An unexceptionable O. T. moral standard on the part of the writer is maintained throughout, so that no difficulties' arise on this score. There is not a suggestion of any worship beside that of the Lord; no idolatry is even hinted at. The Captivity had done its work in that respect. Nor is there any symptom of the later developments of rabbinism; not even in their inception. It requires a very sharp eye to find here so much as the germs of error in faith.
The Law of Moses is acted upon; taught by parents to children (v.3); regarded as the great authority (v.62). The institution of Elders is in full force, as contemplated in Jer. xix.1 and xxvi.17. I. Kings xx.7 and xxi.8, 11 shew that this body had been continued among the separated tribes, and so naturally carried with them to their new home. The appearance of corruption among officials in high places, who ought to have been most free from it, is quite in accord with the religious history of mankind in general, and of Israel in particular. Such references as the above to Jeremiah, and that in v.5 to Jer. xxix.23, are paralleled by a reference in the canonical Dan. ix.2 to Jer. xxv.12.
When Daniel's plan was efficacious for revealing the Elders' guilt, the just decision was approved; the right is thoroughly commended and the wrong condemned. The heart of the people rings sound; their instincts at the trials are in favour of justice. Morality is supported by popular sympathy, which has been purified and elevated by the discipline of exile.
In v.57 some prejudice is suggested as existing in the writer's mind against the women of Israel as being less chaste than those of Judah. Possibly he was of the latter tribe himself (see Language' on v.57, p.137). The reproach to the second Elder of Canaanitish descent is in keeping with Ezek. xvi.3, where it is hurled against Jerusalem and her abominations.
It is objected in Hastings' D. B. (IV.631b) that |Daniel loudly condemns both culprits before he adduces any proof of their guilt.| But surely this was justified by the prophetic office and the spirit within him, which endowed him with an abnormal insight into the true state of affairs. Personally he was assured, from the outset, of their guilt, but secured public proof to satisfy the people. This objection is rather poor ground on which to assail the historic character of the piece. In fine, a religious tone, befitting the time intended, is consistently maintained throughout.
Incidentally a pleasing picture of home life is outlined, before the Elders tried to corrupt it.
Some of the Jews were apparently living in wealth and comfort during the Captivity; but the end of v.4 shews that Joacim's estate was pre-eminent, not a sample of the general condition of the exiles. If not royal (as Jul. Afric. in his letter to Origen hints, and Origen doubts in his reply, § 14), it was evidently of an upper class; and a kind of tribunal was held at his house. The state of life here depicted agrees with Jeremiah's advice in xxix.5; and with II. Esd. iii.2, if that too could be applied to the captives.
The King of Babylon was content with the subjugation and deportation of the Jews, allowing them considerable liberty when he got them into Babylonia. In this connection Ps. cv.46 naturally occurs to the mind. The captives evidently had alleviations granted them in Babylon by their conquerors, witness Evil-Merodach's kindness to Jehoiachin, II. Kings xxv.28. There is, however, no indication even of the beginnings of that trade and commerce which was so characteristic of much of the dispersion in later years.
Great freedom to regulate their own affairs is shewn, including, to all appearance, the power of inflicting the death-penalty, v.62. This last power has been objected to as unhistoric. But J. J. Blunt illustrates the possibility of this, by citing Origen's letter to Africanus to shew that the Jews under the Romans enjoyed a similar power in his day. Origen defends the correctness of v.62 by adducing this as a similar instance in his own knowledge. Blunt treats the matter as a kind of |undesigned coincidence,| rendering credible the death penalties spoken of in Acts ix.1, xxii.4, xxiv.6. So Edersheim (D.C.B. art. Philo, p.365b), |The rule of the Jewish community in Alexandria had been committed by Augustus to a council of Elders.| This is also stated in the Jewish Encyclopædia (New York and Lond., Alexandria I., 362a): |Philo distinctly states that at the time of Augustus the gerusia' assumed the position of the 'genarch.' This is the word he uses for ethnarch,' Contra Flaccum, § 10. Origen to Africanus, § 14, writes of this privilege as having been granted by Cæsar' without specifying which Cæsar, and though he does not name Alexandria, his words ismen hoi pepeiramenoi probably imply that place.| These references do not of course prove that the Jews in Babylonia had the like privileges, but they shew, as Origen saw, a parallel case. Perhaps those who are in favour of the Alexandrian origin of Susanna might use this to shew that the writer had transferred to Babylonia the circumstances of his own. day; but his own day would almost certainly be before the time of Augustus.
There is no mention of any government except the Jews' internal administration; but then the native population of Babylon (unless perchance it be in the shape of the servants) does not enter into the story. The legal working at Babylon of this little |imperium in imperio| had plainly an unsatisfactory side, although Susanna's rights were vindicated by another power against injustice and oppression. Still, it may not be fair to condemn the whole system on the strength of this single instance.
The main drift of the tale indicates the existence of much corruption in the presbytery; yet the heart of the exiled people in general had a healthy tone; witness the sorrowful sympathy with Susanna (v.33), and the delight at justice being ultimately done (vv.60, 63).
The Elders grossly abused Joacim's hospitality. Seemingly they had plenty of time to waste, and worse. It is noteworthy that two judges' were chosen, annually, it would seem, from the elders of the people.' This last phrase occurs in Numb. xi.16, and is frequent in the N. T., but not with ek as here.
The modest veiling of Susanna in v.32, more distinctly expressed (en gar katakalummene) in Th than in O', reminds one of Rebekah's veiling in Gen. xxiv.65, and is quite in accordance with the custom of the country. So are the |oil and washing balls| of v.17 (A. V. and R. V.); this last term is peculiar, and is used apparently for soap. It is so employed in Gerard's Herbal, ed.1633, p.1526, where he says, |of this gum [storax] there are made sundry excellent perfumes . . . . and sweet washing balls.| The sawing' or cutting asunder' of v.35 was a Babylonian punishment, as is shewn in ii.5 and iii.29 of the canonical book.
The death penalty for adultery (vv.43, 45) is in agreement with Lev. xx.10, Deut. xxii.22, and Ezek. xvi.38, though not with the laxity of later times (see art. Adultery, Smith's D. B.; Marriage, Hastings' D. B.). The Syriac W interpolation after v.41 seems to regard precipitation as equivalent to stoning. In the I' of v.62 both this punishment and that of fire are meted out to the Elders as retributive justice. Reuss' note on the trial is amusing, |die Richter sich als Dummköpfe erwissen und Susanna vollständig den ihrigen verloren hatte.|
But we are disposed on the whole to agree with J. M. Fuller (S.P.C.K. Comm., Introd. to Sus.) when he writes, |The facts underlying the story are in themselves probable,| rather more than with Churton (p.392), who deems the narrative to be |probably apocryphal, without strict regard to historical facts.|