Susannah: ‘completely trapped’

Susanna: ‘Completely Trapped’

Book of Susannah

Susanna by ©MicahHayns

In March 2021 there was a letter in The Times newspaper from a young woman called Ella, aged seventeen years old. She wrote in response to the death of Sarah Everard, a woman killed by a stranger as she walked to her home in London. Sarah’s death led to an outpouring of anger from women at the harassment and abuse so many experience every day. Ella eloquently explained why women were so angry. She wrote about all the times she’d experienced unwanted attention from men, from wolf-whistling to being followed. She expressed  how difficult it is for women to know how to respond because ‘each time a man harasses us in the street, we don’t know where it will end’. She goes on to say:

 ‘it (Sarah’s death) has resonated with so many women and girls because it’s all our worst fears and something that’s always in our minds: the worry that any time we are harassed it could end in the extreme….I wish more men would think about how they can help stop this, instead of deflecting and telling us that most men would never do such a thing’. [1]

With this in mind let us turn to Susanna. Her story is found in the Greek rather than the Hebrew manuscripts of the Book of Daniel, so it is included as Daniel Chapter 13 in some Bibles, or in the Apocrypha in others.

Susanna lived some time during the ‘Babylonian exile’ when Jewish people were expelled from Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar (597 BC). She had been brought up by diligent parents to love the Lord, and was married to a wealthy man called Joakim. They lived in an expansive house which was also used as the main court house for the Jewish community, where the elders would gather to hear and pass judgement on all manner of offences.

Their home was busy with men coming and going for most of the day but at midday the court would close and everyone would go to their homes for lunch. Within the grounds of their home there was also a beautiful garden and during the peaceful lunchtime period Susanna could enjoy the tranquillity of the garden for herself and, as a wealthy woman, she was normally accompanied by maids.

Two of the community elders noticed Susanna’s beauty and began ‘to lust for her’. At first these men kept their desires to themselves, independently watching her, ‘and, noticing her midday sojourns in the gardens they began to spy on her every day. On one occasion, in a scene akin to a Shakespearean farce, they both pretended to leave to go for lunch and then looped back to the garden and bumped into each other again. They confessed to one another what they were doing and so began to plan how they might find her on her own: they took to hiding in the bushes waiting for an opportune moment.

This came one hot day whilst Susanna was bathing in her garden. She had dismissed her maids who had shut all the gates to give her some privacy. As soon as she was alone the men pounced. They ran over to her, told her that the garden gates were locked, and demanded sex: ‘give your consent, and lie with us. If you refuse, we will testify against you’. (Susanna 21)

Susanna knew instantly that she was in an impossible situation. There were two of them, she was naked, vulnerable and in an enclosed space, and as a woman she would never be believed:

‘I am completely trapped. For if I do this it will mean death for me; if I do not, I cannot escape your hands’. (Susanna 22)

She shouted for help and at the same time so did her attackers, who then lied about what had happened and accused her of having sex with a man who had run off. She was taken in front of the assembly, unveiled in front of all the men and, without asking her for her side of the story or even considering the glaringly obvious plot holes in their story, such as what these men were doing in the garden in the first place, she was found guilty of adultery and sentenced to death. Susanna’s attackers were believed simply because they were powerful men, ‘Because they were elders of the people and judges, the assembly believed them’ (Susanna 41).

Susanna cried out once again, this time to God in a prayer of desperation, ‘O eternal God, you know what is secret and are aware of all things before they come to be… and now I am to die, though I have done none of the wicked things that they have charged against me!’. (Susannah 43).

God heard her cries and stirred the conscience of a young man called Daniel whose voice rose above the clamour of the mob, ‘I want no part in shedding this woman’s blood!’. He challenged the assembly for being ‘fools’ and so quick to ‘condemn a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts’. (Susannah 48)

Daniel took a stand and in doing so persuaded the leaders to return to court where he was given the authority of an elder. He separated the two attackers and asked each of them to show the court exactly where they had seen the couple being ‘intimate with each other’. 

One of the men pointed to a mastic tree (a small shrub) and the other pointed to an evergreen oak tree, and with this the men are revealed to have been lying.

Susanna was spared, the men were convicted of their crime and put to death, and her family rejoiced because she was free to return to them.

Susanna Reflection

One of the slogans of the #MeToo movement is “believe women” because the testimonies of women (and girls, men and boys of course) who speak up about sexual harassment and abuse are still all too often ignored, disbelieved and silenced to protect powerful men and the institutions they belong to. Sadly this has been evident in the church as much as in the rest of society. The recent case of Lori Anne Thompson who testified against the world-renown evangelist Ravi Zacharias is a prime example of this, and churches across the denominations are having to come to terms with the ways in which they have colluded with and protected abusers. In Susanna’s story the hero is the brave young Daniel who refused to be influenced by the mob and pays attention to Susanna’s words. He doesn’t dismiss what she says on the basis of her gender or her relative low standing in society in comparison with the two elders, instead he believes her words and speaks up, saving an innocent victim. In reality there are often no heroes, only survivors, and many are still ‘completely trapped’ because of the fear that they won’t be heard or believed, or they can’t face reliving the trauma of their past. Perhaps our world, and our church, needs more Daniels.

Susanna Prayer

A prayer of Daniel

‘O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act. Do not delay for your own sake, my God, for your church and your people who are called by your name’ (Daniel 9:19)

[1] Ella Jenning, Letter in The Times, 22.3.2021

Author: clarehayns

College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator of Christ Church, Oxford | Mum of three boys | wife of a juggler and magician | Council of Reference of ZANE - | enjoys board games, dog walking, films, eating out.

6 thoughts on “Susannah: ‘completely trapped’”

  1. Very powerful and perntinant post. I hadn’t read that story before and it really resonates.


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