‘Susannah’ is one of the books of the so-called Apocrypha, not as widely read as they once were but part of the classic English translation published in 1611, and ‘authorised to be read in churches’. It is a story about the use and the abuse of law, a reminder that even courts do not guarantee justice where there is no fear of God.
IN the days when Daniel lived in Babylon, a wealthy Jewish man named Joachim had a lovely young wife called Susannah. The Jews of Babylon visited the couple’s gracious home and garden daily, and when two new Babylonian judges were appointed, they held court sessions there.
Seeing her so often, the two judges were soon infatuated with Susannah, and used to watch her from the bushes in the private garden where she liked to bathe. One day, they lost all self-control, and burst out to demand that she give herself to them, or they would say they had caught her having an affair.
Susannah defied them. So they dragged her to a hastily assembled court and accused her of adultery. With their own eyes, they cried, they had seen a young man making love to Susannah beneath a tree, though (regrettably) he had overpowered them, and escaped.
Naturally, everyone believed their lordships, and Susannah was sentenced to death.
George Frideric Handel composed an Oratorio based on the story of Susannah in 1748. Below is a recording of the Overture, performed by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and directed by Nicholas McGegan.
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