LXX Susanna, Part 1: Getting To Know All About You…

Last fall my Greek professor courageously led our class through the topic and texts of the Septuagint.  For my term paper I decided to write on the two texts of Susanna, an apocryphal addition to the book of Daniel.  The text has survived in two different textual traditions, the Old Greek (OG) version and the Theodotion (θ’) version.  I was initially inspired by Kristin de Troyer’s article in A Feminist Companion to Reading the Bible: Approaches, Methods, and Strategies titled Septuagint and Gender Studies: The Very Beginning of a Promising Liaison in which she looks at some of the differences between the Esther texts (in the ways they portray the characters) while asking gender-specific questions.  I decided to look at the story of Susanna since it was a text that was essentially new to me, it has a female protagonist, and it is a text with two distinct traditions.  Here’s a quick summary from my paper for those of you who are new to Susanna’s story:

   While there are substantial differences between Susanna OG and Susanna θ’, the basic premise of the story remains the same.  There is a man, Joakim, living in Babylon with his wife, Susanna.  Susanna is very beautiful and enjoys taking long walks in her husband’s garden.  The story’s antagonists are two elders, who are also judges, meant to govern the people.  They quickly prove to be lawless men as they become enthralled with the beautiful Susanna with the hopes of gratifying their mutual lust.  The two elders approach Susanna, but she refuses them.  The elders then bring her to court with accusations of adultery with a fictional young man; the crowd believes the elders and Susanna is condemned to death.  So Susanna prays to God and he intervenes.  Now enters our hero: the young man, Daniel.  Daniel accuses the people of an unfair trial and declares that he will interrogate the two elders individually.  Daniel’s wisdom is demonstrated in his ability to establish the two elders as liars by their own admission and the story ends with Susanna’s life being spared and the two elders being utterly destroyed.

Susanna and the Two Elders

Susanna and the Two Elders

For my paper, I set out to apply a discourse-functional approach to participant reference (see Steve Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the New Testament and dissertation) in the double-text of Susanna.  As noted above, there are some interesting differences between the two texts, especially in how Susanna is portrayed.

Here’s another excerpt from my paper on the characterization of Susanna:

The way in which a participant is initially (re-)introduced to a discourse serves as our mental representation of that participant until we are constrained to see her or him in a different way.  Some of the major participants are not named but rather are identified by an epithet or anchoring expression, while there are two minor participants that are named but remain flat characters throughout the narrative.  In Susanna θ’, the protagonist Susanna is initially introduced as Joakim’s wife.  She is referred to by name, her default and unmarked referring expression, nine times throughout the narrative.  The Septuagint’s introduction of Susanna is considerably shorter.  Some scholars argue that the first five verses have been lost, while others read “περὶ ὧν ἐλάλησεν ὁ δεσπότης” (Concerning that which the Lord said…) as an acceptable introductory statement or heading.

The text as we have it provides us with less information about Joakim as he is mentioned merely in passing and almost always in relation to Susanna; she is his wife and he is her husband (v7).  Although more information is given concerning Joakim in Susanna θ’ (he is wealthy and well-liked by the people), he functions as a plot device in both texts and thus we understand him to be a minor character.  Both texts introduce a garden that belongs to Joakim and when the elders would watch Susanna, she would be walking ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς αὐτῆς, in the garden of her husband (v7).  Thus the author/translator signals to  the reader to keep in mind Susanna and Joakim’s relationship as husband and wife as the reader learns of the two elders lust for this married woman.  The reader soon learns that the elders attempt to force themselves on Susanna within her husband’s own domain (v19).

Additional information about Susanna is provided with her introduction to the story, namely, that she is a very beautiful woman (καλή σφόδρα) (v2).  As we noted earlier, it is atypical that a biblical character receive such a detailed physical description.  The fact that Susanna is very beautiful is important to the plot of the story and this important information is reiterated later on in verse 31 as Susanna’s speedy trial is about to begin.  In her introduction, Susanna is also referred to as one who feared the Lord (φοβουμένη τὸν κύριον) (v2) as her parents instructed her according to the law of Moses (κατὰ τὸν νόμον Μωυσῆ) (v3).  This information is not necessary to identify Susanna from other possible referents, rather it is additional information that tells us something more about Susanna.  This piece of information is important to the development of the plot as Susanna’s character serves as a foil to the lawless elders who are eventually prosecuted and punished κατὰ τὸν νόμον Μωυσῆ (v62).

I will follow up with two more posts with additional excerpts from my paper. I am always look for feedback and I am thankful for opportunities to learn so please feel free to comment, correct, etc.  Many thanks to Steve who was a big help to me via Twitter during my paper-writing frenzy.

5 thoughts on “LXX Susanna, Part 1: Getting To Know All About You…

  1. I envy you so much for getting to devote yourself to biblical languages. I have nearly killed myself pursuing a master’s degree in history, and you make me want to charge back into it!

    • Its been tough. I’ve struggled as well working full-time while trying to complete my masters degree (accomplished this past May!). Biblical languages is definitely an exciting field and well worth all the pain and toil that goes in to learning it!🙂

  2. Pingback: The Septuagint Studies Soireé has arrived! | Cataclysmic

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