Susanna’s beauty disturbed the men’s sleep. Both Shimon and Moshe were of an age that usually tempered the passions. Moreover, they were responsible leaders of the community. Shimon was a rabbi and Moshe was an exegete. If bald head was the sign of one man’s wisdom, grey hairs proclaimed the sagacity of the other. Susanna had never expected them to do this.
|Painting: Guido Reni|
“Mate with us,” they told her bluntly. “Or else we will bring charges of adultery against you and get you stoned to death as per the law.”
Susanna had just finished her bath in the pool. She had sent away her maids as usual and ordered them to lock the gates. She didn’t want even her maids to see her bathing. Her body was her private property which even the maids should not see. Only Joachim, her husband, had access to it. That was how Yahweh had ordained it from the time of Adam who exclaimed upon seeing Eve, “The bone of my bones! The flesh of my flesh!”
People like Shimon and Moshe encroached upon that sacred space belonging entirely to the couple from the time of creation and shed their lust there in the form of laws and rubrics. Eve was the first victim of their lust. Their lust rushed like a cascade into her very being and impregnated her with the sinfulness of the entire human race.
“I’d rather die than let lecherous hypocrites like you touch my body,” Susanna spat out as she grabbed for her clothes standing on the steps of the pool.
“It will be a painful death,” declared Shimon.
“The entire community will pelt stones at you,” chanted Moshe.
“They will deride you,” sang Shimon.
“You will bring ignominy on Joachim and his noble family,” persuaded Moshe.
Susanna put on her clothes and pulled the veil upon her face. “Have your entertainment, you elders. Get the men to stone me to death.”
Neither Moshe nor Shimon wanted the death of such a beautiful woman. Beauty is to be relished and not stoned to death. The beauty of the female body is a property that belongs to the man like all other properties. To the law-making man. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, servants, animals, or property. Susanna, you are forgetting the place we have assigned to you. Along with the servants, animals and properties. Come and lie down, woman, with us in the shade of the evergreen oak and the aroma of the mastic bushes and feed us with the beauty that overflows like the wine in the season of harvest. We had spent days and weeks peeping at your beauty through the bushes. We discovered the secret ways to your garden. Now your beauty has become a pain in our veins. Soothe our veins, Susanna, as only you can.
Susanna’s lips contorted with despise. The men could not see the contempt, however, for her face was veiled. But the contempt penetrated the carapace of their souls and stirred up vengeance since there was nothing else to be stirred there.
Shimon and Moshe, rabbi and exegete, respected elders of the community, rushed like frenzied men to the gate of the garden and pulled down the lock. “Listen, O Israel,” they proclaimed their gospel. Susanna became the adulteress in that gospel. Shimon and Moshe metamorphosed into the guardians of morality. In the gospel, the middle-aged Susanna was made to squirm under the passionate kisses of a handsome young man.
Envying the young man bitterly, the people gathered stones eagerly. They had demanded the unveiling of the woman’s face. The radiant beauty of that face had blinded them. It filled their veins with the rush of lustful blood. Their lust turned into stones.
Joachim sobbed helplessly. He knew the truth. He knew how helpless truth was. He knew how truths were fabricated.
“Where are you, Yahweh, always so particular about justice?” Susanna asked in her heart. But she didn’t expect any answer. An answer surprised her, however.
“I am innocent of the blood of this woman,” a shout arose from the crowd.
“Who said that?” demanded Moshe.
“I.” A young man stepped out. No, not even a man. A boy who was just steeping out of adolescence.
“My name is Daniel.” His voice was sonorous and his face radiated innocence. “Listen, O Israel.” And the people were drawn to him magically. “Are you going to commit a murder merely because of the words of these two relics of wicked days? The sins committed by these two men are now coming back home to them.”
Daniel demanded a just trial. The people shouted their assent. It was the first time they were seeing someone who had the courage to question the elders.
Daniel arranged the trial. Each man would be questioned separately and then the people could pass the verdict.
“Under which tree did you see Susanna committing adultery with the young man as you claimed?”
“Under the slender mastic plant,” professed Moshe.
“Under the huge evergreen oak,” declared Shimon.
The people shouted in anger. “Stone them to death.”
Joachim hugged Susanna as lovingly as the law permitted. A little more tightly, in fact. Because the law was busy punishing its guardians.
PS. The story is adapted from the Bible, the Book of Daniel, chapter 13.
The illustration is a painting by Guido Reni, 17th century Italian artist.