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No. 47: The Apocrypha

OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 47
Copyright (c) 1999 Biblical Horizons
August, 1999

I hope that those who are advocating reading more of the ancient, "classical" literature of the ancient, "classical" world, are also promoting the Apocrypha. I’m afraid that many Christians don’t realize what great literature much of the Apocrypha is. It is not, of course, inspired by God, and perhaps because Roman Catholics treat it as "deutero-canonical," and thus as a secondary part of the Bible, many more serious Christians have never read it at all.

But we should read it. A knowledge of the Apocrypha is a necessary part of the education of any college-bound student, if only because so much great art and music has been based on events in it. Also, however, this is great literature. So let us now be Apocryphobic!

It is far, far better literature than anything produced in Greece or Rome. If we’re going to read Homer and Sophocles, we should read the Apocrypha much more.

What we call the Apocrypha is literature written by people shaped by the Word of God before the coming of the New Covenant and the completion of the Bible. It is thus, "Christian" literature, by anticipation of the Christian era. It shows the influence of the Bible, not only in its subject matter, but also in the fact that it is noble, realistic, and well-written.

In this issue of Open Book, I’m going to begin a commentary on the Apocrypha. I don’t know if I’ll comment on every book of it, but I’ll take up several of them. Some of the books are short enough that I can put them in the newsletters; others are too long. If you don’t have a copy of the Apocrypha, you need to get one. I recommend The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha: Revised Standard Version, published by Oxford. You can obtain this from your bookstore, or from Otherwise, if you happen to have a Roman Catholic version of the Bible, you’ll find the Apocrypha in it.


1There was a man living in Babylon whose name was Joakim. 2And he took a wife named Susanna [Lily], the daughter of Hilkiah, a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord. 3Her parents were righteous, and had taught their daughter according to the law of Moses. 4Joakim was very rich, and had a spacious garden adjoining his house; and the Jews used to come to him because he was the most honored of them all.

5In that year two elders from the people were appointed as judges. Concerning them the Lord had said: "Iniquity came forth from Babylon, from elders who were judges, who were supposed to govern the people." 6These men were frequently at Joakim’s house, and all who had suits at law came to them.

7When the people departed at noon, Susanna would go into her husband’s garden to walk. 8The two elders used to see her every day, going in and walking about, and they began to desire her. 9And they perverted their minds and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering righteous judgments. 10Both were overwhelmed with passion for her, but they did not tell each other of their distress, 11for they were ashamed to disclose their lustful desire to possess her. 12And they watched eagerly, day after day, to see her.

13They said to each other, "Let us go home, for it is mealtime." 14And when they went out, they parted from each other. But turning back, they met again; and when each pressed the other for the reason, they confessed their lust. And then together they arranged for a time when they could find her alone.

15Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was very hot. 16And no one was there except the two elders, who had hid themselves and were watching her. 17She said to her maids, "Bring me oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I may bathe." 18They did as she said, shut the garden doors, and went out by the side doors to bring what they had been commanded; and they did not see the elders, because they were hidden.

19When the maids had gone out, the two elders rose and ran to her, and said: 20"Look, the garden doors are shut, no one sees us, and we are in love with you; so give your consent, and lie with us. 21If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you, and this was why you sent your maids away."

22Susanna sighed deeply, and said, "I am hemmed in on every side. For if I do this thing, it is death for me; and if I do not, I shall not escape your hands. 23I choose not to do it and to fall into your hands, rather than to sin in the sight of the Lord."

24Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and the two elders shouted against her. 25And one of them ran and opened the garden doors. 26When the household servants heard the shouting in the garden, they rushed in at the side door to see what had happened to her. 27And when the elders told their tale, the servants were greatly ashamed, for nothing like this had ever been said about Susanna.

28The next day, when the people gathered at the house of her husband Joakim, the two elders came, full of their wicked plot to have Susanna put to death. 29They said before the people, "Send for Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah, who is the wife of Joakim." 30So they sent for her. And she came, with her parents, her children, and all her kindred.

31Now Susanna was a woman of great refinement, and beautiful in appearance. 32As she was veiled, the wicked men ordered her to be unveiled, that they might feed upon her beauty. 33But her family and friends and all who saw her wept.

34Then the two elders stood up in the midst of the people, and laid their hands upon her head. 35And she, weeping, looked up toward heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord. 36The elders said, "As we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids. 37Then a young man, who had been hidden, came to her and lay with her. 38We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them. 39We saw them embracing, but we could not hold the man, for he was too strong for us, and he opened the doors and dashed out. 40So we seized this woman and asked her who the young man was, but she would not tell us. These things we testify."

41The assembly believed them, because they were elders of the people and judges; and they condemned her to death.

42Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, "O eternal God, who discerns what is secret, who is aware of all things before they come to be, 43You know that these men have borne false witness against me. And now I am to die! Yet I have done none of the things that they have wickedly invented against me!"

44The Lord heard her cry. 45And as she was being led away to be put to death, God aroused the holy spirit of a young lad named Daniel; 46and he cried with a loud voice, "I am innocent of the blood of this woman."

47All the people turned to him, and said, "What is this that you have said?" 48Taking his stand in the midst of them, he said, "Are you such fools, you sons of Israel? Have you condemned a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts? 49Return to the place of judgment. For these men have borne false witness against her."

50Then all the people returned in haste. And the elders said to him, "Come, sit among us and inform us, for God has given you that right."

51And Daniel said to them, "Separate them far from each other, and I will examine them."

52When they were separated from each other, he summoned one of them and said to him, "You old relic of wicked days, your sins have now come home, which you have committed in the past, 53pronouncing unjust judgments, condemning the innocent and letting the guilty go free, though the Lord said, `Do not put to death an innocent and righteous person.’ 54Now then, if you really saw her, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?"

He answered, "Under a mastic tree."

55And Daniel said, "Very well! You have lied against your own head, for the angel of God has received the sentence from God and will immediately cut you in two."

56Then he put him aside, and commanded them to bring the other. And he said to him, "You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you and lust has perverted your heart. 57This is how you both have been dealing with the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not endure your wickedness. 58Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?"

He answered, "Under an evergreen oak."

59And Daniel said to him, "Very well! You also have lied against your own head, for the angel of God is waiting with his sword to saw you in two, that he may destroy you both."

60Then all the assembly shouted loudly and praised God, who saves those who hope in him. 61And they rose against the two elders, for out of their own mouths Daniel had convicted them of bearing false witness; 62and they did to them as they had wickedly planned to do to their neighbor; acting in accordance with the law of Moses, they put them to death. Thus innocent blood was saved that day.

63And Hilkiah and his wife praised God for their daughter Susanna, and so did Joakim her husband and all her kindred, because nothing shameful was found in her. 64And from that day onward Daniel had a great reputation among the people.

The story of Susanna is included in the Apocrypha, and as an addition to the book of Daniel. It is a literary gem, and one of the finest pieces of literature from the ancient world, probably dating from the first century before Christ.

This story is a moral allegory. Joakim is a true and righteous king, wealthy and with a palatial garden attached to his house. The elders frequently conducted their judgments at his house, as they would at the palace of a king.

Joakim is a contracted form of the Jehoiakim, "Yahweh Has Established." This was the name of the wicked king of Judah who rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24). Perhaps the author of this story decided to give Susanna’s husband this name in order to contrast him with that wicked king.

Hilkiah means "My Portion Is Yahweh," or "His Portion Is Yahweh." This was also the name of Jeremiah’s father. As one Hilkiah reared a Godly son, Jeremiah, so this Hilkiah has reared a Godly daughter, Susanna. Jeremiah prophesied in the days of King Jehoiakim, and thus the author has provided a series of literary associations for his allegory. Susanna is a kind of female Jeremiah, and as the prophet was falsely accused by wicked Jewish elders, so is she.

The name Lily associates Susanna with the Temple, which was adorned with lilies: Both the two great pillars and the great bronze sea were constructed as stylized lilies. She is a symbol for God’s people, the bride of the king. Lilies also figure prominently in Canticles, which portrays the king, and Yahweh, as having a garden that is frequented by his/His bride.

Like Satan in the original garden, the two elders seek to attack the bride, Eve. Unlike the original Eve, but like Joseph, Susanna refuses to be seduced to sin, even when threats are issued against her.

Susanna’s nudity at her bath recalls Eve in the garden. Stripping her of her veil shames her and all her friends, and also recalls the judgment God pronounced in the garden. These are false judges, however, who attempt to shame the faithful.

Daniel is said to be a young man, and the judges had accused Susanna of adultery with a young man. Daniel claims to be that young man by claiming his own innocence, directing the crowd toward himself, and also identifying with Susanna in her plight.

Edenic imagery is employed again as each judge is asked to name the tree under which this new Eve is supposed to have sinned. When their stories conflict, of course, they are put to death.

Susanna is a symbol of the faithful in Judah, who are being abused by wicked Jewish elders. As a new Jeremiah of sorts, Susanna is a symbol of a new faithful remnant in Jewry, persecuted by unfaithful leaders.

It is generally thought today that this story originated among the Pharisees, who were the God-fearing party in Judaism (though many had become corrupt by Jesus’ day). The story is thought to be directed against the Sadducees, who were the ruling party in Judah. Whatever the case may be, the story tells of God’s deliverance of His bride by the wisdom of a Godly prophet.