Two Versions of the Story of Susanna: Old Greek and Theodotion

Susanna is a typical example of Jewish novelistc literature during the Second Temple period; it is a story in the Bible. Where then do we find the story in the Bible? Whereas Susanna appears as Daniel 13 in the Old Greek version (OG), the Theodotion version (Ɵ′) places it before Daniel 1. Susanna is not there in the Theodotion version by accident, but it is there because of its significance. Some scholars argue that the story takes place before Daniel 1 in the Theodotion version becuase the story functions as introduction to Daniel in the Theodotion version, the hero of the book (Doran 1988, 864).

In general, the OG version (LXX) is much less polished than the Theodotion version; and Theodotion’s version is somewhat longer than the OG. For these reasons, the translations in the NRSV and NAB basically follow the translation of Theodotion rather than the OG version. Some scholars believe that the Theodotion version made a separate Greek translation of a different Semitic text (Vorlage) rather than making an editorial revision of the Old Greek because of the use of Semitisms and the simple paratactic syntax (in OG Susanna, over fifty clauses begin with καί; for details, see John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993], 427). The differences of the two versions are as follows:

  • Focus of Character: OG-Two Elders; Ɵ′- Susanna.
  • Aspect of the Story: OG- Details of her bathing are much less elaborated; Ɵ′- Enhancing the drama and the psychological/erotic aspects of the story.
  • Epilogue: OG- An exhortation to search for more youths like Daniel; Ɵ′- Susanna’s relatvies give praise and Daniel becomes great.
  • Minor Elaborations in Ɵ: v. 11 adds that the elders were ashamed of their lust; vv. 20 and 21 fill in the words of the elders to Susanna; vv. 24-27 have the servants rush into the garden and learn of the accusation; v. 39 explains why the young man escaped; and v. 41 makes the death sentence explicit.
  • Point of View: OG- Focus of oriented toward social issues and categories; Ɵ′- Emphasis on individual character and ethics.

As Collins insists, even though the diferences should not be exaggerated, the differences of the focus of character and epilogue in both versions cannot be negelected becuase the different emphsis reflects their different social settings. John C. Endres analyzes the diffrent settings of the two versions as follows:

The OG version, which is more oriented toward social issues and categories, is often connected with Alexandria, whereas Theodotion, with its emphasis on individual character and ethics, seems more reminiscent of the Hellenistic novella, which also emerged in Diaspora settings (parallel to the Babylonian setting of the story).

The story of Susanna, especially in Ɵ′, is an interesting tale for the study of Diaspora community: God is mentioned or alluded to 15 times in the book’s 64 verses. At two points (vv. 5 and 53), the Jewish scriptures are quoted or paraphrased. From begining to the end, religious interest and elements pervade the story.

The story of Susanna has influenced literature, music, and art. The scene of naked Susanna at her bath, who is being taken advantage of by two wicked judges, is a perfect example for the criticism of the relationship between sex and power. The fesco in Siena by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1502) is one of my favorite images because the artist Martini depicts that Susanna seems protected not only by her sanctity but also by the thick hedge separating her from the two elders on the left.

Reference List

Collins, John J. 1993. Daniel. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Doran, Robert. 1988. “The Additions to Daniel.” Pages 863-71. Harper’s Bible Commentary

Endres, John C. 2000. “Daniel, Additions to.” Pages 321-13. Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible.

Moore, C. A. 1992. “Susanna: A Case of Sexual Harassment in Ancient Babylon.” BR 8/3.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: