unproveable.
Another object may have been to extol Daniel and his judicial acumen. There is a resemblance in this respect to the tone of several chapters of the Book of Daniel, e.g., ii. and iv. His penetration and his prophetic gifts as a young man are set forth. Indeed the last two verses of the Οʹ version almost make the praise of youthful piety the moral of the book. But this, edifying as it may be, is scarcely to be taken as the chief object of the composition; and Θ substitutes another conclusion as to the gratitude of Susanna’s family and the growth of Daniel’s reputation.
Still, apart from the question of historic value, many worthy objects may have lain within the purview of the composer; and to shew that righteous youths are better than unrighteous elders may very well have been one of these. To prove that even men of riper years are not unerring in judgment may well also, as G. Jahn (quoted by Ball in Speaker’s Comm. 325a) points out, have been a subsidiary aim.
The kind of judicial acumen displayed strikes one, too, as being very similar to that of the young Solomon in his judgment on the two women (I. Kings iii.); but the story here is not an imitation of that. It is a wholly distinct instance of the same class, a most popular one for narration in Eastern countries.
Another object in writing this history (and certainly the most useful object from a Christian point of view) is to give an example of the maintenance of purity and right, even at the risk of losing both life and reputation.
It may be questioned, however, whether the idea of depressing the estimation of elders, or of raising that of Susanna and of Daniel, was uppermost in the writer’s mind. Almost equal prominence is given to each of these ideas. The latter, perhaps, would throw over the piece a somewhat less attractive character than the former. But there is that in the cast of the composition which suggests that its object may have been quite as much to raise disgust at the elders’ crime as to raise admiration at Susanna’s purity; in fact that the whiteness of her character was designed as a foil to make more prominent the blackness of her oppressors. On this account Jer. xxix. 23 might perhaps be taken as a verse which gave his cue to the writer. But these are points on which opinions will inevitably vary according to the impression made on different minds by a matter so nearly balanced.
This, the only one of our three booklets in which women appear, presents them in a very favourable light. Beyond the imputation suggested against those of Israel at the beginning of v. 57, it contains nothing but what is creditable to the female sex. The present Archbishop of Armagh’s poem, “The Voyage to Babylon,” thus prettily depicts Susanna’s purity:
“ . . . . garden bed of balm,
In one whereof old Chelcias’ daughter
Went to walk down beside the water,
The lily both in heart and name,
Whose white leaf hath no blot of shame.”
Abp. Alexander’s Poems (Lond. 1900).
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