On Sunday at the beginning of the sermon I gave the “homework” to the congregation to go and read three books (which really are just individual chapters) from what is known as the Old Testament Apocrypha, or the “Deuterocanonical” books. Catholics include them in their Bible but Protestants do not. They were composed in the time between the Old and New Testament and are “Daniel stories.” Those three books/chapters are the book of Susanna, the book of Bel and the Dragon, and 1 Maccabees 1 (or all of 1 Maccabees!). I also hinted that, as extra credit, one could read the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8 alongside Susanna.

I had been emailing with Al O’Brien about Daniel (Al is an excellent Greek reader and enjoys reading through whichever book we’re going through for the sermon series in Greek) and I suggested he read these in Greek, as well. I then hinted that maybe something Jesus wrote in the dust in John 8 was a verse from Susanna, maybe something from verses 42-49 (in reality, we’ll never know, and it’s probably part of the point of the story that we don’t know… but it sure is fun to speculate!). Here is Al’s well-thought-out response, comparing the book of Susanna to John 8 (produced here with Al’s permission, of course):

I was thinking about the Susanna and John passages you referenced, and I realized some interesting points in both of them. The first and is that both passages are considered by many folks to be outside the original documents.  For Susanna, it would be the Daniel document, and for Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, in John’s gospel.[1]

Both passages provide us information about the characters involved.  The New English Bible commentators see the Susanna passage almost as an introduction of Daniel to the people of Israel, thereby establishing his status as a wise and thoughtful man, certainly important for the story as a whole.  John’s passage also shows Jesus’ character as well.  For Jesus though, we see a person who really understands, and to some extent trusts, the basic nature of human beings. However, Jesus has also already been established in other sections of the Gospel.

One difference between the two passages is the method used to establish authority, rightness, and wisdom of the actions of both men. Daniel’s actions are based on a very logical and obviously observational approach to the situation, i.e., the using of the two trees to demonstrate the falsehood of what is going on.  For Jesus, he does what he always seems to do:  he throws the decision back to the individual and calls upon them to to make the decision as to what is right based upon their own consciences, and what they know to be true and right.  What is especially significant in this last point are the cultural differences that are pointed by the two incidents.  For the Susanna story, we see the importance of logic and judicial inquiry to establish truth, a very “Hebrew” reliance on law and order to show rightness.  Jesus, on the other hand, really looks to the individual and God’s work in the individual to provide understanding and the light of conscience.

[1] Al is referencing here the fact that this story is not present in some of the earliest manuscripts we have of the Gospel of John. Many Bibles will include a little note such as this found in the NIV: “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11.” Susanna, of course, is a Daniel story that is not found in the book of Daniel.



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