The Apocrypha’s “The Story of Susanna”: A Former Bible Book’s Law and Order episode
Last night, with nothing on TV—what does one do when basketball, Hockey, Game of Thrones, The Blacklist are done for the year and all that’s left is the promise of a new(!) singing competition on TV? Heck, even the World Cup matches were done for the day. Then I happened upom an old episode of Law and Order: SVU.
I don’t know that I’ve ever sat through an entire episode from this series, although I have seen plenty of the original series to know how they operate. A random person discovers a body or a crime or crime evidence, the investigators get involved, and then they start questioning suspects. They often feel they cornered the real suspect but, during a trial or questioning, some new twist is revealed and the truth comes to light. There’s no shock in this formula but occasionally there is an interesting piece of social commentary made from which the viewer can learn, like not to trust those in power. These interesting nuggets often remind the viewer why the series has had such a strong run.
The Apocrypha’s “The Story of Susanna” is basically an ancient example of a Law and Order episode—albeit condensed and devoid of the iconic music between scenes.
This excised Bible book contains an interesting story about a woman whose life brings about important change. Married to an influential man in Babylon (Joakim), Susanna is famed for her beauty. Two recently-appointed judges for the region hold court at her husband’s home, and while conducting business, they become taken with her beauty. And so, they unfortunately do what men throughout history have done: they conspire to have sex with her. Hiding out while Susanna bathes, they spring a trap once she dismisses her maids. Alone with her, they tell her that if she does not have sex with them, they will accuse her of infidelity. Faced with a no-win situation—either gets her killed, basically—she screams (1:24). The judges make good on their threat and she is charged with having sex with a man who is not her husband.
At her brief trial, where their lies carry the day, she is in a tight situation. Since men have all the power, she is unable to sway the court with her account of her innocence. Just when the audience believes that all is lost, the plot twist arrives: she prays to God. Upon hearing her, he inspires Daniel, who then accuses the men of bearing false witness. He demands that these men be questioned separately. As the men are grilled separately—they’re asked under which type of tree this alleged tryst happened—their lie is exposed and Susanna vindicated.
From a different perspective, her infidelity appeared to be an open and shut case, one people accept easily—why would two noble, trusted men lie about such a thing? But of course they did and, sadly, they often did (and do to this day). So this story, like a well-crafted Law and Order episode, carries an important message: Some men lie, and unless systems are in place to investigate the truth in any case, an innocent person might be falsely accused. With such an important message—establishing the need to question witnesses independent of one another to discern how well their facts stand up—I would think this story belongs in the Bible.
For this reason, I was puzzled to know that this Bible book was cut. It’s certainly worth including.